Hot Spot

It was an early morning in summer. The sun was only a few degrees above the horizon. The fog that had settled in the valleys during the night was beginning to fray at the edges. Mountains pushed through the fog into a bright blue dawn. It would be a warm summer day.

The sun appeared and disappeared, a round moon-sized disk in the fog. In this light the sun appeared benign, it’s fire tempered by the morning mists. But this ethereal specter would not last for long.

My travels that morning took me to a middle school in the Almaden Valley. School was out for the summer, but in the common space at the heart of the school the bulletin boards, display cases, and glass office windows still carried the remnants of the year’s end. I wandered around looking at the lists of scholars, pictures of cheerleaders, photos of parties, artwork of talented young sculptors, and menus served up in the final days of the school year.

The faces of the students who had recently hung out in these halls peered out in photos of triumphs and pranks captured for all to see. I thought of the first two years I taught school. It was in a middle school, then called a junior high, in the Midwest. I thought of my own junior high years. I would never want to live them again, but what exciting and challenging years they were.

Middle schoolers are fearless. They are in the process of becoming, and to do this they must try on many things. It is not easy. I saw the sun outside, coming and going in the fog, finally emerging in a brilliance not matched by anything else in our solar system. It is this kind of radiance that teenagers seek, a unique and personal brilliance that marks them as one of a kind.

Like the sun with its spots and solar flares, there may be eruptions in the process of becoming that are unpredictable and difficult to explain. Sometimes these eruptions are monumental. They may wreak havoc and have effects that are far reaching like solar storms that send a hail of magnetic energy showering down on Earth and planets far beyond. Names like Jonesboro, Springfield and Columbine come to mind. But these are rare.

More often the storms that mark these volatile years are like the spots that travel across the face of the sun. Cool and dark they indicate something that is going on beneath the surface–something not easily understood. But they pass. And the child we once knew emerges, changed but not different, ready to shine and to orbit the earth.

The fog outside had vanished leaving only a few white puffs drifting across the sky casting an occasional shadow. A cat, stretched out in the sunshine, awakened, licked its paw and moved into the shade of a tree. A boy of about fourteen rode a skateboard across the parking lot, off the curb, and jumped high in the air while whirling around, his skateboard seeming to be glued to his feet. How did he do that?

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