endurance

There’s this section in Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Jerusalem,” that lingers…sort of always there, but every so often pronouncing its presence with a sense of passion.

“I’m not interested in

who suffered the most.

I’m interested in

people getting over it.”
There is beauty here that is simple, pure and I think often misunderstood. My students sometimes see these opening lines as insensitive…lacking in sympathy, empathy, human kindness. But what is missed in that interpretation is that she doesn’t write that she isn’t concerned for those who have suffered. She is simply less concerned with the misguided competition for who has endured more and is more intensely intrigued by the human process of getting over it–the ability to move on…without harboring hate. Because in the “getting over it” the substance of the human soul and the intensity of perseverance, the will to not just survive but to flourish becomes evident. The getting over it is the example, right? It is the inspiration to the rest of us, the paragon we look to in the midst of our own suffering. Without that inspiration, it’s hard to believe we can surmount the struggle. The “people getting over it” embody the hope that we need to carry on. (and when we persist toward healing, we in turn become that hope for others…a pretty cool cycle, right?)
Later in the poem she writes, “Each carries a tender spot:/something our lives forgot to give us.” Suffering isn’t unique to the individual, rather it is a quality of humanity. We all suffer to varying degrees (we all carry “a tender spot”), it is what we do with that pain that makes the difference. Do we choose to become bitter? To hate? To live in anger and frustration? Or do we choose to forgive? To extend grace? To live in acceptance and hope?
It isn’t always easy to envision a path that leads to the “getting over it”…and sometimes even once we locate that path, it is rather thorny. And sometimes the path requires more energy than we possess in the moment, so we sit down and rest…not wallow, just rest…so that we can unearth the strength, the courage to continue toward overcoming.
The poem ends with the hopeful line: “It’s late but everything comes next.”
In this world that swells with selfish selections…that swirls with negativity and heartache, fear and hatred…this line fills me up. It is late. But nothing is over. There is more to come. We haven’t seen it yet.
Let’s get over the tender spots and marvel at those around us who do the same. Let’s remember that hate doesn’t have to be our answer when wounded. Let’s keep our eyes on what comes next. Let’s live in community, in forgiveness, in a world where getting over it, healing is more interesting than some strange competition over who hurts more. We all hurt. At some point, we will all hurt. Let’s embrace our humanity and rise above that struggle to live our lives with meaning and intent.
Because that is, after all, the blessing of each new day.
(Day 44…loved revisiting this poem)

pointless

Somewhere around age 8 or 9, I developed a pretty intense phobia. This fear defied conventionality (or at least it felt that way). It was no fear of heights or dogs that others could relate to (though, let’s be real here, I was afraid of those things too). No, this was something that no one else seemed to get–including myself. My fear rooted itself in an aversion to any kind of stomach illness. Sure, lots of people (almost proudly) proclaim “germophobia” but this was more specific and for some reason that baffled others. Or maybe it wasn’t so much the fear that was the issue as much as the way it revealed itself (in panic attacks at absurd moments, in selectively eating only food that felt safe, in doing any number of evidently ridiculous things that felt entirely necessary).

The great humor of my life…and I do believe God sees the irony in this situation as much as I do…is that I spent decades (literal decades) actively working to never feel nauseous…actively worried on the daily that I might be sick or that I might have been exposed to illness…actively avoiding events, people, places where sickness might be present (and I don’t just mean the obvious places…my fear of flying had less to do with the act of flying in a plane and everything to do with the possibility of people getting airsick…) only to find myself at age 36 coping with an invisible illness that brought with it episodic bouts with severe vertigo and regular imbalance and with that came nausea beyond my control (important to note here that even on the days when I wasn’t struggling with violent spinning, I sort of always felt like I was rocking on a boat…sort of like those movies with a shaky camera that make you feel a little seasick by the end…that sensation represented a good day for far too many years). There is no medicine, by the way, that will make vertigo stop…only medicine to abate the side effects of it (and then, only if you are lucky). You are at the complete mercy of your body. You just have to wait it out.

