Sunday, December 30, 2012

Man Plans and God Laughs?

The topic of the moment seems to be New Year's Resolutions.  Not everyone is a fan of New Year's Resolutions.  Some folks hate them.  Some ignore them.  For some, they are a simple thing.  For others, not so much.

My father has a long-standing tradition of writing New Year's Resolutions on New Year's Day.  I've always thought of my father as a philosopher.  He is my model of pursuing the life of the mind while in this physical realm.  Some of my earliest memories are of my Dad with his nose in a book, and that's true to this day.  We have a special kind of conversation that happens through the books we give or recommend to one another.  Sometimes that conversation ebbs or flows, but it's always there.

As I entered adulthood, I followed my father's model for New Year's.  But I added my own twist.  I keep a journal, and have since I was 7.  I don't write in it every day, but I do write in it regularly, and I re-read it to gain perspective on myself and my reactions to the world.  When New Year's rolls around, I re-read my journal for the year, reflecting on last year's resolutions and on the year as a whole, and contemplating what the year ahead may bring and what I want to focus on as I enter this new year.  And then I write my resolutions.

This process is often a reminder to me of the saying, "Man plans and God laughs"  (though I'm not too keen on this vision of a spiteful God who laughs at us when things don't go the way we hoped).  Often, the events of the year push me in a direction so unexpected that my resolutions ceased to have relevance.  Still, reflecting on the year's events often helps me take stock of my successes, and the times when I let myself down or wish I had been stronger, and those reflections guide my new resolutions.

I haven't yet re-read this year's journal.  As of this moment, my resolutions seem much more concrete than usual.  I often make resolutions about character, things such as "seek out small moments of joy" or "listen more to others."  Right now, this year's fledgling thoughts for resolutions are "Read more books, even during the school year" and "Eat more fruits and vegetables."  These two seem awfully mundane.  Perhaps there is a reason I am feeling so very concrete.  Perhaps these simple, concrete resolutions can ground me through whatever unexpected events await me in the coming year.

Do you make resolutions?  What is your process for deciding on them?  Do you look back at them?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Small Inspirations

This week, my students were once again my inspiration.  They witnessed the emergency response to the Clackamas Town Center shooting across the street from where they live (and some had family members there).  Then they heard about the Connecticut school shooting all weekend.  As we were finishing our oil pastel mural of a map of the world, I had them create word art by writing sentences to describe our world.  Here are some of the sentences my students wrote:

Our world is a calm and peaceful place.
Our world is beautiful.
Our world is as perfect as it can be.
People in our world play.
Our world is a fun place.
Our world is magnificent.
Our world is a place of friendship and kindness.
These 3rd graders are the definition of resilience.  If they can still have faith in our world, they give me a reason to hope.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Small Good Thing

How can we even begin to heal what has been shattered?  All around us we see violence and death, the rending of peace, the murder of children, the destruction of safety and innocence.  Can a world so horribly broken ever be made right?

This week, I faced these questions as I struggled to help my third graders, many of whom live across the street from Clackamas Town Center and saw the police cars and heard the sirens, some of whom had family members at the mall, all of whom had their sense of security in the world violated.  And then on Friday at lunchtime came the news from Connecticut, where personal connections left me anxious and terrified while striving to be present for my students, who were still mercifully unaware of this latest horror and who, when they heard it, would no doubt be shaken all over again.  "How can I be present for them when I feel so fragile myself?" I thought.  And the voices of great teachers I have known said, "One small good thing at a time."

If healing can happen, that's how it happens.  One small good thing at a time.  Every act, no matter how small, can be sacred.  The act of unlocking my classroom door or setting up the daily order of the room.  The act of drawing a line in pencil on plain white paper.  The act of painting in watercolors.  The act of sitting together in a circle and greeting one another.  The choice of questions and stretches and community building conversations.    "If you could be a superhero, which one would you be?"  I asked them.  "Would you rather snuggle with a cat or play with a dog?"  "Name a safe place or person, real or imaginary."  "Pretend you are a strong and powerful creature.  Show me what you would look like."  One small good thing at a time.  One tiny sliver of strength or safety or joy placed onto another to fill the cracks and rebuild what's been destroyed.  A laugh.  An extra moment to listen.  A kind word.  A gentle and patient response to a distracted soul.  The act of putting one foot in front of the other to continue the daily expression of faith in the future that is the education of young children.  One small, good thing at a time.

I know there are others who can only see healing happening through great and sweeping changes, through policy and laws.  I honor them and their fight.   But I also know the universe works both in the macro and in the micro, and I believe we must recognize the sacred role of small acts for the ground to be fertile enough to allow the grand changes to take root.   

Friday, December 14, 2012

Did heaven look on and would not take their part?
      -  Macduff, on the slaughter of his children, in William Shakespeare's MACBETH. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Keeping Christmas In Your Heart

In honor of the season, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the Dickens classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  They say what needs to be said better than I ever could, or would wish to.
picture by jholbo
There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say ... Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time ... as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good and will do me good and I say God bless it!
                                                        - Scrooge's nephew Fred

Business! Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business.  Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.
                                  - Marley's Ghost

This boy is Ignorance.  This girl is Want.  Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.  Deny it! ... Slander those who tell it ye!  Admit it for your factious purposes and make it worse!  And bide the end!
                                  - The Ghost of Christmas Present 

Saturday, December 1, 2012


This weekend, I am pushing to finish a paper that's due on Monday.  Suddenly, I realized  something I was supposed to do for a friend that needed to be done today.

"But I've got to get this paper done.  I can't do this thing for my friend.  It's not a matter of life and death for them," I thought to myself.  And then I stopped.  I thought of some recent news about a family member that had reminded me how sudden life and death situations can be.  And I asked myself what mattered more, getting the graduate credit for this class or honoring my friendship.  I chose to honor my friendship.

That graduate paper doesn't have to be perfect, and I probably still have time to get it done.  In the end, friends and family matter more.  I'm not always very good at the niceties of friendships - the cards and little gifts and phone calls that hold a friendship together.  I wish I was better at that.  But in this one small instance, I managed to get my priorities straight, and I'm glad.

With the holidays upon us, remember your priorities.  What will really matter most to you in the end?