I rarely get to talk about writing. Mostly when I go out and give workshops or seminars, they’re focused on one of my books or on the topic of spirituality in general. But this time I was invited to give a writing seminar — actually four identical seminars — to the students of Bethlehem Lab School, who were on their annual retreat at Silver Bay YMCA.
I’ll admit I was a little nervous going in. I figured a writing seminar was the last place most of these teens would want to be, especially when the beautiful weather and beautiful surroundings were calling to them from just outside our door. And, honestly, how could I compete with yoga class or archery?
But that was worry for nothing. Lab School kids are a breed apart, and even after two years of seeing it up close, sometimes I still forget that. Their style of learning, their close-knit community, their core team of teachers who go above and way beyond the call of duty make them especially receptive and respectful and open to whatever is put in front of them.
So my sessions were tons of fun, and every one was slightly different depending on the dynamics of that particular group. When I gave them a choice of topics and told them to pick one, write for ten minutes, and never let their hand stop moving, they did it willingly, some downright enthusiastically.
I was thrilled to see kids sprawled on the floor of the cabin, sitting on rockers on the front porch, leaning against a wall, and writing and writing and writing. At each of my four sessions, I actually felt bad telling them their time was up because all of them were still going. Of course, I didn’t know what they were writing. It could have been — as I told them they could do if they ran out of things to say — how much they wanted to be anywhere but in that seminar. But I trusted that most of them found a memory, a thought, a story, a description that captured their attention and poured out on the page.
A few kids told me they really liked the seminar; one stopped me in the dining room to thank me and tell me he wanted to be a sports writer. I figured that would be as good as it got. Then I went back to the cabin to prepare for my last session and found a couple of loose leaf pages filled with writing just sitting on a table. At first I wasn’t going to read it because it felt like prying, but then I figured, if a student left it, he or she probably didn’t care much if someone else read it. And I’m so glad I did.
It started out simple enough, a few thoughts about swimming jotted down on paper because it was required, but then about two-thirds down the page came the line — the “one true sentence” I asked them to try to write (based on something Ernest Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast”). It was beautiful, I mean, really beautiful. I stopped and smiled and knew right then that this one scrap of paper was proof that the writing seminar was worth something and that this annual Lab School retreat is a great way to give kids a chance to try something they might never try otherwise, whether it’s writing or yoga or learning about Lyme disease or trying their hand at archery.
And you know what? These kids have inspired me to break out my own spiral notebook and start writing again just for the joy of it, with no destination in mind, no deadline to meet, no particular subject to cover. Thanks to them I have learned again that all I need to do is write one true thing, the truest sentence I know.
Thank you, Lab School. I am honored to be part of your amazing community.