This Is My Story

I wonder if we have ever considered that our willingness to share from exposed places is what connects us in experience to others? If we do not share stories of vulnerability, share moments of weakness, share the things we consider our failures, share perceived inadequacies or share areas in which we feel insufficient, how will others ever know that they are not alone? Know that there are common experiences known to human kind of which we can speak, can cry, can maybe even laugh? How will we ever learn to accept and live beyond the sorrow, searching always for the joy?  How will we ever experience the power of forgiveness?

Our stories are what connect us.

Let me tell you a story.

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, a squared-off corridor that was also firmly tethered by four anchors: farming, family, community and faith. My father was one of many 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. This reality served to both enable and impede my personal growth and development by times, as anyone who has had parents as visible figureheads in the community can attest to.

It was an idyllic life in some ways.  But difficult in other ways. We were often strapped financially, 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 started school in primary, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I immediately 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 from the other children 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. Like a piece of rubbish— unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very obvious. 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 school leaders and administration 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. We all deserve this kind of love and attentive care by virtue of our humanity (Gard, 2014).

Let me tell another story.

As a child, I felt so insecure. So unattractive, so unappealing. That day of which I am about to tell—still etched in my memory, that day I wore a yellow dress. We were all walking to the fire station for a field trip, and it was a beautiful, sunny day. I remember getting inside the big, red truck, and looking all around the fire station. A day up to this point that was mostly insignificant for its events, beyond this bare-bones description. But it was the walk back that will forever be imprinted in my memory.

I was just a little girl. Facing some cruel childhood bullies. Was this the day pivotal in my desire to know about the power of care in transforming lives?

Or was it the countless other days of enduring taunting, teasing, ridicule and scorn? Of living with put downs and mockery?  What was it that made me care so much about the underdog? What caused me to care so much about people?

And still another story.

Why is it that the adults in our lives still have power over us even as we ourselves have now become adults? There are adults in my life still—to this day: that I feel beholden to protect and shelter. Even though they have grievously hurt me. Even though what harm was done was more than injurious to my spirit and psyche. Why? Is it that even for them I offer a form of care?

But why is it, on the other hand, that we as adults think we have that power over children: power to influence them to even resist the urges of their own conscience. Telling them what is right or wrong, when in their hearts they already know. “This is not okay.”

WHY?

A little girl told “not to tell”. Left to deal with these feelings on her own until she was an adult herself. Until she could face the monsters face on. WHY?

These run-on, ramblings—they form the foundation for some of my untold stories.
But now for a story with a happy ending.

It was the fall of my Grade 12 year, the year I remember as ‘The Move’. My father— having been relocated in his job as the pastor to a small country church, packed up alongside his wife our meagre family possessions, and then moved all that, along with four children (minus me) over the course of a weekend. It sometimes takes a weekend to unravel a family. At other times, it just takes a moment.

I alone remained behind in our community, determined that I wouldn’t be trading in all I had known and loved for something new and less desirable. Sixteen is a brazen age. It is old enough to know that you can’t leave behind thirteen years worth of childhood memories, leave behind home, leave behind life; and it’s old enough to physically stay behind, watching the rest go. Yet it is not quite old enough to know exactly how to pull it all off. My parents in their wisdom allowed me the choice to remain back, so long as

I chose to live with a family friend, staying with someone they trusted. But I was on my own when it came to paying rent and looking after essentials. I agreed to their terms and so it was decided— I would stay. But the day they pulled out from the driveway of our first family home, moving van loaded up with my childhood toys, my bed and dresser, van full to the brim with my four younger siblings and weeping mother: that is a day that will forever be imprinted on my memory.

I lasted until the following Monday evening when I finally caved, coming to my senses as well as to the bittersweet realization that at sixteen, I still needed to be with my family. I needed to go ‘home’, whatever that meant now. And so, there was a scramble— a gathering of my own small assemblage of life possessions followed by a drive from one province to another. Which is to say, I found a way to reunite with my family a few days later (as bittersweet as that reunion might have felt in those earliest of moments).

The move crushed me— left me feeling as if the bottom had fallen out from my world. And it left me to cope with the difficult task of ‘starting over’, starting fresh at a time in life when one should be celebrating the finish line.

I found myself in a brand new high school, a strange place to find yourself when you are young, ‘in love’ and at what you think is the pinnacle of your school career. Starting over was humbling. Perhaps it was what I needed, although I wouldn’t have said so then. I went from knowing everyone to knowing no one. I went from being part of a crowd, to feeling outside the crowd. I went from having a presence to feeling invisible. At the time, I would have readily admitted it was my worst sixteen year-old nightmare come true, but somehow I managed to pull things together enough to make it work. I made a few friends, did well in my classes and tried to keep up on the news from my former school and friendship circle— places and people I identified in my heart as representing my real home.

But it was still hard, incredibly so.

There were a few classes in the new school that I did enjoy, especially one subject taught by Mr. D. A funny, earnest man, he infused life into the classroom with his stories, his wealth of knowledge and his love of all things chemistry. I can’t remember at what point in the semester he called me down to his classroom for a chat, but I will never forget the care and concern in his voice.

