the sea is so big and my boat is so small- from a Breton prayer


“God help me” is the first line of that Breton prayer, but i am not compelled to reflect on the prayer or the profound and beautiful constancy of All That Is rather, this particular line from the prayer are words and a metaphor that i have held and carried with me for many, many years. i am reflecting on those words because they ring true to me again and again. They have been posted on my office wall and they have been the subject of notes and gifts that I have shared with others as well. Some version of this prayer has returned to me unexpectedly, at other times… Following the death of friend who took her own life, the minister compared her family to being passengers adrift on this same small boat float amid a big sea; the Donovan song which i have sung with countless groups of children announcing that “love is like a little ship upon the sea”; and Children’s Defense Fund use of this prayer beside a child’s painting of a small boat riding large waves across a purple sea across their web page- These are all examples.

Years ago, when i was in Reggio Emilia, Italy, I visited a “green”school that had been founded by a group of women following WWII. These woman in this town wanted to build a school for children because they intuitively knew that school had the possibility to become the new heart for their community. Not because they viewed children as particularly vulnerable or separate from themselves, but because they turned their eyes to imagining together a future that was loving, devoid of war, centered around community building, steeped in art, literature, gardening, inclusive of and caring for the natural world, and steering them toward a safe port where they would manifest in their collective vision and labor. Using the rubble left behind from the war, metal from tanks and bricks from destroyed buildings, they began. As the Italians say, “brick by brick” (nee Mattone su matone.)

A force came over me or from within me that day, in that school. I felt it coming and asked my friend, Lauren to keep an eye on me because my body had begun to shake. That moment was like being transported through all my life and all the stories of my parents lives and the a merge with all the people in that community as if we were one life, the same life, and we were All in the same boat upon the same sea. i sobbed uncontrollably and something happened there that cracked me open and some new light shone in; but that’s another story.

Four months ago the school that I had been a part of for 18 years was shuttered by the administration of the university we were located in . Allegedly, a COVID related casualty and maybe it was however; its also true that its closure reflects a larger schema at work in America right now, a plan that devalues schools and teachers of young children who have the audacity to be joyous. Who have the audacity to view their work intellectually. Who have the audacity to do beautiful community building work across generations with a philosophy manifested from freedom. Who imagine a world with one mind to provide and care for one another for one another as a function of being a person. The boldness to create schools for young children and early childhood educators that are born of the courage to create something so unfamiliar in a system that lies to people. As Jonathan Kozol put it so brilliantly in his book, The Night is Dark and I Am Far From Home”, the first lie we tell children is that we send them to school “for their own good”. Clearly they are sent to schools to be enculturated the way those in power prefer. The power structures in place today want us to believe that our little ship lives are beyond our control and consequently “it’s for our own good” when we unlearn what’s right and natural. I’m calling bullshit. Our collective consciousness is a powerful creator and now, right now, we being seeing and being presented with a crack in the system, right now.

We are experiencing a transformative time and our often oppressive and undervalued public and private systems for caring and educating children systems are cracking and failing. Teachers and administrators are expressing their belief that they are victims of this time, the sea is churning beyond their control. I assert here and now, bullshit, get control. If your internal navigation system is shouting this is not working this is not good for children and families then please, make it feel right. Take back the wheel and right the ship- plot a course of fair winds and following seas.

My colleagues and I created the school and pedagogy we did not because we had some idea that young children inherently more valuable than other people and we were martyrs for them, but because we finally “KNEW” that we could do this work with such incredible dignity that it would be the highest calling ever and that my friends, was how we would change the world.

heron island, maine

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