I’m not entirely sure that there is any way to put into words the magic, transformative experience that was this year’s Mississippi Governor’s School (MGS) session, but if there is a way, it must be through getting to know Jernia, the blue elephant.
Jernia first appeared while me and another faculty member, Lea, were preparing for an option (a short, two hour, one-0ff course) we had decided to teach together. After buying 84 feet of Bubble Tape, clearly an important part of any classroom, we turned around and saw this fine specimen sitting on a store shelf, screaming out to be a part of the option. Lea and I looked at the elephant and at each other and instantly realized we both wanted this. Knowing we had already spent money on Nerf guns and Bubble Tape, we decided to set a budget, and only buy the elephant if it was under $15.
Much to my surprise, it was only $8.99! We were quickly dragging the shelf model to the register and purchasing the pachyderm that was to be named Jernia. The checkout clerk hesitantly asked us if we were teachers, and for a brief moment may have thought we were sane, until we clarified that we were teaching high school students.
For me, this is a moment that stands out in time as a crucial turning point. If my life were Chrononauts, this would be what I’d call a linchpin event. Maybe MGS would have still worked out similarly without Jernia, but I think her presence played an important part in what was to come.
Jernia set the tone for our option, and in weird ways helped me bond with Lea, Erin, Valerie, and a lot of the scholars. Erin and Valerie went on to capture Jernia and post a series of hilarious and possibly disturbing videos of their adventure with her.
To me, the ability of a seemingly random whim to have this much influence is astounding. My life has been changed because of this session (and I will be writing more on that later), and yet I have to wonder how much of that is due to this chance purchase.
This reemphasizes to me the importance of play. Allowing myself to be open to this silly adventure created lasting friendships, helped overcome potentially stressful relationship obstacles with staff members, and helped so many people bond and laugh incessantly.
I saw again concretely how much letting ourselves be open to play can improve life. And the lesson this time was that it’s not just about setting aside time to play – like with the Warrior Dash. It’s about being open to play all the time. Being open to complete silliness. Being open to who we are and who we can be.
Jernia helped me discover that in myself this summer. An entire mythology and adventure was created around this object. But really none of it was about this elephant. What was magic wasn’t a plastic elephant that, when you screw a hose into it’s butt, it’s trunk becomes engorged and spews liquid everywhere. What was magic was the people who could live inside this mythology and laugh and play and pretend and be themselves.
What was magic was that I was with a group of people who could believe in and help create the Chronicles of Jernia. What was magic was how friendship can evolve from something so simple.
For another perspective that is amazingly more detailed, check out Lea’s blog introducing Jernia.