inhale, exhale

Breath.

Invisible (well, for now anyway, it is still September and still, it seems, endlessly summer).

Invisible except in the rise and fall of the chest; except in the fatigued surrender of a sigh.

Invisible (for the healthy and the privileged) because it is easily ignored…a state of being, an elemental piece of existence. Mundane. Prosaic. A promise fulfilled that has become a promise expected and so the gratitude that might create awareness…

Dwindles.                   Subsides.                  Withers.

Invisible until we are gasping or labored or until the air around us runs rancid and it becomes hard to find clean air to fill us up to propel us forward to allow life

to swirl,                      to swell,                    to scintillate.

(metaphorical? yes–and–no)

Invisible until we are breathless and then it is all we see, all we feel–the ache, the burn resounds as our breath seems to have abandoned us and our quality of life (its abundance and intensity and brilliance) seems to have shifted and that shift, even if minuscule, stings.

~~~~~~~~~~

Breathless: I have been feeling breathless. I have unwittingly been attempting to fill my lungs with the air of stress that has become polluted by fumes of negativity and the entirety of my being has suffered as a result. I am exhausted, heavy, impatient. While exhaustion comes with parenting and “principalling” and teaching…heaviness and impatience are not familiar territory…and they frustrate me, creating even thinner air…leaving me jealous for any life, any day, any moment removed from the needs of others and the anxiety of not meeting them as effectively as I would like. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist (I am far too disorganized for that), but I don’t like letting people down either.

Triage: I needed to stop. To step back. To assess. What was missing? Why couldn’t I catch my breath and extract myself from this quicksand of worry? Why couldn’t I take back the narrative of positivity and rewrite the negativity…spin a new story? (I am, after all, the most annoyingly optimistic person I’ve ever known…ask my students, they will tell you) Why couldn’t I see a glimmer in this wilderness that seemed to be closing in around me?

Diagnosis: Writing. I wasn’t writing. (I mean, there was the lack of exercise too, but, you know…) I wasn’t granting myself permission to do one of the few things that make me feel most myself. I was using the time excuse again. But, seriously, chasing time was part of the reason I was so breathless and I wasn’t getting any closer to catching him. The rock was at the bottom of the hill again everyday and my Sisyphean struggle only seemed to intensify. So, I had to make a determination. I needed to challenge myself. I needed to fight my way out and that fight was going to have to include putting words on the page (digital or otherwise).

Prescribed: “the positivity project” (which I am sure is not some new brand of ingenuity–rather a remake) became my road map. Writing on this blog, 30 minutes a day, everyday, for as long as I can make myself, with the purpose of promoting positivity in each entry. It just seems that if I needed to be dug out of negativity, other people might benefit from reading something positive as well.

And maybe this way I will move forward in greater gratitude for the freedom of clean, easy air. A plentitude of it. Instead of searching for breath, I will just

Breathe.

For poetry’s sake

So, I had this dream last night…hang in there with me…it is a little fuzzy as remembered dreams tend to be. I was seated at some event with some of my favorite authors (I can’t recall who precisely; I didn’t really see them, I just knew they were there). We were in conversation and it was as though I belonged there…as though I was an equal. Then, suddenly the person seated just a few chairs down from me turns and shares details about a poetry anthology that is about to be released.

It was Maya Angelou.

In my dream, this person speaking directly to me, was Maya Angelou. I immediately, without intimidation or reticence and as though I were speaking to a friend, replied with enthusiasm for this text and began my sad story about how I have all these things to say about poetry and no voice or platform to share them more effectively. And this is where I know my sub-conscious was really trying to nudge me…Ms. Angelou looks me directly in the eyes and says, “You have a voice. You are just choosing to put other things first. Free your heart, the words will follow. Give them the time they deserve.”  I’m certain if this had truly been Maya Angelou, she would have expressed this far more profoundly, however, she was limited by the confines of my sleepy brain. Regardless, this truth-baring reprimand was enough to get me writing again…and the words below are my heart set free (well, when it comes to poetry anyway…especially the necessity of poetry in the lives of our students…).

What feels like a million years ago now when I was still young and smart, I spent my last two years of undergrad researching and composing my honors thesis on Dante’s Divine Comedy. This project was a passion of mine–I began taking Italian so I could read the poem in the original language…I read Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso each more than once…I read texts that inspired the allusions within Dante’s work…I read criticism…I wrote about all of this and then wrote some more and some more after that. It fueled my brain and felt like the most intriguing puzzle ever set before me.

