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Monday, May 25, 2015

Superman - A Letter to Jacob on Graduation Day



Dear Jacob,
         You were three years old. I sat at our breakfast table, sorting through a stack of bills, a basket of towels nearby waiting to be folded and put away. And you wanted to play. Feeling pressed for time, I grabbed a big blue towel.
“Here, I know what you can do.” Draping the towel so it fell around your shoulders, I tied a thick, clumsy knot. “Now go in the backyard and fly around like Superman!” With a spark in your eyes and a grin from ear to ear, off you ran. It seemed like you were already flying.
         Five minutes later, you were back by my side. “Mommy, Mommy. It’s not right.” Thinking the towel was too tight, I adjusted the knot, loosening the fit around your neck. “There you go!”
         But five minutes later…
         “Mommy, Mommy. It’s still not right.” Your brow was seriously furrowed, your brown, eyes intense.
After studying your pretend Superman cape, I decided the way it fell horizontally was all wrong. Retying the towel so the vertical length could fall behind would give the towel-cape a better flow, making it feel more like a real cape. “There you go, Jacob. That should work now.” Honestly, it did look much better. Off you ran for the third time.
And for the third time, you ran back, tears in your eyes and completely frustrated. “Mommy, Mommy. No matter what I do, I just can’t fly!”
Then it donned on me. You, literally, expected to fly. You trusted my advice and believed you would really be able to fly around like Superman, just because I said so. That spark in your eyes, as I tied that blue towel around your shoulders – that spark was full of possibility, imagination, and hope.
This sweet memory of your little boy self – your pure innocence and enthusiasm contrasted with the disappointment that you could not really fly and that Mommy couldn’t fix everything – captures so much. I think that’s the dance of life, a constant to and fro movement, from our hopes and dreams to dealing with our disappointments and challenges. Step forward, step back, and turn around.
For nearly nineteen years we’ve danced with life just like that. And you have filled my heart with lessons, love, and such joy. There is not one thing I would change. To spare you the disappointment would be to rob you of the wisdom, compassion, and joy you share, now, so generously with others. I could not be more proud of you. No matter what life brings, Sweet Boy, my prayer is that you will keep turning back to that spark of possibility, imagination, and hope.
Congratulations! Happy Graduation Day!
I love you forever,
Mom
P.S. Now that you’re old enough to understand metaphor… Go and Fly! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thank you, God, for Connections and Prayer


 

So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. […] Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside (Lamott, 7).

Begin with a significant passage, words that seem to jump out and speak to you. The words may seem important, but they may also be reaching into your own thoughts lying deep within, just waiting to be explored and brought into the light.
            I chose the passage above because I am reading Anne Lamott’s Help. Thanks. Wow. and I thought it would be a good idea to practice what I ask my own students to do. I ask them to make connections with the books they are reading. And I ask them to make connections for many reasons – because it seems to make writing and reading more meaningful, because it’s like discovering your own thoughts and your own voice, because it helps me and other readers – even struggling readers – to engage their brains in an activity they may not have known they could do. Making connections makes literacy meaningful. It deepens understanding and helps us make meaning, not only from the text, but, even more importantly, out of our own life experiences.
            Anne Lamott’s search for and explanation of prayer reminds me of my own search for a spiritual and prayerful life. This is a journey that continues today. Even after 52 years I find myself yearning for more, searching for truth, and bumbling my way along in my religion and faith. I know a lot of prayers, but the ones that bring me closest to feeling God’s presence are the ones when I’m just being myself and speaking or writing my heart’s truth. At first, that mostly happened when I found myself in catastrophe and felt desperate for a quick and easy rescue. I’ve cried, “Help me,” throughout all my life trials: at endings when I wasn’t ready to let go, at beginnings where I was afraid to start, and in middles where I found myself lost, depressed, or tired. In my letters to God, I’ve made lists of my heart’s desire as I tried to imagine a better life. I’ve poured out my feelings too. And sometimes, I imagined God’s words writing back to me. He always reminds me how much I am loved and that everything is going to be okay.
            Eventually, my letters of prayer included lists of gratitude – of what I was thankful for. Today, on my 52nd Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for my sweet husband, my children and family and friends, my colleagues and students and the cool and meaningful work we get to do together, my faith, church family and Father Jack, for getting to travel to D.C., be a presenter and attend fabulous presentations and think more deeply about the work I love, and for three particular students, who have found writing about life a meaningful way to make sense of it. They keep sharing their poems and blogs with me and encourage me to do the same. Thank you Chrysta, K. J., and Mela. Here I am, writing again.
            So what about the significant passage above? I could wax on and on about my connection, but it’s only complete when I come back to the text and wonder, SO WHAT? What is the author trying to say about universal truth or meaning that could impact all readers? At this point, I’m only a third of the way through, so I will make a prediction about the SO WHAT. I think Lamott’s message will be that prayer is a simple and sometimes scary way to slow down, be in the moment, and take a good look at ourselves in the light of God’s love. Prayer challenges us to see beyond the crazy belief systems we may have been brought up with, especially when those belief systems dumped a lot of shame. Prayer is a way to be honest about our own behavior and part in things. But prayer is also a way to bask in God’s love and learn to treat ourselves with gentleness and kindness as we continue to bumble along our faith journeys. The more I treat myself that way, the easier it is for me to be gentle and kind to the souls I bump into along the way.
            In closing, I leave you with another significant passage. In speaking of prayer, Lamott writes, “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little” (27).
Thank you, God, for the gift of connections and prayer.


