Walking humbly

I knew I had to do it- even last night as twilight gave way to darkness. But the frustration was still close to the surface. The feelings. And I found a myriad of reasons to explain my behavior, to ease the sting of my wrong done. Somehow, peace just would not come and so it was, I found myself wrapping my arms around her this morning, hugging her tight. I apologized then- for the way I handled my frustration last night. For what I did unkindly, in the heat of a moment. I asked her for forgiveness. And she offered it, freely. The ones we love the most are the ones we hurt the most frequently. And sometimes we forget that in offering those two little words ‘I’m sorry’ backed by heartfelt meaning we find the perfect way- the only peace-filled way in which to live, love and practice the art of forgiveness (that ancient art of letting go and loving wholly).

Forgiveness is a well-worn path leading to love.

Recently, I was ‘somewhere’ with our family. I am going to try to keep this vague so as to protect anonymity. Namely mine. I happened to be walking away from the washroom when I came across a person from my past whom I have not been able to speak to nor face up to for years due to a history of hurt between that person and my immediate family. There is a history here that goes back far with turbulent waters that run deep. There have been wrongs done, words spoken, vengeance taken. On both sides of the fence, perhaps- depending on whom you talk to. And over the years, I have believed that I had released the burden of offense that this person (and the persons who stand with them) had brought me. But yet, I still lived in fear of facing this person. What would I say? What would that person do? How would I react? What if I started to crack up under the pressure?

The binding of this offense from years ago still has a choke-hold on me.

It is not that this person makes me feel angry. It is fear mostly that I feel. Fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, fear of humiliation. Fear of facing this person. I am reminded of that verse which states that perfect love casts out fear. To be exact, the words of this verse say this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man (or woman) who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4: 18, NIV) I wonder- what if I practiced loving this person instead of channeling my energy into fearing them. What might transpire were that to happen?

I can tout myself as being a loving person but if I cannot love my enemies, the love I offer is shallow. Who wouldn’t find it easy to love those who treat us well, those who build us up, edify our character? It is easy to love when love feels good. So much harder to love when the price is our pride, our image. We shouldn’t love solely when it is easy- we must love when it is hard. For in loving, we are free. But this is hard work- it require discipline.

I have found in recent years a yearning in my soul to exemplify love in my life. This love is not my own- it is God’s love channelled through me. It is supernatural love of a divine nature. And because I feel the power and presence of love in my life, I am free to love others in the very same ways I too experience love. Unconditionally, liberally, wholly.

In thinking about the offence I have felt over the years, one of which I make mention of above, I am humbly reminded of the offences at times that I have caused. At times, unknowingly and at other times, purposefully. If I am in any way offended by those who have hurt me, how much more then are those whom I have hurt injured by my offence to them? In being human, we are prone to hurt one another by our very nature- one does not have to look far in the news to find evidence of this. We are a hurting people. We live in pain. The freedom from which comes through forgiveness.

I wonder how much of our pain would be eased if we could only take the initiative to bear the weight of any offence committed against us through arms of love. What a humbling exercise- accepting responsibility to start the reconciliation process even when we haven’t been the one who wronged. This is not to say we must accept responsibility for wrongs done which we have not committed- it is just to say that in love and through grace, we can make the first move. This is biblical principle. For we see through scriptures over and over again that love is the antidote to the pain which breeds fear. Not that love can eradicate pain- but it can help us cope with our response to pain. True, there will always be those in our lives that inflict on us the brutality of injustice- but it is the reaction to such that determines the load we end up carrying. My response to the offender is what determines the pain I carry in my shoulders, in my body. In my heart. The release is found in forgiveness.

We must let go and in love move forward.

Recently, a very special woman shared with me her decision to go to someone who had deeply hurt her and how she found grace to offer a hand in love to this person. Just today, I read of a woman whose former husband murdered her three baby boys before turning the gun on himself. And yet, this hurting woman found strength in time to forgive this man, thus releasing her own burden of despair. I think of a man in our own community who offered forgiveness to another during his own family’s darkest hour. And in my own life, I have found the greatest peace has come through laying down my own agenda and rights so as to walk in peace with another human being. So as to walk in peace with my God. I am daily reminded through these and other stories- that it is in releasing our fear, our pain and choosing love in spite of the tremendous odds that we find supernatural strength to forgive.

It is there in the peaceful still that we find quiet, humble grace.

Blessings come through tears

We have a new baby kitten, so precious and sweet. The girls are enamored yet feel completely responsible for this little bundle of love. The other day, M.A. said to Husband with a sigh, “I am soooo tired of looking after this kitten” to which Hubs responded it was not her responsibility to do so: it was the mother cat who had that job.