When I finally narrowed my focus, I was surprised that I landed in the beauty of Paradiso rather than the glorious and righteously (and maybe vindictively) bestowed agony of Inferno. I never saw that coming, the Inferno always seemed far more deliciously awful and enjoyable. But somewhere along the way I discovered a pattern in one of the cantos of the Paradiso and my brain said, “Yes, thank you! We will park ourselves here and think some more.”

Honestly, as nerdy as this will sound, working through this text and the sometimes terror…sometimes frustration…sometimes exuberance of writing about it and about my findings was legitimately fun and some of the most gratifying work I have done in my life.

With all of that in mind…I bring you to the day of my defense. One of my favorite humanities/comparative lit professors had offered to be one of my readers, and I honestly couldn’t wait to hear the praise and accolades he would lavish. And while there was some of that, there was also something else…something that in all these 20 or so years, I have never forgotten. With a look of true disappointment, he revealed that while my academic work was excellent and my dissection of the poem important, I had lost the beauty of the words along the way…that I had completely sacrificed the magnificence of the aesthetic created by the poet in order to deconstruct the work for deeper understanding. I mean, look, my defenses went way up because the aesthetic wasn’t my focus or my purpose. But the fact that the sting of that statement still lingers, points me toward the fact that there was enough truth in what he observed that he was right.

Which brings me to the point of this first blog in a new series of blogs (well, I’m hoping it becomes a series of blogs anyway!). I’ve been advocating for years that the reason students (high school students especially) need to be studying poetry in the classroom is because it will impact them as writers in deep and meaningful ways. I know this to be true and so do so many other teachers I admire. Poetry, in its brevity and precision, offers a microcosm of what happens in prose–each word, each piece of punctuation, a deliberate and intentional act on the page–each poem, approachable for study even when it will take work to navigate because the page isn’t so overwhelmingly full.

This (in greater detail) has been my plea for the last 5 years:

Teach the poetry and your young writers will better their craft.

Something in this poetic passion project always felt hollow, false, lacking. I could never put my finger on it until the other day when I woke up from my Maya Angelou dream a little unnerved and suddenly thinking about my thesis defense. And then a more complete truth settled upon me.

In all of my research and in all of my speaking and writing on this subject, I have been too focused on the academic outcome and less focused on the human need for and the value of the aesthetic, of the emotion, of the truths contained in the beauty (albeit sometimes raw rather than rapturous) of poetry…the value of students finding themselves in a poem, finding comfort, finding joy…the value of students finding the truths of others in these brief texts…the value of the outlet of poetic composition when a student is anxious, overwhelmed, in crisis, happy, in love (and yep, teenage love counts you guys–perception is reality, so guess what…that perceived love is their reality)…

In all of my efforts to feel and sound credible, I lost sight of sharing the importance of the empathic weight of poetry and what that delivers to the human beings in our classrooms, seated before us. I ignored the truth that sometimes what we read–especially poetry–doesn’t have to be an academic pursuit, rather it can be a soulful one, a healing one, a rejuvenating one, an exploratory one–one that isn’t followed by analysis and essay, rather causes us to look carefully inward. And just because we have demands placed on us as teachers that sometimes restrict what it is that we do in our classrooms and how we do it, does not mean we cannot make the space for poetry and for allowing our students to be human beings rather than simply learning machines…for allowing them to be frail and vulnerable and to interact with a text that will foster connection and allow them to feel seen, heard, understood…for granting them time to appreciate the beauty of the words and not have to peel back layers in search of some purified explication. After all, if we are truly teaching the whole child and respecting them as individuals who deserve to be seen, doesn’t all of this fit…doesn’t all of this become required curriculum?

In the coming days and weeks, this blog will be filled with stories and moments and ideas that validate the use of poetry in the high school classroom (okay, and really in all of our lives…just saying…) and not for any other purpose than allowing our kids to feel and to wade into and to soak up the beauty of the language, its function, its artistry, its ability–for in allowing them to do that, we will empower them to harness their own emotion, to develop their own voice, to know who they are and to speak their own truths. In a world where the college admissions process has become debilitating and where our students often feel othered, unheard and ignored, how can we discount poetry when it can work against the injustices they feel and face?

