thank you note

Somewhere around seven years ago, in what were still the early days of my school’s existence, a junior came to me and pleaded with me to help her start student council. We had tried student government, but it wasn’t affiliated with any state or regional organizations. This student was looking to do something more…something bigger…something lasting. I hesitated. This felt like a lot of work and at the time, I was still only teaching at the school part time, still in what would be the early stages of the vertigo debacle and my kids were merely 4 and 6. I didn’t feel like I could really add anything else without risking health and home. However, this young woman persevered and given that I had taught her everyday of her high school career, it didn’t take long before my will crumbled. My response to her?

“I will help you get it going, but I will only help for a year. After that, someone else will have to take over.”

I feel like, after typing that statement, I can hear every teacher who might lay eyes upon it roaring in laughter at its ludicrous nature. One year agreements like this never work in school. Everyone is busy; everyone has obligations, and no one wants to take on more. Once you say yes to something, it is yours…eternally. Important to note…the reason I agreed to help wasn’t only because I couldn’t stand to disappoint a student who meant so much to me. The truth is that I took on creating our student council, despite my lack of experience and knowledge, because if she were my kid, I would want a teacher to do the same.

In my time as student council supervisor, my student leaders instituted heaps of traditions; created our first winter formal, prom and homecoming; began an annual celebration of People In Need of Kindness (PINK Week); fostered field day and countless other activities that took a skeleton of a school and imbued it with heart, spirit and personality. I regretfully complained too often about the work being too much, but truly I lived proud of my kids who became and remain the true architects of so much our high school.

When I traded in my student council role for that of principal, a dear friend and colleague took over and her joy, even in the stress, of helping these kids to grow and learn as young leaders makes me proud, makes me thankful. This phenomenal teacher and delegates of her student council are all at state convention right now celebrating several enormous successes for our little school with big dreams and the only way I can think to explain my pride in this moment is that of a grandparent doting on her grandchildren. I know where this council began…with just a few members who went to their first convention having no idea what to expect or how to be in that space. I was there for the growing pains in the days when we were defining who we wanted to be as a council. And to see all they have accomplished now from a different role–as their principal, well, there just aren’t enough words. These kids and their advisor are just spectacularly gifted and joyful humans and the world is a better place for their presence.

And that whole bit about hoping someone would do the same for my kiddo has been fulfilled. My 12 year old is at this same state convention with his junior high advisors who took the leap and brought ten, 12-14 year olds to experience this remarkable event. He is having the time of his life, meeting kids from across the state, and learning what it means to truly be a leader (something he will learn far better at this convention than by watching many leaders in this world today). The gratitude I feel for the teachers who gave up this weekend with their families has consumed my heart.

This is what teachers do, day in and day out. They sacrifice their time and their sleep for the benefit of their students. Whether by braving student council conventions three hours from home or by staying up late to write encouraging comments on papers or by simply being a listening ear, teachers give of themselves without asking for much, if anything, in return. And they do not receive enough praise nor enough sincere thankfulness. But they also do not often ask for it. The breaking apart of the self for the good of the other is just what a teacher’s heart is compelled to do.

However, the gift of my kiddo attending this convention with three enthusiastic, caring teachers has seemingly become all the return on my 20 years of teacherly efforts that I could ever need or ask for. And you can be certain they will know the depths of my gratitude.

(Day 12!)

vibrance wins

“You can’t build a house of leaves/And live like it’s an evergreen/It’s just a season thing/It’s just this thing the seasons do”

John Mayer, “Wheel”

Just a few short months ago, summer evenings spoiled me with beautifully painted skies that awakened a sense of wonder and awe. Splashes of orange and pink and purple decorated the expanse in ways no human hand could as though the descent of the sun into the horizon warranted fanfare, fireworks. Sometimes, though, it was more of a muted affair. Hues of deep blue and smoky grey would stretch in gauzy translucence only allowing a glimpse at the ribbons of color they masked…and only allowing beams of light to escape here and there rather than revealing the complete enchantment of the sunset (as though to say, not tonight, its beauty would be too much to take in, so here is just a taste).

