School Year’s End: Being Gentle with Goodbyes


The school year is almost over. There are three full days of school left after this one, our finals end tomorrow, and grades are due before I leave the building. I am ready for this school year to be done. I am ready to walk out those doors and not have to come back for at least a few weeks (I do have curriculum to write this summer, after all). I am ready to have my time be mostly my own again for a little while (I say mostly because my pre-K girl will be in daycare three days a week during the summer).

I am ready.

But, in the midst of all this readiness, I found a soft thought nudging my mind:

Say goodbye gently.

These junior high students have comprised the majority of my life, concern, and time for the past nine months, and now it is time to say goodbye. Next year, they will be freshmen. I will not see them every day, will not hear their laughs ripple through the halls, hear their franticly-rapid conversations in between periods, call at them to get to class, instruct them on the finer points of grammar, writing, or literary interpretation, or remind them of what it means to “have courage and be kind”.

Underpinning these thoughts, all that’s going through my head is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “One Last Time” from Hamilton: An American Musical, where George Washington admonishes Alexander Hamilton, despite protest, to help him say goodbye properly to the fledgling American people and to teach the latter how to move on to new leadership. I am feeling the urge and leading to say goodbye to my students gently, to teach them how to say goodbye. 

To this end, I have had them writing letters to their favorite elementary and middle school teachers, to give commendation, encouragement, and thanks to those who have worked so hard to prepare them for the world that they will enter in the fall. My pile has been rather small this year compared to years passed but, honestly, though my pride might twinge a little, I’m mostly okay with it. Other teachers need to know how much they are appreciated by their students; it’s vital for a teacher’s soul, I feel.

To this end, I will do my utmost not to shoo them out of my room when all is said and done but to take my time and say goodbye to as many of them personally as I can, shake hands and even give hugs if they like. I will endeavor to say goodbye gently as my students move from one world to another, from the familiar to the different and, probably, somewhat scary. I want to send them off with as much courage and kindness as I can.

HAMILTON:
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

WASHINGTON:
No, they will see we’re strong

HAMILTON:
Your position is so unique

WASHINGTON:
So I’ll use it to move them along

HAMILTON:
Why do you have to say goodbye?

WASHINGTON:
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.
It outlives me when I’m gone.

Don’t forget, my dear scholars:

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Art and lettering by @joshuaphillips_ (Instagram)

Featured image by: @katchulaa (Instagram)

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Holding Time Gently


Here is how I usually feel that I am dealing with my time: My days/hours are laid out in specifically shaped or metered boxes, like a weekly pill container. Each box is colored differently and I have roughly 18 “pills” of time in my hand with which to fill them (because I honestly need at least 5-6 hours to sleep or I’m just not functional). And so I count out my hours into the boxes – Work, Family, Home Care, Errands, Cooking, Listening, Driving, etc. I try, try, TRY to hold back a few bits of time just for me: things like reading, writing, taking a long hot bath, exercising, devotional time, and naps. But there’s usually something “more important” that requires doing. I am rubbish at asking for help of any kind, and so my self-care ends up getting shoved into a really short amount of time and not feeling like self-care really at all. Usually it’s me sitting on the couch after the almost nightly battle to get my daughter to bed, too tired to think, much less read or write.

I feel as though I am grasping at time, holding onto it for dear life, lamenting that there is not more of it as it slips through my fingers. Like sand, it leaves behind only tiny grains, minuscule bits of itself that don’t seem to amount to much of anything. But that is not true of sand, is it? Though its individual grains are minute, all together they create vast deserts and snow-white beaches and ocean floors that stretch on for uncountable miles. All of that is those tiny bits and pieces, not on their own but together. Perhaps I have been holding my time so tightly that I am looking at it wrongly. While my introverted soul yearns for extended blocks of retreat and refreshment, I should not–must not— discount the small pockets of time with which I am gifted, even if they are very small.