Commencement

On the evening of Friday, May 17, my seniors graduated. Commencement is a pretty common event yet I always find myself inspired and moved as I watch another group of young people venture off toward their future. This year was a bit different as this was the first group to graduate since I became Head of High School and I was also asked to deliver a commencement address. Since Friday, several people have asked me to share my words from that night, so I figured this would be the easiest way to make that happen. Below are those words–certainly, they are more significant to my kiddos and in the moment that it was delivered. Regardless, here it is…

“I love graduation night at CES. Friends and family outside of this community struggle to really understand this about me. Last year, for example, I was too sick to attend graduation and in the depths of my disappointment over my absence, I turned where anyone else would for comfort…to social media. I just knew that if I were to share my heartache over missing this special event that at the very least my teacher friends from other schools in other places would get it…they would understand. Except, most didn’t. In fact, many of them congratulated me on getting out of attending the ceremony, saying things like “the kids won’t even know that you aren’t there” and “there will be another graduation next year, don’t worry” All I could say was “You just don’t get it.” And they didn’t. I didn’t try to explain that things here are different or unique. They wouldn’t have gotten the weight of that either because our “essence” as Zoe referred to it in her Seniors Speak is far too intangible to fill a pithy Facebook response and worth far more than any number of likes, loves, thumbs up it might receive. There wasn’t enough space to express that when these young people graduate after spending so much time with us in our small, quaint setting that they are not just students saying goodbye, rather they are family moving away from home—and graduation has become a sort of formalized celebration of that bond before they depart and look to the next exciting moments in their lives. When graduates cross this stage, it means something to each member of this faculty because we have an investment in the lives of each of these young people that is made richer because of the size of our school, for though our community may be small, its heartbeat is mighty. Every graduation counts here. Every kid matters. These young people seated before you and all who have graced this stage before them have taken up a residence in my heart and in the hearts of all on this campus and while they leave us physically, there they will remain.

I consider it a great honor to have the opportunity to speak this evening as I stand in awe of this particular group of graduates. Mr. Morvant referenced them as “Living Stones” of CES the other night at our Academic Awards and while I’m sure his intent was for us to consider St. Peter, I couldn’t help but think of a line from the U2 song “Ordinary Love” —“the sea throws rocks together/But time leaves polished stones.”  While these lyrics stray from Mr. Morvant’s purpose, I also think they typify and exemplify so much about this class. To me, these lyrics consider the power of refinement an environment, even one that is tumultuous at times, can have. These lyrics also speak to the power of the company you keep in that environment—company that is not always your choice but because you share space you are being shaped by each other every single day in ways you may not even recognize—Yet, as a result of this closeness, there is  also a need to figure out how to respect the differences in those that surround you without losing what makes you the individual you are. After all, the rocks being tossed in the sea would become far less interesting if they were all polished to look identical.

So, if you don’t already know it, this is a group of strongly opinionated young people who had to work rather hard in order to learn how to share those convictions without insult or injury and how to hear opinions different from their own without judgement and clearly disgusted facial expressions. They had to learn how to have difficult conversations without it degrading into argument and vitriol. Honestly, the adults in this world have a great deal to learn from the process these kids have endured. When they believe in something, they are fiercely protective of it and that is commendable. That is how you end up with an Equality Club and a GSA; that is how you end up with a thriving golf team and a student council that fosters activities on par with schools 3 and 4 times our size; that is how you end up with costume design and a newly popular student vestry; that is how you end up with 17 young men and women some terrified, some exhilarated but all willing to stand up at Seniors Speak and share not just their learning, but their truth.

It is in fact a process of refinement. And I think part of what makes that refinement so difficult is the call to love. This greatest commandment, this call to love our neighbor is daunting because sometimes it is the people in closest proximity that can become the most difficult to love, the most difficult to forgive, the most difficult to really see because we feel we know them so well. But as we heard in the reading tonight, love “bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

These polished stones seated on this stage tonight have learned together the weight of these words as they have trekked the journey of these four years in community. Their years here while often full of laughter and silliness, coordinated dress up days and themed get togethers, have not always been so simple and this call to love has gotten cloudy and complicated at times, as it does for all of us–yet despite the seemingly enigmatic challenges and the time it may have taken to unwind them, these young people have always abided, they have always found a way to rise above, they have always sought to work it out and I believe that they will continue to do so in their lives even now as they go their separate ways. They will bring that goodness and the understanding that the single story, what we think we know, is never, not even once, the entire story, they’ll bring that to new environments, to new people they have yet to meet because that foundation is strong—because they worked to build it. Because this is the sheen of their polish. And in doing that they will absolutely become “Living Stones” of Christ Episcopal School. They will carry forward the love that was fostered in them and by them and in doing so, I hope, I expect the world will be a better place for it.

