It’s one of the first lessons they taught us at Washington Elementary. One that I keep having to learn.
Mrs. Strand told us to sit in a circle. We wriggled our way next to our best friend of the day. Up and down. Crawling on hands and knees. Maneuvering. Pushing. Wedging our way into position. Mrs. Strand had the patience of a saint. Finally, when we shaped ourselves into something nearing a circle, Mrs. Strand told us the game — “Whisper around the World.” What did she say? (Because in fact, she did whisper it.) She said it softly again. “Whisper around the World.” And because our world was contained within these four walls, we thought for sure we would excel at it.
She would begin by whispering a sentence into a student’s ear. That student would then repeat it into the ear of the next student in the circle, and so on, until it reached the last person, and then that last person would say it out loud. Words were passed, between snorts and giggles. Laughter and spit. And more words. Other words. We leaned in close. Leaned over in delight. The last person said the sentence out loud. Then Mrs. Strand said the actual sentence. Not even close. Not one word was the same. At first it was hysterical. Then we did it again. “This time we were really going to try,” we thought. We never got it right.
I suppose the lessons were multiple. And because we hadn’t yet developed the cynicism that age can bring, we still believed it was possible. If we really tried. If we paid attention. If we asked questions. If we went to the source. Our source was a tall, soon to be pregnant with twins, woman at the front of the class. When she told us something. We heard it. We believed it. “The truth can always be found,” she told us, “if you go to the source.”
I understand today, that even hearing the words is sometimes not enough. I’ve learned to stop and ask the questions. Not just “what did you say,” but “what did you mean when you said…”
Now being actually “around the world,” it’s even more important. Distance. Time. Texting. Emailing. They can all be as easily misconstrued as a passing snort. Maybe it’s naive, but I still believe. I still believe we can get there. We can see the humor in our mistakes. And come together, with all of our ill-shaped good intentions, we can whisper our way to the truth, and be a part of it all.