Thoughts On A Slower Time Of Life

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During my adult working years I was rather busy. I was raising two daughters, caring for my mom when her mental illness flared, teaching thousands of students and maintaining my home along with a loving relationship with my husband. I would arise in the dark to prepare to go to my job and sometimes not arrive back home until the sun had gone down once again. I’d spend time with my family and then grade papers and work on lesson plans after the children were in bed. I enjoyed the usual parental delights of dance recitals, choir performances, swim lessons, church functions, sleepovers, birthday parties and all of those other wonderful things that we take for granted at the time. 

Once my daughters went off to college and then on personal journeys to build their own lives, I accepted more and more responsibilities at work and decided to pursue a graduate degree. All the while my husband was going up in the ranks at his own job as well and we would both arrive home later and later. We were more tired than we thought we were, but we cheered ourselves in knowing that we had invested our earnings in launching our girls into adulthood with college degrees and no debts to pay. It was a worthy cause that made us happy even as we had to pull on every physical reserve in our bodies to keep the work cycle going at full force. 

Our calendars were always so crowded with things to do, places to go, people to meet that it is a wonder that we did not become confused and miss appointments and gatherings. Back then our minds were sharp and clearer and so we were able to keep going at the rapid pace that our society seems to so admire. Get up early! Go, go, go! Work, work, work! Play a little here and there! Keep up traditions! Climb the ladder of success! Drive, drive, drive across the vast landscape of our big city to get from here to there. 

Some might call our adult existence a rat race, but we were happy and energetic and made it all work. We paused each summer to explore the country with our tent, camping in some of the most picturesque spots that the United States has to offer. We hiked to the top of mountains and explored hidden places. Our journeys revitalized us and created memories that are etched in our hearts. We were able to return and begin our routines again. 

My husband and I had so many very close friends back then, people with whom we felt comfortable enough to bare our souls. We shared our stories, our joys, our sorrows. We laughed and cried together. Our daughters and their children grew up together and became lifelong friends. It was glorious, but now the numbers of those dear soulmates have dwindled. Far too many have already died. We miss them more than words are able to describe. 

I am now retired. I awake when I wish, not when an alarm tells me that I must scurry to start the day. My mornings are quiet and measured. I hear the birds and smile at the sounds of children waiting for the school bus in front of my home. I linger over my morning cup of tea and say my prayers with great thought. I read the morning newspapers and write my blog. I calls friends and members of my family. I teach a dozen students on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but I am never rushed, never pushed to be somewhere doing something every minute of every day. I have time to observe and ponder. My days are mostly lovely. 

As each new year comes and goes I have a bit less energy than I once did. I look back now and wonder how I once got by on six hours of sleep each night and went through each day like a firecracker. I’m proud of my legacy as a mom and wife and daughter and friend and teacher but I wonder how much of the world I missed while I was so busy. Now I feel as though scales have been lifted from my eyes. I see so much more clearly, and not because I now wear spectacles. My sight comes from within. I realize that I had been blind to both the glories and the ugliness that has always been around me, simply because I was too busy to notice what was happening beyond the narrow confines of my own little world. 

I have learned patience in my silver years. I do not mind waiting anymore. In fact I find the slower times to be refreshing opportunities for taking note of what is challenges not just where I am, but all across the globe. I have broadened my horizons and my views. I have learned to appreciate each tiny moment. I savor all that life sends my way without grand expectations. I am kinder and more understanding. I value what is important knowing that life is uncertain for each of us. I embrace each day, even the ones where nothing new or exciting happens. 

There are things that I do not understand, but I have learned not to be too quick to judge. I suppose that I have become more liberal in my thinking, more willing to share my good fortune even with people that I do not know. If I have become quicker about anything, it is to forgive. I dream a great deal these days, but not at night. My hopes come from my thoughts of a time when we stop the bickering and find ways to suspend our preconceived notions and take time to really know one another. 

There is still so much to be done but all good things take sacrifice. When I was young I built a good life on a willingness to be my best wherever I was. Somehow I found the inner strength to use all of my talents. I now realize that not everyone has the good fortune in health or opportunity or time or place to live as I did. I have come to believe that the essence of a life well-lived is in sharing each of the gifts that we have been given. In my waning years I hope to work toward making that belief become more real. 