I found myself eagerly anticipating the surprise of the sky each evening and wondering offering might be next. And in all of that time, through all of those evenings spent in reverence, I had not anticipated the grey of winter. I don’t necessarily live in a place that experiences four seasons (and if we have seasons at all, Carnival season is one of them…hence the incarnation of this blog challenge). Winter isn’t really winter here. Snow doesn’t blanket the earth and freezing temperatures are not a regular occurrence. I mean, it is January and the high today was somewhere around 78 degrees. Of course, a cool front is moving through and the high tomorrow is supposed to be 52 degrees–which while Louisianians will don scarves and boots and shiver in sweatshirts and jeans, is still not really winter comparatively.

However, what winter here does bring is grey rainy days and fog…lots of fog. Fog that is disorienting and forgetful; fog that instills a sort of desperation for the sun…for its warmth and its smile across the sky. Fog that hangs heavy in the morning and just when you think it is about to lift, droops heavier once again, blanketing buildings and trees and landscapes nearly completely, muting the beauty of our surroundings and the brilliance of the gifts of this life. In its ability to hide the world from us, the fog also issues forth feelings of isolation. We can lose our connectivity as life beyond the fog is merely a mystery.

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“And if you never stop when you wave goodbye/You just might find if you give it time/You will wave hello again/You just might wave hello again”

John Mayer, “The Wheel”

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Tonight, my kiddo who is experiencing his first state student council convention about three hours away from home sent me a picture of the sky. The cool front I mentioned had already passed through and the sun was breaking through just in time to say goodnight.

60108373783__8D5A22DE-32A3-4603-98BB-B96FF58052C9.jpegWhile this glimpse of the sun is but a brief respite before the fog and rain of January return, it is also a beautiful reminder that even when lost in the fog, the sun will eventually shine again. The color will return and the haze will lift. And when it does, we won’t be the same as we were before the days of the fog, because we are always moving and changing. We are always growing and learning–for better or for worse. But we will still be blessed again by the richness of these vibrant visions that remind us of all we are. Because, truly, if we are given the gift of the sunset, we must be worth so much more than we realize.

(Day eleven:) This sunset pic from my kiddo melted my heart for a lot of reasons but mainly because he had a day filled with tremendous anxiety and stress on this trip. He had just started to find relief–his metaphorical fog had lifted–and the joy in his text when he sent this pic filled my mama’s heart with comfort and joy. Watching this boy learn to live with and navigate his anxiety in similar ways to me at his age can often be painful but I am so proud of him at the same time)

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!)

 

unexpected

Pretty early in my teaching career, I realized that no matter how well I knew my students, my barometer for the questions that might stir them wavered in its accuracy. Some days I would anticipate a raucous discussion only to be met by a few meager, diffident responses that were really only offered aloud to absolve us all of the weight created by awkward silence. Other days, I would anticipate a quick idea share only to find myself suddenly immersed in intense inquiry. The easy answer here is that teenagers are unpredictable. I could simply sigh in frustration and place the blame on them for their inherent fickleness and never dig any deeper. Honestly, I am pretty sure that I would have some company in this reaction.

The truthful answer, though, is that a whole host of components often beyond their control (the day of the week, the conflicts they are confronting outside the class, the amount of sleep they have been able to accrue, their comfort level with every other human in that room on that day, the text beneath the text in the question itself),  could deter or encourage their ability to respond. The other part to this is sometimes the question itself is faulty-maybe removed from any sensible context. Understanding this has lead me toward teaching students how to craft substantive questions for themselves and then turning the role of the asking to them…giving them the power to sculpt and shape our talk in a way that is meaningful to their lives while I am there to simply provide boundary, to push further, to require a deeper exploration, to help maintain respect.

