A collection of essays on life, teaching, parenting, and finding the good in this crazy world.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I write for my own pleasure. My head swirls with all manner of random thoughts. Some of them make it as far as my journal, some of them all the way to my computer and beyond. I enjoy observing my world and once in a while I discover that I have some commentary to make about the state of it.
Like many writers, I write about what I know. My world is filled principally with parenting and teaching. Human relationships. My subjects are the people I meet, the places I frequent. There’s not much chance of me becoming an adventure writer at this stage of my life. My wildest adventures encompass road trips in the minivan to visit the in-laws and excursions to the zoo. Don’t get me wrong. I’m fond of both, but sadly you won’t find me running rapids down the Amazon or scrambling up Ayers Rock any time soon.
I do, however, consider myself a worldly, well-educated fellow. I have done my fair share of international travel. I’ve lived in three countries on two continents. I’ve certainly met several books-worth of interesting characters. Of course, I only have to take the #15 bus through central Denver to find those folks. They are the same people that Kerouac used as fodder for ‘On The Road’.
I like to keep abreast of the world’s events. I enjoy my morning newspaper. I’m a skimmer. I run my eyes over the headlines and photos and only settle on the stories that appeal. I confess that I have little tolerance for the stories that have been part of my reading for decades now. As important as they are to millions, I don’t dwell on peace and war between Middle Eastern countries nor between the blowhards of the U.S. political parties. I’ve given up reading about violent crimes, particularly those against children. I don’t intend to create a false view of the world. I just have an intense need to avoid the worst of humanity. Life is too short. I look for the best.
The pickings are slim. It was Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said that well-behaved women rarely make history. Good news is few and far between in my local broadsheet. A quick glance at today’s paper illustrates my point. It is full of depressing economic stories and a new president struggling to come to terms with the mess he has inherited. In addition, the front page carries stories about dead soldiers being brought back from war, a verdict in the case of a man accused of murdering his infant son, arguments about environmental impact of offshore drilling, devastating wildfires in Australia, and deadly tornadoes in a neighboring state. I empathize with the victims, I truly do, but I can’t allow that kind of energy to color my days.
Instead, I try to find tidbits of good news, happier times. There’s not much. But I’m grateful for what I find. A picture of the first signs of spring. Michelle Obama committing to taking her girls to school as often as she can. A few jobs opening up in the rural areas of my state. A dinner in honor of the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. That’s about it. All in all, about six inches of column space. Slim pickings indeed.
There were a couple more mentions of events that aren’t altogether bad news, not nearly in the same vein as murder and natural disasters, but they certainly don’t feed the soul: Barbie turns fifty this week. That’s Barbie, the ridiculously shaped plastic doll. New York is hosting a Fashion Week event in her (its?) honor. And even more bizarre, “a Michigan zoo is hosting a exotic, erotic afternoon on Valentine’s Day when consenting adults will get an unabashed look at how wild animals make babies” (Denver Post 2/11/09). Is this the state of our world – when okapi pornography is among the least worst news we have to report?
I’m thankful that I’m a reflective writer, not a reporter. Most reporters, at least those not chasing the latest celebrities through the undergrowth of fame, are wonderfully intrepid individuals. They are undoubtedly doing the world a great service. But I find I need to be selective in what I inhale. My soul cannot stand too much tragedy and disaster. It needs to find kindness and compassion to grow. The goodness of humankind is what I crave.
I find very little of it in the news media. I find it in my family, in the children I teach, in the smile I encounter from people I pass on the street, in the gestures of friends, in the generous offers from neighbors, in my community. I find the goodness of humankind in the world around me, in my world, not in the news reports from the world at large.
And here’s the good news. My community is one of hundreds of thousands around the world. What I label as “my world” is duplicated for every single other individual on the planet. Not only does each of us receive some sort of kindness every day, however small, more importantly each of us has the ability to be kind to others. I’m pretty sure that every one of us does show some sort of kindness to one other human being every day. But we can do more, all of us. Each one of us has the potential to show one more kindness, show one more ounce of compassion, do one more favor.
None of it will reach my morning newspaper, but altogether, it will change the world.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Past Present Future
If you’re on Facebook, you know all about “25 Random Things About Me”. It’s become such a phenomenon that the New York Times recently wrote a feature about it. If you’re not, allow me to explain. Someone, anyone, writes 25 statements about him or herself: childhood memories, current beliefs, high school crushes, favorite books or movies, quirky information. He or she posts it on their Facebook profile for all their friends to see.
When I first saw one, I was amazed at the openness. I loved learning about a small slice of my friend’s background. It was fun, thought-provoking, and enlightening. Over the last few weeks, more and more friends have bared their souls. Never feeling like I was reading TMI, too much information, I have been pleasantly surprised at how carefully I’ve been taking them in. Windows have been opened and wonderful discussions have followed. I have learned things that I would never have discovered over coffee.