Nevertheless, she feels it is.

Last summer, we had five little kittens born and raised on our property. One summer evening, the mother introduced them to us, calling them out from a Spirea shrub one-by one. They danced around our feet in the twilight much to the delighted squeals and giggles of our girls. We were taken by these little beings- they quickly wrapped themselves around our hearts.

One busy Sunday morning we were heading for church in a rush when Brian backed the van up quickly. One of the little kittens was situated under the tire, as they all found the warmth of our vehicle comforting. With a sickening feeling, Brian knowing he had backed over it, got out of the van without the children knowing and found the kitten. Still without telling them as he knew it would completely upset them at that moment, he moved the little lifeless body and carried on, feeling sick about the unfortunate event.

Even the life of a kitten has meaning and significance.

This summer, I have been watching this new mama cat as she cares for her single kitten and I have been struck with the fact that although she can do much as a mother, she cannot prepare her baby for the inevitable: its death. It is contrary to our normal inclination to think of death upon the emergence of new life, but the inevitability that life is followed always by death is something we cannot avoid. We as humans have the ability to be aware of our existence, something cats, in all their amazing capability cannot be.

Sadly, we as humans are not always aware that we are born to one day die.   Yet thankfully, we are reminded throughout life that it is the living that is sandwiched in between the entry and exit that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking of how we as parents- how we as the adults can prepare children for death. We know not how long any life has been given, know not the number of our days nor any one elses, for that matter. How do we live life while facing death? How do we prepare for this fact? Even with my own assurance of heaven, there is still the very real aspect of separation in death that we as humans must face. Death causes separation, even if but for a time. No one truly wants to leave behind those they love and adore.

In my extended family, we have had several premature deaths- two to infants and one to a teenager on her graduation night. In all three cases, it has been hard to make sense of the fact that these were not elderly people facing death after a long, fulfilling life. These were babies, these were children. How does one make sense of this? How is it that a child is as susceptible to their mortality as one who lives to be one hundred? But it is the very nature of our humanness to be so fragile- we are but a vapour, a breath- transfixed between the present and eternity with only our next lungful of air as a separating veil.

Is this life we live, as fleeting as it might appear to be, a blessing?

I talked to a dear friend recently about that word ‘blessing’- a beautiful word to describe life when things are going well, but a puzzling one when things are not. Is life a blessing? All life?

The night my aunt was taken, she who was then eighteen years of age and a brand-new high school graduate- that night, two officers came to my grandparents door in the wee hours of the morning. Came there to deliver the inevitable news- news no paret ever wishes to receive.   That an accident had occurred and their beloved baby girl had been the casualty.  Words could not express the emotions that would overcome a parent hearing such a fateful interruption during what would have been prior a peaceful night’s sleep. What images would run through the mind? What visions? Our sole desire as parents is to keep our children safe- and when we cannot, have not been able to keep this sacred oath, what must that do to a parental psyche? Where would one go to find solace?

My grandfather’s devout faith and trust in a loving God- in a God who blesses us even with showers that fall fast and furious at times, pelting us with their intensity. My grandfather said this: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the scriptures, Lord connotates a title of respect for one deemed in a position of honor, much the same as the word Rabbi is used to refer to a teacher. For my grandfather, he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the One he trusted most- the One who had proved faithful to him time and time again, would still prove faithful even in this storm.  And he used the word “blessed” to ascribe meaning- even to the taking of that dear one whom he held most precious.

How could this be?
Was this tremendous loss a blessing? For our family, we suffered the passing of a beloved daughter, sister, friend. Down through the years, we grandchildren have been told stories that honor my Aunt MaryAnne’s life. We have seen her legacy- and my own daughter is her namesake.  While death will never be celebrated as a blessing, for death is not lauded in the same way that we cherish life, the blessing was the life. She has never been forgotten, her life not rendered as history. Because through story, her memory lives on. Her life, however brief it may have been- was a blessing to those whom she met. There was not a soul who crossed her path that didn’t love her- she was that kind of girl. Years later, I still find people who talk of her genuine sweetness and purity of spirit. She was gentle and loving- and the world is a richer place because her life was in it.

We often say that we have been blessed with good health, good fortune, good genes, good luck. When the weather is nice we count it a blessing. But I would counter that life, no matter how short, how seemingly insignificant- is precious. Our lives are precious. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. It is a blessing to have been given the chance to breath in air, to feel sun rays’ gentle warmth on our upturned faces, to know what it is to have felt the rain. My grandmother of 92 sits day after day inside a manor in Fredericton and while it can seem to be a curse to live that long and no longer have the wherewithal to get up and move, the people in her life are a blessing to her. It is a blessing for her to be cared for by people who genuinely love her.