Somehow, he had seen me there in the back row of his classroom, hiding underneath a veil of resentment, shadowed by fear and insecurity; not the least of which, feeling angry that my life had been interrupted. In spite of it all, he made a point of looking past the image so as to connect with me as a person, letting me know that I had potential and possibility, showing me that he saw the best in me at a time in my life when I couldn’t see the best in my circumstances.

Mr. D. was unforgettable. Was it the chemistry lessons he delivered? The curriculum outcomes he covered? Was it his vast knowledge and seemingly infinite understanding that I remember? What was it, exactly, that forever etched his impression on my memory? What I remember now—now that I am a teacher myself, was his care: his smile, his laughter, his enthusiasm. And I remember that when I was in his class, I wasn’t invisible any longer.

And all because he saw me

For me, I care about care so very much because I have felt both the presence as well as the absence of care. In knowing care as experienced through a child’s embrace, a mother’s love— through a friend’s loyalty, through a teacher’s support, a husband’s touch: I am now better equipped to sense the absence of such when I find it missing from my life. There have certainly been days in which I have felt isolated, uncared-for, and unloved. Those were days in which I searched for care and found that it eluded me. Seeking what I could not find brought me eventually to a place of willingness to be the change I so desperately needed in my own life. While I have come to believe that care is our innate right as human beings, sometimes we must choose to be the care-giver at the on-set, so as to experience the benefits of care as might be felt within our own hearts and souls in the process. To care, that is, to be cared for and to care for one another, these processes of human interaction primarily are what define our purpose towards each other, individual living with individual.

Hand to hand, heart to heart.

A Better Question

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“Why should I care?” he says looking straight at me. Looking straight though me, as if trying to read my mind. “Why should I take the time to care…it seems like a lot of work. You’ve said as much yourself. Add to that, it’s pretty high risk.”

“Convince me,” he says, “Make the case as to why care is a worthwhile endeavor to embrace.”

I meet his gaze, and then fix my own eyes on the scene I observe through the second floor window, a landscape view found directly in my line of vision. I let my eyes wander even as my mind races to process such a loaded question.

Why care indeed?

Surely he has cared himself for someone. Has just as surely had someone care reciprocally for him too. Can he not then transfer what this care has meant to him, applying that same care as useful to another human being?

“Suppose,” I say to him, “Suppose you are living inside a bubble. It’s safe there inside that bubble. You are protected there, comfortable. There is no need to risk when you live in the bubble because everything is cushioned. There is nowhere to fall because falling is not an option. Failure is not an option. Discomfort is not an issue. You are completely protected, completely safe in your sterile little world.”

“You look around you and as far as the eye can see, all you can see are other bubbles. Each one a complete and self-serving little universe unto itself.”

“But where is the meaning,” I ask him. “Where is the joy, the pleasure, the pain, the knowing of anything else? Where is the living?”

We have but one shot at living this life. The opportunity to breathe and live and experience and understand and grow and know: this is our one human experience. We have no second chance at this, no do-overs.

Is life not worth breaking free from the confines of that feeble, fragile shell that hold us captive? Is it not meaningful to see beyond our shallow living and look past ourselves to the world of others that exist around us? Looking for care and understanding?

Is care not a form of hope?

And what of those who choose to remain inside. There will come a time when each, both those held captive as well as those who have been freed: each will require a helping hand, a word of care from another human being. We all need something. We cannot exist for the totality of our individual lives in complete isolation. And what then?

What then shall we require?

Will we not require from others, something more meaningful than indifference and distant contact? Something more substantial, in fact- sustaining? Can we not call that something CARE?

If then: we all will require care, how then can we not care now?
Convince me not to care: that is a better question.

Who will your character be?

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He is laying face-down on the floor, sprawled: his little arms crossed over top, one on top of the other. I am sitting about ten feet away, leaning forward, all the while trying to see the scene unfolding from my somewhat distant vantage point, at a bit of an angle. I pause, then plead, making the case for why he should join our community of learners on the gathering rug. We look over to where he is stationed, under the painting easel. He is immobile, for the moment. We all wait, anticipating his next move, but to no avail. He’s not coming over. Not now, anyway.

I can feel the frustration rising within me. Doesn’t he know, (she know, they know): this is school? This is what we do here? It’s the school thing.

What I feel in this moment is not uncommon. It is a familiar frustration to teachers that students do not buy into the ‘school thing’. This, the tension of our daily lived experience- to engage those who are seemingly un-engaged; inspiring students to move from where they are just a little further in their understanding, each and every day.

But we forget (and often): students are not that easily bought.

They don’t always like what we’re doing, don’t relish the work assignments we create. They don’t always love the daily plan and the structure and routine our school systems insist on maintaining. They don’t like asking for permission to speak, to use the washroom, to get a drink, to move from their desk, to sharpen their pencils and to close their books. They don’t relish being ‘told’, either. Nor do they adore math lessons, reading lessons, writing lessons- all of the time. Not to forget science and health and social studies and music. Maybe they do love art and physical education; but I bet they don’t always love that they can’t just sing what they want, play what they want, do what they want. Be who they want.