A few nights ago, I gifted myself the time involved to take a hot shower with all the lavender amenities. It boosted my spirit and refilled some of my dwindling spoon drawer to feel fresh, clean, soft, and have such a soothing scent wafting around me. It was only half an hour but there was intention behind it. The intention of care and refreshment for myself, of aloneness and quiet, even if just for a little while. It was not a week-long isolated retreat but it did help, that one half-hour.

Last year, I wrote about (and even gave a commencement speech on) not discounting the value of smallness. How fitting that here I am, a year later, reminding myself of this very oh-so-important lesson, when my own well-being and all-around health hang in the balance.

Fifteen minutes of exercise may not be the hour-long gym workouts that I was used to doing when I was a SAHM but it is something.

Ten minutes to read before bed isn’t finishing a book in a day as I did of old but it is something.

“Tea-Time Quite-Time” with my daughter isn’t an afternoon alone in a coffee shop but those quiet moments together of both of us watching the lovely “Sarah & Duck” with our tea before bedtime are something.

Putting my earbuds in of a Sunday afternoon and turning on my rain app isn’t spending a whole sleepy, rainy day in bed but dozing amidst those soothing sounds for a little while is something.

Friends, I am learning to hold my time more gently, to remember and admit that the small bits I can get, that stick here and there can indeed be helpful, refreshing, and sustaining. And, bit by bit, those fragments add up, just as grains of sand, together, can create a vast, beautiful landscape. If you are walking this path of learning and viewpoint shifting, I want to encourage you. We can be gentler with ourselves, gentler with our time and the realities of our lives. Sometimes our realities do not have space for week-long retreats for our soul. We can still find rest in the small moments, brief though they may be. A shut bedroom door (or closet door even). A second cup of coffee. Ten minutes with a book or video game or podcast. We can find those little grains of time that will add up to refreshment for us. Trust me, I wish us all extended time to rest and relax but, until then, I’ll be gently collecting grains alongside you.

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When a Smile is Needed


It’s the Thursday of Spring Break. Only a few more days of relative freedom. So why am I smiling, you ask? Because I NEED to smile. This week has been gray and largely low-feeling, especially at night. Not the best headspace for Spring Break. I’m off but everyone else is not. There are responsibilities that keep us at home and unable to drive to/stay out late with friends of an evening. Grading waits menacingly on my kitchen table like a sword of Damocles dangling over my head. So I NEED to smile today. I need to remember the good.

*My daughter in my floppy sunhat and her heart-shaped sunglasses ready for her “beach party” at preschool

*Kisses and “I love you’s” from my husband

*Unexpected, wonderful time with friends

*Reading, writing, and nap time in a quiet house

*Often-read Scripture verses touching my heart with new relevance and encouragement

*Rain pattering on my window panes and thunder growling and purring through the clouds

Today I need to remember the good. Today I need to smile. Today I need to choose the good, choose contentment. Today I need determination over motivation. Happiness is not just a happening today; today it needs to be a decision, a choice for me.

So here’s a smile. I hope it helps yours along, too, dear one.

 

When Emotion is Anathema to Gentleness


Twice so far this week (oh, who are we kidding? Twice in the same day…) I have wanted to get into a fight, or at the very least, a shouting match with people who have made friends of mine feel marked lousy. It didn’t matter to me whether it was a mistake or not, I just knew that they had hurt someone I care about and I was seeing red. It doesn’t help that I have been in a depleted, weary place for the past week and am finding my negative emotions easily amplified right now, but that didn’t matter either. All I knew is that these people needed to know just how much they suck. I even  gave in to internet courage and posted something to that effect on one hurt friend’s FB post about the incident.

And then I immediately felt guilty. I immediately felt like a fraud, a liar.

Here I am, claiming to espouse love and grace and gentleness, and yet I can act and say things so absolutely contrary to any of those things. I wanted my friend to know that she was supported and loved but I tore someone else down to do it, someone I didn’t even know.

I went back and edited my comment (to say that I wanted to yell at the HR person in question rather than hit them), but, obviously, I still feel badly about it. Or else I wouldn’t be sitting here, feeling compelled to write this at 6am the following morning.