Getting to this point was a process of letting go because sometimes I really just want my students to talk about what I am curious about–to explore the parts of a text that I find super meaningful. I suppose that is a search for connection in some way, but a stronger connection is built on respect . When I respect my students’ ideas and abilities and when I open the opportunity for them to invest themselves in their class rather than simply permit them to operate in mine, suddenly we are in community as learners in a shared space…and in that moment the real learning occurs. In that moment, engagement receives the oxygen it needs to ignite and suddenly school is no longer something we are doing to our kids, rather it becomes an education they are creating for themselves.

But today, I broke my rule. I asked the question. We are preparing to read a story and I wanted to lay a foundation of sorts before I transition the weight of the work to their intellect. I had no idea how they might respond. I suspected they would have opinions to share…I suspected that they would have a stake in the conversation…but I could not be certain. They were to answer first in their writers notebooks (a bit of a free write) and then to take their thoughts on the road with them as they left school and see how lived experience shaped them. Our actual discussion will be tomorrow.

Here is what is interesting–I offered the question and they wrote furiously–some filling pages in their notebooks, others thoughtfully choosing words and crafting ideas with care. I had to call their writing to a pausing point in the last seconds of class, yet even then, some continued to write. It was apparently one of those times where my hope for a question was met with a mirror image in reality.

So, what was the question that stirred them?

It was quite simply this:

What are the implications of the call to “love your neighbor” in this modern world we live in?

I have no idea what they will share, but here’s the thing. Say what you will about teenagers, the fact that they immediately knew what they needed to convey about this question shows us not only a great deal about the world we live in, but also their awareness of their experience within it. I honestly cannot wait for these discussions tomorrow. I imagine their thoughts will be fulfilling, challenging, provocative, honest, and full of heart (and knowing  my kiddos, some intense philosophical assertions as well).

I also expect that more questions will arise. And we will chase those too.

(Day Eight–this one was tough–National Championship viewing on Monday makes for a sleepy Tuesday. I struggled all day to make complete sentences just in conversation and the sentences in this blog ended up way too long…sorry about that…but the writing is done! And I am proud of that:) )

worthy

“…Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.”

from “Lost” by David Wagoner

For anyone who just needs to hear this today…or on any day to come…

a way in…Years ago, when my youngest was in first or second grade we hosted a pretty typical event–he brought a friend home from school with him to play for the afternoon. Except this kid was anything but typical! He very proudly explained to me that he was a survivalist with wilderness survival skills that other kids only saw on television. In the ten minute ride home, he regaled us with his knowledge proving the truth of his assertion. Let’s just say, when lost in the wilderness, he is who I want to be my guide!

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There are moments (days, weeks, months, years) in this life when the only way to justly explain the location of our mental health, of our well-being, of our clarity, is to name “the wilderness”. And the wilderness isn’t such a bad place to be…for a while. Exploration of this uncharted territory often offers deeper insight into who we have been, who we are and who we might become. The silence of our time there, at the start, feels contemplative and so we engage it rather than fear it.

Yet, inevitably, at some point, the wilderness exhausts us.

The silence becomes loneliness rather than solitude. The trees choke out the light and the path we thought we were on muddies itself and the weight of being lost settles in. In the darkness, we can no longer see ourselves or sense our purpose through the panic. In the darkness, we imagine the worst until it becomes our reality. In the darkness, doubt enters. In the darkness, we become uncertain of our capacity to maintain the strength it will take to exit the wilderness at all…we begin to doubt there is even a possible exit. Weakened, we succumb to sitting down, head hanging in distress.

And we forget.

We forget that the difficult moments in our lives are not the only moments in our lives.

We forget that we have been here before.

We forget that we survived…that we are battle-ready…that we are strong.

We forget that we are worth the struggle because sometimes it feels like the world has forgotten this too (even when it tries to tell us otherwise).

We forget what it is like to see clearly, without distortion, and to trust the well-meaning words of those who love us as truths–in the dark, it is hard to trust anything–and so in the dark, we forget we are loved.

And we hunger.

