How do you gauge your stress levels? Some people get neck tension, others drink. I count bruises. This week was a 2-bruise week. Last week was a 5-bruiser. When I have too much to do, I race around and bump into things – doors, tables, chairs (mostly empty ones). I have been known to walk into parked cars .Once I walked into a skip (It was at night. They really shouldn’t put those things on pavements. It’s asking for trouble).
I’m crossing the playground at speed with a box of polystyrene balls when I notice, in the mishmash of noise and chaos, a tiny child dancing. Her friends are playing stilt-walking, stiff legged on those upside down flowerpot things.. Nearby there’s a skipping game and a football match. She’s flitting about, weaving between them, her arms up, her face a curve of pleasure. She’s in a world of her own.
I stop, nearly dropping my balls. “Hello!” She looks at me, but carries on dancing.
“Hello Mithith Jenkinths!” Her voice is carried away by the skipping and an indignant ref.
“You’re a wonderful dancer!” I say admiringly. She nods in agreement. As she spins past, I ask her if she ever gets tired.
“Not really,” she says, stopping. I crouch down.
“Why do you think that is?”
She lowers her arms, considering. Huge eyes, gap teeth, a scatter of freckles. (But it’s their eyelids that really fascinate me. They’re so smooth. Did I ever have eyelids like that?)
“I dancth becauth I’m happy!” she says and wrinkles her nose in a smile. She raises her arms and whirls away. When the Infant Bell goes I pick her out, balancing on one leg, bright eyed as a bird. Then slowly she topples forward and runs to her line.
According to the Stress Management Society, stress is caused by two things: whether you think a situation is worthy of anxiety and how your body reacts to your thoughts. My body reacts by walking around really fast, convinced that if I just move more quickly I’ll get everything done. But things get in my way and slow me down – the shelf unit, the whiteboard, the bin. It’s as if the entire inanimate world is lying in wait for me. (“Ha! We’ll get her with the swing door, arms full of Art balls!”) And I come home covered in bruises, thinking of things I didn’t do.
“My Dad says, “Slow down! You’ll just get to the end of your life quicker.”
Gandhi said, “Man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
Jesus said, “Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)
I should maybe stop counting bruises.
I stroll out of school, careful to avoid the bins with my trolley. A bird lifts off the field. A dog barks. There’s the rumble of traffic. The world dances on, spinning, I trust, above huge, cupped hands. It makes no difference if I run or walk. The moment comes but once.
I turn the corner by the toilets and look back towards school. Quiet light. Trees. Yawning windows like tired eyes. A good day today: Sun on the playground. Little girl dancing.
No one’s looking. Shyly, stiffly, like those girls on flowerpot stilts…I do a little gambol.