A Human Bridge Built of Cooperation

MY adventures in human bridge-building began this way: I was asked by the mother of a home-schooled child to teach a ``Worldshop'' - a sort of mini-course for primary-school aged kids - on the topic of creative movement. So after the day's lesson of scarf-tossing and sheet-dancing, as well as ``move and freeze,'' I asked the children to make one bridge.

``Build one bridge using all of your bodies,'' I said with a deadpan expression, twice.

All motion stopped, as some of the children assumed quizzical postures and others began to mumble. Nathaniel's eyes rolled upward. Janet's toes tapped in question. Her pigtails sagged. ``How do you mean?'' asked Justine, nonplussed by the task.

I repeated, ``Make one bridge out of your bodies. One bridge.'' They broke naturally into segments of one, two, and three, beginning tentative attempts at bending over or joining hands. For some reason, some children sat on the floor to begin their problem-solving. Yet their movement was purposeful, even though it would have looked random to strangers.

Small group attempts were carried out, and some disagreements began to arise. ``No, she said a bridge, not a tunnel.'' ``Yeah, but should we go get Janet and Carolyn?'' ``Mrs. Toy, Mrs. Toy. Look!''

``One bridge,'' I said firmly, holding my ground, a rock among the reeds. Squelching a great temptation to show them how to make a bridge or say, ``No, no, no! I asked you to make one bridge, not four bridges,'' I waited.

At this juncture, some of the children had settled into inventive arrangements which would have sufficed as small-scale models of the larger bridge. Nathaniel was somehow balanced upon one arm and one leg. Janet and Carolyn laced their fingers together, palms facing on both hands. Yet it was five long minutes into the exercise and still the group had not come together.

``Like this?'' asked Nathaniel, whose body he'd managed to ease into a perfect backbend, and who was not in the habit of checking his moves with adults.

``One bridge - the whole group make one bridge,'' I replied for perhaps the 10th time. I spoke in a neutral tone - no approval, no disapproval.

Suddenly, I was struck dumb and in love with all these children, at their brave attempts to comply with my off-the-wall request. They were trying so hard! They might never complete the task, but who cared? I grasped the passionate spirit of Walt Whitman's impersonal affection: ``And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence/ Are more to me ... than you might suppose.'' It did seem as if years were truly passing!

And then it happened: Their bodies became as one whole, structurally perfect bridge bent across the room, beautiful yet simple, each child stretching out his or her arms and hands to rest on the shoulders of the child in front. They were silent.

I applauded and cheered, ``Bravo!''

So these rampant individualists had built their bridge with a scrappy brand of problem-solving mixed with cooperation and goodwill.

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