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My mother was a teacher for a time. In many ways her sojourn in a fifth grade classroom was one of the happiest aspects of her life. The monetary pay was minimal, but the joy of working with children was more than enough compensation for her. She delighted in having a meaningful career. 

She never said much about particular students, but there was one young man named Danny who seemed to capture her heart. She often told us that the boy had an extraordinary artistic talent. She boasted that with his sweet nature and his skill in rendering scenes and human figures on paper he was bound to have a wonderful future creating visual art. Her face always lit up with a grin whenever she spoke of Danny, so I suspected that he was quite special to her. 

One day my mom came home with a drawing of Jesus that Danny had given to her. She proudly showed it to us, remarking that she had never before seen such creative genius in any of her students. She was certain that Danny was destined to go far in his pursuit of artistic excellence. 

My mother’s life took many sad turns after that. Perhaps the worst of them all was her realization that the bipolar disorder that cyclicly overcame her did not work well with teaching. She reluctantly changed careers in a moment of wise understanding of the limitations that her mental illness had placed on her. From time to time, however, she wistfully harked back to her teaching days and how wonderful they had been for her. In those moments she always mentioned Danny along with another favorite student, David. Remarkably she would show us two treasures that she had kept from the boys. One was a school photo of David and the other was the portrait of Jesus that Danny had given her. 

Mama moved forward in her life as best she could given the sometimes debilitating circumstances of her illness. She found a job that she enjoyed and was surrounded by incredibly compassionate people at work. She wavered between being highly productive and spending days at home coping with dark depression or uncontrolled mania. When she was well she always seemed to pleasantly speak of how proud she was to have been a teacher. She would tell us once again how Danny had touched her heart with the gift of his art. 

My mother never knew what had become of Danny. She would ask us if we knew anyone in the old neighborhood who had kept in touch with him. She hoped that he was doing well. She’d trot out his art work which over the years had become yellowed and rather fragile. Because I too had become a teacher I understood how certain students find their way into our hearts. I have many Dannys and Davids of my own in my heart. I think of them long after they have left my classroom and hope that they are enjoying good lives. 

I happened to be very good friends with the other boy’s sister. Mama always asked about David and seemed pleased to know that he was mostly leading a good life. One day when she was nearing the end of her days she asked me to give the school photo of David to his sister. Then she somewhat sadly said that she wished that she knew how Danny was doing. Not long after that she died.

As fate with have it, I reunited with long lost friends after a high school reunion. Among them was Danny’s sister and a woman who had lived next door to Danny when she was growing up. Through conversations I learned that Danny had lived a good life using his creative talents just as my mother had predicted. Sadly by that time Danny was afflicted with a number of health problems but he was mostly doing well. I knew that Mama would have been happy to hear about his good fortune. 

A couple of days ago I got the news that Danny had died. I thought about how much my mother had loved him and I wondered where the picture of Jesus that she had so treasured had gone. I never found it when I was helping to go through her belongings after she died. There were several of us doing that work and perhaps the faded and creased portrait may have been unknowingly tossed by someone else. I can still see that image nonetheless and the look of unmitigated joy on my mother’s face every single time she showed it to me again. 

It’s funny how certain students can carve out a space in our hearts. For unexpected reasons we form almost eternal bonds with some of them. We think of them long after they have left our care. Somehow Danny really touched my mother’s heart. Perhaps it had been his simple gift to her or maybe it was only because he was as sweet as she always described him. He and she are both in heaven now. I hope they get to see each other. Maybe Jesus will arrange that. I think it would please them both. 

Miracles Abound

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Sometimes I think that our days are filled with miracles that we don’t even notice. Waking up each morning is amazing in itself. If we’re lucky we doze off each night into an almost coma like slumber. The world is still happening as we sleep, but we are unaware of its beating heart until the sun peeks in our windows and we come back to life. That is an incredible process and one for which we are often not nearly as grateful as we should be.

The cycle of nature is a miracle as well. Right now my yard is brown and bare. The leaves have fallen from trees. The flowers have curled into brown patches from exposure to the cold. The grass is not growing and only sports little green sprigs here and there. In Texas we can expect big changes by the middle of March. Azaleas and roses will bloom in profusion. The grass will turn a lovely shade of green. Sings of spring and life will be everywhere. 