And while I even think of the people in this world who have not been blessed with love and care, I feel the challenge is left up to those of us who know this blessing well to then extend it outwards. So that everyone the world over can feel the touch of love, especially those who need it most. Acclaimed writer and critical theorist bell hooks said this about the blessing of love: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving” (hooks, 2000, p. 74). Were this to be true, how much more would we then understand the meaning of that little word blessing?

The challenge is left to us.

Our lives are not for naught. They are precious, meaningful, purposed for a greater plan. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. A blessing to love, to have loved. And a blessing to have the opportunity to share this eternal love we know so well with the others in our lives.

Taking care of ourselves

She playfully bats at the little ball of fluff, her baby. Tousling, grooming, cuddling, nursing. But when she sees the need, setting the little kitten free to explore without the ever-present eye of Mama to govern and oversee. Sometimes, she completely appears to abandon, lazing in the sun while her tiny kitten sits alone on the top stair of our steps, wary and uncertain. Is Mama neglectful? I think not.

When mama cat lovingly stretches out languidly on our top step with baby nearby, her tiny offspring responds to her in love. There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the two. But it is one designed to set free so that the younger can one day take care of herself. To never allow for the certainty that the baby will one day be on its own would be a tragedy. True. Everyone needs love- even barn cats. But you rarely see amongst animals any form of helicopter parenting as one often sees in human parenting. Animals seem to know instinctively the balance needed so as to nurture and prepare their offspring for life after the nursery.

Care requires that we respond within a relationship. Within relationships of care, there is always a two-way exchange happening at any given time- a process which can reverse and rearrange at seemingly a moment’s notice. And all because relationships of care are responsive. A caregiver in relationship to another acknowledges a need or a requirement, responds to that need and then allows for caring to occur. This process can be reversed almost immediately, depending on the relationship. The cared-for- in response to the care emitted, can then responsively give care to the other almost immediately.

In thinking about care so much and so often, I am realizing that there are elements of care that we have forgotten. I feel we have forgotten at times how to take care. A local radio personality whom I have listened to over the years often signs off with the phrase, ‘take care of one another today’; from the moment I first heard this phrase, it has stuck with me. How does one take care? And where does care-taking begin?

I would suggest that there are dimensions of caretaking that we must heed. That we have overlooked. The first being our need to take care of ourselves.

There is an underlying assumption that we need to take care of one another in life, but in order to do this, we first need to learn the secret of taking care of ourselves. In taking care of ourselves, we need to learn to listen to our bodies, listen to our hearts. We have all heard of the spoken rule, given by flight attendants on airlines, to put on your own mask on first prior to helping your children or other dependents. I am convinced in my own life that the growth and development of care woven throughout my life experiences has been a direct result of my learned ability to care for myself, self-care guided for me by faith through the direction of a loving Father. For years, I looked to others to care for me. Why weren’t they doing what I thought was the basic of all human responses- caring? Why were people not responding to my needs? And why wasn’t I feeling loved and looked after? Why was I feeling so bereft? These feelings of a deficit in care followed me into my marriage, leaving me looking to a husband to fulfil the role of caretaker, a tremendous responsibility considering he was not even the one who had left me feeling unloved and uncared for in the first place. That was baggage I had brought into our marriage- a composite of my difficult years of schooling, my years in the public eye as a pastor’s kid and the other personal experiences of my life that directly impacted me in very private ways. We cannot first expect others to care for us if we have not learned how to care for ourselves. And I am convinced that many, many problems in marriages could be avoided if we first were able to redirect our need for care back to ourselves- as well as if we could start to see that the ways people express care, initiate care, offer care, interpret care and understand care: are different. Different. Not bad, worse, inferior or poorer: just different. Maybe we need to start by seeing the best in what another human being is offering us, starting with our partners.

I would never, ever wish the message I am conveying to be one in which we reduce the responsibility we have toward others. My life is rich because I have learned to care for others. I believe that the transformation in my life has been one in which, with God’s guiding hand, I was able to take something that was painful and difficult and see the good in it. I think this is the reason I am now able to responsively express care to others: there has been a miracle in my life. But I would never want to overstep the responsibility I have been given to care for myself in all of this. That was a first step in this process- understanding the needs in my life and slowly taking measures to meet those needs one by one through loving myself. Through accepting myself. Unconditionally. I had to learn to love myself so as to love others. And I cannot personally underestimate my faith in Jesus and my Abbba Father in this process- as I have come to understand I have a Father who loves me intimately and expressly, I can now love myself as an expression of His love. I am free to love the others in my life as I now know how much I am loved myself.

