“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdest wild space,
headed, I fear, towards a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…”
When I was teaching middle school many moons ago, we took our educational cue from a document titled “Caught in the Middle.” This document was based on the findings of a 1987 middle grade task force appointed by the California Department of Education. “The report emphasized the uniqueness of middle grade students and argued for the need to create educational settings specifically organized to meet these unique needs.” There were 22 principles and 102 recommendations to help meet the specific needs of this age group. If you have not experienced a middle school aged child in a while, you might ask why such detailed instructions are needed for this particular group.
The reason is that it is the waiting place of education. Sandwiched between elementary school and high school, students are not children, but they are also not adults yet. They are leaving their younger more childish ways behind and starting to gain the skills they will need in adulthood. It is probably the first time in our lives that we remember yearning for our past childhood and dreaming of our future selves, but not really enjoying the time spent in those middle years. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that they loved being in junior high. It is an awkward stage, full of physical growth and maturation. I know, because I currently have one child entering into this stage and one on his way out. One emotionally upset that he has to grow older and the other anxiously awaiting the day he will get his driver’s license. They are all big clumsy puppy dog feet, lanky limbs that go on forever, and squeaky rusty pipe voices. Teachers and parents, we need to have instructions! That was the beauty of Caught in the Middle. It gave a sense of order, purpose, and direction during this time of waiting.
Middle school may be the first period of waiting in our lives, but most likely it will not be the last. Every story, book, movie, play is built on three main parts: a beginning, middle and end. The beginning always sets the scene for the adventure which usually includes a problem that the characters need to solve. The end encompassing the resolution and lessons learned. We love drama and resolution, problem and solution. Our daily news is full of such stories. Take Malala Yousafzai for example, she was shot by the Taliban for standing up for female education in Pakistan and became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate in history. Drama and resolution. Yet, what happened in between those two events? Where are the years in the middle? Often we are too busy or impatient to sit through the whole story. We want the condensed version. However, every story has a middle.
The middle of a story is where the main character wrestles, struggles, and grows. It is where the process of living is exposed and the future or resolution cannot be seen. It is waiting. The middle is the most important part of any story. Sometimes when we are stuck in our own “middles”, we want the cliff notes version to just take a peak at the ending. In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown writes, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”
My current story started with the death of my husband, Kory, almost two and a half years ago, and I am in the messy middle right now. I have been in the messy middle for two years. Most days I do not feel like my middle is “magic”. At any given moment my middle can be frustrating, beautiful, discouraging, exciting, peaceful, chaotic, and routine. Sounds a bit like life. It is not glamorous, and I have no clue how it will all end. We are a society that wants to be in the know, and the unknown can drive us crazy. I am no exception. Give me instructions, order, direction like I had for my middle schoolers please. This waiting can get tedious and erode one’s sanity. So, instead of dwelling on the past and yearning for the future, it helps to concentrate on the present. We cannot control what has already happened or what is to come, but we can control our focus at the present moment. Enjoy and be grateful for the here and now. There is so much life to be had caught in the middle. Maybe this is the most important part of my story. Maybe this is the magic.