Sometimes kids do love exactly what we love: the school things. Loving the lessons, and the books, and the activities and projects. When that delightful joy occurs in our classes, we feel a secret- perhaps even open thrill- from the connection of watching a child’s mind merge with content and curriculum.

But when that does not happen: when our students don’t respond in the ways we are expecting or wanting- when it doesn’t quite work- we personify the lack of engagement, thinking that it might be something we’ve done. Or worse, something that they have done wrong, due to something they are missing, exhibiting, saying, or being.

Can we remember just one thing? We are not the only characters and players in our students’ stories? The chapters we are involved in, not the only plot in their unfolding life narrative? The setting we observe them in, perhaps not the setting they believe defines the true essence of their life? We as teachers are merely characters in our students’ stories (Lennie, 2015): school just another component of their emerging life account.

The key is to make our role a significant one.

Robin Williams, in the powerful movie Dead Poet’s Society, had this to say about contributing to the unfolding story called Life:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Teachers: we have this year to write a part for ourselves in a child’s life. To write a scene for ourselves in a student’s life. A young person, a teenager, a young adult. They all are making their story, each and every day we encounter them, sitting in front of us. Standing defiantly at the back of the room. Laying under the easel. This is their story. Our verse will be significant, for one reason or another. Significant for the grief it has caused or for the joy it has brought. True, we as teachers are but one character. It might seem a small role. But we are crucial in that we are those who can make a difference if we so choose, making the verse or role we write for ourselves as inspiring and uplifting as we choose to dream it to be.

The account of our students’ lives will go on and we may all contribute to their unfolding life narrative. I ask you: what role will you play?

What character are you in your students’ stories?

Care and Consumer Relations

Recently, a friend ordered some flooring from Home Depot. When the product that had been promised and then reserved for my friend was found to be in short supply, one of the employees for the depot offered to drive out of province so as to get the additional flooring and then bring it back to the store, so as to make the order fit the demand.

That’s good service from a good business.

But when a company’s services dismally fail to meet their client’s expectations, you’ve got to wonder how they can continue to stand by empty promises built upon reputable company slogans that strive for excellence. Slogans such as these:

Make Every Customer Feel Valued” and “Act with Integrity” and “Drive For Excellence“.

If I told you this was directly from Air Canada’s website, would you have known it was this particular airline provider making the claim to match the three previous descriptors?

I know I would not have known.

But I do like to keep an open mind, so it was with expectant hopefulness that I booked a return ticket for a recent speaking engagement in Ohio, U.S.A, doing so through Air Canada. We had some air miles from Air Canada’s incentive rewards program to use up, so I decided to go this route and book my ticket.

{I am now left to wonder if air miles flights are synonymous to ‘bottom of the barrel’ tickets, because that is how I feel I have been treated. But I digress.}

I booked my tickets online and arrived for my 5:30 a.m. flight with enough time to make it through the line and toward the queue forming to board the airplane. I had one checked bag which I had watched the attendant make a ticket stub for and then affix to the bag. As I watched the bag ascend slowly up the conveyor belt, little did I know then that I would not see that bag again. I still don’t have it in my possession even as I write this complaint letter… two and a half weeks later.

I arrived in Toronto on schedule. But unbeknownst to me, my bag was still in Charlottetown. I was unaware of this inconvenience until I reached a certain stage in the Connecting Flights queue (a stage in the flight process where one is unable to proceed without having observed that their checked bag made an appearance that it had been traced, as observed on the super-sized screens affixed overhead).

I was stalled while I searched for an attendant who, when approached, then whipped out a hand-held device that confirmed to me for the very first time that day (but not the last) that indeed my bag was missing in action. He assured me that I would find it and these things happen all the time. (Cue the eye-roll).

I was then directed to go speak to a man at the other end of this very large room, all while customers filed passed me towards their awaiting flights. While I, meanwhile, stood anxiously waiting, whilst a very bored baggage claims officer asked me quite disinterestedly about my lost luggage.

Making Every Customer Feel Valued?” I’m not so sure.

Meanwhile, I was now late for my connecting flight. I waited at the very end of a long line so as to queue for Customs. I then again waited at the end of another long line inside Customs as I waited to speak to an officer. And it was only as I tried to fix a buckle on my shoe that I heard my name being called on an overhead intercom that it was the last call for me to make my flight.

I sprinted for what must have been 2 kilometers. I swear.

When I finally arrived for my connecting flight, breathless and heavily panting (read: fresh as a daisy), the airline hostess at the desk actually radioed out to the plane for them to cancel the flight sequence so that (this very sweaty, tired and frustrated woman)… ‘er, so that I could board the plane.

I still knew I had no bags. But I had made the flight with zero seconds to spare. It was Ohio or bust.

When I eventually arrived at my destination, I exited the plane and after a series of wrong turns, I went to the Baggage Claims office and again filed my missing luggage. I gave them descriptors and contact information, and in return, I was given the hopeful prospect that my luggage would be on the next flight.