We hunger for a ray of light to break through the canopy and to shine upon us–a reminder that good has not been entirely eradicated from our existence.

We hunger for our hearts to feel in full rather than in shades.

We hunger for peace rather than pieces.

We hunger for someone else to do the work that we feel too empty to attempt.

We hunger for community, clarity, connection.

And all the while, we feel lost, unseen, misunderstood.

My only purpose in this blog is to say this…

I see you. I know you because I have been you. I’m here to shine that ray of light on whatever your situation is–to be your survivalist, your guide while you feel so invisible in the darkness. To let you know that you are not alone and that more than anything, you-just as you are-you are worth and worthy of the struggle. It won’t be easy; we know that. It will often feel impossible to orienteer your way through. Harness a strand of energy and strive to shine your own light again. It is still there, buried deep, waiting to be rediscovered.

But until then, I promise, there are others who will be beacons for you because they know that “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a powerful stranger…”

Sending love into the world today to all my fellow current and former wilderness dwellers. And also to my young survivalist who is battling his own metaphorical wilderness these days with courage and heart (truly survival skills)…an example to the rest of us for sure.

(Day Seven–not sure where this one came from but it felt necessary to honor the idea today. Also, every struggle is different and so if you need more than a pep-talk of a blog written by an optimist and not a professional, this is an excellent resource: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org and also 1-800-273-8255 )

fleeting

“Sunday funday” only exists in mythical terms in my life. I see pictures on social media of other people indulging in nothing but joyful, relaxing end of the weekend activities, so I know this must be an actual thing that happens. Yet, my Sundays begin early with waking up before the rest of the household so that I can grade/plan/administrate stuff, and they end with literally four hours of meal prep for the week. This mostly self-induced conundrum emanates from a desire to over-prepare for a week that will be over-full. Inevitably, my weeks are all overwhelming these days, so Sunday has assumed the sacrificial role of weekday timesaver. I work all the hours on Sunday hoping that I will walk into my week feeling ready, confident and at peace. I honestly am not sure I could dive headlong into frivolity while harboring knowledge that I should be working in some way either for family or school anyway.  Yet, the truth I discover every Monday morning is that there is no amount of boxes I can check off on Sunday that will allow me to glide through the next day without encountering at least a bump in the road and sometimes a full on New Orleans style pot hole.

So why maintain the dedication to the chores if things will still go wrong? Why not just seek felicitous distraction and figure out the rest some other time? I ask myself this every week.

The truth is that I really like preparing in the quiet of the morning and cooking for all those hours because both give me some weird sense of motherly/wifely accomplishment. That time spent in the kitchen, for example, enables my family to eat real food all week long and for me to have healthy lunches and snacks as well. When left to weeknights alone, vegetables will not get roasted and pizza will likely be ordered. Our lives are too chaotic not to give in to the fatigue on a night where I have been at work for 12 hours and kids still have homework to complete. I’m not sure if my family appreciates my sequestration to the kitchen (I really thought I made that word up, by the way…turns out to be a real one!) on Sunday itself, but the rest of the week, I know they appreciate the meals. And so, I remain dedicated.

I figure that one of these days, these young men who currently take up so much of my time and rely on me for meals will not live at home anymore and I will not need to spend so much time on Sundays cooking. I figure that one of these days I will actually enjoy Sunday funday because my responsibilities will look a bit different, but I know it will be with a pang of how I used to fill that time. It will be with nostalgia for my young family feeling the growing pains of one busy kid on the cusp of teenagerdom ( I did make that one up) and another not far behind him in age, all the while I attempt to run a high school and my husband, his office.

It is hard to stop in a moment and be grateful for a stage of life that feels all at once like a blur and like trudging through wet sand…but today, as I watched my kids patiently entertain each other in the creation of an indoor golf course while I cooked, I could not help but hold the moments a little more dearly.