It’s difficult not to believe in miracles because we are constantly treated to them, even if we don’t happen to notice. The birth of a child is the most incredible miracle of all. A new life coming into the world is deeply spiritual. Every little one is important and bears the potential of creating miracles of his or her own. 

Doctors and nurses perform miracles every single day. They save lives that might otherwise have been lost without their knowledge and compassion. Sometimes they even develop new procedures, medicines, vaccines that miraculously keep us healthier and living longer. While many have grumbled and complained during the Covid pandemic, doctors and nurses have been our miracle workers over and over again, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. 

I have often pondered the process of learning and how miraculous it is. We humans are able to start as illiterate babes and eventually advance to readers, writers, calculators, critical thinkers. The working of our brains and our senses are marvels in their own rights. The process of becoming that is guided by our parents and our teachers is stunning.

People ask me if I believe in miracles and my answer is always a resounding “yes.” The only caveat that I provide is that miracles do not have to be of the parting of waters variety. I think that they are often quieter and more common than we think. I believe that they usually happen in the most unexpected ways. I also know that someone does not have to fit certain characteristics to be touched by a miracle. They can happen to any of us at any time, and they in fact come at us many times during a day. 

Friendship is a kind of miracle. Passing through life is an adventure. Finding people to love who are willing to return that love is a gift that should be treasured. Love itself is a miracle because none of us is perfect. We will mess up in our relationships, if we haven’t already. Someone who loves us in spite of our flaws is a wonder and we never quite know where we will find such people, but we do. 

We have all had a rough couple of years, some more so than others. We’ve lost some good people and virtually everyone has experience tense moments when someone we loved was very sick or dealing with great difficulties or even died. It’s been difficult to understand why we are reacting so differently to our challenges and why there is so much quibbling and even violence across the globe. I suspect that fear of the unknown future is partly to blame, but also an unwillingness to be more understanding of each other. In many ways it is a miracle that we are still moving forward even though we sometimes insist that nothing good has come from our pandemic woes. 

Instead I see the miracle of our children continuing to learn albeit in different circumstances than they would ordinarily experience. The miracle of their resilience and flexibility is carrying them through the challenges. So too have most people been able to continue working in some capacity and we’ve even managed to help those less fortunate a bit more than usual. The generosity of so many people around the world is yet another miraculous characteristic of our human spirits. We have adapted and invented and found ways to muddle through the twenty four months that have sent us up and down and all around. I see that drive of ours as a miracle of its own. As usual we have also seen many heroes emerge who gave us the gifts of their talents. They’ve healed us, made us laugh, inspired us, worked doggedly to keep us and our families safe. Ours is not a dog eat dog world, but one of great compassion for the most part. We would do well not to ignore all the goodness that surrounds us because it is a miracle too.

I am a person who believes that miracles abound. We need only open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to see them. Then we must celebrate them with our gratitude. Never take those blessings for granted. They are far too amazing to so unseen and unappreciated.

Truth and Reconciliation

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Last year I read about hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children being found near an old residential school in Canada. I did not think much more about it until I saw a more extended segment about the situation on 60 Minutes. Now I am haunted by the story of cruelty and racism that thousands of young natives of Canada had to endure over the course of time. 

According to the story the Canadian government sponsored a concerted effort to indoctrinate the young children from indigenous families. Thousands of youngsters were taken from their parents by the state and placed in residential schools all across Canada. Once there nuns and priests and members of other Christian churches attempted to strip the little one of all signs of their native cultures, languages, histories and even names. Their long hair was shorn and often they were called by a number rather than having a name to identify them. They lived, learned and worshiped at the school. Any traditions from their families brought into the open were cause for severe punishment. The idea was to extinguish the childrens’ pasts and turn them into dark skinned versions of white Canadians. 

This practice was still being followed as late as the nineteen fifties and sixties. Discipline was swift and harsh. Sadly the abuse sometimes even included sexual acts. Those who endured the humiliations were emotionally and physically scarred. Many died before they were adults and their deaths were mostly hidden away in unmarked graves. Not even their parents knew what had happened to their offspring. It was a horror abetted by the government and aided by religious groups of mostly Catholic nuns and priests along with Presbyterian and Anglican ministers. 