That’s what she said.

It was not on that flight. (Nor on the next flight, nor the next one, nor the next one, nor the next one).

So began my fruitless journey in trying to locate my luggage. I started by first calling Air Canada’s 1-800 number, oh, about a billion times. To no avail. Each time I called, I was told that my bag was on the “next flight”. It was not, of course, nor would it seemingly ever be. As the days ticked by without luggage, I was begrudgingly given a $ 100 dollar clothing allowance (after I got my Husband involved in the fiasco), and for good reason. I had no clothing other than what I was wearing, that day I left, plus one skirt. My second day presenting at the conference with the same outfit would have shut the show down.

Of course, that money I was promised has also yet to appear.

The most frustrating part of all this was that I called Air Canada the night before I knew I had to return home, and I told the airline baggage claim personnel on the other end of that phone line that I would no longer be looking for my luggage to be delivered. I asked them to please return the suitcase home to PEI. That is: if it was ever located.

Wouldn’t you know it. After flying out of Ohio myself on a Saturday morning at 6:00ish, my bag finally arrived at my destination a few hours later. Three days later than I was ensured it would arrive. Three days too late. And, joy oh bliss: it arrived in the rain, waiting for ‘who knows who’ to pick it up off the back doorstep of my hostesses’ porch.

She found it about seven hours later.

Well, I know I could not do have found it. I was now en route to P.E.I.

“Act with Integrity?” You could have done so much more, Air Canada.

The past two weeks have been an exercise in frustration, a game of endless phone tag, a waiting game of wondering if I have been forgotten. I have already colored my grey hairs once. Found two new ones cropping up this morning: Air Canada now also owes me a free hair coloring.

And also over the past weeks, I have been in (limited) contact with representatives of Air Canada residing on P.E.I., but no one has seriously and conscientiously been following up on my file. Every time I call the local number, I am met with the following response, “Oh, I have been off for a few days. I am surprised that this file is still open.”

Really? Shouldn’t you all know it is open if YOU ARE THE ONES FOLLOWING UP ON IT.

Drive For Excellence?” I think not.

I have, to date: invested about 20 hours into calling, writing and filing claims. Spent money on phone calls and postage. I owe someone a six dollar parking ticket fine (wink, wink). And all this being a modest estimate of my time and the headaches that have incurred.

I am not looking for the moon here. I just want my suitcase back in one piece.

Is that too much to ask, Air Canada?

For Those Moments {When We Think We are Not Enough}

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When I walked up the narrow staircase one week ago today, darkness had already enveloped our country home. It was night-time, around 10:00 p.m. when I knocked on your closed bedroom door, asking if I might come in. You were reading, a bed-side light shining its sheen across the page. The room was awash in a warm glow. You looked up expectantly. I felt such relief at seeing you there. Such a safe place to be— under our roof, where a body knows they are loved unconditionally. Where a body knows that they will be cherished forever.

I sat on the end of your bed and looked at you. Stared unabashedly at amazing you.

And inside my mother’s heart I felt the need to tell you how much you are loved. Felt the need to tell you how much I believe in you: believing that you have much to offer this world, much to give this circle of influence in which you have been placed.

I felt the need to tell you how incredible are the offerings and talents with which you’ve been gifted. Telling you how valued you are to both your father and I— to our whole family. I felt the need to tell you that who you are is enough for anyone, including yourself. You have much to give. Much to put forward to anyone.

I felt the need to tell you. And so I did.

But more than that.

I wanted you to also know that you, Precious You: You are worth so much more than even what we, your parents, think and feel. You are Loved, with an Eternal Love; loved by the One who knows no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions. Who knows no Shadow of Turning, knows no minute fraction of faltering. You are loved eternally. Wholly, purely, completely.

I wanted you to know.

But Child of Mine, there will be some, who will someday, somewhere cause you to consider whether you are enough. There will be voices that will taunt, will jeer. Will question, will doubt. And there will be niggling worries that will grow into all-out, full-blown fears in your mind. There will come a day when you will give ear to the thought that ‘who you are is not enough’.

Not enough for the crowd.
Not enough for the moment.
Not enough for the situation.
Not enough for the requirements.
Not enough for the job.
Not enough for the part.
Quite simply, not enough.

There will be moments, and these moments will come. For they have come for us all, at one time or another.

God says it differently to us:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love… with loving-kindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

There is never a question of whether or not we are enough.
We always were. We always are. And we always will be.

There is nothing that will separate us from that Love.

No crowd’s opinion.
No moment’s worry.
No situational disaster.
No lacking requirements.
No failed attempt nor any missing parts that need be present.
Nothing.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

I left your room that night, tears falling freely. For I am so honored to have been given this opportunity to love you. It is my mission, my heart’s desire to impart to you the knowledge of this love.

A love that will endure for always. And forever ever after that.

Notice Me

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Come look at me, they cry out. Little voices calling, tiny hands reaching for my own much larger one. Watch me on the money bars, the slide, the firepole. Watch me! Notice Me! See me!

