Thursday, June 28, 2018

Betrayed by Words: The New Tower of Babel

I used to have a passionate faith in words - reading them, writing them, speaking them. I consumed words with a fire born of the belief that they carried meaning, the power to change and grow, an illuminating vision of humanity, the pieces of some truth greater than ourselves that could help us make meaning in this complicated world.

I still want to believe that, but lately I feel as if I've lost my faith in words. They have become monstrous, meaningless things that screech in the darkness, a vast infestation of noxious weeds, where the rare examples that enlighten or further conversation are choked out by the clanging cymbals, the noisy trumpets, the sounding gongs, the empty and preening pronouncements. You can't count on them. They hide the truth and create divisions instead of connections.

Perhaps words have always been slippery things. But the cacophony has become deafening in this digital age. The internet is the new Tower of Babel.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lessons from a 30th College Reunion

This past weekend, I attended the 30th reunion of my graduating class from Amherst College. It's the first time I'd been back on campus in almost 30 years. I am still processing this remarkable, beautiful, complicated experience. Here are a few lessons I have drawn from it so far:

  • You are not alone. Whatever your hidden struggles, someone, somewhere, has also struggled that way and survived and can help, and someone, somewhere, is struggling like you.
  • Change for the better can, does, and will happen.
  • You affect the people around you in ways you do not realize.
  • Authentic conversation is rich fertile soil for growth of the soul, growth of the individual, growth of institutions.
  • Self-consciousness gets in the way of so many good things, and causes so much harm. Act in spite of it. 
  • People often grow into their best selves over time.
  • Do not let fear and insecurity keep you from exploring new things, talking to new people, moving beyond your comfort zone and your immediate social group.
  • Listen. Learn. Ask questions. Not just in school but throughout life.
  • There are thousands of interconnecting threads in this world. Look for them. Notice them. Celebrate them. Learn from them. And when you cannot see them, remember they are still there. They are just invisible to you right now.
  • I am still the person I have spent my whole life becoming.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Reflections on the March for Our Lives 2018

Yesterday, I attended the March for Our Lives here in Portland. My emotions were all over the map, as they have been for the past month and a half.

I feel inspired by the power and strength of the young people who have taken something awful and transformed it into action. I feel a kind of shame that we adults could not do this for them after Sandy Hook, which feels like just yesterday but was really six years ago. I feel proud that the people of our country are remembering what it means to care about something. I feel heartbroken that we would need to march about this thing. I feel enraged at the notion that school, my second home as a teacher, is being twisted and transformed by the threat to bring in guns as some insane way to keep us safe.

I feel enraged and sick to my stomach when people refer to schools as a "soft target" that needs to be "hardened." I know that in this context "soft" is code for "weak" and "hard" is code for "strong" and I reject that conflation as perversely misguided. The place where our children go to learn and grow, the place where we nurture them and nourish their young minds and hearts, should be soft, gentle, welcoming. I reject a world where kindness and openness are "weak," where strength only comes from a weapon, and where safety is only found in fear. We are all "soft targets" against a gun. The laws need to harden, not the schools, not our hearts.

In the aftermath of the 2016 Election, I wrote a poem for the nation's young people, for my students and former students. After marching yesterday, I came upon that poem in some of my papers. And I rejoiced. I know they didn't read it - my blog doesn't get that many hits - but they have lived it and I want to dance for them.  So, in honor of the incredible, inspiring young people who made yesterday happen, who have mobilized power from horror, here it is again:

Wolves and Sheep

“Tend my sheep,” the master said.
They called him teacher too.
Are you sheep, dear ones?
In times like these, you should be
fierce and strong, pack at your back,
teeth bared and ready to attack.

Rage in the temples if you must, dear ones
for we have let you down.
There is a time to every purpose
and this is no time
for sheep.