And this is the very essence of care: freedom to love and responsively give to oneself and the others in one’s life. Freely, wholly, purely.

All because of love.

Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.

Rage against the dying of the light

We tread side-by-side at dusk, rain still shimmering on summer leaves while sun fades fast behind heavy clouds. He divulges to me the secrets we both keep hidden away through daylight hours from Little Ears, sacred documents of the heart that must be locked away. As I walk the inside track, closest to the gully that leads down to the prolific birch trees spreading helter-skelter towards the field, he tells me this. Doctors have given very little hope, very little promise.

“What about that treatment?” I ask.

“It won’t prolong life,” the resigned response. And then he says to me, “I keep thinking of that Dylan Thomas poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

“I am resigned to the fact that the doctors know best,” he then offers uncertainly.

I cannot think of anything profound to say to that. But I think to myself: I would rage.

I would rage.

If radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged (hooks, 1994, p. 8), then radical care vows no sacred Presence goes uncared for. Radical care upholds the individual’s right to love, compassion, empathy, concern and kindness. And when the need necessitates, the individual’s right to be cared for in radical ways.

I think of my little Sianna* of the just-finished kindergarten class from this past year. I think of the fears expressed to me by her parents and my inner vow to fight for this child. To be that advocate for her parents that they seemed to need. I remember the ways I fought for her right to be medically cared for- how I contacted the public health nurse numerous times to arrange for the appointments with an Audiologist. How I advocated for her parents’ right to a second chance at such an opportunity.

I think too of the assisted speech technology that I raced against time for- buying an i-pad for Jake* at a moment’s notice- literally. Then the race against the clock to meet a deadline with a man. A man who held the keys to open a door leading to a world of words for that same little boy, who had so few words at his disposal. I think of the sweat that broke as I ran, as I ran- just so as to obtain a program I could otherwise not afford installed on that same i-pad I had just bought: so that a little boy could somehow communicate with me. So that he could somehow find his voice therein. And I think of the tears that fell freely as I got there just in time. The sheer relief in knowing, this was really going to happen.

Radical care allows for the impossible to occur. But the challenge is first to initiate the care process, giving attention and acknowledgement to the presence of another human being. Through awareness of the people with whom we share our communities, be those groupings of a familial nature, a learning community or a neighborhood- we start by acknowledgement. And we move forward from there.

Husband and I head back, on the homestretch now. The sky is darkening and night time presses in, enveloping. But I do not go gentle into the thickening darkness.

I press on as one who sees the light.

******************************************************

Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Taken from this URL: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

This is what Sunday normal is…’round here

So here we were this morning.  The family (typically) fighting and snapping at one another—as is our usual and preferred custom on the Lord’s Day. What else would any family of six choose to do to prepare their hearts, souls and minds?  I can’t even imagine.  During which time, Husband reminded the children to remember the old adage (snazzed up with a new twist): “If you can’t say anything nice, keep your pie-hole shut.”

M.A.: “What’s a pie hole?”
Me: “Where you pie goes in.”

In other news…we are getting ready to go camping (because fighting in a camper is a whole lot more fun than fighting in a 2000 square foot home- so is negotiating sleeping arrangements: its way, WAY more fun to do in a cramped little camper). So we are going camping which means that everything I have stuffed into the camper over the last year now has to find a new home in Husband’s truck. Or elsewhere.  Which means school supplies, winter gear, a car seat, old shoes, a deflated birthday balloon.  All the important stuff I can’t bring myself to throw out, because who knows?  It might come in handy some day. 

I was reminded at church today that there are several pairs of my children’s skates, a suitcase, some books and who knows what else of mine stuffed into a Rubbermaid tote in a SUNDAY SCHOOL ROOM AT CHURCH.I was not even able to sneak out without it.  Fortunately, I found a new home for it in the back of my in-law’s van.  She doesn’t read this blog so she’ll never know it came from me.  Meanwhile, downstairs in the boxes and boxes of MORE STUFF, I was unable to even find a pair of sandals for Youngest to wear to church.  She ended up wearing a pair that fit her last year, which will work in a pinch.  Literally.

There is just TOO MUCH STUFF to keep track of.

As the children went through a phase this spring where they wore (ahem: their mother made them wear) winter touques underneath their bike helmets to protect their freshly washed hair to prevent them from getting a shed-like, skunk-like, raccoon-like smell, we are now also finding touques in the stow-away at the back-end of the camper. Husband found one that would fit a newborn preemie and stuck it on his head— to which Son asked: “Where did you get that hat, Dad?” and to which he answered back: “It’s not a hat—it’s a STATEMENT.”