A little one comes up to me, (I know not who she is), but she has a sweet innocent face and the clearest eyes—it is almost that I can see right through to her soul. And she is calling out to me.

Watch me, she says.

I watch.

I follow her little body as it rounds the Jungle Gym, makes its way up the stairs and ends up at the tippy-top of the Fire Pole. She glances over at me to make sure that my eyes are fixed on her. They are indeed. When she is sure that I will not waver in my gaze, she grasps the pole and wraps her little legs around securely. Woosh. She is down in a second and off and running to a new adventure.

To teach is to examine humanity at its rawest, most unadulterated form. Children are a study in innocence and purity. They are authentic and genuine. And what they want more than anything is for us to notice. They want for us to notice them, notice their antics, their comings and goings. To be attentive. To watch and consider their ways. To be mindful. To be aware of what it is they care about.

Children want us to see them.

We all want this, if we were truthful. We want to be seen. We crave recognition. My own child comes home from school today and says in passing that it is easy to get lost in the sea of bodies.

No one can really notice you for all the people, says the Child.

It takes practice to notice people. I have written the following and I stand by these words today:

“We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page five and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.”

We must take time to notice. Our children are pleading for us to do them this one humanitarian service. We must notice them with our whole being, eyes and ears wide open. Watching them not with a gaze of half-hearted interest, but with a whole-hearted, complete understanding of the incredible gift of attentiveness and genuine care with which we’ve been vested.

Noticing takes time and practice. It demands our attention. We must be deliberate and intentional in our practice. But the pay off for our children in investing this service is mind-boggling.

Who can even imagine (can conjure up the images) the gifts that even one child could offer to the world someday…and all because we took the seconds, minutes, hours…took the time:

To really notice.

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Because She Cared

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world; for indeed, that’s all who ever have.”- Margaret Mead

The writing I do is largely about my vision of how attentive care impacts within the school system. Yet in my awareness of care that I ascribe to, I truly believe care is fundamental to everything I do. If I care as a teacher, I will care as a human being in all the capacities in which I serve. I write so as to give example to a more innovative way of perceiving care as the foundation to living and learning. It has been my utmost desire to live my life according to these principles.

I wish to share with you a story, and it is a tender one for me to tell. It is a story about my grandmother and her selfless life of service. Her gift of caring for others is the legacy she leaves to me, her granddaughter. She was once a student herself, a young scholar sitting daily in a one-room schoolhouse. Perhaps there was a teacher at some point in her life who was the guiding light leading her forward. Whether this is the situation or not (I cannot ask, as she has already passed from this life to the next), she has been for me a beacon of hope. She has lived out her faith based on the following biblical principle: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (NIV, 1Cor. 10: 24). Here is her story.

Born on October 3, 1920, in Cody’s New Brunswick, she was one of fourteen children. But rather than fade into the background, a face amidst the throng, she made a name for herself as being a favorite sister. A confidant, friend and caregiver. A kind soul. That care-giving would come in handy later on as she went on to be a nanny, most famously for the movie star Donald Sutherland. This experience (along with a photograph of her famous client) was her sole claim to fame. But certainly her most meaningful care-giving was saved for her own three children, one of whom—a son, was born with Down Syndrome. Little did she realize, her widespread commitment to care-giving had only just begun with tiny Eldon Berry’s birth in 1956.

For on a cold December day, thirty-six years into her vibrant life, my eight-months pregnant Aunt Jeannie— my grandmother’s oldest daughter, was driving home from her day job as a civil servant with the Government of Canada where she worked with Indian Affairs. It was a clear evening, but snow lay on the ground. She had a little economy car and visibility was quite possibly low. The doctor said later if she had have moved her head an inch to the right she would have avoided that truck’s plow which smashed through her windshield, slicing cleanly through her skull and brain. That inch— it wasn’t meant to be. Neither for her, nor for her baby. And from that moment thirty two and a half years ago, (a time when Jeannie was just about the age I am now), until she finally left this life, my aunt lived the life of an invalid. Unmoving, un-speaking, unable. She was robbed of everything save the compassionate care she would live to receive throughout the remaining days of her life.

Her primary caregiver, my grandmother, gave her life in service to my aunt’s care. She spent thirty-one years daily making trips to the various establishments (hospitals, manors, long-term care facilities) where my aunt was located over the duration of her illness. My Grammie spent thirty-one years holding her daughter’s hand, stroking her hair, wiping the crumbs from her face. Spent thirty-one years advocating for her—both within the various medical establishments and beyond. Spent thirty-one years acting as her accountant, conducting her financial business up until the age of eighty-nine years old. She spent thirty-one years of her life solely dedicated to her daughter’s well-being. My aunt received the best care of anyone in the province of New Brunswick, I am sure of it, and there are several experts to vouch for this fact. After thirty-one years of living her life shut up inside a building—living life shut up inside her head, my aunt’s body released her spirit and let it sail home. Less than one year later, my grandmother said her own farewells to this life and she flew away to join her.

