Friday, June 9, 2017

The Guy on the Street


Yesterday was a busy day...
for those of you who are moms, you know what the end of the school year is like.

If you're a teacher, too,  well then, these days of May and early June feel like the end of a 
Fourth of July show.
One after another, bigger and brighter, blasting higher and louder, the days pass by...building and building to the crazy feeling of "OK, that's enough now."

"When will it stop?"

And suddenly it does...life gets quiet.

Lunches aren't being made.
Homework isn't being discussed.
Obligations melt away.

Beautiful summer.

Today, was the last day of high school for Patrick and I volunteered to organize and put on the 
Senior Lunch.

I had done it last year and enjoyed seeing these smart, thoughtful teens/adults on the verge of life.
I loved the buzz of both nostalgia and excitement.

So, I ordered the deli sandwiches, filled up the cooler with ice, gather the cookies and grapes and chips and some minimal decorations and got ready.

It was raining in the morning...the scent was lovely...but the vibe was not picnicky.
Oh well.

The message from the school: the picnic must go on.
Rain or shine.

So, I do what I'm super good at...
Long ago, someone gave me this tip and it has really helped:

Act as if, then you will be.

For a new teacher, a new mommy, just whenever you have no clue...
act as if you do.
Soon enough, you will morph into that thing you were hoping to be.

Ready. Go.
Last Day of School Picnic is ON.

The deli sandwiches were piled high.
The grapes, washed and ready.
Chips galore.
Water bottles + grad balloons + random frisbee  = legit picnic.

The lunch goes easily and the grateful teens eat their fill and depart 
to practice for the graduation ceremony.

What was left was plenty of leftover picnic.

I stared at it and was struck by the gift of food.
The gift of community...
and belonging.

The land of plenty.
So obvious...and so much left over.

I consoled myself with the leftovers thinking I could bring it back to school and the teachers could use it the next day when everyone would be in the post-graduation slump.

Packed up the van and headed out.

I wanted to stop at Starbucks on my way to the high school to get some gift cards.

I walked down the street...rushing because of the left overs...needing to get going...when I hear a request coming near my feet.

I look down and there is a man in his 20's or 30's...
dirty, big bushy hair, slumped shoulders.

Looking up.

He asks, "Do you think you could buy me a lunch?"
[I'd like to stop right here and say that never has someone asked me that. They've asked if I had any extra money...or if I could help them out. But, never has someone asked for a lunch.]

Those syllables and sounds of one human to another instead of irritating me, work their way through my ear, pierce my heart and into a brain that stops my forward movement and shakes me awake.

This guy needs a lunch??

In that movie, Inside Out, I imagine my emotions discussing in real time my situation...it is a split second mash up of Disgust, trying to shout down Joy...Sadness wrestling with Anger...and an 
Emergency Fire Alarm going off in there.

WOOOO OOOOO WOOOO OOOOO

I am frozen and I smile so big.

"You need a lunch? Really?"

I look him in the eyes and smile and keep smiling.
I tell him that he is not going to believe this but I just finished up providing a lunch to a bunch of graduating seniors and I have plenty of lunch just for him.

I ask him to walk just a few cars down the street and I open the door to my van and show him a platter of sandwiches just waiting for him...and then he shyly says,
"I have some friends."

"You do??"
"Would they want some lunch too?"

He nods...
and I hand him the whole platter.
I put a bunch of grapes in a bag...some chips and ice cold waters...
and he just can't believe it.

Neither can I.

Or maybe I can.

It feels so right.
So cosmically perfect that I take a deep breath as I watch him walk away.

Then I spy the cookies - hidden beneath some towels.

He needs some cookies doesn't he?

I quick close up my van and begin jogging toward the guy holding a platter shuffling down the street like a waiter who's been ambushed...big bushy hair, dirty jacket, untied shoes.

I catch up to him with my cookies and it's my turn to be shy.

"Would you want some cookies?"

His hands, already too full, magically maneuver different items to create a spot just for cookies.

It was then that I ask him his name.

He smiles, "Ben." 
He offers it like the gift it is.