I give up.

Son and Husband are now on their way to Camp Seggie. I had to change Son’s pillowcase as John Deere tractor pillow cases are apparently not cool enough for camp. I guess Son also got flack for the extra blanket I packed him on the overnight camping trip they took last week.  Someone called it a blankie, so Husband has been cracking jokes about Son taking a teddy bear along too ever since.  I still don’t know all the rules yet of having a teenager. When I ever get five minutes to myself to sit down and close my eyeballs, I might try thinking about what those rules might be.

Until then…Happy Sunday, everyone.

Let me be one who cares

It’s Friday. I am so weary. SO tired. Actually, my brain is fried. I feel like the cerebral part of my Members has turned to mush. But then again—it’s Friday. So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you, Jesus, for that. Gotta love the creation of the five-day work week.

I am in class all morning with my cohort- a mix of teachers from all over the country. We break for lunch on the last day of class ready for a diversion. I decide mine is going to be a short trip taken to a local restaurant with a couple of friends whom I have not had as much time for (as I would really have liked) over the past couple of months due to the crazy busy schedule I keep. Crazy schedules we all keep, for that matter. Time I have not had for the Others in my life due in part to the lack of number of hours in the day to ‘get it all done’. Something I am constantly dealing with in my desire to find work/life balance. At any rate, I am delighted to have the time to eat lunch with these lovely ladies and am so looking forward to catching up on missed time. To having actual real-life CONVERSATION.

Oh, the luxury.

We cram into an over-heated car and wait for the air-conditioning to kick in. And then we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot and make our way towards the lunch counter. We order lunch. I order a Summer-Fresh Strawberry Salad, a grilled chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake. They have no milkshakes, so they replace the latter with a very miniscule chocolate milk. Not that it really matters. Later on- in the course of my eating, I discover something hard in my salad, of all things- like the bits of teeth that I have become accustomed to finding inside my mouth when breaking such while eating. This is a side note, but important to show that I am always under some stress while eating. And that fast food does not always mean good food. Funny about that.

But I digress.

We hoe into our lunches and start to converse right away about this, that and the other when the conversation takes on a more reflective nature. The question is posed: “How do people perceive me?” by one of my lunchmates. And so, thinking this might be a good thing to know about myself, I ask the same. “How do I come across to the people I interact with?” “What do people really think of me?”

I am really curious after all. How DO people perceive me? An honest question, to which I thought I was ready to hear an honest answer.

I have been writing this blog for a while now with the understanding that I am pursing a path that will lead to a more empathic, caring, loving Self- as a teacher, a mother and as a friend among the other hats I wear.   I am also pursuing this path as the direct result of my choosing to do so. In other words, in choosing this path of ethics of care and pedagogies of love- in choosing love as the focus of my life and writing- I then would hope that I exemplify it more and more in my day-to day life.

Interesting theory which I am working out in practical ways.

So I have to say, I was expecting a response something like the following: “Oh Lori, you are so caring and kind and sweet and empathic…” All the things I write about, in other words. I was waiting for my ego to be fed a little bit.

What was actually said surprised me. I don’t know why it did, but possibly because I was so prepared for the former to be spoken that I hadn’t quite readied myself for what was actually to be divulged.

So, with this in mind, I sat posed to hear some really sweet things spoken.

Never have expectations when asking deeply personal reflective responses to questions you have posed. WORD TO THE WISE. At any rate, what was told to me- about how I was perceived and how I come across was this: I often make people feel uncomfortable due to my verbosity or ‘wordiness’- but even more so than that, I am intimidating at times to people, possibly due to my own reflective nature and the questions I pose to myself and others.

But here’s the sting.

It came out in conversation that I am not always caring in my interactions toward others.

Ouch. That did really hurt and I could feel tears immediately welling up in my eyes. Because despite my lack, at times, of being aware of my nature, I am very sensitive and tender. I can cry when the bee stings, the dog bites. And believe me- I can cry for much less than that.

But let me explain.

This week, I have had almost a tunnel vision at times in my focus on the academics and work at hand. So much so that there were times someone would pose a question to me- to which I completely tuned out that question or ignored such in my focus and intent on getting things done. In other words, I was not aware of how I was making people feel all the time. And I was making people feel like I didn’t care merely by my intent on barrelling through and getting the work done.

Hearing this feedback, I won’t lie- hurt me. I felt, as I have already suggested- stung. It is not easy hearing that you’ve been uncaring in your dealings with others- that you’ve been so focused on your own work that you’ve failed to take into account other’s work and questions. Other’s feelings and concerns. But hearing this feedback was also extremely beneficial. I needed to hear this. Because I am now more aware of myself as a friend and a colleague than I otherwise would have been had the question not been posed and answered.

