erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

There used to be a hideous, blue line of tape running down the middle of the hallway at my school. All last year, students were told to stay on one side or the other depending on which way they were going, and for the most part, they did. When they were told to wear masks, they did that too.

Staying “distant” was the focus of the entire year—stay 6 feet apart, don’t shake hands or give high-fives, don’t gather in groups.

And the teachers? We made seating charts, sprayed down desks, and called parents to make sure their kids’ squares were appearing on the screen.

Fear dominated and community suffered. Teachers and administrators worried about following the rules. Nobody wanted to be the reason for getting someone sick or worse, sending the whole school back online.

By the end of the year, my students were sick of it. I was too. It was hard to see the life get sucked out of our school, but the last day finally came.

The students in third period walked into room 212, standing around their desks, talking, and unzipping backpacks. When the bell rang, I shouted, just like every day, “Good morning students!”

“Good morning Mr. Ahnfeldt!” they shouted back. Masks covered their mouths, but their eyes told me they were smiling.

“I’m excited about today!” I said, rubbing my hands together. “We’re going to have some fun.” I paused for a moment, adding a little drama, and before I could start talking about exam review games, Mackenzie raised her hand. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. What was she going to say?

“Go ahead Kenzie,” I said. Mackenzie was full of life, never afraid to say what she felt, even when COVID restrictions weighed heavy.

“Can we. . .” she paused a moment looking at her classmates.

“Can we have a dance party?”

Her question hit me like the cold blast of a squirt gun.

Is she joking? I wondered. In schools with blue tape and sterilizing spray, there are no dance parties. She was still looking at me, waiting for an answer. She wasn’t joking. The other students nodded their heads eagerly.

I had to say something, so I said what any teacher would say in my situation—

“We’ll see.”

Profound right? It was all I could come up with, and I followed that with, “We’ll do Instant Replays and review games, and afterward, maybe we’ll have time.” Secretly, I hoped there’d be no time.

“Instant Replays” started, and kids came to the front of the room, taking turns sharing words that inspired them.

Alea and Jordan were the last to go. The entire year, we begged them to sing, and since this was the last day, they were going for it. The song was “I See the Light” from the movie “Tangled”.

The two performers took off their masks.

My eyes instantly went to the hallway window in the back of the room. I was pretty sure unmasking and singing were both still on the blacklist, and I didn’t want any uninvited spectators. What happens in room 212 stays in room 212.

We turned off the classroom lights, leaving the two of them standing in the glow of the projector. The music played, and when they sang, it was so beautiful, students turned on their cell phones, waving them in the air like they were at a concert. The words in the chorus were perfect:

“And at last, I see the light, and it’s like the fog has lifted.”

Only a loving Author could weave those words so perfectly into our story that day. We all saw His light filling that classroom; it wasn’t just coming from the phones or the projector. It was the evidence of God’s creative work in our lives. And as those two sang, it really did feel like the “fog” of COVID was lifting, despite the masks and blue tape.

Instant Replays finished, and we had some fun playing review games, but the clock wouldn’t move fast enough.

With five minutes left, Mackenzie asked again, “Is there still time for that dance party?”

Everyone looked at me. I looked at the clock.

“Let’s do it!” I whispered, like we were pulling off the biggest heist our school has ever known. Mackenzie’s face lit up, and everyone jumped out of their seats. Someone suggested playing “I Want It That Way” by The Back Street Boys, so I pulled it up on YouTube and turned up the volume.

When the music started, Kendall sang along in the middle aisle, using her fist as a mic.

Illiana was so excited, she just kept jumping up and down.

Then, Seth and Connor stood up on their seats and beat the air like drums.

It felt like freedom, but honestly, I didn’t know what to do with the moment. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Should I dance? Was this okay?

In the middle of my pondering, Haley walked to the front. As we moved to the music, we watched her. Like all of us, she struggled with insecurities and lies. It was safer to stay quiet, hidden in the back of the class, than to expose her heart. But toward the end of the year, that fear was fading, and the result was beautiful.

She laid down, her stomach flat against the floor. All eyes were on her. Then, in one fluid motion, her arms and legs began moving until she was gliding across the room. Was she doing “the worm”? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The class erupted with applause and cheering.

When the song ended, everyone was out of breath. We looked at each other amazed. Like that blue tape running down the middle of the hallway, there was this oppressive boundary keeping us from living, and we crossed it.

Being a first-born and a perfectionist, I never want to cross the line. Too often, my first thought is what will people think, but there are moments in life when it’s not only okay to cross that line, but even. . . do I dare say. . . necessary. That day in room 212, my students led the way. We crossed the line together, and on the other side, we could breathe again.

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