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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

time and healing

photo by the author

photo by the author

I was reminded today healing happens, but it takes time. More than a week ago, I cut my finger pretty badly. I think the verb I used was ‘clove,’ since I whacked it w/ my brand-new cleaver.

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As you can see, it’s pretty much back to normal. A little tender, needing some attention now & then to make sure it doesn’t get bumped, but no more double BandAids and Neosporin.

I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this… :)

The problem w/ a blog is that you often want to write about your life, or the lives of those whose lives touch and colour our  own. And you can’t, in good conscience, always do that. Privacy and confidentiality are gifts we give our loved ones. But I struggle, when I don’t know what to do or say to family and friends who are suffering.

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photo the author's

photo the author’s

So the reminder — via my poor finger! — that time alone can heal some injuries is welcome. It’s not what I tell people when they hurt (it can sound pretty cold, if you’re hurting), but it comforts me, at least. When I don’t know what to do for people I love, and I can’t ask others for help? I breathe, as my son says in his own blog. I practice tonglen, offering up my own confusion and unhappiness for my friends & family.

It often doesn’t feel like enough — just like the double BandAids didn’t satisfy my poor guilt-ridden sister when I cut my finger. But it’s suprisingly effective. It just needs time. And we have far more of that than we pretend.

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peace, love, and teaching our children

via google

via google

I often think that old hippies — those of us who were in it for the peace & love, not the sex, drugs, rock&roll — became teachers. Because that’s what the teachers I know believe in: peace & love.

Peace between kids, parents, teachers. Between the administration of a school and its district. Between those districts and their state government. Between all the ‘us’ and ‘thems’ of the world.

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And love, most certainly. Love for our vulnerable babies, of whatever ages: from one to 100. They all seem like babies, when they count on you for affirmation and learning. Teachers may well be the original hippies… :)

Seriously, folks — I spent the past few days with teachers. Some of the nation’s finest (leaders at a National Writing Project site), all of whom GAVE UP a summer weekend, when they could have been swimming, or boating, or eating ice cream somewhere cool, w/ a summer book to hand. Instead? They were sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a sterile college classroom, reading and sharing research on how students learn to write argumentatively.image

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They did this for DAYS, folks. Because they love our kids. Yours, mine, ours. Their political beliefs are all over the place, as are their spiritual paths. But their love for our kids unites them in this singular project: a belief that if we all work together — teachers teaching teachers, the mantra of the National Writing Project —we can change classrooms. We can find ways to penetrate the despair so many teachers feel when confronted w/ too many students, too little time, no help at all, and impossible expectations.

I’m telling you: for these past few days, I’ve sat in a room of warriors. English teachers, elementary teachers, university professors, high school teachers, literacy coaches, special education teachers. Each battling against a culture that says teachers are responsible for what’s wrong with education. NOT systemic poverty, or broken families, or inadequate funding (Oklahoma, for instance, has cut funding for schools more than any state in the country — 22.8% since 2008).

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photo via the author

photo via the author

Still, my friends and colleagues fight on. This war takes the shape of words on pages, books of research. Weekends spent figuring out new ways to ‘hook’ kids on reading, on literacy. Ways to reinvigorate exhausted colleagues who have 155 kids needing daily writing that must be read. Evaluated. Graded. Recorded. And then begun all over again.

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You wonder, sometimes, why they do this (even they do, on bad days). Because they believe in peace & love, remember? And they know that education is the way for most of our kids to achieve that.  They also know that while this mess education is in is NOT the fault of teachers, it’s teachers who are on the front lines, shielding our children (sometimes literally, as Sandy Hook should remind us). Feeding our children on their dreams, as the song says.

I’m a writer, and I find it difficult to convey how humbling it is to listen to teachers who have their own hectic lives, often second jobs (Oklahoma teachers are some of the poorest paid in the country), spend a weekend talking about their profession. About how they can accommodate the new demands of technology, federal & state mandates (which change with the prevailing political territory, often irrespective of research). About reading, writing, and literacy. About education reform. And about peace, and love. And teaching our children.

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ritual and being our own best friends

Vietnamese coffeeSo yes, I am the person who will make Việtnamese coffee w/ a stainless steel straw, bought specifically for the occasion.

Because ritual rocks. Seriously: it offers us structure and space, time to sip a cold drink and pamper ourselves, as we would a loved one. A dear friend. Someone who needs a little extra attention.

And shouldn’t we be friends w/ our own sweet selves? Shouldn’t we (above all others) recognise how fragile we are, and  how much we need a little lovingkindness?

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Hence tea. :) And stainless steel straws ($5 for four @ Amazon!) for Việtnamese coffee. And fresh flowers just for ourselves. All the little things we do ‘for company.’ Like making Việtnamese coffee — not hard, just a bit time-consuming (and you do need an espresso maker…).

I’m just saying: be kind to yourselves, folks. If we don’t deserve it, who does? :)

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friendship, memory, and love

Mom on phone decemberMy mother-in-law has a friend! This may not sound like a big deal to many of you, but those of us w/ family in elder care KNOW it’s bigger than it may sound.

Nursing homes — even good ones — aren’t conducive to happiness, sadly. My beloved mother-in-law was used to her own place, her own schedule, her own ways. A former middle school teacher, she’s also a bird watcher, a reader, and an inveterate ‘putterer.’ She’s also a walker.

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ALL THE TIME. Even in her wheelchair. FOR HOURS.

And for a number of reasons, finding a real ‘friend’ at her nursing home has eluded her. She’s never been a real ‘joiner,’ I suspect — although I never knew this before she was in care. Since she kept in touch w/ many former students, met monthly w/ her former colleagues, and seemed to know what was happening w/ every relative to Timbuktu, I assumed that meant she was a social butterfly.

Not so. This may be where my sons get their (occasional) reserve.

So when my husband went to her quarterly care meeting today, this is the big news: Mom has a friend! Friend (whose name we don’t know) lives in A wing, and Mom in E (I think…). But they meet, Friend in her walker & Mom in her wheelchair. And they cruise the wings for hours. Really. Stopping in the foyer by the chapel to watch comings & goings, and looking out the window at the small pond where ducks & geese play. Talking as they go, each of them to the other.

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via google

via google

As someone who treasures every one of my own friends, I am ecstatic that Mom — who has had to give up so many things as Alzheimer’s strips layers of memory & independence from her — has a friend. Someone with whom — the staff says — she chatters happily. As does Friend.

Who doesn’t need affirmation, a sympathetic ear, new stories to hear and a new audience for our own? What is it about friendship that is as precious as family, just different? I suspect the difference is that our friends choose us.  I’ve made (& lost…) friends. My family is kind of stuck w/ me — you can’t reeeeeally divorce your sister (although I’m pretty sure they may have wanted to, occasionally!). So when friends ‘stick’ (instead of being stuck…) I’m grateful.

So today that gratitude is for friends. My own dear ones, my BFF, my sisters and ersatz brothers. The aunts & uncles and old ladies who shaped me. And Mom’s new one, who seems to see beyond Mom’s Alzheimer’s to the wonderfully funny, smart, and giving woman she still is. Thank you, universe!!

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