My grandmother is an inspiration to me. She is one of many, but she is certainly among those I consider most influential. She wasn’t perfect- far from that ideal. But she was admirable in her own way. I hold her in the highest esteem in terms of her ability to care for those needful ones in her life. I have watched her carry out her life’s work and calling from the time I was eight years old. We spent many a day as her grandchildren walking the sterile halls of silent manors, the reverie broken by a moan or a cry from one of the residents. We spent many hours bedside, watching our grandmother hover and fuss. And in watching this unfaltering champion of her own beloved child—an unsung hero during her time here on earth, I was given an example from one of the best after which to model my own life and practice.

The life of my grandmother is a shining example of Jean Vanier’s (1998) concept of ‘becoming human’, with regards to being a care-giver; perhaps she is one of the best I might ever find. For I believe in paying tribute to those who have gone on before, we are reminded anew of why we must continue to carry the torch onwards, until at last we ourselves reach the fading light of day. We care so as to carry on the legacy. We care because the future depends on this decision. We care because we must. We care. And this care is part of what it means to become human: to compassionately extend ourselves both for the benefit of our own personal growth as well as for the betterment of others. To care both for ourselves as well as for the world and its inhabitants therein is the mandate of our heart.

Finding Purpose

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“Listen to me. You HAVE to decide what you believe to be the most important work in the world and then you have to DO THAT WORK. Because THIS is what happens. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. God shows up.”- Glennon Doyle- Melton

I am still recovering from yesterday’s drama. As a day among many other similar days, it still wasn’t the best example of my most shining moment as a parent. I might have been a bit too impatient- MIGHT have lost my cool and run out of a room. I might have had a mini adult tantrum.

In short, I might have failed a bit as a parent.

And so, when today arrived new and shining, I did what I always do. As daybreak dawned bright and new, I woke to the promise of another try. Another chance. A fresh beginning. I got up and faced the challenge.

I showed up.

This is important to remember: even after apologies have been offered and forgiveness is finally on the table, sometimes things don’t always work out perfectly- that is something I am learning.

But here’s what else I know to be true.

When we begin again and life still isn’t perfectly worked out- all the kinks haven’t been smoothed and all the creases haven’t been folded- sometimes a little bit of heaven shines through anyway and we are reminded of our purpose. Reminded why we are here and why we are still doing what we’re doing.

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I walk into the school with the buses already lining up beside me, and I met immediately with a little girl whom I know and care for greatly. She and I- we just connect. I sense immediately that this little girl, like me, has started the day off with a bit of apprehension- maybe even a bit of fear: I can just feel it. And it doesn’t take very long for both of us to get to the heart of the matter, she and I. Talking about our STUFF, the things that weigh us down. She’s only eight, but she is oh, so wise. And I feel tears forming and love rising inside of me, even as I listen to her. I remind myself yet again: we are all in this together.

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I walk into the office, and I find him sharing his little heart with anyone that will listen. And I feel compelled to leave my comfortable cocoon- the little space I am occupying this moment…leave it, so as to tell him that I have been there too- that I have stuff that holds me down, binds me up inside. I am not perfect either, Little Man. And as I tell him something that makes him laugh, I feel inside of me a weight lifting. It’s like my soul was a leaden balloon and he has just lifted a release to let it fly anyway. That laughter we share is freeing. I am being lifted once again by an eight-year old.

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I stand in the hallway readying children for the buses. A little boy runs into my room and hands me a small green zombie head. “Mrs. Gard, I just want to give this to you,” he says exuberantly. I take the small offering, turning it over in my hand. “Why me?” I ask inquisitively.

“Because,” he says ( a shining light in his eyes), “You always let me come into your room.

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I line up my own little class for the buses, and one of my dear little four turns his head in my direction. Before he makes the turn in the hallway to move out of my sight, he looks back at me and says, “Mrs. Gard, I love you!”

So this was my day…today.

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We must all find our purpose in this life and that purpose must compel us to move forward, doing what we can and what we are able so as to live out our calling.

Someone recently told me that they didn’t know what their purpose was. This is hard, challenging work- figuring out our purpose. It is stretching, complicated stuff. And it always leaves us changed, different than we were before.

I think part of my purpose is to care about people. It is why I am here. And I find that the more I care, the more I am able to care. The more able I am to care, the better I get at it. The better I get at it, the more I feel challenged by it. The more challenged I am by this whole endeavor, the more soul-searching I must do to re-confirm that where I am RIGHT NOW is where I need to be.

I am where God has placed me to be in the larger scheme of life.

But I know all too well: caring for people is frustrating work. It is hard. And it often leaves us feeling a bit stripped of resources. A bit broken and vulnerable. But when we do care, in honest, authentic, open ways, we allow for opportunity so that others can then see us for who we really are, giving them hope in the process.

Caring is like that: it is attentive, connective and relational.

And while there are times when those relationships we nurture leave us raw and open, leave us feeling exposed. There are other times besides when we see growth. For in allowing fragility to act as a bridge for caring, we are then led down different paths and toward new horizons. To new opportunities of care. Led to other people who need our care, even but for a little while before we return our hearts again toward home.