(Day Six!)

roots in the rocks

Just before Christmas, I received a pretty unassuming gift from a student. It was a large glass vase, filled about halfway with rocks, and with bulbs nestled just on top of those rocks. My only guidance was this: keep the water level to the top of the rocks/base of the bulbs and something magical will happen. This gift and the feeling of curiosity it imbued reminded me of when I was a kid–I was always struck by the promise of those pill sized, gelatin coated sponges that when soaked in warm water for a period of time would reveal some mystery animal. I loved those things and the seeming impossibility that contained in such a small, compact package was a reality far cooler than its exterior and a truth that was also entirely unpredictable.

That same sense of wonder struck me with this vase of bulbs. What on earth would they grow to be?

For anyone who really knows me, the gift of a plant, while a lovely gesture, is not a kind one…to the plant, that is. They sort of wilt in my presence or at the thought that I might be their caregiver. I mean, human beings in need of love and attention are my specialty. Cultivating horticulture, though…well, apparently God felt it was better that I just appreciate the beauty of nature rather than prune it.

Needless to say, despite what seemed like easy directions to maintain these bulbs, I was relatively certain that I would fumble the whole process. It would be added to the litany of all the plants Amy has killed and become fuel for fun at my expense. Yet, I was determined not to lose sight of my responsibility or to spoil the surprise to come.

And then Christmas break arrived.

I was leaving work on Friday and my hands were full and I didn’t want to drop the vase…so I left it in my office with the intent of returning for it the next day. Well, the next day (the next several days) filled themselves with all the chaos of family and holiday cheer and I not only didn’t go back, but I forgot the bulbs even existed…until New Year’s Day when my failure as a caregiver dawned on me and the guilt settled in. I just knew I would walk into my office the next day to discover the carnage of dried out or rotten bulbs. Disappointment over missing the surprise of what they held inside weighed heavy. But as I approached my office the next morning, staring at me through the window was this gorgeous sight:

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Well, as I took in this wonder, I realized that those glorious green stalks standing tall with pride as they held up their prize–flowers impatiently waiting to burst through their leafy cocoons–were not in any way my accomplishment. They were in fact, simply a wonder and a truth of nature that didn’t require much from me and probably appreciated my absence as they did their thing!

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As these flowers broke through and illuminated my office with fragrance and beauty, I considered what other transformations I might be missing in this world because I am simply not paying attention. Because, while it was jaw-dropping to encounter these fully grown stalks, how much cooler would it have been to have been there the whole time? How much more meaningful would it have been to have witnessed with admiration the changes from the seemingly impossible beginnings? I think that, just as I did with these bulbs, we often overlook people and ideas in this fast paced world of immediate gratification. If something or someone isn’t immediately what we hope for them to be, we sort of walk away instead of investing ourselves…instead of nurturing what might be possible and lending support and guidance until the transformation takes place. There is goodness in all of us waiting to burst through the cocoon, you know, if only we pause in time to recognize it before we miss it completely.

Something else struck me in this week of watching the continuing transformation…

IMG_5133.jpeg

The roots of these flowers didn’t dig into rich, humid soil; they existed amongst the rocks. Growing everyday and winding in and out of the spaces between to receive what they needed from the water. It seemed to me to be the best kind of perseverance…the kind it takes to transform ourselves, even when everyone else has walked away but we know there is something inside of us worth the effort. The perseverance to keep going and to keep trying when everything around us is difficult and a bit treacherous (so tempting here to say “rocky” but I fear this whole English teacher analogy has gone too far already to start inserting puns now…). The perseverance it takes to grow and to let brilliance burst forth commanding attention and proving to the world that they should never have walked away in the first place. That they should have been standing at attention because you never quit…because you knew your worth within even when they were blinded.

There is joy in the victory of that perseverance. And not just for the victor, but for all who extended support along the way. For all who paused and recognized value beyond the obvious.

I tell my students on the daily that we will always make time for what we feel is important. There is no harm in adjusting that compass of importance to point towards people and things that might require a bit more attention, a bit more investment. The goodness to come will be worth the effort.