I know more because I asked. Even if it hurt a bit in the hearing.

In doing a thesis on caring and love, I think the most revealing findings I will uncover are that we are not always what we perceive ourselves to be. The challenge is to improve and then rise above our failings and overcome. I would never assume that I have an interest in love and caring because I am an expert in such- I would want people to know that I have an interest in love and caring and all that encompasses because I want to BECOME this. And that act of becoming is a process. One can become something because they have a natural inclination toward being thus or one can become something because they have deliberately, intentionally chosen to be that. I am daily- moment by moment- choosing intentionally to BE what it is I write: a more caring, more understanding, more empathic, more loving person than I was yesterday. Each and every day I live my life as a human being.

It is the act of choosing to be caring that I would hope defines me.

After the conversation, I reflected on what had been said quite a bit and in doing so, I realized a few things about myself:

I am not doomed to be the focused, intense person I was born being- I can evolve into what I want to be by my awareness and consciousness to CHOOSE to be otherwise. I am also not left to feel inadequate by my obvious deficiencies in this aspect of my life because I see my life as a journey. I am moving forward. I would hope that I am more aware today than I was yesterday. And further, I see that my caring has come out even in my questioning: because I truly cared enough to ask the question: How DO people perceive me?

I hope they still might perceive me as one who wants to care. Who cares to care.

As one who cares.

A Gift Worth Giving

I am sitting Row G, Seat 2. It is intermission, half way through the musical we’ve been enjoying when from midway up the theatre comes a call ringing out through the auditorium. “Is there a doctor in the house?” The noise reverberates. The acoustics are of course meant for this kind of sound.

It takes a minute for the crowd to register what has just been said, for we are still in shock at someone standing up and bellowing. Usually, people try not to draw attention to themselves in public venues such as this is. It is unusual to hear someone yelling frantically. But all this takes but a moment to process, for very soon, we can see that someone is performing chest compressions on another lying prostrate. And very faintly, you can hear a woman crying. The cries begin to sound louder as the noise in the theatre falls to a hush. And we are left transfixed as we gaze upon the scene.

Why is it when someone is in the midst of their most vulnerable moments in life that we as people find it hard to turn away? We cannot shift our gaze? We are drawn to tragedy like moths to a lantern.

Mesmerized.

Quite soon, two ladies begin to make their way towards the commotion. They are nurses. They do what needs to be done while waiting for the defibrillator to arrive. And when the latter does come, there is a audible sound of relief that seems to ripple from the epicentre of all the action. The trouble has not yet passed, but it appears that there is some hopeful signs indicating that things will work out after all.

However. I for one cannot seem to shake that unsettled feeling. A wishfulness, a wanting: to have something of worth to offer.

I turn to my seatmate and say how helpless I feel to be there and not have anything of worth to put forward. I find myself regretting my lack of life-saving skills, something I could offer up in a time like this. But as I have none, I come up shorthanded.

I am neither a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic. I am a teacher. What good is that in an emergency?

After the gentleman in scrutiny is taken by ambulance, the audience is then told by the director of the show that he is on his way to the hospital. The director then thanks the two women who have assisted in the incident and announces the beginning of the second half of the show. We settle in, but if I am any kind of representative for the others there in that theatre, I am sure we are all watching with a little more heaviness and somber tone than when we had begun the first half. One never knows what might happen in the course of an evening. This event just reminds us of that sobering fact once again.

As I watch the remainder of the show, I am struck with a thought. The actors, singers and dancers who entertain this theatre full of people are also unable to help this gentleman’s need for medical attention. As much as they have exhibited their many talents and accomplishments, lifesaving is apparently not among them. Along with the audience, they were helpless to assist in what this man needed most: someone to rescue him in his time of distress.

The more I think about it, though; the more I realize that while this fact is true, the gifts the members of the theatre company had to offer the rest of us were certainly worthwhile and welcome. The gift of a diversion, a welcome offering from this poignant real-life scene we had just been witness to is a worthy gift to bestow. And that we the audience were able to carry on and enjoy the music and dance was testament to the great gifts and talents that this troupe had to offer. Grace under pressure at its best.

It is a gift to be able to distract those who are privy to sorrowful incidents. A gift that doctors and nurses and paramedics are at times unable to deliver due to their primary concerns with matters of a more serious nature. A gift that entertainers were made for. And it’s okay that the gifts which were offered last night were different. Because each person involved last night had gifts to bear. That those gifts were not the same in value and contribution was not necessary for them to be worthwhile, for them to be worth using. That the gifts were used and given over to help in the benefit of others is what really matters.