He smiles again when I tell him my name and for a moment life makes sense.

The weird obstacle course of my days somehow feels in perfect alignment.

How stunning to have too much food.
How understandable to have too little.
How blessed to cross paths in just that moment.

Unloading the food and filling up my heart...
it wasn't really a fair swap.

But the grace goes both ways.
Today, I'm grateful to bushy-haired Ben...who went from stranger to secret friend 
in less than five minutes.

Grateful for too much food that found its way into the hands of people who have far too little.
Grateful for the hopeful whisper that started it all.
Grateful for the heart that could hear it.

Think I'll sign up to do that Senior Lunch next year.
Maybe I'll meet Ben again.

Until then, happy summer.
Cue the fireworks.




Thursday, April 6, 2017

Down The Rabbit Hole of Gratitude

Our world is messed up.
Seriously messed up.

We have a president that openly lies...few call him on it.
So truth becomes "fake news".
Down is up.

Refugees are shut out.
Immigrants pushed to the shadows.

Public schools are on notice...maybe they don't need the money that they have...maybe they can donate to a private school in the name of "choice"...another false narrative.
There's no choice when they won't let you in...
except for maybe Historically Black Colleges - touted as the originators of choice by the woman running the Department of Education - who never worked in a public school.

The Environmental Protection Agency...maybe that should be optional.
Maybe not everybody is equal.
Freedom is negotiable...show your documents as you exit your domestic flight.

Let's watch Republicans change 230 years of precedent when it comes to the Supreme Court...
like Veruca Salt, THEY WANT IT NOW, DADDY!

Those Trump-Russia ties are only in your imagination.
Along with climate change.

And what about the immigrants...taken from schools and courthouses, placed in detention centers...
where and for how long?
No one can answer.
No one knows.

It is disgraceful.

As you can see...the world is upside down.

Deep breathing, long walks, fervent prayers aside what is a person to do?

Since books are my happy place, I hunkered down into The Book of Joy - a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It became the salve of my heart.
My haven.
Something I carried with me wherever I went.


I've lived a grateful focused life since I began the practice of writing down
5 things as a project for Lent...in 2003.

I have many many journals filled with those moments of gratitude.

It's a part of the way I see the world now.
Embedded into almost every interaction with others, every small moment with my kids, every ordinary chore like washing dishes or even washing my hands.

I think...hot water, soap, the ability to squish my hands together under the running water, the gift of clean hands to prepare a meal...and away I go. Finished with my chore and filled up with gratitude.

It's a life changing vantage point.

*****

So, reading The Book of Joy, I nodded knowingly when both the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu kept circling back to the importance of gratitude.

I got this.
This is something I am good at...
Gratefulness 101 = A+

Only those two don't teach the beginner course on gratitude...they move it deeper...they nudge you further down the road.

You can get your PhD in it if you hang out with those guys long enough.

Like anyone really great in their field, both of these men offer their wisdom freely.
They share.
They work to get the word out.

No price of admission.

If you read The Book of Joy to the end, you will get to their "Joy Practices".

Mental Immunity
Morning Intention Setting
Overcoming Obstacles to Joy
Cultivating the Eight Pillars of joy
Rejoicing in your Day
Relationship and Community - The Greatest Joy

It was here where I tumbled down the Rabbit Hole of Gratitude.

Under Humility - A Lojong Practice - I found what my heart needed that day...
and it has helped in this upside down world every day since.

The book asks you to:
"Reflect on all the people who are responsible for your life."

At first, I was simplistic...thought of my mom and dad and moved on...
to this:

"Think of your parents who gave you life, your teachers who taught you, the people who grew your food and who made your clothes, the countless others who are responsible for your having the life that you have each and every day. Now think of all those who discovered and created all of the things we take for granted, the housing, the crops, and the medicines that keep you alive. 
Think of all the ancestors, who had to live and survive, so that you could be born, who braved enormous hardship so that you could have the life that you do. 
Now think of the family and friends who give your life meaning."

That one paragraph stopped me cold.