Emotion can sometimes be an anathema to gentleness. Mine are currently running high, subject to amplification because of weariness and need to recharge/refresh, and I allowed them to rob me of an opportunity to show gentleness to a stranger. I lost a chance to model the gentleness that I am very much wanting and trying to internalize so that it becomes habit, instinct. That chance is gone now. I can change the post, I can apologize and try to do better, but I cannot erase that first response, that first action, those first words. They are written on time and memory. I won’t forget them, and I am honestly struggling a bit not to be consumed by them right now. I acknowledge my tendency to ruminate on things and cause myself a fair amount of emotional pain because of past mistakes. That is not what I want to do to here.

I acknowledge my humanity, my fallibility, and that I’m going to do the wrong thing at times. But I am not through. My growth is not over. I have felt that nudge of guilt, and I have listened to it. I see where I was wrong and I apologize for my behavior. I will try to be better today. I will strive for gentleness today, even with those I don’t know and may never meet. The words below were published by Jennifer Dukes Lee on her Facebook page yesterday and I am ever so thankful for them and their God-breathed truth.

“I want to be reminded that there is no failure. Failure is just another word for “try again tomorrow,” or “move on; there’s something better for you.” Failure is not the opposite of success. Failure is simply this: NOT TRYING.

Your bravery has a voice. As the week begins, listen to it. Bravery is the voice within that says, “I did not fail. I will try again tomorrow.” — Jennifer Dukes Lee

Do Not Wish Yourself Away


It’s amazing when you think about it. There are things in your life that you sometimes think you would wish away if you could. Memories you don’t want or that are painful, maybe experiences that are agonizing. But then, at the same time, you can’t wish them away. Or, rather, you might not really want to if you sat down and thought long and hard about it. While those memories may be hard or heartbreaking, or that experience or those people utterly awful, if you didn’t have those experiences or didn’t meet, be with, or experience those people, wrangle with those people, then I would posit that there are other things that might not have come about. There are people you wouldn’t have met, friendships or relationships you wouldn’t have, and beautiful experiences you perhaps would not have had if you hadn’t met these people or gone through what you had with those them, those contacts and happenings.

It’s what really what stops me a lot of the time from saying, “Oh, I wish this or that had never happened.” Because the truth is: if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be the woman I am now. Maybe I would be similar but definitely not the same. As much as or even more so than that, though, I wouldn’t have what I have now. I wouldn’t have the friends and the relationships that I have and hold dear. I wouldn’t have a lot of the beauty in my life, a lot of the challenging, sharpening things in my life, that I do now if it weren’t for these experiences. I know that I wouldn’t have the capacity for the important things that I have gained from them: compassion and empathy and mercy and grace, for example.

It is true that you can walk away from people in your life if that situation has become emotionally unhealthy for you or for them, but you can’t erase them. Now, there are absolutely horrific things that people have experienced–terrible, soul-rending things that I do wish I could erase. I do wish I could eradicate it from their precious soul’s memory, give them something wholesome and loving and up-building in its place, and erase the damage. That is really what I wish I could do: erase the damage. But I would never erase, or want to erase, the person.

In the latest film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (of Chronicles of Narnia fame), Lucy chooses to speak a spell that would make her as beautiful as (though she didn’t realize it would actually  turn her into) her sister Susan, whom she agreed was the more beautiful of the two of them. When she was given a glimpse of what would come of such a rash spell-speaking (namely, a world where Lucy Pevensie didn’t exist), Aslan reproved her in his gentle, breaking-open way.

Aslan: What have you done, child?
Lucy Pevensie: I don’t know. That was awful.
Aslan: But you chose it, Lucy.
Lucy Pevensie: I didn’t mean to choose all of that. I just wanted to be beautiful like Susan. That’s all.
Aslan: You wished yourself away, and with that, much more. Your brothers and sister wouldn’t know Narnia without you, Lucy. You discovered it first, remember?
Lucy Pevensie: I’m so sorry.
Aslan: You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.