A couple days ago, I was doing an activity with my young kindergarten students that required some assistance from older leadership students in the Grade 6 class. An Educational Assistant offered to accompany me, but asked if I could also add two of the older students she worked with who have some exceptional needs to my mix. I was delighted.

When I observed the two special students as they interacted with my kindergarten students, I was struck by the gifts these two had to offer: gifts of patience, kindness, and wonder. They didn’t make any of my students feel “less than” when they were unable to perform a particular task, they didn’t ask them to “hurry up” when they lagged behind, and they had immeasurable wonder and excitement in completing the various stations we were involved in.

It was a joy to watch them using their gifts.

Although I can be prone to feeling inadequate when presented with a situation for which I feel I am less than skilled for, less than capable of assisting with. Feeling like my gifts are not as worthwhile, at times, when I see the skill sets/gifts that others have. It is a good reminder to myself that in giving over to these feelings of insecurity, I am allowing myself to be sucked into the lie that tells me ‘some gifts are better’. That tells me some gifts are worth more.

Our gifts were meant for us, designed especially for us. We were meant for the gifts- meant for the life we’ve been given, whatever that life and those accompanying gifts might be. And it doesn’t matter how important or distinguished or notable the gifts of our life are- it matters that we use the gifts. And use them lavishly. And when we do, the gift goes on, used for a higher purpose. Used as part of a bigger plan. Worthy and highly regarded no matter how that gift happens to come packaged.

The gift of being ourselves- it’s a gift worth giving.  Each and every time we offer it up.

And sometimes I write about mindless nothingness…

I am writing now on the computer when Youngest Daughter comes up to me hopping on the spot. Telling me that she has almost got 5000 steps on her pedometer. This since supper, mind you. And moments before stepping into the tub, dear readers, she finally surpassed the coveted milestone. I just caught her trying to clip the darn thing to her naked toe as she stepped into the tub. INTO THE TUB, people. She then proceeded to ask me to check it, as it sat forlornly in the basket by the tub, as if it might have got up and hopped around the room while I was washing her hair.  As if it could possibly have a blessed moment of peace.  As I write these very words, she is calling to me from the upstairs tub to come and get her OUT. So she can STEP SOME MORE. And my friends and colleagues wonder why I am looking a little haggard these days.

This was not the point of this blog.  The point was to talk about my complete lack of prowess at chess.

Last night, Son suggested we play chess. Good times. REAL.GOOD.TIMES. When I play chess, it usually ends in tears. As in, I’m crying (inside) like a baby. But I guess you could say last night’s game was certainly also good for a few funny laughs at my expense, if you call losing to your fourteen year-old son in a silly board game amusing. But then again, these grumbling sentiments of mine are partly due to the fact that I am the worst chess player in the universe. I know that. Son knows that. Husband knows that. Now the rest of the world is in on our little family secret.
It’s humiliating, really.
Now that I am forty, I have a sinking feeling that my brain cells are diminishing at a more alarming rate than I have previously been accustomed to. So I agreed to play with Son anyway (partly because my brain cells are diminishing at an alarming rate and I no longer know any better, … and also partly because I keep forgetting how bad I actually am at chess. It never seems to take me too long to remember though.) I usually agree to play chess because I think I am exercising my brain. However, some things don’t want to be exercised anymore when you turn forty- things like brains and bellies. And buttocks. They actually RESIST exercising, like there is some sort of rule about the point of no return. If I started exercising my brain (and other things) at this point in my life, I would be very afraid at what might be the outcome. At what might HAPPEN. But that is another story to pursue. For another blog, another day.
It’s not like I didn’t have my cheerleaders rooting for me. One second into the game- after I moved the very first fresh-faced pawn up two spaces on the board to face his daunting adversaries, Youngest Daughter looks cheerily at the board and says, “Good move Mom!” It was all downhill from there. At the end of the game, after a few tears, a long walk and a swift pep talk (THIS- all for me, by the way: a.k.a. The Loser of the Game): Son looks at me and says, “You did pretty good Mom, considering what you had left to work with.” I think he meant the measly few pawns and the terrified King who was hiding behind them. Not my brain cells.

I am praying that’s what he meant anyway.  One can always dream.

What Dads Do

In anticipation of Father’s Day on Sunday, I stumbled across a book which I then read today to my students on the topic of animal dads. The book was a great overview of animal fathers in the wild and how they contribute to their offsprings’ lives. A very interesting read.