Inspired by my friends, I have just finished writing my own. It has been a fascinating process. What information would people want to read? How can I narrow it down to 25 things? Is this supposed to be a summary of my life or of my current thinking about the world? Should I be sincere, humorous, vulnerable? What would people think? What I discovered in the course of writing is that one ‘fact' flowed into the next. It doesn’t matter what people think and it’s not a résumé. It is simply an exercise in taking a little time, going inside for a short while, checking in with me, and seeing how I am doing.
I also discovered that looking backwards and looking inside isn’t enough. My random things are about my past and my present. As I wrote, I realized that where I really want to go is my future. So I have also generated some thoughts about where I’m headed. I have spent some time dwelling on where I want my life to go, and creating a vision for myself. I’ve called it Living My Vision.
Both my 25 Random Things About Me and Living My Vision are posted here. I have written them for me. But I post them here because I hope someone, maybe you, will enjoy them enough to be inspired. Perhaps inspired enough to go inside for a moment or to create a vision of your own. It has been a wonderful pause in my journey. Enjoy.
25 Random Things About Me
1. Being sent away to a traditional English boarding school at the age of seven has affected my adult life in more ways than I have previously cared to admit….
2. Negative impact: child abuse is never ever ever okay under any circumstance. Intimacy and trust are damn hard. But I’m working assiduously on both.
3. Positive impact: it has become very clear that my entire life has been and will always be about creating safe, happy spaces in which kids are free to grow.
4. Emma and Leah are the essential elements in my life. When I watch them sleep, I understand what is meant by ‘love hurts’.
5. Laughing with them brings me my single greatest joy.
6. I’ve never taken a class in theater in my life. I’ve acted in three plays, one in elementary school, two in college. All three were terrible. I was the only native English speaker in one – The Importance of Being Earnest – it was hilarious, but still terrible.
7. I am passionate about directing. Bringing a story from script to production is an awesome experience.
8. But not as awesome as seeing the light go on for one child.
9. I’m directing four plays this summer, bringing my total to 27 full-scale productions in the last ten years. My theater colleagues are among the most creative people I know.
10. I am an artist. I think I’ve always been one but nobody told me until a couple of years ago. I see the world in pictures. Books on tape are really hard for me.
11. I am grateful for those who see my artistry. You know who you are.
12. Writing is my thing. When the newspaper published my first essay, I wept. I plan on getting out there more. I know more about blogging than I ever thought I would. When I sit down to write an essay, I rarely know where I’m going. I believe that the Creative Spirit works through those who let her in.
13. I believe in Spirit. I am beginning to trust. I am learning to get out of the way. I’ve been here before and I know I’ll be back.
14. I believe religion is the root of much that is wrong with this world.
15. I love water – drinking it, listening to it, floating on it, walking through it, watching it, crossing it, standing under it, swimming in it. My best ideas come in the pool.
16. I am not a fan of movies or TV. I’ll go see live theater as many times as the budget will allow. Though I watch and know more about sports than anyone thinks.
17. I fantasize that one day I’ll still be teaching but earning the salary of a profession I value less.
18. Every year, I take the stage in Stanley’s Annual Deadbeat Coffeehouse. It is an amazing event involving the most incredible people. Every organization deserves such a night, a boost to the community spirit. I feel like an amateur compared to other performers. I am in awe of my musician friends. I wish I could sing like that.
19. I’ve played a lot of rugby, squash and water polo in my time, but I find it almost impossible to button the cuff on the right arm of my shirts.
20. At one point I was fluent in French and reasonably useful in Russian, Italian, Greek, Swahili and Latin. I have discovered that Colorado is not the place for honing those skills.
21. When I was small, my father owned the toy shop in our village. It was heaven for a little boy. I still feel guilty for stealing a plastic miniature Greek soldier. Sorry, Dad.
22. Some likes: Newcastle Brown, Brussel sprouts, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, beach vacations, kind people, Wings Seminars in Eugene, baseball.
23. Some dislikes: celery, beets, peanut butter, traffic, thoughtless and/or mean people, crowded places, shopping malls.
24. I don’t consider myself a material person, but I know that one day I will be the proud owner of a Mini Cooper S, a red one with a sunroof.
25. I didn’t plan on writing these, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how wonderful it’s been reading those of my friends. However writing what’s been before will never be as relevant as creating a vision of what’s to come. See below.
26. I’m not very good with rules (see #1), so I just had to write a 26th random fact – just to be difficult.
Living My Vision
I know who I am. I am grateful for the past and I know where I am going. I trust that I have everything I need for the journey. I am energetic, playful, humorous and kind. I am fully present and I dream big. I am courageous and adventurous and I take action, even when I am fearful, creating the results I want.
I am abundantly healthy, exercising at least twice a week and choosing a nutritious and balanced diet. I feel great in mind body and spirit. I always have choice and I am living a life of integrity. I am honest and joyous, celebrating my openness and vulnerability. I am emotionally connected to those I love. I am in a loving, supportive, mutually respectful relationship and I enjoy a close caring relationship with my girls, at all ages.