 

(Day 4…done early on a Friday!)

lenses

It’s that time of year where nostalgia for moments past peaks and where video montages prevail in abundance–tugging at our sentimentality for days gone by and seeding lofty resolutions for days to come. I say this having recently wiped misty tears from my eyes as a result of one of these carefully crafted caravans of visual memorabilia. It is important to note, that my tearful reaction is not a novelty–I am easily moved…children singing, for example, is sure to dampen my cheeks as does the privilege of seeing anyone (and I really mean anyone in the most liberal sense) live into the fullest possibility of some element of their potential as a human. So, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that this most recent bit of sap was in reaction to a collection of sports highlights from this past decade shown on ESPN. Look, I’ll be honest, every time I see Megan Rapinoe pose, I’m going to be kind of overwhelmed by all the emotion and pride that image stirs up. Her strength and her perseverance and her unwillingness to be anything other than herself, like her or not, is an inspiration to me and to countless others. And I will be moved every time I hear Joe Burrow’s Heisman speech or see that photo of him in his “Burreaux” jersey. And not simply because I am a Tiger fan or a Louisianian, but also because of his undying determination, leadership, gutsy hard work and his consideration of those who didn’t even know he saw their hunger–he didn’t just earn awards, he earned respect.

But tonight, as I watched clip after clip of athletes as they harnessed their God-given talents after countless hours of hard work that required sacrifice and stamina (even and especially when that effort felt futile) achieve the success they had only previously dreamed of, I found myself taken in by their emotion.

And I realized something else.

We don’t need montages of strangers at the pinnacle of their careers to draw us toward the flicker of humanity’s potential; we simply need to pay attention in the small everyday moments of victory. As a teacher, those moments overflow if I allow myself to recognize them for what they are. Whether it is the kid who finally realizes they are a writer after years of being told (both outright and unintentionally) otherwise or the student overwhelmed with anxiety who struggles just to get to school yet finds a way to survive a whole day of classes, the young people I work with are achieving victories every single solitary day. And those victories deserve to be celebrated, those kids deserve to feel seen in their moment of exceeding what they felt was possible. Because just maybe those tiny moments of feeling seen and lifted up will enable them to harness the determination and drive it takes to step forward into spheres of greater challenge. Maybe when we speak our witness of the truth of a child, we help to imbue them with the confidence they need to step out of their comfort and into that sketchy place that will not only usher them toward growth, but potentially also allow them to bring their goodness to the world.

And here’s the thing, if that is true in school, it is true in the world. If we just looked for the good in others; if we took the time to appreciate their small moments of victory (which might be huge to them but harder for us to see), we wouldn’t need a highlight reel to remind us of the human capacity for achievement. We would be struck by it everyday.

This endeavor requires a new lens…one that isn’t scratched by cynicism or selfishness…one that is gauged to more effectively see the truth behind the facade, the struggle behind the show. It requires the effort of putting that lens up to our vision even when it is easier to sink into judgement (and let’s face it, it’s sort of always easier to go there). It requires us to be for others all that we hope they will be for us…even when it is seemingly a debt that goes unpaid. It requires an extension of grace even when retribution seems simpler. It requires us to love our neighbors…all of them…even the ones who don’t make that call so easy to answer (and let’s face it, when we get beyond our own hubris, it becomes far more apparent that for someone else in this world, we are that difficult to love person…).

I’m pretty sure all of our hearts are at stake in this one. I’m also pretty sure that the outcome will be worth the effort.

 

 

 

Revive

In the last few weeks, I’ve allowed myself to become wildly overwhelmed–in part by the stress of running a school but moreso by something a bit elusive. What began as a low rumble of productive internal doubt, soon became a hurricane of hesitation–of blinding uncertainty and insecurity. A little self doubt typically keeps me in check, so I permit its presence. Questioning my decisions before they are final both at school and at home just seems to reflect careful reasoning. And this works.

Most of the time.

