Archive for April, 2009
Today another teacher and I took our students on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Quite an adventure for 47 students and 2 teachers- if I do say so myself. We crammed on to one of the good ol’ fashioned yellow school buses, which regardless of what they say does not in fact fit “3-to a seat” when you’re talking about high school students.
Sometimes I get nervous and a bit worried when I bring my students somewhere outside the walls of my classroom. Not because they’re bad kids, no in fact I think they’re wonderful- they are real and perceptive and lively, but sometimes they can be a little out of line. Their language is colored with four letter words and every now and then they act without thinking and end up in trouble. I guess maybe pridefully, I don’t want them and their behavior to reflect poorly on my teaching or me.
But more times than not, they amaze me. When I took them to an elementary school earlier this year to mentor and read to 4th graders they were incredible- mature, helpful, young adults who even filtered their language! And when we served dinner down at the local rescue mission they were the most patient and kind hearted servants I’ve ever seen. And today they were better than I could have expected. They were attentive, and eager to learn through a 3-hour museum tour, led by a rather intense, and passionate, in-your face kind of older gentleman (not your typical museum curator, that’s for sure).
At the end of the tour, we gathered in a small dimly lit room and our guide, with his hands raised demanded their attention:
“Close your eyes. I want you to think of one word that captures how you feel after walking through the museum.”
oh, no…I thought. I feared my honest, slightly sarcastic students would utter words like “umm, hungry” or “tired” or “bored.”
He pointed to a kid in the back; one of my most difficult students, a student who spends more time in the office than in class, What’s your word, son?
I was shocked. My loud, usually disruptive, always distracted student, just said, “thank you.”
That was the one word (ok, well two words) that stood out to him after listening and learning about the atrocities that were committed against the Jews. He was thankful; thankful for learning, thankful that someone cared enough to teach him and talk to him, probably in an interactive way that he had never experienced at a museum.
At that moment I realized how thankful I was, too. Not for the museum per se or my students, but for my own Jewish heritage. I am thankful for an American man named Varian Fry, who helped my great-grandfather escape from Germany in 1938 and for my grandmother who courageously fled on a boat when she was just 18, and for her generosity that has turned hatred and injustice for good. My grandmother has given more to me than I deserve- but that’s a whole other blog post for another time.
I went to a memorial service today for a friend’s dad , who died tragically in a plane crash earlier this week- absolutely, horrible. And then I got an email from another friend whose dad passed away just 10 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 33 days before her wedding. oh. These kinds of events leave me feeling raw, and heavy-hearted and sad. I think I naturally have lived with a life-works-out-for-the best-kinda-attitude, but sometimes it’s hard to see the best in situations likes these.
When you’re in your mid-twenties you don’t expect to have to bury one of your parents. Obviously, death seems untimely almost whenever it hits, but there is a kind of childlike faith and beauty about holding on to the belief that your parents are strong, brave and maybe even, slightly invincible. But that notion seems to fade away when you lose someone, especially a parent. Something changes when you are hit over the head with the sobering, shocking and surreal notion of loss.
I haven’t lost a parent, so I won’t even begin to explain the array of feelings that comes with that. But I know what it feels like to walk through the loss of a grandparent, and a dear friend that was taken too soon, or a lost hope or expectation. I’ve learned that you can’t qualify or quantify loss. Some loss is tragic and catastrophic other loss is daily agony and pain. You just can’t compare the two.
Jerry Sitster, wrote an incredible book about his own journey of loss and grief, called, A Grace Disguised. After he lost his mother, wife and two kids in a car accident he says, “Loss is loss, whatever the circumstance. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways. No two losses are ever the same. Each loss stands on its own and inflects a unique kinds of pain. What makes each loss so catastrophic is its devastating, cumulative, and irreversible nature.”
I left the memorial service thinking, now what? This is only the beginning- a memorial service is the first painful step in acknowledging the loss, but there are still months and years ahead of grieving a wonderful husband, a loving dad, a trusted doctor and a beloved friend.
I can’t but help think of a tree stump. When you lose someone it’s like a part of your life, maybe a part of yourself, has been cut down. It’s like all of the sudden part of you is missing. Almost as if there was this big, strong tree in your life and now you’re left with a stump. In the book, Sitser explains that every time he looked out into his garden all he could see was this stump that reminded him of what had been once there, and reminded him of who he had lost. And he says that the stump never goes away. The place that person had in your life and in your heart will remain. The challenge comes in the process of healing and rebuilding. How do you let the stump be there- naming the empty, longing and grief that accompanies it, but all the while trying to began to live life again? What does it look like to plant flowers of grace, hope and beauty around the tree stump that is loss?