Situations like this provide clarity if nothing else, really. What I came to realize through this joke my body has played on me was that all those days and weeks and months and years of worrying, all that wasted effort, in the end, turned out to be really quite pointless. It didn’t matter how much I worried or how much care I took to avoid, this was always going to happen…and germs really have nothing to do with it (in all seriousness, you have to know, the comedy of this hasn’t escaped me).

This is sort of how life is though, right? People told me for years that I was squandering perfectly healthy moments with worry, but I couldn’t feel the truth of that in any real way until my life handed me a series of whirling moments that brought with them new understanding…like the scales falling away from my eyes. We are experiential beings and sometimes we have to live through the difficult moments to learn the lessons we would have been better off learning far sooner. But the important part is that we are ready to accept the understanding and move forward from there. I suppose that is growing up? And I suppose that process of forming and re-forming the people we have the potential to become is a life long one. And I kind of love that gift…of lessons learned no matter our age…because no matter how unpleasant the wrapping may seem, what is inside delivers insight that makes each day a better one than the one before.

(Day 43…this one feels maybe a little too revelatory…but here it is…is it king cake time yet??)

empowerment

Words, language, have become a means of survival.

Air, water, food, shelter, words. Sincerely, their necessity has reached this level.

The easy answer here in uncovering the meaning behind this dramatic assertion is that books have saved me…allowed me an escape…or that writing has…but it isn’t that simple or that obvious, because for a long time, when I was sick and dizzy, reading and writing were not the friendliest options. However, there are realizations in life that shine a light to burn off the fog that has settled in around you…the fog that hinders your vision…not allowing you to see anything else until you recognize first the truth of what has blinded you. Sometimes you get lost and can’t see up from down or details of the world around you.  Then the moment arrives when understanding clarifies the rest and the fog becomes mist which becomes transparency.

So, I have come to learn that when my language portrays victimization (whether resulting from life long struggles with anxiety or my more recent struggles with inner ear disability), that I sink swiftly into a self induced chasm of resignation. When my language falters under the weight of whatever ordeal I am suffering, I surrender any power or control I have in the situation and I become nothing more than a sacrifice to my circumstances. However, when I shift the syntax…when I choose words that reflect the strength of a survivor…suddenly, I repossess my strength, my courage, my vibrance. When I look at a situation through the lens of accomplishment rather than through the fog of defeat, it may not change my circumstances, but it certainly alters my perception of them. This isn’t simple stuff. The words, this “survivor speak” may feel hollow at first…futile, for they are just words after all. Eventually, with diligence, the moment arrives when they aren’t just words any more because what once felt empty has not only  become your reality, but transformed your experience of it.

In the same way that words can be employed to tear down and demean or to reconstruct and elevate others in our lives, they can be engaged the same way in our own.

balance

Concentration: my inability, here, the issue I face most nights as I sit down in an attempt to write in fulfillment of the daily requirement of this challenge.

Evenings in my house are chaotic to say the least. Dinner needs cooking, kids have activities and events, homework demands supervision, and conversation amongst loved ones eager to share their days awaits. All a realization of the dreams I had during those agonizing years spent impatiently waiting for a child, thinking one may never arrive. I would trade none of it (even the nights where it feels like everything is a struggle…fights over which kid will bathe first…meltdowns over homework…frustration over the ever-growing mess). It is the warmth of my heart living outside of my body. It is what transformed this house into a sanctuary. It is the very vibrance of love and family. And it fills me with gratitude.

But it does make writing difficult.

In order not to relinquish some of the only time we are allotted each day together as a family, I attempt to write each night on the couch with the dog running across my lap, my kids and husband talking, and the tv on. Part of me loves that I am still able to think straight enough to write given these circumstances because for all of those months and years of vertigo, even a quiet space would have been an impossible writing environment. Just composing a single sentence that felt coherent in those days drained my energy supplies. So, I appreciate the challenge of these evenings of writing amid the ruckus. But I also know that the writing suffers because of it. I know that in a quiet room, when I am more awake and able to think clearly, my writing thrives and I am truly able to work on my craft.

