Okay. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of ‘neat freak.’ As a parent, I’m usually the one who moans at the kids: “Hang up your jacket.” Or, I might intone sarcastically: “Really?” pause for emphasis: “Does that empty biscuit wrapper belong on the counter?” Or finally, the classic: “Don’t go to the kitchen empty-handed!”
In fact, I knowingly ‘waste’ hours of my time tidying my office as the prelude to starting a new project. My desk and its environs need to be ordered before I can begin. I pay off lingering bills, file wayward receipts that have been spilling from my in-tray for weeks and, wipe down surfaces speckled with dust and pet hair. Finally, after what may have been hours of seeming procrastination, I’m ready to settle into the real task at hand — whatever that may be.
My wife is the opposite. Her powers of concentration cow me. With a deadline looming, she’ll sit down at the kitchen table, push a pile of bags, books and plates aside to create a small island for the laptop to land on and start right in. Hours later she will have produced an immaculate and well-crafted document amid total familial chaos.
I am far too flighty for such feats of focus. The mere thought of clothes lying dried and crumpling in a dryer pulls me from my intellectual labours.
And so, when I first walked into The Dragon in September, I felt a little unsure about what to expect. Within in seconds, two students greeted me as they carried enormous plates of cookies to the front desk. They’d spent the last day of summer holiday baking hundreds of sweet welcomes for their teachers and peers. The desk itself seemed as though it might belong in an accounting cubical of an insurance company rather than greeting newcomers in the entrance of a school. Wires trailed beneath it, paper lay in a haphazard array across its keyboard and surface. One of the students pushed the debris assertively to one side and placed put a mound of cookies along one edge.
I sat on a wooden bench just by the front door. Beside me a new student quivered with tears. His shyness brimmed over so that his desire to disappear unconsciously filled the hall with a silent tension. As Dragons filtered in, laughter and chaos echoed throughout the first floor. Students gathered in groups and singly, chatting about vacation trips and Pokémon Go. A din grew. Quick and hungry hands denuded the plates of cookies.
Three different Dragons approached the weeping new boy beside me. They independently introduced themselves and invited him to join their cluster of friends. One even offered to just sit silently with the newcomer in empathy. Their efforts and compassion really struck me.
Eventually, the head, Dr. Fox, appeared. She stood in the middle of the foyer shouting for attention and quiet. Teenagers called out to her, interjecting comments amid her welcome to the new academic year. Interruptions cascaded from the upperclassmen perched on the staircase above her. Her speech sputtered and then gradually calmed the boisterous mood. Finally, she dismissed the Dragons to class.
Laughter and stomping feet died away and I was left alone to contemplate the crumb-ridden floor, untidy desk and handful of haphazard chairs.
The halls of my childhood school stand immaculate in memory. But even as I recall their seeming order, they evoke an unease of oppression and boredom.
Within weeks, my new Dragon exuded a love and pride in the school. He quietly harbours a slight neat freak sensibility which he gets from me, but he overlooks the mild disorder of the place because he senses a deeper imperative which structures his interactions and courses.
He stabbed at his chicken at dinner two nights ago, “You know, I’m really going to miss the teachers who are leaving.” He waved a piece of dark meat ungainly in the air with his fork, “No really, I am.” He paused. “The Dragon is not like other schools.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It’s just different.”
“But you’ve had other teachers leave.” I add, “And, you’ve even left other schools.”
“Yeah, but at those schools I just kinda socialized . . . . at Dragon . . . . “ He searched for words, “I don’t know. . . It’s different.” He chewed thoughtfully and then glanced up through a mop of hair tossed on his forehead and hanging in front of his eyes. “I know what it is!” His left eyebrow arched victoriously and the fork swung back into the air, “It’s a community. It’s a social and an intellectual community.” And as he beamed with certainty, he added, “And so all the people just matter more.
“Yup,” he mumblingly reasserted, “It’s a community.”
As he said this, my mind’s eye drifted to a vision of Dr. Fox’s office – located at the core of the Dragon building: right in the middle of the second floor – a comforting space that seems incongruously to be both her personal sanctuary and the hub of the school.
The Dragon’s floors are not always swept and its furniture lined up assiduously with architectural geometry but it exudes a quiet harmony that my boy has tapped into . . . a quiet but persistent humanist doctrine orders its tutelage, rooms and ethos. And even I will try to settle myself amid its benevolent chaos and absorb its learned devotions. Entropy, after all, orders the universe.