It was the autumn of 2001, just a short time after the tragedy of September 11th. At the time my work with young children and families as a Waldorf early childhood teacher focused on parent-baby classes. I was just beginning a new independent venture of my own focusing on childbirth education and parenting. In preparing for this, I was busy collecting images, poems, and articles that would hopefully inspire my work with the families attending my classes. Like everyone else I knew, I was in deep shock and grief in the aftermath of such violence and loss. I came upon an image in a magazine that imprinted itself into my heart and soul and it has stayed with me to this day. It was a photo of a mother holding her infant in her arms as she stood on the balcony of her high-rise apartment in Manhattan and watched the Twin Towers burning in the distance.
It was the profoundly powerful dissonance of this image that struck me: the mother tenderly holding her baby filled with goodness and hope in the midst of the magnitude of that tragic day. The focus of my work became crystal clear to me in that moment. We must always, and in all circumstances, cherish the essential goodness of life and hold hope alive in our hearts, just as that mother cherished and held her little one. The illumining insight given to us by Rudolf Steiner that the young child unconsciously and implicitly experiences the world around them as good, took root in a new and more urgent way in my heart and mind. How could I, with ever more mindfulness and gratitude, reflect this goodness of the world in my work with young children and their parents? How could I honor their trust in me as teacher and caregiver?
The answer to these questions came from the children themselves. The children in our care are our teachers in walking this golden pathway, through their innate sense of wonder, reverence and goodness. In the presence of the children the heaviness in my heart about the state of the world would immediately lift. Joy would enter. Celebrating the everyday miracles in our many shared present moments became our daily bread. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, in her hope-filled book titled Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair quotes Emily Dickinson who says, “Hope inspires the good to reveal itself”. In our work of caring for young children we are given the most precious gift of seeing how, out of the very nature of the young child and his whole-hearted openness to the world, the good is revealed every day, moment by moment. Our children, like light-filled rays of hope, are the revealers of the goodness of the world.
For many years in my parent-child classes and in my mixed-age Bluebells Kindergarten at the Chicago Waldorf School, one of our favorite yearly traditions was to go on a leaf walk at the peak of the autumn colors. The autumn fairies were so busy painting the leaves such brilliant hues! We would carry our baskets into all that autumn beauty and begin our walk, singing, “We are walking, we are walking as the leaves they tumble down…” The children were thrilled with the leaf treasures they found, like little miracles, filling our baskets to overflowing. “We are walking, we are walking, catch a leaf of golden brown.” Our senses were also filled to overflowing as we took in the colors and forms of the leaves, as we touched them and smelled their aromas, and as we listened to the crackles and swishes when we walked, skipped and jumped. Our heads were soon adorned with leafy crowns, truly like golden halos. Our windows in the classroom became light catchers as the sun shone through our bright and beautiful wax paper leaf transparencies in hues of green, gold, crimson, orange and brown. The children brought their favorite leaves to the nature corner for Mother Earth to love and care for. What a gift it was to be able to gather up the golden goodness of the world into our own hands and hearts and celebrate it in so many ways. A leaf walk! Something so simple, and yet filled with the goodness of life. Celebrating the seasonal festivals with our children provides a pathway on which we walk together, gathering into our soul life the goodness of dear Mother Earth. Trusting the ground under our feet, we feel the courage to reach out, to grow, and to become…
I wonder about the mother and child in Manhattan to this day. The child is now seventeen years old. The mother is guiding her teenage son or daughter into the world of today and into the uncertain future. My hope for them is that there is a core of certainty in their hearts that the world is good. Perhaps that little one grew up and gathered autumn leaves, picked apples, swam with joy in the ocean, took delight in the falling rain and snow, and danced with the wind. Maybe all those gifts of childhood are tucked into her teenage heart, held and cherished just as she once was in her mother’s arms. Perhaps that mother is finding the courage to let her child go and seek her pathway in life, with trust in life’s wisdom and goodness in the midst of such darkness and challenging times. I often think of the first lines of my favorite hymn from my childhood:
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies.
May this love strengthen us to continue cherishing goodness and holding hope in the midst of all that life brings to us and to our world. May we find ways to celebrate this goodness with our little ones who invite us each day to notice it, to find it, and to treasure it. For it is this golden seed of goodness planted into the very heart of early childhood and nurtured in these early years, that will flourish and become a tree of life and sustenance for us our whole lives through.
Christine Culbert has been an early childhood educator at the Chicago Waldorf School over many years. She worked also as a nurse in labor and delivery settings. She taught classes in the community through her Starbaby Childbirth and Parenting program. Recently she has worked on the faculty, Board, and Core Group of Arcturus Rudolf Steiner Education Program and coordinated the early childhood teacher training for the past three years. Christine remains on the faculty at Arcturus and is taking some time to develop a little home handwork business. Soon you can follow her on Instagram @Themoonseesmestudio.