There is not a simple answer. But maybe, just maybe there is some kind of grace that begins to grow out of our deep hurt and pain. I guess I have to put hope in the God whom I believe in, the God who weeps and hurts with us, and yet also wants us to experience His grace in unexpected ways. I wonder in pain and suffering and loss is there such a thing as A Grace Disguised?
I was (ok, maybe still am) slightly obsessed with Tupperware. I was probably the only college freshman who moved into Clark Halls with my tupperware plates, matching microwaveable bowls and two matching cups in tow. I won’t try to convince you, but having good tupperware in a variety of shapes and sizes really has a plethora of benefits- ya know, storing leftovers from dinner, making a salad for work, keeping already cut veggies fresh, or crackers from going stale and I could go on. (Never mind the fact, that I have never actually purchased a single tupperware item in my entire life- thanks to my mom’s generous donations, I get all of her old tupperware instead)
Tonight I put my tupperware to a new use- a portable wine glass.
Now, I am not normally in the habit of sipping red wine out of yellow tupperware cups but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Sometimes I go through life busy and distracted. There are so many good things happening and so many more things to-do and in the process I sometimes neglect my feelings. I mean I know I have them (feelings, that is) but all too often I don’t really know exactly what I am feeling. But when life slows down a bit, and I stop and listen, I can usually recognize the mysterious feeling that has been gnawing at my heart.
And tonight I felt lonely.
I know loneliness is a universal, human emotion, but it feels humbling and a bit vulnerable to admit it. The horrible thing about feeling lonely is that it slowly starts to eat a hole in your heart so it doesn’t matter exactly what you do or even who you are with, everything starts to feel a bit like something is missing. It’s kinda like taking a bite of a chocolate chip cookie, but discovering that someone took out all of the chocolate chips. Just plain, blah, cookie. I think that’s what loneliness can make life feel like- just plain, blah, life.
In my attempt to fight the loneliness and ignore the small hole encroaching upon my heart, I decided that I would take myself to my favorite park, throw down my picnic blanket and enjoy my cheese and crackers with my tupperware filled wine cup in hand. But it wasn’t working. I sat there overlooking the blue pacific, as the sun was setting behind the trees and sighed. I gave in. Maybe it was just going to be a lonely Sunday night.
David Wilcox, one of my favorite singer/song writers, wrote a song that I have listened to countless times on nights like tonight. Sometimes music has this beautiful way of bringing my heart and mind together and naming what I can’t quite name for myself yet.
When I get lonely ah, that’s only a sign
Some room is empty, and that room is there by design
If I feel hollow – that’s just my proof that there’s more
For me to follow – that’s what the lonely is for
So maybe it’s ok to have some nights where you feel lonely. And maybe its ok to drink red wine from tupperware cups, too.
Thursday afternoons are one of my favorite times of the week. Every Thursday I get to play with some of thee cutest kids on the face of the planet. (and yes, I may be biased. I admit it). I am learning that “playing” encompasses all of the wonderful things like tying shoes, wiping noses, running after, picking up, putting down and singing ridiculous songs that require you to spin in circles. Why kids like this and most adults hate it is beyond me?
But today I also got to play doctor. Little 4 year-old Miguel fell and was convinced that his small scraped-up knee required immediate attention. As he limped over to the curb, I asked if I could look at his owie.
aww, Miguel, it’s gonna be ok. I think you just need a band-aid.
With tears forming in his big brown eyes he looked up at me and asked,
“Will it make all better?”
I couldn’t forget his question. So simple. So true. Will it make it all better?
So often I just want things to be “all better.” I don’t want to see friends suffering or watch families grieve the loss of their child. I don’t like it when it seems like there is too much pain and injustice and death in our world. And sometimes that world hits much closer to home. In the past week there have been two teenage girls who died tragically in Santa Barbara. One of my colleagues at work was just diagnosed with throat cancer and will be out the rest of the year. I sat in my home group on Wednesday night and listened to a soon-to-be bride pray that her dad would be alive and well enough to walk her down the aisle.