That’s just not where I am in this moment, in this phase of my life. If I am going to write everyday, in this life that I have built with my family, this is how it is going to have to be. I will have to learn how elevate my writing despite being surrounded by movement and sound…all of the time…and not the movement and sound of a coffeeshop full of strangers–that is easy to tune out. Rather, the movement and sound of people I love intentionally vying for and deserving of my attention…anxiously waiting for me to wrap up the writing portion of my evening. I will have to learn to seek stillness in the madness, calm in the fury…a new discipline to strive toward. I will have to learn that while honoring this creative element of my self is vital and life-giving, I owe it to the people I love most to honor them as well.

Balance: still seeking this utopian quality for it will deliver me to a place of equal dedication to all that is important in sealing the shards of my spirit.

(Day 41! just under the wire!)

100 word challenge part two

Meet Gingersnap. Nine pounds of Terrier mischief & charm housing nothing but disdain for this blog challenge. Where she once spent her evenings lulled to sleep by scratches behind her ears, a computer has taken up residence. The hands that once offered her comfort, now frenetically strike keys instead. You would think that after 40 days, she would’ve given up…that she wouldn’t still be battering my arms, begging insistently for a redirection of my attention. You would think. Except, I think she is only more fervent now than she was in the beginning. A perfect example of a hope that perseveres.

(Day 40!! If only this were Lent, my challenge would be over!! Still many more blogs to write…hoping next week brings me more time and focus. This week has been tough!)

reading life

I have been rereading Toni Morrison’s Beloved…lingering over the language, pausing to absorb the weight, walking away when the truth (atrocity) overwhelms me (knowing that is a weakness), standing in awe of the craft and construction of this text–a text that knows itself, doesn’t oversell, over word, or over extend itself. I have adored this rereading more than any other reading of this book for some reason. I am not sure why, but something inside of me was ready to understand it differently (and I am not entirely sure that isn’t simply because I’ve been writing more and that impacts my perspective).

But I’m conflicted.

I am rereading the book because I recently took over a class for a colleague who had assigned Beloved to AP juniors. So, this time I’m reading the book to teach it. Working through literature with teenagers is honestly one of the best parts of my job. Inevitably, my students reveal insight through their analysis and questioning that is profound and reflects a perspective I might not have considered. This is particularly prone to occur when I allow them to lead the way in discussion and response. When I allow them to define what is important and to determine what is worthy of study, their engagement with the text deepens. When I allow the text to belong to them too and I grant them agency as readers and thinkers, the work is suddenly far more than a school assignment.

Yet despite my love for facilitating discussions about and analytical work with literature, I’m struggling with this one. I really just want to read the book. I just want to enjoy that reading and with all that I am, I sort of just want to keep it to myself. I don’t want to have to mar the solemnity of the read or intrude into my interaction with Morrison’s words and images in order to create lesson plans. Selfishly, I want to consider and consume the book in solitude…to make sense of it on my own and not to have to share that with anyone else. And in the midst of the whining I’ve been partaking in because of this, I realized something else.

My students feel this way all of the time. Sometimes they just want to read a book without school sort of wrecking it.

We (as teachers) talk all of the time about the importance of independent reading. And then we attach regulations and projects and logs and assessments to what we are calling “independent” and in doing so we have stripped the independence clean away. When we micromanage the reading lives of our students, we in no way stoke a joy of reading…if anything, we stifle it. As an avid reader, I really just want to read books I will enjoy (and sometimes I want to read them more than once…and sometimes they are beneath my reading level but they feed my brain in a different way…I’m looking at you Crazy Rich Asians) and then I want to talk to someone else about them. My 10 year old would agree with this philosophy. He is pretty clear on knowing that if  a book project is required, he doesn’t really want to involve a book he loves…because that kind of work destroys the read for him. I think it is time that we really consider the work we attach to independent reading and then consider what those assignments are doing to heighten the reading experience, to strengthen reading skills, and maybe we also need to consider what those assignments are doing to the reading lives of our kids. And then, from that place of understanding, we need to take some action.