In all of the years that I have been keeping a Grateful Journal, did I ever stop and thank the people who came before me?
Or the inventors, the designers, the researchers, the creative artists who have influenced my life?

Not really.

If you stop and try to thank all of these people it can be a rabbit hole of amazing.

It goes like this...step into a public restroom.

Consider:
Who came up with the idea and effort and work to place this restroom here?
Who actually dug the pipes?
Who invented the pipes?
Who mined the copper?
Where did that come from?
Who designed and created the place that collects the water that flows through these pipes?
Who designed the tile on the floor?
Who made the tile?
Shipped it?
Laid it?
Who designed the sink?
The faucet?
The paper towel dispenser?
The toilet paper??
(thank you!)
The blow dryer hand dryer?
The soap?
Who created the first window?
What about the lights?
The actual structure of the building?
Who were the people who worked on my behalf to build it?
Who funded it?
Was it a city?
Who founded the city?

On and on it goes...

Literally, you can get lost in the gratefulness.

This "humility" as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu describe it is mind blowing.

In those moments of consideration,
you see the interconnectedness of our world...
you see the beauty of hard work, creativity, persistence, boldness,
ordinary mankind finding a way to make things better.

If you have gotten down in the rabbit hole with me,
you can imagine what it feels like when you enter a grocery store.
Lately, tears have sprung to my eyes as I stop to look at the produce and consider the many hundreds or thousands of people who have been working so hard on farms, in food production, in food companies, in advertising and grocery stores just to bring me this food.

How about a coffee store?
A library?
A road?
A sidewalk?
A park?
A building?
A garden?

Trying to come up out of the rabbit hole...and into daily life gets harder and harder.
It's like Alice says when looking through the looking glass:

"Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn,
"if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."
-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There

I've seen a unicorn.

Or have I?

Like Einstein notices...each of us gets to choose:
either everything is a miracle or nothing is.

Today, I choose miracle.
Ordinary miracle.
Ordinary holiness.

So many gifts freely available down that rabbit hole.
Try it.
Let me know what you see.








Thursday, February 9, 2017

Grace Bats Last


I didn't mean to do it.
I was rushing - trying to get my kids to school - calculating the opportunity cost of three minutes , maybe it would be two, of putting on my shoes.

No time.

I couldn't afford another tardy.
I broke my ankle last August and the sheer obstacle course of living my life without bearing weight on one of my legs for eight weeks made for quite a few tardies in my son's life.

So, on this rainy day, I walked barefoot to my car.

Dropped the kids off successfully.
Went to get out of my car and my feet landed in a very small puddle.

It was a foot baptism.

It brought me to the moment.
Took me out of my to-do list...
my oh-my-gosh-our-world-has-gone-nuts list...
my distracted movement through my days...
to a tiny puddle.

It felt so good that a thought popped into my mind:
take Buddy for a walk, barefoot.

I did just that.

Giggling at the craziness.
Enjoying the light-heartedness.
Relishing my ankle's new found strength...

I baptized myself.

It was just what my heart needed.

I want you know something very important:
YOU and YOU alone know your path to healing.

Even if its weird, or makes no sense, or seems impossible like walking the Pacific Crest Trail did for Cheryl Strayed, you know it.

So I walked and felt the bumpy earth, the soft grass, the twigs and leaves still left on the ground.

I walked and thought of all the many people who can't walk, who are in a hospital fighting for their life, in a prison locked away, in a grief stupor too deep to feel anything...and felt the breath of grace.

As I walked, I reminded myself of my warm shower, my cozy clothes, my very happy stripe-y umbrella and again thought of the blessings I often do not notice.



This past week-end, dear friends of mine celebrated their eight day old son's Bris.
They called it Superbowl Bris Day.

What's a Bris?
It is a celebration of life - an ancient faith-filled tradition for people of the Jewish faith.
At the Bris, the family reveals the Hebrew name they have given their son.

Etan's Hebrew name is Elie Shimon.
He is named after two incredible heroes of the Jewish faith that passed away while his mother was pregnant with him.

one a Nobel prize winning author and Holocaust survivor, 
the other an Israeli politician that was both the President and the Prime Minister...
and peace-maker.

