lucky

“Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!”

(“The Schuyler Sisters”, Lin-Manuel Miranda)

So, tonight, my youngest was riding with me to the pet store because in a stroke of sheer brilliance I didn’t realize we were out of dog food until I finally got home from work around 6:00. Anyway, there we were in the car, him singing whatever song was on the radio and me sort of pouting because I really just wanted to be home curled up on my couch rather than out in traffic running an errand. Just as my internal pity party reached its crescendo, my kiddo says (just out of nowhere), “You know, mom, I feel so lucky to be born in this place at this time with all these people around me. I just feel so lucky.”

Now this sweet boy has a habit of knowing exactly what a person needs to hear and then saying it in the moment they need to hear it most. For example, in the vertigo days when the side effects from ingesting a  ridiculous dose of steroids with hopes of healing wreaked havoc on my body and on my physical appearance, my self esteem waned pretty swiftly. I spent weeks feeling lost in a futile struggle for wellness that not only seemed to make me feel worse internally but also look worse externally. One night, after a particularly uncomfortable and down day, I was putting him to sleep and he looked up at me and said, “Mom, you know who you look like? Who you remind me of?” Well, you can imagine, I was dreading the conclusion to this question. And then he said, “Cinderella! I think you look just like Cinderella.” And, I realized in that moment that it didn’t matter what I saw when I looked in the mirror because in the eyes of my four year old, I was still a princess. Don’t get me wrong. There is no given day where I look like Cinderella! But the fact that this kid somehow knew that his mom needed that sweetness that night was nothing short of remarkable to me. And that, more than the compliment, meant everything.

He has a lifetime of these moments and I find that as his empathy grows, so does his ability to read a person or a situation and to know what healing words need to be spoken. Tonight was no different.

It is so easy on any given day to feel like this world is falling to pieces…that everything is going wrong…that humanity has lost sight of its value…that having to go buy dog food instead of relaxing in my pjs is an injustice rather than an inconvenience. That negativity fuels so much of our talk that it seems to have become habit. And then there was that sweet ten year old voice–a bright light calling out into the dark of negativity–expressing a realization of his complete and profound gratitude for the blessings of the absolute privilege in his life. He knows he is loved. He knows he has a home and comforts and peace in his immediate surroundings. He knows that he is safe. And not only does he go through the world knowing these things, but he is self-aware enough to vocalize it and to be grateful for it.

I like to say that this boy of mine is my heart walking around outside of my body…his sensitivity and the way he sees the world reflecting a kindness and an empathy that I try to model, albeit imperfectly. But tonight, more than any other occasion, his gratitude in a moment when he could have just been annoyed (like I was), brought me back to the reality that he is a better version of my heart walking around outside my body. And that makes me “just feel so lucky” too.

(Day Nine–exhausted! Grateful for a kiddo who provides inspiration–even uwittingly. Also, you should know, the justifications for cheating and tasting king cake have begun. This struggle is for real you guys!)

 

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)

transformative

High school students enter my school everyday with their own individual sets of “stuff.” It would be naive to demand or command that they adhere to some delusional set of unreal expectations that implies that perfection is the only allowable outcome–constant, never wavering hard work, attentiveness, dedication, positivity, even-keel temperament, and a zeal for the subject matter. These kids, though, are teenagers and their most important job in the moment really doesn’t have anything to do with getting into college or taking on leadership roles in clubs or pleasing me. Their most important job has everything to do with figuring out who they’re going to be in this world, what kind of person they will become. If I narrow-mindedly assume that my class should always be their first priority, I have lost sight of the fact that these students are living complete and complex lives. If I can’t extend a little grace toward them, with the understanding that they will have good days and bad because in fact they are human beings, then I’ve missed the point.

In her poem “Kindness,” Naomi Shihab Nye writes these words:

“Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.”

She is writing about empathy’s integral role in kindness. She is writing about the sort of transformative moment that empathy creates as it brings  sincerity and  weight to common niceties. Nye seems to imply that in order for kindness to live into its potential, for it to truly be meaningful, we must see ourselves in the situations of others. We must recognize the common ground of humanity in everyone we encounter. We must see our sameness in order to be able to nurture each other through our differences. We must understand that someone else’s misfortune could be our own.

In that awareness, we not only become truly kind, but we also transform ourselves into better human beings. We are able to creep out of our shell of selfishness in search of ways to help those in need around us…even the people we don’t necessarily know because we have paused to imagine life through their eyes. We are able to shift out of our own biases to see the truth of the people around us rather than our assumptions about them…assumptions that imprison and inhibit our true kindness potential.

This is what I attempt to achieve in my classroom. I work really hard to see beyond the moment and to understand what is causing the moment. Is the student tired, overwhelmed, going through a hard time…what is the reason for the behavior? In doing this, I’m working to pause before rushing to judgement. I am working to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I was recently reminded by my friend Sara Ahmed of the benefit of the “soft start” in classrooms. This is a brief period of time at the start of a class where students are actively engaged in an activity that interests them but isn’t necessarily course work.  So, this week, I have placed magazines, adult coloring books, books of poetry, QR codes for a Padlet full of links to interesting articles, writing prompts and more on the tables of my classroom. The kids come in, sit down anywhere they are comfortable and work on whichever activity they feel best suits them that day. Part of why I offered this, outside of the fact that it is just good practice, I was sort of struck by the realization that our kids go from class to class with sometimes stark contrast in subject matter and we expect them to immediately switch gears without much pause. The soft start allows kids to decompress a bit and to transition so that when it comes time to work on coursework, they are better prepared and mentally ready to focus. My students this week have said that at first they thought the “soft start” was silly and a little fluffy. After a couple of days though they realized that it was really helping them–they felt like they were thinking better in class because they had that moment to quiet themselves and find their focus. I loved this!! However, if I stood harshly by the idea of working bell to bell, if I ignored the needs of my students, we would have missed out on this transformative.

It was a kindness. I saw myself in the way we ask them to “do school” and understood that there could be a better way. I recognize that there are people out there who think that because of my level of empathy, I am too soft on my kids. There are people who feel like I am not preparing them for the real world. On the contrary, I feel like I am preparing them to become leaders in the world I want to live in. A world filled with sincere kindnesses. An empathic world.

(Day 18)