So, as I plan structures that will allow my students to share their understanding of Beloved, I am working hard to maintain my personal reading life and also to help my students develop theirs. This book isn’t part of their independent reading…it was assigned to the whole class…but maybe there is a way for them to own it as though they chose it themselves…and maybe I can help make that happen.

(Day 39!)

an exercise in brevity

We woke up to a bit of a thunderstorm this morning and immediately I remembered Jean Toomer’s “Storm Ending”. The thunder wasn’t so voluminous as to warrant lines like “Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,/Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,/Rumbling in the wind,” yet these words fluttered through my mind nonetheless, bringing calm and a slight smile.

It takes a deft hand and careful imagery to allow for beauty in the clatter that has frightened me since childhood, yet here, he has written thunder so perfectly that I’ve reconsidered its possibilities. Brushstrokes of poetry can retrain our vision, reset our judgement, reveal the truth beyond the scope of our sight…reminding us that while our perception of the world becomes our reality, it isn’t necessarily everyone’s reality. Reminding us that seeing beyond our ego, beyond our singular experience is the only way to truly absorb the vivacity of the world we live in. Reminding us that in any given situation, there are possibilities beyond what our perspective allows us to realize. Reminding us that with a small shift in understanding, things can look completely different. Reminding us that in this life, beauty can be found in the noisy, in the frightening, in the unexpected.

(Day 38…is this cheating? perhaps…but also, I had this moment, and this is all I really had to say about it…I say it counts!)

 

what next?

Well, it is another one of those nights. A night where I have crafted lovely little plums of writing–literally three different pieces, but not a single one of them is traveling the path I hoped it might. So, instead of enjoying the freedom of publication, they’ve been caged in the prison of saved drafts. Were I not in the midst of this writing challenge, this would simply translate to a great night of writing and thinking and wondering and playing with the arrangement of words on the page. It would translate to a wealth of strong beginnings on topics I am excited to revisit…to revise…to reclaim.  However, tonight, on day 37, I am fatigued, have no finished work and have reached the point where I feel done with writing for the night, only to commence writing a new piece, this piece, (where I find myself whining about having nothing completed) simply because I have to publish something. Because that was the deal. Because I owe it to myself to uphold the challenge with so few days to go. Because, well, king cake on Mardi Gras Day…really, there isn’t much more to say than that (let me reiterate at this point how hard this challenge has been…not the writing necessarily, but the not eating king cake!! My sister sent one of my kids this immense king cake donut filled with cinnamon cream cheese filling. This confection typically would have tempted  me to stray from the realm of the gluten free just for a quick taste. But I refrained. I haven’t earned it yet. My job is not yet complete).

But, in all of this meandering, I’ve begun to piece together a writing plan for after my challenge draws to a close on Mardi Gras day. I’ve been wondering for a while not, what happens after the king cake is consumed? I think my plan going forward will still center around writing everyday…but with eyes on publishing only once a week. This is probably what this challenge should have been all along, but in order to get to that point, I needed the accountability of a daily public display of my work. The discipline is in place now, and I am sincerely longing for days when I can work on a piece that I enjoy without having to bring it to some kind of quick or cluttered conclusion before it is fully ready simply so I can click publish. I have missed the ability to linger over a piece and to really select my words, to craft my point, to enjoy the process. Entrenching myself in the discipline of this particular work hasn’t fueled my love of writing, though it has made me a better writer. It has also gifted me with the awareness that I do, in fact, have the time to write everyday. Because, as in all things, we make time for the things that are most important to us.