Lamott, Anne. Help. Thanks. Wow. 2012. New York: Penguin Group. Print

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Poem for my Mama


Mama
 
This morning I closed my eyes
breathed in deeply
and searched.

I searched for that piece of me
of who I really am,
how I began

to breathe,
to love,
to be.

I remembered joy,
            smiling from ear to ear,
            and you.

I remembered you, Mama,
            sharing with me the wonder
            of snow made into ice cream
            a thin book of mud pies
            and coloring a tree
            with me, side by side -

my mama and me
just being
together.

And I remember a Saturday night
in the house on Kenyon
just you and me

some late night movie 
playing in black and white
and me brushing your hair.

I marveled at my pretty mama
and you laughed
because you had no make-up.

I didn’t understand
how you could not know

you’re beautiful.

You are
   still
beautiful

and such a part of me,
how I began,
and who I will always be.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Existing "More Than I Did Four Months Ago"




I have just finished the first section, “Italy,” in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I feel a connection between the main character, Liz, and my own life. She’s a published writer; I’m a want-to-be-published writer. She experienced depression before, during, and after her divorce; so did I. She is a seeker, searching for healing, faith devotion, and authentic love; me too! One of my favorite lines so far – and the lines that struck a chord of connection for me – comes at the end of the Italy section: “The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. I exist more than I did four months ago.”

In her travels, Liz Gilbert has just finished the first leg of her year long journey: four months in Italy, four months in India, four months in Indonesia. In Italy, she gained back weight lost in the years of divorce and depression, and then added a few more as she allowed herself the pleasures of eating, making friends, and learning to speak Italian.

I am like Liz. At the end of my four rounds of chemo, “…I have put on weight.” I too “… exist more than I did four months ago.”

And like Liz, I just finished the first leg of my own, year long journey. My healing has been different – and almost opposite of the emotional healing she found in Italy. My healing from breast cancer has been more like a tearing apart – more like a divorce as a surgeon tore out cancer cells and an oncologist has sought to destroy any that might have remained, hidden somewhere in my body.

During the past four months I have been more in problem-solving mode and less in deep search of my self. I learned that “chemo-brain” is real as I have been unable to focus on quiet things like writing and making deep connections. Even my prayers have been more like bursts of fireworks than basking in the quiet presence of my Higher Power. My brain has been like a squirrel on steroids, hopping from tree to tree in search of sustenance, more like the squirrels in my parents’ backyard, taking time to tease and torment dogs – other creatures of God to be sure, but creatures who appear to think so differently from the squirrel.

I have spent my squirrel-ier days hopping from task to task: lesson planning, grading, and learning about my students within bursts of hanging up their pictures and artwork. (Teaching really is the perfect job for the A.D.D. brain, as we are constantly required to flit from task to task.) Reading one book at a time, however, has been a greater struggle. So has the mountain of paperwork I’ve collected to turn into insurance. Yet, I’ve been able to play those crazy word games with friends, text message, keep up with politics, and post messages that reveal my liberalism and irritate my conservative friends. In that way, I’m like the squirrel, flitting and flying with possibility while incessantly claiming to my more grounded friends that they must be wrong and cannot see as clearly from their fenced in perspective.

It is in the quiet and white space of a Sunday afternoon that I know more deeply that my political posts and yipping will not bring us closer to a genuine understanding of each other’s perspectives. It’s like we are playing football politics right now. And it makes me sad. I sense that we have lost credibility with one another – that our minds might be permanently closed to the ideas represented by the “other side.”

Nonetheless, I’m grateful to be able to put this feeling into words. My mind and ability to focus are returning to me. Being able to sit quietly with this thought and challenge – gives me hope that a solution will arrive one day, walking up to open the door that, at present, stands closed between us.

Liz, from Eat, Pray, Love, will continue her healing, but now, I predict, in a spiritual way – as she learns more about a voice that speaks with her in her most despairing moments.

As my mind and focus return to me, I hope and pray in the coming weeks of radiation and physical healing from the chemo, that I too will be better able to hear that voice. The voice that speaks to me of love, healing, guidance, and goodness.