As an aside, as our Salutatorian and I discussed speeches this week, she told me my speech would be great as long as I didn’t include any poetry, and I tried not to include any, I really did, but alas, here we are and I am definitely going to quote some poetryJBut it fits, I promise…

Elizabeth Alexander in her poem “Praise Song for the Day” writes the following words that I believe speak to this call to love perfectly and also to the call that I repeat more often than any of my students cares to hear that “words matter”

“We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider…

 

What if the mightiest word is love?

 

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

 

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

 

praise song for walking forward in that light”

Each of these young people seated before you have faced at one time or another seemingly insurmountable odds, moments that have forced them to make decisions far beyond the wisdom of their years, moments that presented challenges they may not have felt equipped to face, moments that required courage they didn’t know they possessed, yet here they are tonight on this immense occasion, not simply having survived but having overcome. Having overcome it all together. They are here tonight ready to face what the world will offer them because that offering while sometimes brilliant and generous, will not always be pretty, will not always be kind, will not always be an extension of love. Yet, they will leave here tonight, I hope, with the knowledge and confidence that they have what it takes to meet with adversity, hardship, crisis and to tough it out until the polishing is complete and their sheen has returned only now with more sparkle. They leave here tonight, I hope, with the knowledge that their CES family is always here to shelter, to support, to celebrate, to sing their praises. When I look at this class that is what I see—I see strength, perseverance, and a willingness to melt the skeleton and reshape when necessary. A willingness to extend love and grace—and hopefully that love will cast “a widening pool of light.” You have all taught me so much about what it means to be a human in this world. And for that, I am so grateful to each of you. Your absence here as you move forward will be noticeable and you will most certainly be missed—and not because you ran clubs or helped set up chairs, not because you made good grades or won awards—you will be missed simply because of who you are, because you are a part of this school family.

Just don’t lose sight of the fact that as you greet every new and exciting moment that you have the opportunity to consider and reconsider your words, don’t lose sight that love is the mightiest of those words and that today –every day “any thing can be made, any sentence begun” You guys are walking forward into such bright futures with so much light, but don’t forget that “we all make choices” and that it is your job to bring light with you as well.

Your mark here is indelible, Congratulations Class of 2019. We are so proud of you.”

 

 

Light

Some days are armed with the power of transformation–arriving as ordinary as any other yet abounding with redemptive reminders that distract our gaze from its habitual focus. Some days extinguish the anguish of negativity, doubt, and worry that heavy the burden we shoulder and we walk into a new day renewed.

It has been a difficult few months and my boots have become weighty. I trudge from day to day (with a smile across my face, regardless)  knowing that this sensation, this looming shadow is ephemeral in nature. It is not the end. There will be more. There will be goodness. There is still love. But sometimes, it can be hard to keep my eyes above the waves. Sometimes, it feels easier just to give in to the shadow, to shroud the possibilities of positivity in the obscurity and confusion of doubt.

Today, though, there was a moment that changed all of that. Today was quite possibly the most perfect Jazz Fest day one could experience–the weather, as friendly and laid back as the people, welcomed us serenely as we strolled from stage to stage and from food stand to food stand. It was living into this day, however, rather than simply letting it happen to me that has reformed my vision, my heart, my head. Tonight, I am new. I am ready. I am grateful. Tomorrow will be met with fresh perspective.

This shift ignited with a moment I’ve witnessed countless times in my Jazz Fest experience…the moment when the Economy Hall Jazz tent erupts from seated passivity into the undulating zeal of a Second Line. They marched; they strutted; they sashayed; they paraded; they danced. Some with eyes closed, others with eyes wide; there were smiles stretched wide, yet some others with brows furrowed as music overwhelmed their being; some with open hands waving high, others clasping an umbrella or napkin or hat for flair. I’ve come to expect this scene–honestly, if it wasn’t there, it wouldn’t feel like Jazz Fest at all. Yet today, somehow it appeared differently to me.