Watching Etan's family welcome him in such a mindful, intentional way was humbling and healing.
Having the opportunity to read these words at his Bris is a gift I hold very close to my heart:

"You are your parents' dream realized, their hopes fulfilled.
You are the latest and best chapter in the unfolding lives of your family.

You are a bridge over which we, who welcome you, can gaze from this day into future days, 
from our generation into yours.
You are the newest link in the endless chain of our shared history."

Etan's parents shared a powerful quote of Elie Wiesel's:
"Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to us,
peace is our gift that we give to each other."

Peace.

Like the rain, at some moments it is ever-present and at other times it can feel far off.

It is within our grasp.
We must only stop and stare with wonder and joy at the gifts showered upon us every single day.

So, for today...I'm grateful for the rain.
For my dog.
For being able to be barefoot and steady...
for friendship and faith...
blessings and grace.

Mostly, I'm grateful for love.
It is sovereign here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dear Old World...


Dear Old World,
You're such a contradiction...roses, tea time, hot water, friendship, kindness, love...
Lies, undrinkable water, rubber bullets, tyranny, corruption, disregard...
How can it be reconciled?
What does a person do?

Read.
Read.
Read.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my 24 year old son was lamenting our world and then asked,
"I need to find some uplifting fiction."

Since we were talking on the phone, I just decided to Google it right then and there...
the number one book on the list:
Anne of Green Gables.

I laughed out loud.

I'd been reading this book every night for a few months with my younger daughter, 10 year old Caroline...and, indeed, I found it to be my very favorite part of my day.
It was a respite.
A haven.

Sweet Anne just melted my heart every time.

First off, you need to know that Anne is an orphan who lands at a house in the darling town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island as a mistake. An adult brother and sister who live on a farm and are both unmarried had put in that they wanted a young orphan boy to help with chores on the farm...
But when Matthew comes to the train station to pick up the orphan boy he is surprised to find a little girl of about eleven years old.

Matthew is shocked to find this young girl...and shocked more when the train official says, "I asked her to go into the ladies' waiting room, but she informed me gravely that she preferred to stay outside. "There was more scope for imagination," she said."

Right there on p. 15 we meet Anne and we find out an important clue into her heart.
Imagination matters.

It had been a long time since my imagination was summoned, but Anne called to it like some sort of Emergency Broadcast System and it found its way back home.

Turns out that Anne's imagination was her defense against a difficult world. 

When Matthew meets Anne she immediately showers him with all of her thoughts.
She shares her plans if he had not come, she shares about her carpet bag and she shares this tidbit:

"Oh it seems so wonderful that I am going to live with you and belong to you.
I've never belonged to anybody - not really."

That sentence caught in my throat as I said it out loud.
Belonging.

I have had the privilege of belonging for my entire life.
So many many children ache for it.
How?
Why?
I'm crushed to consider Anne's plight...even if for a moment.

Anne is so full of life and light that her conversation with Matthew is a comfort to all of us. She points out the beauty of cherry blossoms. The fun of not knowing and asking questions, the joy of having a companion to notice things with...she continues:
"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? 
It just makes me feel glad to be alive - it's such an interesting world."

She is on the look out for kindred spirits...and she finds them, plenty of them, in some of the most unlikely people, including a crotchety old woman and darling, shy Matthew.

Always be on the look out for a kindred spirit...they are all around. 

Anne makes plenty of mistakes...
which lead to this gem:


She is stubborn, super smart, over dramatic and hilarious.

She's reflective, which in turn helped Caroline and me to consider things...like this:
"What a splendid day! said Anne drawing a long breath, "I pity the people who aren't born yet for missing it.
They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one."

Never have I pitied those who haven't been born for the loss they have endured for not living my wonderful day...but after that, I started to consider what amazing days came before my life and how much I may have missed...more than that, I stopped to gratefully cherish this day right now...
it will never come again...
those babies are missing it...
and it's pretty incredible.

But, it was the very last chapter, The Bend in the Road, that sealed my Anne Adoration.

