Trapeze Bars

The end of each school year is marked by a series of celebrations designed to highlight and appreciate individual and collective achievements while also honoring the unique nature of our communities. The end-of-year celebrations also represent a period of key student celebrations and transitions, such as kindergarten to Lower School, Grade 5 students to Middle School, and Grade 8 students to High School. The end of May will also be highlighted by the graduation of our senior class, which represents a culminating experience for EAB students as they prepare to move beyond high school to seek new challenges and growth opportunities. While we are still a few weeks away from these important events in our lives, it is also important to prepare for these periods of transition.

It is often easy to overlook the transition phases of our lives and, in our future-orientated approaches, focus only on the next stages. However, what if it is during these periods of transition that we are presented with the most profound and enlightening experiences associated with who we are and what we value? In our rush to move through transitions as quickly as possible, we may be missing the most important experiences of our lives. Author Danaan Parry has articulated these thoughts through the use of a trapeze bar metaphor:


Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily), swinging along, I look ahead of me, and what do I see? I see another bar swinging towards me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must totally release my grip on the present, well-known bar and move to a new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab a new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of knowing I have always made it. Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto the old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.” It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place where real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time old my buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “nothing”, “a no-place” between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and the new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real to. But the void in-between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorientating “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where real change and real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell on the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we may just learn to fly.

As we collectively plan for the end of the school year and prepare for each of our personal transitions, it is hoped that we will have the opportunity to savor the transition itself. If we follow Danaan’s advice about the importance of embracing transitions, then we may just experience, “the most alive, most growth filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.”

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

About Barry Déquanne

Barry Déquanne is currently working in Switzerland as the Director of the International School of Zug and Luzern. His blog explores topics in K-12 education and school leadership within the framework of five focus areas: Academics, Activities, Arts, Leadership, and Service. The blog also explores professional articles and highlights recently read books.
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4 Responses to Trapeze Bars

  1. Marlene Marcon says:

    Hi Barry Just want to let you know that I really enjoy reading your blogs … particularly this last one. I think the excitement of international teaching is managing the “in between spaces” of the trapeze bars. Sometimes this space is scary … and we have to remember that it is also scary for some of our students. Don’t know if you remember us … but our son, Sandro had you for a math teacher at Lincoln in BA … always speaks of you as one of his best teachers! Marlene Marcon

    • Barry Déquanne says:

      Hi Marlene! It is wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for your very kind words about this posting and my work as a teacher. Working with fantastic students such as Sandro make our job easy and a pleasure! I appreciate your point about remembering that is also scary for our students. Please send my best to Sandro.
      Barry

  2. Cindy Nagrath says:

    Great piece thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed this and I shared it with a friend who’s going through a major life transition. I think the analogy of a trapeze bar is apt because when you’re hanging on to one thing that’s comfortable, but nearing its end, and ready to grab the next phase, but it’s not yet in plain sight — that’s scary! You’re hurling through the air, the unknown and you don’t know if you’re going to fall, but yes, that’s where the excitement is!

    • Barry Déquanne says:

      Dear Cindy, I am happy to know that the analogy may have been of some help in a different context. Thank you for sharing your reflections.
      Barry

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