Today, the people became the poem—each moving individual a unique line in a much larger piece, creating, contributing to the rhythm of the whole, breathing life into its body. Each moving individual providing some sort of punctuation to guide the reading–a full stop in mid motion for one, a quick pause for another and some, whose fluid movements never ceased, overflowed their line and rolled right to the next. Enjambment made physical. Yet, all together, they composed a singular poem…proverbial poetry in motion…and it was stunning.

As I watched this diverse group parade, I considered that on any given day these people would have absolutely no reason to stand next to each other let alone dance together. These people were so visibly varied that they might not have much in common (or at least they might assume so–we tend to lose sight of the commonality of humanity in the face of obvious differences), they might not agree or see eye to eye. They might argue. They might even fear what they don’t fully understand about each other and never strike up a conversation at all. They might come to dislike each other. They might never have danced with each other.

Sometimes words just complicate a simple existence, you know? We feel they are steering us toward truth when in fact they are simply rearranging facts to make us feel more comfortable with the “truths” we create. We feel we are using them wisely when in fact we might be using them divisively instead. We fail to employ them to build others up because it is simpler to destroy. We fail to ask questions and instead assert assumptions.

Today, in the presence of music, words weren’t necessary and the people moved with unity–uniquely dancing their own Second Line but doing so together…respecting differences, even admiring them and thriving as a result. Today, I saw what the world can be when we tear down language of “them” and “us” and instead, embrace the dialogue of “we” and “us”. Today, I saw a vision of the beauty that arises when we simply let those around us be themselves without judgement because we are too busy being ourselves to find fault. Today, I saw the possibility of living together harmoniously in a world that seems to fight with fervor against such a dream. Today, I saw hope and it overwhelmed my heart.

A single moment taken in, considered. Renewal granted. Replenishment.

Light in the darkness exists, if we simply take the time to seek it out.

Presence

I’m currently seated alone on a bench in the middle of the Central Garden at the Getty Center–a bit of calm in the midst of the whirlwind that is chaperoning a class trip to Los Angeles. It’s a pretty slow afternoon here so rather than being surrounded by troops of school children and scads of tourists, I’m instead engulfed by tender tweeting of the birds, water dancing lightly over boulders and idle chatter of intermittent museum guests walking the path beside me. The sun is beaming down from a cloudless sky accompanied by a light breeze tempering the heat…a perfect afternoon.

And for the first time in months, I am truly still…momentarily at peace…existing simply in awestruck wonder of the beauty that surrounds me. Beauty, when we stop to examine it and appreciate it, had this effect…drawing us in, holding us nearer to its perfection and then sending us away again changes. Here, in this moment, I am not needed or in need. There is nothing else I should be doing or would rather be doing. The magic of this garden and its serenity has dissolved the rest of the happenings of this day and I exist solely in this place, in this moment. My heart rate has slowed and my eyes feel opened to a world beyond the immediate moment.

The immediate moment, replete with daily stressors of work and home and kids and bills and health and airplanes I’m not so excited about boarding in the current situation, began to dissolve the moment I sat down and inhaled for the exhalation that followed let it all go—blown towards the mountains in the distance already encased in fog (seems like they could handle a little more).

This larger moment contains being amid the gift of creation that surrounds us and truly seeing it, hearing it, and then pausing to really be here and not everywhere else.

Presence. How often are we this present in our lives? How often do we dismiss preoccupation to live into the moments we are blessed with? I know my struggles with this reflect a life that is too busy, a mind too cluttered. But I also can’t always see my way through the fog of it all of the time. And let’s face it, I’m not in the Central Garden of the Getty everyday…

And so, presence becomes a Lenten promise of sorts. A renewed dedication to being present for my kids, for my husband, for myself, for my life. There is no expedient means of repair for the till modern life has taken on my ability to live free from the weight of the rest. Restoration will require mindfulness and effort–as all important endeavors do–but the quality of life that will resound as a result…transformative.