I don’t mean it to sound trite or to trivialize anything, I really don’t, but it’s the truth, the real, unmarred truth in that everything we do ripples. Everything we experience ripples and builds on itself and it builds on other things. It is rather amazing, honestly…and scary, really so, because as much as I or you would like to pull an Eternal Sunshine, if you did, what would be lost would be so much than just those memories and just those experiences. You could very well lose you, the person who is being built and strengthened, sharpened and refined on the foundation of those ruins. And what a great loss that would truly be! Don’t wish yourself away, dear one. Live and learn and grow. With the necessary time and care and imperfect progress, perhaps you will be able someday to put regret in a box and bury it beneath the foundations of who are you are becoming. I will endeavor to do so, too, rather than let it become a wrecking ball that tears down all we have built.
Don’t wish yourself away. You are needed. You are significant. You matter. What you have been through matters. Let your people hear your voice, let us see you feel, be, and live life. What’s more, let us see who you are and who you are becoming and let us love you in it. It’s breathtaking to watch.

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Faking It Too Well


Fake it ’til you make it. That’s what they tell you, and, sometimes, it’s very true. Sometimes, you have to act like you know what you are doing while learning exactly what you are supposed to be doing. That is rather how I feel about teaching. I feel like I am constantly acting like I know exactly what I am doing or supposed to be doing when, all along, I am barely staying afloat.

Studies call this “impostor syndrome” but the truth is that who I am as a teacher often feels very different from who I feel I am “in real life”. Teachers need to have a polish to them, a presence. It leaves my poor introverted soul tired and, maybe, even joyless at times. However, there is no denying that I am good at what I do. I am a good teacher, though maybe not as involved with as many shiny tricks as others who have been doing this longer or have it as more of a passionate calling. Nevertheless, I am organized and knowledgeable, even enthusiastic when I am teaching literature. I’m good at what I do. I have never gotten a bad evaluation from an administrator. I don’t pull punches with my students and push them to do their best and improve on it. I admit when I don’t know or I am wrong. I know how to hold my corner-classroom kingdom. But that me often feels very different from me.

One of my students asked me last week if I am bipolar. My answer was, “No.”

“Are you sure?” he pressed.

“I’m sure,” I replied.

He was a dog with a bone. “Because you’re usually really nice and then you can get all mean.”

“That’s not me being bipolar. That’s me being tired of people’s crap. I’m an introvert. I don’t deal with other people’s crap well.”

Who I am in the classroom takes a force of presence and authority that takes a lot out of me, leaves me weary and wanting to crawl back into a safe little hobbit hole to recover. But recovery time for teachers, as you know, is slim to none. Ditto and double for moms, which honestly makes it a double-whammy. So going back to work is not just a change in how I do life but, once again, a change in how I feel about who I am. It’s an extra twist in my self-vision that I sometimes wish I could untwist and smooth out at the end of the day. Some days are more successful than others, but there are successful ones.

Going back to teaching is the best thing for my family right now, and that is what is important. That is the driving force. It is allowing my daughter to go to preschool and daycare every day to gain social and academic skills that she will so desperately need in the coming years. It is also allowing us to put money aside and save up so that we can start dreaming new dreams again.

I will find a way to reconcile all this change. Right now, though, it’s difficult at times, I will admit. But there is always a way.

Casting of Light


I watched in fascination and more than a little awe as the candle rays intersected, bisected each other, arced, and danced across the wall over the steaming bathtub. The flickering wicks made the facsimiled sunbeams dance and bow, the bubbles in the tub taking on a brighter luminescence for brief seconds. 

I sank into the hot water, the light from only the candle pouring over my skin, splashing its earthy tone with gold, and the soft piano music trickling its sweetness into my soul. Days, though long and good on the earth, can leave my spirit devoid of quiet and awe. I had come, like a pilgrim to a wildwood chapel, seeking them, and I found them in flickering candle shadows on my bathroom wall.