On Friday the 13th of May, 135 children convened on our Shining Mountain high school field to hold the 2016 Pentathlon. The children came from six schools and traveled to Boulder from all parts of Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico. Zeus, the God of gods and the controller of weather, graced us with a sunny, crisp day like they must have known on Mount Olympus.
Craig Rubens, the Games/P.E. teacher asked me two weeks prior if I would mind playing the part of the Goddess Athena for the Pentathlon. Having never attended a Pentathlon, I had no idea what I was agreeing to do, but I’d never actually worn a toga for a whole day, nor released doves, nor carried a lit torch at the head of a parade of athletes. I was game.
The children had been practicing their Pentathlon skills since September: javelin, sprint, long run, Greek wrestling, long jump and discus. My daughter spoke so often at the dinner table about the adventures and misadventures of her class’ nine-month progress. And leading up to the event, she had that knot in her stomach, a mixture of excitement, nervousness and the intense desire to do her best. It’s that powerfully, instructive kind of knot that a 5th grader can use for self-discovery.
The day began with opening ceremonies (this is Waldorf after all): group eurythmy dances, odes read to the gods, real fire, a release of live doves and the running of the torch. Students were then organized into their city-states to start their rotation of the Pentathlon events. After the sprint, the children came to the tent to chat and check in with the gods.
I was amazed at the earnestness of the children. As the day progressed they relaxed and walked over to the tent with giggles and sillies, but when we asked them to come close, sit and tried to hold the space, they were wide-eyed and reverent. Even the children I knew well were more mesmerized than I thought possible. They really are still more child than adolescent. Many kids their age have gone numb with media or have rushed ahead of childhood, but our schools have got something really incredible going on here. As Zeus and Athena, we spoke with them about the qualities of the athlete, about striving and digging deep. We chatted with them about how to win and how to lose and name dropped our other god-friends and their qualities: Hermes, Artemis, Heracles and others.
After lunch, when the children made their offerings, I really felt like they were making the offering to me. These offerings were made by each school group directly in front of Zeus and me with their backs to the crowd. There were poems recited in Greek, dances, songs and drama. Instead of feeling incredibly awkward and unworthy, I tried to summon the notion that they were offering their best efforts toward the goddess of wisdom. And that made it easier for me—someone who can be quite shy. What an incredible gift—to have over one hundred children offering their hearts and souls to me personally. What an honor to witness their sacred, beautiful, whole-hearted efforts. I will hold those moments for the rest of my life.
I would have thought that these 5th graders were too old to live in the imaginary world, that they were too old to want the magic. But it’s a good reminder that even the child who stopped imaginary play more than a year ago is still just a javelin throw away from a world of wonder. How easily adults, myself included, assume that they have outgrown all that. Maybe this Waldorf education has instilled a sense of magic that will never be usurped by the humdrum of the adult world. And so for a day, I was reminded how important it is to continue to hold sacred the child in all of us.
So as my last act of Athena, I make a wish for these children on the edge of adolescence. I wish they move forward from the sacred cocoon of childhood with the unwavering torch of wonder and the perpetual lens of magic.
Photos by Mark Steele