“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” by William Wordsworth never felt more appropriate:)

Threshold

When I was in 7th grade, my family moved into a house that possessed a singular identifiable feature. This little house stood in a row of other little houses that looked blandly alike. Yet this gem announced its presence just a bit differently than the others and gained small scale recognition and notoriety simply because it wore its difference proudly.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

In the days before Siri would announce that a destination had been reached, everyone who came to visit us knew to look for this unique detail. At the front of the house, tucked at the end of a small front porch, stood a large red door…with a silver doorknob decorating the center of it. It was one thing to live in a house with a giant, solid red door…but the doorknob in the middle added another level of oddity to it that my 12 year old self wasn’t so certain of. In order to open the door from the inside required a certain secret knowledge and deft ability to turn the knob and pull sturdily on the handle simultaneously.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

I am pretty sure I was embarrassed by this door for more than a little while. Pretty sure that I wished we had a door like everyone else…and that our house didn’t stand out in this way. I didn’t need it to be pretty or fancy–just “normal”. But at some point along the way, all of this angsty humiliation shifted and I came to treasure its presence. Came to love that thing that allowed our house to stand out a bit from the rest. Came to own the uniqueness as a gift rather than an embarrassment. Came to identify that door with what it opened into–a house full of warmth, family, joy and love.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

Writing this blog during this 59 day challenge required more stamina than I realized it would and also required me to open myself a bit more than initially felt comfortable. I am very much at ease being vulnerable, admitting fault, telling stories…and, yet, somehow having to tell them more quickly than I wanted because I had to meet the deadline of the daily post made me question the decision and waver on whether to continue. I preferred to refine my writing and to take time to have it reflect the truth of what I am capable of crafting. But at some point, I had to release that ambition and frustration and accept that the importance of the task resided in the act of writing each day…in the sharing of it with an unknown audience regardless of how I felt about it…in the building of my confidence…in the ownership of a writer’s identity…in the recognition that sharing this gift is not a reflection of ego but a desire of the soul. The importance resided in opening the door that so clearly identifies as my passion without fear of what is on the other side…resided in the ritual of walking through it daily and coming to treasure it as a homecoming.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should you accept the invitation 

“Doors” by Carl Sandburg

(Day 59–Mardi Gras Day–King Cake day!!!–The blog will continue of course…just maybe once a week:) If you’ve kept up with me, you have no idea of my gratitude!! If you’ve stopped to say something encouraging along the way, words can’t express how that helped me to continue writing. I sort of can’t believe I’ve finally written the last one!)

 

phenomenal

 

“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”
(excerpted from “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou)

In early December, I received this gorgeous thank you note from a student of mine. The thought behind this handwritten note alone would have been enough to remind me that the weight of my job delves deeper than the daily decision making that occupies so much of my time as principal/teacher. Our young people, my students, lead busy lives that create a constant hum of events, studying, clubs, family life, work and  more. College pressure and the pressures of figuring out who it is they wish to be in this world rests upon their shoulder’s as Atlas’ burden sat upon his. Amid all of this, she escaped her own needs and responsibilities and found the time to write a thank you note.

I also would have been moved by her simply mentioning of how grateful she is for the introduction she received to poetry in my class last year…for the opportunity to explore her new found passion fully in her writing (instead of forcing her to maintain the plan I had set out for the class). Students often come to my classroom with only negative feelings toward poetry. Once they are immersed in it, once they have the freedom to find their own meaning, once they venture into writing their own stories poetically, doors open, confidence blooms, they become writers.

But, what struck me most was the line that is underlined: “Thank you for being a strong female leader I can look up too [sic]” Well, it would be easy to forget this responsibility in the busy days of the school week. One could quickly become numb to the rest, to the fact that the kids are always watching. One could lose sight of the example we set just by being ourselves. Across this nation there are heaps off female high school principals–I am the product of an extremely impressive one, after all. But at my small school, the only leadership that has ever presided over the high school has been male. I know that I felt a small victory in breaking that barrier and assuming this position but I don’t think I realized until I read this note the impact that my students (especially my girls) felt by witnessing that changeover and the days that followed.

It has become increasingly important to me to uphold that responsibility, that honor with the dignity it deserves. I don’t necessarily do my job any differently or better than I would have before; I do, however, act with intentionality and a mindfulness of what my words and actions create. I feel an extraordinary  duty to exemplify that a leader can have an empathic heart and also enforce rules and enact change. I am more keenly aware that it is ever-important for me to display that a good leader has vision for the future and creates plans to achieve that vision but without sacrificing the heart of the institution. Honestly, every leader should be conscious of these qualities. But, I am also cognizant of the need to demonstrate that a woman is equal to that task. It is imperative that I use my voice wisely and not be afraid to assert it just because I fear being seen as noisy or abrasive. When I speak for the good of my students and the good of the school, I am working toward bettering learning opportunities and I should not cower from that because of possible perception. Because when it comes down to it, the reverse, the depiction of female leadership as always needing to be told what to do, of always waiting and never acting, of being quieted rather than elevated, is a far more dangerous example to set.