Anne has won a scholarship to college. This is a very prestigious prize since at the time very few women go to college.
But, as life does, hard things happened.
Precious Matthew, her biggest fan and best encourager, passes away in a shocking way.
Marilla, Anne's adoptive mother and Matthew's sister, is ailing and looks to be unable to care for Green Gables. Marilla, seeing no other solution, puts Green Gables up for sale.

Anne will have none of that.

She changes her plans and works to find a way to work as a teacher nearby.
She will stay at Green Gables with Marilla.

"I shall give my life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return.
When I left Queen's my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road.
I thought I could see along it for many a milestone.
Now there's a bend in it.
I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does.
It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla.
I wonder how the road beyond it goes - what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows - what new landscapes - what new beauties - what curves and hills and valleys farther on...

...Anne's horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen's but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would blossom along it. The joys of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams."


Anne's ability to handle the bend in the road with her one-of-a-kind grace and graciousness were just the lift up my heart needed.

Watching her think through the options and adjust so nimbly was a great reminder.
We are capable of so much goodness.
So much kindness.
So much belonging.

So...in this world where so much difficulty lies, what books have soothed your soul?
Spoken to your spirit?
Nourished the aching parts?


For Caroline and me, it's been sweet Anne.
With an "e".

Enjoying the pearls in our days.
How about you?



Thursday, January 5, 2017

My One Word for 2017...What's Yours?


Happy New Year!

It's 2017...which makes Y2K look kind of cute.
Remember all that craziness?
For those of you too young to remember, our computers weren't going to be able to handle moving from 1999 to 2000...we needed Y2K kits and preparation.
Not.

Now, 17 years later, we have different craziness.
Other worries.

And a brand new deck of 365 beautiful days.
Aren't we lucky?

Stop.
Right this minute, think of the many people who wish for just one more day...
and you have a red carpet of days rolled out just for you.

*****

There's this thing going around Twitter asking you to choose a word for the New Year.
#One Word2017

This word is to serve as a guide, a motivator, a touchstone...a rudder for the year.

As a lover of words...this is a nearly impossible task.
Last year, I skipped the hype...too overwhelmed at the thought.

But, this year, my word found me.

Remember Naomi Shihab Nye?
If not, read this blog post about this lovely soul right here.

In preparing to meet Naomi, I listened to a beautiful interview with her on a podcast called On Being.
In it, she reveals a beautiful interaction with a student.

Naomi had traveled to Japan for a poetry-teaching trip.
Before every class, on every chalkboard, she would write something on the board up in the corner:
“You are living in a poem.”
She wrote this as a subliminal message.
She wouldn't spend time discussing it...she had other more important things to share...
like poems or poets or observations or ways to seamlessly include poetry in your life.

But she wanted students to consider it.

In the On Being episode, Naomi thinks out loud:

"When you think, 
when you're in a very quiet place, 
when you're remembering,
when you're savoring an image, 
when you're allowing your mind to calmly leap from one thought to another, 
that's a poem.
That's what a poem does."

After her trip, Naomi received a letter from one of the students in Yokohama, Japan.
Reflecting on Naomi's visit, the student gifts her with this observation:

"Here in Japan, we have a concept called Yutori.
It is spaciousness.
It's a kind of living with spaciousness.

For example, it is leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you are going to arrive early, so when you get there,
you have time to look around...

...and after you read a poem, 
Yutori is...
just knowing you can hold it,
you can be in that space of the poem
and it can hold you in that space...

and you don't have to explain it,
you don't have to paraphrase it,
you just hold it...

...and it allows you to see differently."

And, BAM.
In that minute, Yutori captured me.
Hypnotized me.
Like a song that gets stuck in your head, Yutori would not get out.

Maybe it's because my life is busy...
and spaciousness doesn't seem like a very common part of my life.
Maybe it's because I often feel distracted when I want to be present.

Maybe it's the world I live in...
constant constraints...
a series of reasons why it can't be done...
why it is impossible...
always feeling like I am pushing against walls...

the idea of spaciousness has stuck to my heart like a sticky leaf.