Did you know that there is a type of fish (whose name escapes me now) which will hold its babies inside its mouth if enemy approaches and then release them when the danger has passed? “Gross,” said my little kindergartners while “fascinating” was the word which came to mind for me. Animal dads are just an amazing study of responsible parenting at its best.

Some of the ways animal fathers do this work of parenting are ways very much like those seen in human fathers, as both can be seen protecting their young, sheltering them, providing for them and playing with them. Cleaning and feeding them. Watching over them while the mothers are away (which the book referred to as babysitting, but which I would clarify so as to call it simple parenting).

And yes, in a manner of which: there are even some animal dads found giving birth to their young. Okay, maybe that one is a tad bit different than in humankind- although we as mothers certainly wouldn’t be opposed were the marvels of modern science to come up with ‘the plan’. Human dads maybe not so much in favor, but it’s my humble opinion that nature has us beat on that one.

As I was reading this book, I was struck by the varied ways in which animal dads offer their children compassionate, loving care. Care offered in many of the very same ways human fathers the world over tenderly care for their own babies- their beloved boys and girls. So with the inspiration gained from having read this book, and with Father’s Day in mind, I am offering five unique ways in which human dads care for their children, in no uncertain order.

1. Human dads can read to their children. I have found that when dads read to their kids, kids are inclined to read more themselves. As dads are interested in a variety of topics, there is bound to be something that will strike a chord, enabling conversation to therefore flow from the launch pad of a great read. When my own kids were young, their dad would have two on either side and at least one on his lap. I still can conjure up this comforting image in my mind even now, many years later; it brings me joy at the thought of it.
2. Human dads can talk to their children. About stuff that matters, as well as stuff that’s just meant to be for fun. The other night, Husband and Son were out scraping the old paint off the house in preparation for repainting our home this summer. At bedtime prayers, what my son mentioned he was most thankful for that day was the time he had to talk to his dad during their work together outside. I later asked Hubbie what they talked about, and he replied with a bit of perplexity: “Not much.” But what we both decided, after some time of talking it over for a bit ourselves, was this: it isn’t WHAT has been said, it’s that something HAS been said. That’s what matters. And its what will be remembered long after the conversations are over.
3. Human dads can stimulate their children’s thinking. One thing I have appreciated about my children’s father is his quiet, unassuming manner when it comes to challenging my children emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Rather than always leaving them to arrive at their own conclusions about important matters in life, Husband thoughtfully fosters their thinking through carefully designed questions and reflective comments in response. In thinking through issues, the solutions are gained not from imposing standards and expectations that are rigid and exacting, but through providing an example of how one can live their life. And why that example is important to take note of. And from there, allowing time and availability so as to follow through when children are arriving at the answers to their own questions. Making sure that patience and grace are the foundational structures upon which direction is given.
4. Human fathers have the rare opportunity to both create and then leave a legacy for their children. What that legacy becomes remains to be seen through the lasting impression dads leave with their children. Impressions made about what really matters in life, what is worthwhile doing, being and knowing and what is the reason for their own personal existence. All dads provide a legacy, rightly or wrongly, for their children. How their children arrive at the understanding of this legacy is based on the ways in which the father conveys his message. Through his actions, his words and his belief systems. Everyone leaves a legacy for their children, whether they realize this truth or not. So it matters what you believe and how you live out those beliefs: your children are watching you.
5. Human fathers are capable of offering love in deeper ways than one is able to believe that animal dads would be equipped to offer love. There is no doubt that animal dads have a level of commitment and affection for their children: love can be observed the world over, in both human and animals alike. But human fathers have the rare opportunity of showing their offspring unconditional, sacrificial love, a love exhibited by one willing to put himself on the line, if circumstance required that of him. No better example of this can be given than the recent deaths of three fathers in the line of duty, whom one could say were not only acting for the good of all human kind, but also for the good of their own six children they’ve now collectively left behind. Love like this is inspirational.

I will never fully understand the bond that fathers have with their children. Strong as they are between a mother and her children, there is something uniquely special about the father-child relationship. And while it is true that not every father has done the five things I have listed above, the truth of the matter is that most are ABLE to do some of those five, should they so choose. And speaking as a mother, friend and teacher myself, I want to also say this: I appreciate the dads that are emotionally and physically connected to the children I have interacted with over the years. Being a good dad doesn’t mean one must aim for perfection. One would never expect that of mothers, so why then would we expect it of dads? Human perfection itself is a myth, but involvement is a certain possibility. A perfect possibility. Being an involved dad is about as close to perfect in a child’s eyes as they would ever come to expect. And when those kinds of dads take time to read, talk, stimulate, create and love, there is no telling the ways which they will then have of influencing their sons and daughters to being the best people they can be.

Truly the sky’s the limit.