I am blessed to work in an institution that values my voice and my brain and so the confidence I am fighting is more from what the world around me has said for my lifetime rather than what is actually being enacted around me. Breaking that common societal narrative for the girls in my school has become paramount. My hope is that they will seek leadership roles in their lives, as many already have, and that they will assume those positions with grace and confidence because they are more than equal to the task and no one has ever made them think or feel otherwise.

So, these days, I am willing to walk the line a bit more. I am working to own the confidence it takes to do that. I keep this note with me all of the time as a reminder of purpose when the job feels too much…like another path would be easier. Ease isn’t always better; simplicity can also bring emptiness. The task is hard, the job demanding (seemingly impossible at times), but I am up for it…

“’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

 

(Day 58–tomorrow is king cake day!!! I would expect a super early post because I am anticipating king cake for breakfast and maybe again on the parade route!)

alone?

I am really good at being alone. Solitude, a blessing and silence, a space to think…to be…to expand the realm of what I thought was possible. Even in a room full of people, my internal dialogue offers enough stimulation to keep me occupied (I recognize the strangeness of that–I don’t mean that I believe my thoughts to be above others, just that my mind is never quiet or stilled). I maintain a sort of ridiculous level of introspection, always sinking into my own thoughts, always in a state of wonder and curiosity, always residing deep within my mind (at times more than in the world). My parents used to call me “the clam” for this very reason. I’d rather explore issues and life in general from many angles without intrusion before I speak on anything. I’d rather work through the layers of things, peeling them back and inspecting carefully, on my own–calling myself into question and furthering my thinking before I give others the right to do so as well. That is partly why this blog has been more difficult than I expected. Without a specified theme to guide my posts other than I said I would post every single day of Carnival season to earn king cake, I find myself laying my thought process out in writing and so I feel rather exposed…which makes me uncomfortable…which makes me feel vulnerable…yet which also makes me feel more a part of the world…more engaged in its conversation…more like I’m growing rather than stagnating because without the push past the boundaries of my comfort, I would remain static…a black and white photo in desperate need of the richness and vibrance of color.

There are moments, like today, where my people come out in force to lift me up and draw me out. Part of that is because I took the initiative to put my feelings in this blog and brave whatever consequence resulted. Except the only consequence to be seen, was an outpouring of love and understanding and intelligent discourse all of which were vital reminders of the goodness of humanity even in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us. Vital reminders that the energy and, often times, courage exerted to express a few words at the right time to a person in need means more than we realize as those words linger and imprint the heart and the mind. Vital reminders that as humans we are all in this life together; we may as well use our time and our words to support each other rather than to tear each other down.

(Day 57–only two blogs left in this challenge! which means only two days until king cake!!!)

lost

Years ago, my husband and I, who grew up practicing different faiths, found a church that welcomed us and in some way made each of us feel at home, feel as part of a family. And honestly, for the last 8 or so years, that church has been our family. My gratitude for these people extends beyond the capacity and potential of any words I could scribe here.  They have supported me in prayer and lifted me in love as I wandered aimlessly through illness after illness, surgery after surgery. They have supported my family and loved my kids as if they were their own. My church family is comprised of a group of individuals who remain reliable in every situation. Being with them in that sacred space on Sunday morning, singing and praying in praise fills me up and grows my heart. My time at this church has included opportunities to explore my faith deeply–to question it, to dig into it, to wonder, to wander away from it only to return with strength and new understanding. This faith-work created in me an unshakeable foundation–because when you understand what you believe, you begin to own it. My faith stands firm.

But my heart was broken this week, and I don’t know how to return to church.

My church family bears no fault in this heartache. My love for them is unwavering. However, the church at large made an intentional decision this week after many months of study and deliberation. I am certain there are parts of this determination that I do not understand (at least I’m hoping so), but what I do understand is that I cannot support an institution that actively, knowingly and willingly discriminates. In doing so, I believe I would be hurting more people than I am helping. In my complicity, I believe that I would be setting an example for my children that condones discrimination (this world is hard enough as we struggle to own our implicit bias, I really can’t allow myself to lend a hand in worsening that complication by participating in and donating to an organization that knowingly discriminates).