As we prayed, a tear rolled down the side of my cheek. Why, God? These things don’t make sense? It doesn’t seem fair.
Grief and loss and suffering are permeating those around me. And I feel pieces of it, too. If I am honest, sometimes I fear what if it happens to me next? I worry about getting a phone call saying something happened to my parents. Or reading in the newspaper that one my former students has died. Or getting some horrible call from a doctor saying that they “found something.” It reminds me that life is fragile.
Sometimes I lie in bed and wonder why can’t God just make everything “all better”- maybe kinda of like a band-aid theology.
Ok, so there are probably more than 27 reasons to be a teacher, but spring break is definitely one of them.
About 3 years ago I realized that the rest of the working world does not in fact get a glorious week of vacation right in the middle of March. Thankfully, I chose a profession that honors this week and I eagerly look forward to it every year.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job but having a week off is always a wonderful! My days and weeks can become so routine and scheduled, with a 28-min lunch period, 4-min bathroom breaks and bells that signal the start of each class. I welcome a week where life moves at slower pace. There is freedom in letting a day unfold with no set plans or expectations. I sometimes crave the spontaneous and unexpected events and conversations that just happen when I am not so busy running-here-there-and-everywhere.
So, this Spring Break I Rested. Relaxed. Played. Rode my bike. Took a yoga class. Napped at the beach. Had Sushi lunch with friends. Read. Prayed. Went to bed early! (this never happens) Ran on the beach. Coffee dates. Picnic lunches. Salsa dancing. Road trip down Highway 1 with my sister. Thrift Store Shopping. Watched my brother play lacrosse. Surprise dinner with my parents. (I LOVE surprises) Lots of Laughter. Happy Hour with the roommates. Pure joy.
Here are a few pics from my week:
She helps me out in life and makes sure I don’t buy plaid golf shorts at the Thrift Store.
My “little” brother, Andrew, (although much taller and stronger than I) is in the red.
I sat on the beach the other day and watched from behind my oversized sunglasses, as this big, tough-n-gruff dad played in the waves with his little pre-school aged daughter. Absolutely adorable. I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is something so endearing about watching dads tenderly carry and twirl and play with their daughters. Maybe it’s because there is part of me that has always been a daddy’s girl.
I love my dad. He’s not perfect, but I happen to think he pretty great.
My dad has taught me valuable life lessons over the years: As a little girl he taught me how to pump on the swings (probably so he didn’t have to push me anymore). While driving around the city, he taught me that all of the odd addresses are one side of the street and evens are on the other. And when I got my driver’s license he taught me how to check my oil and tire pressure regularly. He modeled how to bargain at a garage sale and always ask for a discount. He showed me how to drive without using any hands (my mom loves him for this one) and he helped me develop an appreciation for maps and books and new uses for old things.
But I think one of the most important lessons my dad taught me is how to melt.
During my first semester of college I drove home to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I was an overwhelmed, stressed, and albeit self-absorbed college student who probably took life a little too seriously. The adjustment to college was hard for me. I strived so hard to do well and succeed, but in the process I didn’t know quite who I was. I remember storming into the garage after sitting in traffic for 4 hours. I was tense and frustrated…probably nothing like the light-hearted, carefree Michelle, you know now (umm, that’s kind of a joke).
My dad was standing there in the garage with his arms open-wide. He embraced me in a one of those big, sweet, long, dad hugs. The only problem was I didn’t really hug him back. I mean I thought I did, but apparently I wrapped my arms around his ribs and squeezed for a quick 2-second in-and-out-kinda-hug. You know the kind where there is no embrace, no lingering- just a tense-arms-tighten-pull-back-quick-kinda-hug. My dad empathetically shook is head. He saw through me, straight to my heart.
“Michelle, you have to melt.”
He knew what I needed. He hugged me again. And that intense, stressed and worried college student’s heart and arms and mind melted. He held me there in the garage, the way a dad holds his daughter when he knows what’s best for her. When all he wants is for her to relax, and trust and rest in the fact that life is going to be ok. Sometimes a hug is all I need.
I have a theory that some people naturally melt when they hug and they my friends, make excellent huggers. Other people like me have to learn how to melt, how to slowly and wholeheartedly embrace someone you care about with the warmth and softness of melting.
So here’s to my dad, for teaching me how to melt.
I love you, Dad.