*****

One of my favorite phrases for teachers 
and parents
and mostly myself...
is Emily Dickinson's:


I LOVE to dwell in possibility.
Soak up possibility like it is a warm bath.
Anything is possible.

I believe it, completely.

So maybe Yutori is just a reflection of that.

Spaciousness makes room for possibility.

All I can tell you is that living with spaciousness, I feel different.
Open.
Ready.
Unhurried.
Willing to linger...
...and that is what I need in 2017.

My heart knows it intuitively.

So, my gift to you is this precious word.

Yutori.


I hope it offers you the comfort of enough...
more than enough.
The gift of feeling that anything is possible.
The treasure of a peaceful heart...
and a willing mind.

Roll it around in your head and let me know...
and if that's not the word for you...
test out a few others.

Share with me the word that finds you.

Until then, let your head find some open space and rest.
Let your heart find comfort in plenty of room.
Stretch out...
you're wanted here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why Poets Should Negotiate Peace Treaties or The Power of a Clump of Words


In the fall after Patrick was diagnosed with leukemia - Fall 2002 - 
I was making lunch for Patrick and listening to CNN.

I heard a lively anchor share a news story in an upbeat voice...
she had something great to share...
and I needed great...
so I listened.

I paused my lunch making and listened:

"The latest research shows that if your child is in day care, 
they have less chance of developing leukemia."

Shit, really?

You mean, if Patrick had been in day care we could have avoided all this?

Really?

I rewound the past few years of Patrick's baby life.
His birth.
His instant diagnosis of Down Syndrome...
not even a single day of life free from that label...

another diagnosis that took only a few days of life: a heart defect.
In need of open heart surgery at nine weeks old...

coming home from the hospital and just wanting to love my baby...
and somehow, some way, tend to my other kids...

day care was last on my list.

Now, just a mere two years later, the leukemia diagnosis and the Three Year Protocol - always sated with capital letters - and the big unknowns...
Life...what does it look like three years from now?
Health? Is that possible three years from now?
Family? What does that feel like three years after this?

Just hours after that CNN report, in the dark of night as I am not sleeping, 
I watch Bill Moyers interview a poet, a Palestinian-American poet,
Naomi Shihab Nye,
and I hear her voice read a poem...
this poem...
and it changes my life.
On.The.Spot.

I'm instantly different because of the words.

I gift them to you, right here:



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

*****

Those words made everything in my world make sense.
I clung to them.
Sorrow became a tattoo that I could locate on others...
which allowed me to locate the kindness.

I wish I could convey the depth of those words in the engraving on my heart...

...but as life likes to do,
I moved on.
Patrick survived - truthfully, thrived - through the Three Year Protocol.
I stumbled and bumbled through it...with plenty of bad attitude and crushing worry.

2005 happened and our family cheered.
We snuck away from blood counts and chemo...
we hid from conversations about blood cancer...
and we got away with it.

No one came looking.

2006 arrived and brought its amazing grace, sweet baby Caroline, and life got busy...
with the regular things...
school lunches, soccer practice, homework...

Naomi's poem hibernated within my heart.

2016 arrived with election insanity...
meanness as an accepted way to live in our world...
shutting our collective eyes to refugees...
so, so, so, so many of them...
plugging our ears to the din of the poor, the overlooked, the desperately lonely...
and along comes Naomi Shihab Nye - chosen as the UC Davis School of Education's 
Author in Residence and Words Take Wing Author.

Something within me, sleepy from slumber, awakened.
What?
She will be here...in my orbit...how?

I couldn't fathom the good fortune.
Couldn't take it.
Kept shoving it down...
and then it happened.

December 13th, 2016 Naomi Shihab Nye was hanging out in Davis and our worlds collided.

I first got to hear her speak to student teachers...a room full of worn out beginning teachers...so vulnerable and shy...about 40 of them.
Do you know what she tells them?
First thing.
I know because I took copious notes the entire time she was around...
like a stenographer on steroids...
she said:

"I congratulate you on your life choice to go into teaching and knowing that teaching is the center of where it happens."