I understand that this decision only affirms the rules that were already in place. But the intentionality of the decision…the fresh look with the same answer…makes it different. It just does. And the tumult of my heart reflects that. And I don’t know how to settle the upheaval in my mind. I don’t know how to qualify what feels like selfishness in staying because I am loved by this church, when others are only tolerated and not fully validated. I just don’t.

My faith in the Lord has not wavered and so I reach out in prayer…seeking answers…seeking understanding…seeking an easier decision that can’t be granted.  Humans are fallible. We screw it up a lot of the time, but grace is what saves each of us. Whether it be the grace that we extend each other as we empathize or offer forgiveness or the grace that God has gifted us with out of sheer love because we are His creation. All of us. Not just a few people. Not just a select group. All of us. My faith has not wavered. I will continue to reach out to others in love. I will continue to work towards a servant’s heart. I will continue doing my best to be a light for good in the world rather than an abyss of darkness and hate. I will continue.

Tomorrow, I will return to my church on more time so that I can listen and seek understanding, clarity. I will return with hope in my heart, but in this moment, I fear that hope might be futile. I fear everything is about to shift in ways I am not prepared for. In this situation, while I rest in my prayer, I also exist in the fear and hurt this decision has generated.

(there is a Mary Oliver poem that I can’t find right now that I want to include–I will add it when I am back with my books tomorrow).

(Day 56–8 full weeks of blog-a-day. I struggled with whether or not to write this one. I’ve struggled with that for days. But my heart is heavy and I needed to put the words out there. I know there are humans on the other side of this issue and all kind of folks in between. But this blog is a reflection of my thoughts in a moment and this is where I am today.)

magical

It’s Mardi Gras weekend and the city is alive and humming with visitors who might walk away understanding what Mardi Gras really is or who might walk away with nothing more than a headache, some plastic beads, five extra pounds and a few fun memories. Mardi Gras, for those who live in New Orleans and the surrounds suburbs and cities, presents a much richer heritage and tradition than simply consuming large quantities of alcohol. The intoxication from this season is far more varied than if it solely emanated from the obvious source. And I would venture to say that the people of this city could attest to the veracity of this with reflections upon traditions of family and friends, the attachment to community and place that this season forges, the food…so much food…, the stories of Mardi Gras past, the music, and more. Sure revelry plays a role, I’m not sanctifying the holiday or anything. It’s just that, as with anything, Mardi Gras is more than its label–it’s layered, textured, vibrant.

My family’s Mardi Gras traditions when I was growing up fostered some of my favorite childhood memories. Beyond the stress of where to park and where to find a bathroom when you needed one, there was family, there was joy, there was delight, there was Andy Gibb, whose face was emblazoned on a pink t-shirt I wore religiously as a little kid, riding on a float right in front of me. There was the Monday night parade, Hercules, that passed by my grandmother’s house where my family gathered pre-parade–cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles…all of us–to eat Mimi’s meatballs and spaghetti and garlic bread that was so toasty I would accidentally inhale the powdery crumbs and choke a bit before going back for more. Homework would get finished at the table before we could go out to the parade and inevitably, Vanna White was turning letters on the television. There were the death defying moments of riding on my dad’s shoulder’s to garner more throws only to have him swoop down to pick up a doubloon (his favorite-a prized commodity)–he knew I wasn’t going to fall…I, on the other hand, remained less than confident. There were the costumes and the face paint that decorated us on Mardi Gras day. We masked as a family and my mom made our costumes every year (face paint was all my dad though). One year, we went as the band KISS (I was maybe 3 or 4?)…another year as characters from Strawberry Shortcake…each year presented a new opportunity to get dressed up for a day and go have fun-together, as a family. There were parades where we were so cold it didn’t feel worth it, only to be greeted by hot food when we got home. There is all of the junk we carted home that felt necessary, vital even, in the moment and suddenly worthless when exposed by the harsh fluorescent light of the living room. There is a lifetime of memories that sing a harmony far sweeter than if this were really just a holiday about drunken debauchery.

Tomorrow, we will take our kids to one of the famous super-krewes, Endymion. We will pack sandwiches and snacks, and we will wait on the parade route for hours (though some have been there for days). We will probably throw the football and hopefully be able to walk to where they line up the Clydesdales. We will listen to our kids whine “how much longer till the parade gets here???” because this is what you do! And we will sit back in delight and watch the eyes of our children light up as they are dazzled by the magic that is Mardi Gras.

Because, when we allow it, magic is exactly what Mardi Gras creates.

(Day 55–four blogs away from king cake!)