Caring heals us,
From the inside out.

Our calling might be as different as our days are varied. But one thing is sure: we are called to care. And when we care for others, doing what we can in the little ways we are given, God gives us the strength to do the greater work He has for us. One little act of love at a time.

The Life and Calling of a Teacher

It’s snowing.

He and I walk a stretch of icy road, heading down to the bridge below the farm. Blizzard warnings have cancelled school across the Island, so this is our P.E. class for the day. Cabin fever never hurt to act as motivator for a teenager to spend time with their mother.
I ask him the question, and he’s thoughtful in his response.
What is the most important way your teachers can show you they care? Because I want this to be practical- I want this to be real. I really want to hear his answer, if this is going to guide my lived experience.
He responds- the words, not shocking in their revelation: I want them to be understanding- and nice. An answer quick and to the point. He doesn’t mention initially his fine teachers’ collective breadth of knowledge, their expertise. The lessons they’ve taught or the curriculum they’ve unpacked. His answer doesn’t reference the lectures, the assignments and projects.
But he does talk about the relationship. Their ability to care. Words that confirm what I am beginning to understand about caring, compassion and kindness- about transparency and thoughtfulness. Words that confirm to me as a teacher the heart of the matter about teachers and the relationship they have to their students. That is, what really matters to our students is who we are. Not what we do.

It was fall of my Grade 12 year, the year I remember as ‘The Move.’ My father having been relocated in his job as a pastor packed up our meager family possessions and moved his wife and four children minus one over the course of a weekend. It sometimes takes a weekend to unravel a family. And at other times, it just takes a moment.

I alone remained behind, determined that I wouldn’t be leaving all I had known and loved. Sixteen is a brazen age. It’s old enough to know that one couldn’t leave behind their childhood memories. Their home, their life. And it’s old enough to stay behind. But it’s not quite old to know exactly how to pull it all off. My parents in their wisdom allowed me the choice to remain behind so long as I chose to live with a family friend. Someone they trusted. But I was on my own when it came to paying rent and looking after essentials. I agreed to their terms and so it was decided. But the day they pulled out from the driveway of our first family home, moving van loaded up with my childhood toys, my bed and dresser, van full to the brim with my four younger siblings and weeping mother- that is a day that will forever be imprinted on my memory.

I lasted until the following Monday evening when I finally caved, coming to my senses as well as the bittersweet realization that I needed to be with my family. I needed to go home, whatever that meant now. There was a scramble- a gathering of my own small assemblage of life possessions and a drive from one province to another. Which is to say, I found a way to reunite with my family a few days later, as bittersweet as that reunion might have felt in those moments.

That move crushed me- left me feeling as if the bottom had fallen out from my world. And it left me to cope with the difficult task of starting over, starting fresh at a time in one’s life when they should be celebrating the finish line.

I found myself in a brand new school. A strange place to find yourself when you are sixteen, in love and at the pinnacle of your school career. Starting over- it was humbling. Perhaps what I needed, although I wouldn’t have said so then. I went from knowing everyone to knowing no one. From being part of a crowd to feeling outside the crowd. I went from having a presence to feeling invisible. But at the time, I would have readily admitted it was my worst sixteen year old nightmare come true.

Somehow I managed to pull things together enough to make it work. I made a few friends, did well in my courses and tried to keep up on the news from my former school and friendship circle, places and people I identified in my heart as my real home.

There were a few classes in the new school that I did enjoy, especially one taught by a Mr. T. A funny, earnest man, he infused life into the classrooms with his stories, his wealth of knowledge and his love of all things chemistry. And I can’t remember at what point in the semester he called me down to his classroom for a chat, but I will never forget the care and concern in his voice. Somehow, he had seen me there in the back row of his classroom, hiding underneath a veil of resentment, fear and insecurity- angry that my life had been interrupted. And in spite of it all, he made a point of looking past the image so as to connect with me. Letting me know that I had potential- that he saw the best in me at a time in my life when I couldn’t see the best in my circumstances.

Mr. T was unforgettable. Was it the chemistry lessons he delivered? The curriculum outcomes he covered? Was it his vast knowledge and seemingly infinite understanding I remember? What was it exactly that forever etched his impression on my memory?

What I remember now as a teacher myself was his smile. His laughter. And I remember that he saw me.

There are times in our service as teachers when we set aside the act of doing for the sacred work of being. When lessons and lectures, activities and testing are momentarily shelved, playing second fiddle to the art of listening. When caring is the curriculum, and life is the lesson. There are times when we see that our noble profession is more than mere passing on of knowledge. A routine work of filling empty vessels. And those are the times when we see through new eyes- our students. See them as people. As possibility. We see them for the potential they truly are. Those times remind us- it is the care we infuse into our work that makes the difference.

Such is the life and calling of a teacher.