*****

You may not hang out with beginning teachers...or any teachers...but I want to stop here and point out how incredibly UNcommon this gift was that she gave the student teachers...why? 
Well, virtually NO ONE congratulates someone on going into teaching.
They get the constant refrain of one of these reactions:
A) Well, you get your summers off, that's awesome!
B) Yeah, I thought of teaching too... (as if it is the best second place option around)
C) Are you sure? You make so little money. 

It's hard work to become a teacher - really hard - and to be met with those three reactions wears even the most optimistic, badass beginning teacher down.

So, to have a world-renown, award-winning poet come in an begin with a congratulations...well, it was a gift. 
A genuine gift. And we could all feel it.

*****

She reads an excerpt from a book called, News of the World:
"Maybe life is just carrying the news...surviving to carry the news...maybe we just have one message, it is delivered to us the day we are born..."

And then she asks us to think about our message.
What is it?

She asks us to write it down.
And she says:
I'm not going to ask you to read this, it's just for you to hold.

She reminds the teachers that
"Creative writing needs to be an ongoing practice - not saved for the last weeks of May."
[Beth, are you listening??]

She makes writing accessible to each of us...
shows the teachers how to help their students write with their hearts...
makes it seem effortless...
like, of course, I could write a poem...
she shares the poems of 6 year olds and Palestinians...
she reminds us that we are Living in a Poem...
and touches us with the beauty of a lemon, a walk with a friend, a note of hope.

Her gift is helping all of us see poetry.

Like hieroglyphics, we all think it's cool. 
We feel a kinship.
We want to know what it means.

Naomi, shows us what poetry is...
and helps us to feel that it is essential.
Like oxygen.

*****

After school, Naomi does another session for the Resident Teachers that host our student teachers.

Her energy is palpable.
Her reverence for the teachers is a gift she bestows on them...
like one of the Three Kings.

She's a bright light.
Sunshine
Starlight.


Spoiler alert: we shared starlight...big time.

She shows us our humanity and the thread that binds us.
Holds it up and then weaves it...
reminds us of our connection...
our beauty...
our messages and stories that we each MUST share.

She reads us poem after poem - of other poets -
friends of hers, mentors.

She shares the story of Juan Felipe Herrera - our nation's current Poet Laureate - how when he was in school, he said no words out loud, tried to disappear -
embarrassed by his inability to speak English - he hid behind a bush and sang a song that his mother and grandmother sang to him during lunch...passing on the other side of the bush, Juan Felipe's 3rd grade teacher...she stopped to listen.

Juan Felipe tells the story that after lunch, his teacher asked him to come to the front of the classroom and sing. He was shocked! Afraid! Disoriented...but his teacher had asked and so he did.
The classmates applauded and the teacher said the words that changed his life.
Five words.
"You have a beautiful voice."

With that little bit of encouragement, Juan Felipe began raising his hand, began seeing himself as a student, began to believe in himself and share his voice.

Sprinkling that story on the teachers, Naomi reminded them that they too,
have a beautiful voice...and beautiful profession...
a noble duty.
A sacred calling. 
She gifted them a chance to see the beauty in their work.
The importance of their influence.
Pausing and reminding them that they change lives.

She had us write "clumps of words" and used those clumps to help us write poems.
We shared them in this small group at 5 o'clock at night...
watching the twilight...
feeling connected.

This Palestinian American poet brought with her a cloud of grace...
peace...
community...
and it was then that I wanted to be in charge of the world.

I wanted to be able to appoint peace negotiators...
what if we had a Palestinian poet, an Israeli poet and a Palestinian-American poet all gather and forge out some peace with a few "clumps of words".

It might only take five words, like it did for Juan Felipe.
It might take twenty five...but we know poets are known for their choosy, careful way with words...we can be sure that unnecessary phrases would be absent. 
No posturing.
No facades.
No misleading text...

everything cut away to just a few words:


Thank you, Naomi Shihab Nye for your heroic ability to 
step out of your line and draw a larger circle.
Thank you for reminding me of the power of a clump of words...
the beauty in Kindness...
the love of the ordinary...
and the gift of a few clumps of words.

My circle is larger thanks to you.