Were I a little less brain dead, I would have woven the following poetry links into the work a bit more seamlessly and embellished and extended the ideas expressed in each. But that is not where I am and I refuse to withhold poetry from you simply because I can’t arrange it as I would like. As I was writing this piece and I mentioned feeling caged or freed in varying places, the following poems came to mind…

“The Heart of a Woman” By Georgia Douglas Johnson

“Sonnet (1979)” By Elizabeth Bishop (I’m not going to lie, the imagery and metaphor in this poem overwhelms me with every read. I have no idea why I connect to it so deeply, but I love how it makes my brain work and my mind and soul feel…and isn’t that the point of poetry on some level?)

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

(Day 37…a bit of a disjointed mess for sure, but the writing that preceded it only to not be published was worth it)

patience (a second look)

Missing:

the ability to sit still, to wait (with grace), to wonder in the waiting.

~~~~~~~~~~

Patience has fallen out of practice and become nearly obsolete. Technology grants us immediacy. I don’t deny the benefits of this, of course, but the drawbacks are also undeniable.

Answers to just about every conceivable question reside only a Google search away, we can mobile order coffee or fast food to shrink our wait time. No need to wait until the morning newspaper or the evening news, when notifications pop up on the screen in our hands with obtrusive regularity, a competition to get the story out first, even at the sacrifice for getting the story out accurately. No need to wait until the next week to see what happens next in our favorite shows, when entire seasons are available for consumption in a single binge ridden viewing. The people in our lives are just a quick text message away, and when the blinking dots don’t pop up immediately, we wonder what is wrong, or worse…we get angry and defensive, instead of considering that it was us who intruded into their moment, into their attempt to live into their own lives and that a response might take time. In the same way, we feel the need to reply to incoming messages instantaneously–our swiftness, at times, leading to abbreviation and single letter responses…a halting cadence that surrenders the inhale and exhale of conversation.

These options, in bringing ease to our lives, make us comfortable and lull us into believing everything requires expediency…that we should be living our lives at a faster pace…that if we aren’t moving quickly, moreso than those around us, then we most certainly must be falling behind. We move about our days and nights at a frantic pace because we have created a world that is impossible to keep up with…a world that denies the worth of pausing to breathe…a world that admires accomplishment despite the cost.

But when we slow down, the world becomes a different place, if for no other reason than we have taken the time to see and hear it…in detail, rather than in the superficial assumptions of the blur of sight and sound that appear in the rush. When we sit patiently and talk with someone, when we engage face to face, and when we listen as they speak, when we witness the emotion on their face and hear the tone in their voice rather than simply noting an emoji, something deeper happens. Suddenly a stranger’s distance isn’t so far, suddenly the commonality of the human experience reveals itself. When we take the time to explore issues beyond the headlines and social media posts that feed our sort of selfish ambitions to be right, when we seek truth rather than confirmation, the human beings that people these issues come to life. Suddenly, because we slowed down, the single story becomes many, layered. Suddenly, because we slowed down, the simple becomes complex. Suddenly, because we slowed down, our world view shifts even if only slightly.

When we get out of our own way, when we stop to see the truth that swirls around each of us, when we finally notice the beauty surrounding us, empathy flourishes…when that happens, the waiting will have been worth it.

(Day 36–a bit revision and extension–not perfect, but still working on it)

A rough start

(The following is the start…a very rough one as the title implies…of a piece I am working on. It’s been a long day and as midnight nears, I know I can’t do this topic justice this evening. Planning to polish and complete it tomorrow. Just didn’t want to miss a day of writing and given that I’m writing about patience, I think that being patient and working my way through this one exemplifies my point.)

—————————————————————–

Missing:

the ability to sit still, to wait (with grace), to wonder in the waiting.

Patience has fallen out of practice and become nearly obsolete. Technology grants us immediacy. Answers to just about every conceivable question reside just a google search away, we can mobile order coffee or fast food to lessen the wait time, packages can be ordered and delivered overnight, if desired. And these options, in bringing ease to our life, make us comfortable and lull us into believing everything requires swiftness…that we should be living our lives at a faster pace…that if we aren’t moving quickly, moreso than those around us, then we are falling behind.

(Day 35–almost didn’t happen. Grateful for just a little perseverance to get even just a little writing in!)