I work in a creative environment where I feel valued. I celebrate the artist in myself. I am writing and publishing, with positive reviews and strong sales. I am passionately involved in theater. I am assisting others to know and trust themselves, and I support them in pursuing their dreams. I am growing my wealth, investing in myself, my family, and for the good of the planet. I have enough money. I live in a warm and cozy house, where simplicity and comfort reign. I drive a car I love. I enjoy relaxing and exciting vacations at least twice a year.
I am a lifelong learner, seizing and embracing opportunities to grow. I trust the process of intention. I recognize the uniqueness and sacred in everyone. I know in my heart that each of us is capable, lovable, whole, and magnificent. I am building a culture which celebrates and honors children. I embrace service to my world and the people in it. I live in gratitude and bring joy and passion into my life and the lives of others.
I celebrate the happy carefree child and the wise guiding adult.
History starts now….
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I know a little girl, ten years old. She bounces when she’s excited. No mild bobbing, Aliza clears the ground by several feet when she’s got good news to tell me. She is a student in my class. She greets me in the mornings with a bright-eyed smile and a spirited hello. She loves school! Loves working hard, loves helping others. This is a kid who has a total zest for life. Every new thing is an adventure. She exudes a passion which rubs off on her classmates. You should see Aliza on stage, performing improv. This kid can light it up. You know when Aliza is in the room. You feel her presence.
She’s a mighty package in a little body. In fifth grade, I bet she’s barely pushing sixty pounds. But the hair, you can’t miss the hair. Aliza is blessed with a shock of red locks. Picture little orphan Annie given free rein with a bottle of spritzer. Aliza’s is all natural. It’s wild hair and it bounces with her, giving her the look of a giant pom-pom on a pogo stick.
In every way, she’s the epitome of a normal kid, a fun-loving, creative, singing, dancing, fort-building, regular little girl. Except she wears a small device on her torso and is rarely seen without a green purse embossed with ornamental flowers.
In October 2007, Aliza was diagnosed with Type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes. Her body's immune system malfunctioned, destroying the cells in her pancreas which normally produce insulin. Insulin helps the body move the glucose from her food into cells throughout the body, which need it for energy. When her pancreatic cells were destroyed, she could no longer produce insulin. So the glucose stays in her blood, where it has the potential to cause major damage to all the organ systems of the body. Like all diabetics, she must receive insulin from another source.
Aliza lives with this disease continuously. She won’t grow out of it. It won’t go away. Every day, several times a day, Aliza uses a small spring-loaded needle to poke through the skin at the ends of her fingertips. She measures her blood glucose levels constantly. At any moment, if she were not keeping an eye on her body, her blood could contain too little or too much glucose, resulting in serious complications.
She has to think about what she eats and how much she exercises in relation to the insulin levels in her body. A mini-computer, which is part of the pump attached around her middle, controls the amount of insulin entering her body. She has to think about her disease all the time: before she starts her day, before a snack, before a meal, before recess, before P.E. class, before a shower, before bedtime, during the night. And it all starts all over again the next day.
I talked to her parents on the day she was diagnosed. Imagine the shock, the fear, the overwhelming task of trying to come to terms with how this disease was about to affect her family’s daily existence and their future. Aged nine at the time, it was hard to imagine this new life for Aliza. How would she manage to do everything she needed to do, learn everything about the disease she needed to know, get through her school days, get through the night?
As her teacher, I wasn’t sure how we were going to incorporate all of the new routines into our day. How were we going to manage if her glucose levels fell outside of the normal range? I figured we’d figure it out as we went along. None of us counted on the one thing that has been clear from the start – the strength of Aliza.
This little girl does it all. She knows her body – she knows when she feels low or high. She tests her levels by herself, she knows how to work the pump and adjust her insulin delivery. She is fully aware of the carbohydrate and sugar contents of everything she eats. She is calm and masterful talking to both kids and adults about the disease.
In fourth grade, before she got the pump, when she was still receiving twice daily insulin shots, I took my class on an overnight trip to the mountains. This was the first time that she was to receive insulin without her parents’ direct involvement. I learned everything I could about how to administer the shots. I wasn’t needed. Aliza had it down pat.
Aliza recently attended a dinner for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She came home that night armed with awards. Aliza had put together a team to walk in the annual JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. More than fifty people walked with her. Her infectious joy helped make the walk a fabulous success. Together her team raised more than $16,000. The organization recognized her as an outstanding first-time participant.
15,000 new cases of Type I Diabetes are diagnosed every year in Americans under the age of 20. There is no confirmed reason why the disease strikes one person over another. People with diabetes succeed in every walk of life, from corporate boardrooms, to professional sports arenas, from the halls of Congress to the ivory towers of academia. The history of diabetes is filled with incredible stories of people managing their disease and living out their dreams.
Aliza is doing the same. Pound for pound, her strength is remarkable.
Photo - Aliza at the JDRF Awards Dinner with former NFL star and fellow diabetic Jay Leeuwenberg.
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