Friday, December 2, 2016

How The 4 Rules of Improv Are The 4 Rules of Inclusion...Maybe The 4 Rules of Life


Recently I read Tina Fey's Bossypants for my book club.
I don't usually like to read autobiographies of celebrities...
but Tina Fey offered some lightness and laughs that I have been sorely needing,
so I did what I've been doing since I was a little girl...
escaped down the rabbit hole of story.l

Tina Fey offers all sorts of insights and observations that are pretty spot on in our crazy world.
One of my favorites is when she speaks about her dad, both a Korean War veteran and a firefighter, who was no nonsense and sensible at every turn.

This quote as she considers what she can do when parenting her tiny daughter, Alice,
 was a classic insight into the insanity of our times:
"How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting into trouble.
The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law.
The World Wide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes." 

#truth

What the heck is going on?
Do we need a world-wide Don Fey moment?
Sure feels like it.
Maybe we can all get called into the principal's office, 
reconsider our transgressions and straighten the hell up.

But, the part that made me become a Fan For Life is Tina Fey's 4 Rules of Improv.

Let's start with Rule #1 - SAY YES 


This is a pretty great place to start.
Just imagine if you began with an open mind every single day.

Mom, can I climb that tree?
Yes.
Can you help me out?
Yes.
Can that student be in your classroom?
YES!

In education - and especially at IEP time - (which is the Individualized Educational Plan for a student with identified learning needs - go buy yourself a lotto ticket if you have never heard of such a thing and thought it meant I Eat Pancakes) - teachers and specialists sit around a table and ask burning questions, like, how much time can the student be in the regular classroom.

Cheat sheet answer: ALL THE TIME
YES!

Yes, we can figure it out.
Yes, we can do this.
Yes.

What if we started with yes in our lives??
What if we lived an open-hearted life?




Rule #2: It's not just Yes...
SAY YES, AND...

Add something of your own.
This is huge.
Because sometimes when you say yes, you are just dragging your feet.
You don't really mean it.
So it's a half-hearted yes.

The YES, AND forces the issue and asks you to be better than that.
The YES, AND asks you to be ALL IN.

You have to put some of yourself out there.
If you're in an IEP meeting and they ask, can this student be in your room...
if you are following Rule #2, you must say,
"Yes, and..." and create a real path to being fully in that room.

Tina Fey goes further, she reminds us: "Don't be afraid to contribute. Always make sure you are adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile."

Meaning, you're better than the simple yes.
The lazy, wimpy well, ok.

Commit.



Rule #3: Make Statements
This means, don't ask questions all the time.
When you ask questions, you are putting pressure on someone else to come up with all of the answers.

BE PART OF THE SOLUTION

Get creative.
Problem solve.
Think like a kid.

Don't be the person who is just sitting around pointing out all of the obstacles.
As Tina Fey so clearly says, "That person is a drag."
Can I get an Amen?

We've all been around that person.
The It's-Always-Been-Done-This-Way person...
Or the I'm-Not-So-Sure person...

Schools like to reach consensus on difficult decisions...
but those side-line questioners make that nearly impossible...
which means things never get done...
or students wait on the sidelines hoping to get a chance.

Find a way to figure it out.



Rule #4: There are NO mistakes
This is the Growth Mindset in its stealth fighter jet mode.

If we come from the vantage point that there are no mistakes,
all we see are opportunities.
Or as Tina Fey likes to remind us: Beautiful, Happy Accidents.

Adults get good at avoiding moments that are risky.
We opt out.
Or say no.

What if we stepped out of our comfort zone and found a way to enjoy our mistakes?
Now, that could be life-changing.
Now imagine a child watching you...
learning from you...
realizing that this is where the growth is.

The sweet spot of learning.

Besides, it just makes for a happier workplace and a happier home.

It's not so serious.
Take a chill pill.



Put them all together and I'm thinking you have a great life mantra...
or at the very least a guide to improv,
AND a guide to inclusion in schools.



We need more people to say yes.
Laugh a little.
Open your heart.
Be one of those people.

We need you now more than ever.