Trouble stirred recently because at some point even with this very self-aware process, I spiraled and before I could recognize what was happening, I was deep–really deep. I’m guessing this place is familiar to many. It’s the place where the refrain “you’re not good enough” echoes from the far reaches until it is all you can hear. It’s the place where every turn seems to drive deeper into the wilderness of withering confidence. It’s the place of helplessness, yet at the same time you will swear you are doing everything you can to help yourself. It’s the place where wallowing becomes the way instead of the won’t.

And you don’t even sense your citizenship to this place–that’s the insidious part. There was no intentional journey or paperwork to fill out, you just weren’t paying attention. It feels like “this is what life has become.” People can reassure you, but you’re so deep that it doesn’t resonate…they are just words without weight…the impact despite the intent.

Yet the words linger. Reminders of what you once knew yourself to be.

Funny story about this…one of my better skills is helping people (kids mostly) recognize when they’ve reached this destination and helping to support them as they unwind the spiral of negative self-talk…helping them harness the buoyancy of their spirit. Yet, somehow it seems, and not surprisingly really, I am pretty abysmal at helping myself in the same way. Goodness, even Dante needed Virgil to get through Hell and Purgatory. I needed another voice…a guide.

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Somewhere around a week ago, my youngest son shared some memoir work he had composed in ELA. In this collection of pages was a half sheet of revision notes. On this page at some point he misspelled the word “Revise” and he wrote:

“Revive”

And I thought, I should help him see his mistake. And then I thought, wait a second, revive is a perfect word because isn’t that what revision does in the first place–it revives the work.

And then, because I’m an English teacher, I thought of Eliot’s Prufrock and his “visions and revisions” and how the indecision of it all paralyzed his entirety.

And then, I realized what I was doing wrong. A light came on, my vision was restored and I knew what needed to be done. It was time to revise my thinking and my acting in a way that would revive my spirit and in doing so renew my purpose. This wasn’t about changing other people. This was about the work I needed to do for myself. You know, the work we never want to take the time to do…because it is so much easier to make our inner mess someone else’s fault…that work.

I had to realize and own yet again that I cannot control the choices my students make, though I can guide them. I cannot control everything that will happen in the school day despite planning for it. I cannot control every action of every being and while I can try to control things in my house, inevitably, it is still going to be sort of a disorganized mess and my kids will still talk back to me from time to time. None of these things are necessarily failures on my part (okay, maybe the messy house, but that is a lifelong struggle and my husband knew this when he married me!), but I had been taking sole credit for too much that wasn’t really completely mine in the first place. I needed to unburden myself from this weight but had no idea how to do that in the midst of the busy-ness of life.

But to revise is to step away from your work so that you can return refreshed and ready to breathe new life into it–to revive it.

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My step away was booked months ago before I even knew I would need it. It involved leaving both my school and my family with more going on than I should have left behind in order to attend NCTE. I wan’t sure I should go. I nearly canceled several times in the weeks leading up to my departure.  I felt selfish. While I knew this conference and the people here would remind me of my “teacher/administrator why”, I would be leaving behind a lot of people who rely on me to be there for them.

Except, I hadn’t really been there for them because I was a bit lost in my own stuff. This trip would not be selfish. This trip would restore me to the people I know and love. This trip would center my focus and energize me to move forward. This trip would give me time to reflect and to be still as well as time to interact and be social. This trip presented a shift in my physical location but also stood to present a shift in my mental location as well.

I had to go. Here’s why…

as the plane

lifted above the clouds—

weightless—free,

visions of magnificence, of blessing

struck awe

 

sunsets are the stuff of the everyday—

skyscapes from the ground,

majesty beyond humanity’s ability—

a gift—a reminder

all we have, all we don’t deserve

 

as the plane

lifted above the clouds,

a new perspective dawned

at dusk—unusual timing—yet not;

a sunset from a new angle

glowing through the grey

 

inhale, exhale

—release—

sparks of revival glow in those clouds

igniting the path

to myself

my truth

my life.