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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lazen

Show and Tell and Making Ropes

Show and Tell was my favorite thing about school. Seated in a circle on a rug of my kindergarten classroom, I told a story about the bird's nest I held in my hands. I'd discovered it empty in the arborvitae bush next to the front door of my house. The mother bird, I explained to my audience of five and six-year olds, left it there for me to find. "How do you know that it was for you?" a boy in Toughskins interrupted. "I'm getting to that!" I answered, annoyed. But before I could continue, a girl raised her hand and begged with her eyes to ask another question: "What's that stuff in it?" Proudly, I explained that the "stuff", carefully woven in with pine needles, was the short red yarn-hair of my very own Raggedy Anne doll. And then I began the story of how I'd lost her and searched everywhere for her-- how I'd discovered her days later out in the sand box, face down, with a mysterious new bald spot. "The bird stole her hair?" Interrupted out a kid. "No!" I said. " She borrowed it. And then she gave it back!"

After kindergarten, the only other time I got to enjoy Show and Tell at school was in the 7th grade when I was selected to take a class taught by a visiting cultural anthropologist. After a long career living with and studying Bushman of the Kalahari Desert (or San People), she spent a year with me and my classmates in my suburban Virginia public school. We got to see, touch and hear stories about original photographs, musical instruments, hunting spears ritual masks, jewelry and more-- Each artifact brought a piece of the oldest culture on earth to life-- a culture known for its gift economy, its egalitarian, consensus based society and its harmony with nature. The wisdom of this culture is captured in the words spoken by one of its people:

"If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way” (Young, 2012).

To me, this "recognition" thing-- (as the dictionary defines it: the practice of accepting, honoring, appreciating or approving of) looks a lot like the modern, secular "mindfulness movement" that people are touting as the key to wellness and success. While the "mindfulness practice" of focused attention, sensory awareness and acceptance was inspired by the Buddhist meditation, it looks like the Bushman of the Kalahari have been doing it for millennia. And at age 52, I've been doing it without realizing it since kindergarten. Show and Tell style storytelling is the way I recognize the creatures, places and people of my life. It's the way I strengthen ties and foster connections. It's the way I say grace. It's the way I make ropes.

Reference: Young, J. (2012). What the robin knows: how birds reveal the secrets of the natural world. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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