Because They Are Worth It

I am walking down the hall, getting ready to head for home, having arrived at the end of yet another day substituting in the school system. As a new teacher, I am young and eager- believing that I have the world by the tail. Believing that I can really make a difference. As I round the bend in the corridor, making my way towards the stairs, I can hear his angry voice even before I see him. A veteran teacher, yelling at a student. I wonder at all the commotion, but soon find myself right in the midst of the upheaval as the pair- teacher and student- are right in my line of vision. Right in my path.

I immediately feel uncomfortable. This is awkward, listening in on a rant. As I am the only one privy to the exchange, I quickly become aware that the teacher is railing on the student for holding up the school buses. The student looks quietly at his shoes as he scuffles along, even slower now that this altercation has held him up- all while I try to pretend that I am invisible. And yet, the teacher will not let up, not stop the steady stream of verbal abuses that flow freely from his mouth as he expresses his disgust for this student’s tardiness.

There is no mistaking the loathing in this teacher’s voice. I can tell, from these briefest of moments as I awkwardly manoeuvre my way out of the unfolding scene and out of the school: this teacher does not seem to like this boy. His tone, revulsion and absolute disgust indicate such to me, an observer.

I wonder how the boy feels.

Over the years, I have thought about this boy. Thought on this situation as a whole. Wondered what I, an inexperienced, young female teacher should have done. Could have done. But more than this, I have thought about that boy. Wondered whatever became of him.

Wondered.

I wonder, do we ever pause to think about him? That little boy (girl?) that puts us as teachers in a tailspin each and every day. Do we stop to think about what makes him tick? Think about what he cares about? Have we ever stopped to contemplate his developing person, complete with those infuriating boyish ways? I wonder. Do we take time to sensitively consider that boy who drives the teachers mad, makes their hair turn prematurely grey. I wonder if we ever stopped to think about who he really is underneath all the bad words, infuriating manners, cold stares. I wonder, have we ever stopped to really think about him- as an individual? Lingered momentarily to see him for the person he really is inside all that childhood clutter?

I wonder.

Do we know that he collects hockey cards by the dozen? That he loves to watch his Grampie fix stuff in the old back shop? Do we know that he has a subscription to Lego magazine? That he never uses a pattern, his mind too bright for that. Do we know these things?

Do we know how very much he worries about being put on the spot? That he fears being asked questions? Fears being called out each and every day for things he knows he shouldn’t do but can’t help doing anyway? Do we know? Know that he goes home and thinks about his days too- wonders why life has to be so hard.

Do we know?

When I was first expecting our oldest child, I remember wondering what it would be like to be a parent. Wondered what it would be like to have a child, hold a child, feed a child. Raise a child. What would that child look like? Be like? Act like? Would I love them at first sight? Would I be able to do this? My reasons for becoming a parent were varied, but largely I became a mom so that I could open my heart to love another human being. Little did I ever realize how deep that love would grow.

Rewind backwards.

In that same line of thinking, as I sat in the university lecture hall for my first class of the Bachelor of Education program, I remember the professor that day talking to us about our reasons for becoming a teacher. Ideals like making a difference and leaving a legacy were certainly discussed, but I don’t remember any talk about care and love ever being raised as important indicators of teaching excellence. My reasons for becoming a teacher- for choosing the teaching profession were also varied, but largely I became a teacher for more self-serving purposes than those reasons for why I became a mother.

Little did I realize back then that I would one day see caring as the ultimate criterion for how I carried out my life’s work.

The children and young people that come to us each morning with such varied, interesting, colorful lives- complete with behaviour issues, medical concerns, mental and psychological complications, social and emotional hang-ups: these are people. People that someone loves very deeply, somewhere. And yet, when they come to us in the school system, somewhere along the line it has been decided that when educating incoming teachers, we are off the hook when it comes to learning how to care for our students. Caring does not play prominently in the educational configuration of upcoming teachers. We either learn it along the way or we forgo it all together.

Recently, a young teacher confided in me that they were surprised at how much caring was involved in being a teacher:
“They don’t teach you this stuff in the Education Program,” was what the individual said.

And while that might be true, the fact of the matter is that most of our students need to feel a sense of our caring interest and engagement from us as teachers so as to move to the next level, academics. While some students might learn something from a teacher they don’t think likes them, many will not. It’s like anything in life, we are willing to give our best to the ones we believe see that best in us.

Caring counts.

And until we start to see people for who they are- unique, complicated, beautiful human beings, our world is just going to continue to live out the same old problems. People who are unloved as children often become unloving adults. People who are uncared for as children often become uncaring adults. People who experience a deficit of compassion, grace, kindness, mercy and forgiveness as children- while some might overcome the obstacles, many go on to exhibit the same lack of such as adults. We learn from those who model for us. When that example is a good one, the opportunity for success is greater.

Isn’t it time we started seeing everyone for the possibility and potential for good they have as individuals? Especially our children?

We must use the opportunities we’ve been given to care for one another- in spite of our frailties, issues, problems, behaviors and less than savory actions. People are people, and children will be children. But those same children who might drive us senile on any given day (this goes for our own flesh and blood too!) still need to have the best start possible given to them by the teachers entrusted with their care. Teachers who empathically use the opportunities they’ve been given to show those children they are worth it.

Because they are.