Recently the Canadian government has formally apologized to the people and families affected by this horrific practice. They have created a National Center for Truth and Reconciliation tasked with finding all of the children who appeared to have gone missing over the years. Most of them are no doubt among the hundreds whose graves have been discovered through the efforts of the center and the various tribes whose children were among those taken from families. 

The tragedy has resulted in intergenerational difficulties. Poverty, mental illness, addictions, violence and broken relationships have been the legacy of these almost genocidal policies. Many of the children became so broken that they were unable to live normal lives and in turn their children were also affected. Only now is some progress being made in unearthing the truth and attempting to help the abused rebuild their lives. The Anglican and Presbyterian churches have formally apologized to the families, as has the Canadian government, but the Catholic Church has been slow to admit its part in the travesty. Meanwhile the government has also compensated families for the injustices that they had to endure. 

While those affected welcome the efforts to finally recognize the wrongness of this dark moment of Canada’s history, the damage has already ruined so many lives. Tribes mourn the loss of generations of children. Those who attended the schools complain that of lifelong struggles to develop individual identities. Nightmares from their youth continue to haunt them. 

I’ve shed tears and then felt sad and angry after hearing of the horrific situation. I can’t help but think of my own education during the nineteen fifties and sixties. I had a couple of teachers who were tyrants, but mostly those who taught me were kind. They allowed and even encouraged me to be myself. They would not have dreamed of taking me and my brothers away for our family to brainwash us and force us to forget our culture. I can’t help believing that this only happened because the people in charge viewed the young boys and girls from indigenous tribes as being inferior. In a deeply racists and misguided decision they essentially stole the children from their homes and attempted to excuse their abominable behavior with claims of saving the little ones from horrific lives. Instead those children were mostly deprived of love and forced to deny their heritage as something unfit for society. The psychological and physical damage to them was unbearable.

I suppose that I will never ever understand how anyone is ever able to think that demeaning others is okay, especially those who do them in the guise of Christianity. Somehow we humans are capable of becoming so self centered and blind that we are unable to understand the worth of every person on this earth. We like to rank ourselves according to some presumed code of virtues which inevitably make some appear unworthy of regard. 

I applaud the brave souls in Canada who have bluntly and without excuses admitted to the wrongdoings of the past. I like that they have created a Center of Truth and Reconciliation. Perhaps it will not heal the wounds of those most affected but honesty and apologies are a positive first step in an attempt to ensure that such a thing never happens again. Until we admit that humans have done some very bad things to each other we can’t really move forward. Reconciliation requires truth and in general there are still too many unwilling to face down the mistakes of the past and understand the damage they have done. Canada’s experience and the reaction to it, is a sign that the people there want to bind the wounds of the suffering members of their nation. I wish them well and hope that they never forget to honor differences from here going forward.

Pet Peeves

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My mom was a stickler for using words correctly. One of her pet peeves was hearing someone make a grammatical error or mispronounce a word. If that person was a stranger she held her tongue, but if she knew the individual committing a usage sin, she would abruptly correct the violation. It sometimes angered me that she would do so. I often explained to her that there was a big difference between using the wrong linguistic structures in writing versus when speaking. I pointed out that speech is more informal and therefore more prone to idiomatic difficulties. Sadly my refutations were in vain. She expected everyone to think before opening their mouths and she actually judged folks by the way they spoke or misspoke.

I have a friend who has an aversion to unkempt feet. She goes absolutely bonkers if she sees someone wearing sandals with dirty or unmanicured toe nails. While she never addresses the offenders with her concerns, she always reacts in a  negative way that they must surely notice. She has compassion for a homeless person in that state, but not for someone who just does not seem to care how gross their feet appear to others. She wonders why they don’t just cover them with socks or closed toed footwear.

Someone else that I know can’t stand to hear people chew. Unless she is also eating and the sound of others enjoying a bite is muffled, she literally has to leave the room. To her obnoxious chewing is akin to running fingernails across a blackboard. She claims to feel physically ill when the slurping and chomping and movement of tongues is too loud.

I’ve thought and thought about what my own pet peeve might be, but I suppose that I am mostly immune to feeling discomfort from other folks’ behaviors. Perhaps my many years of working in schools has made me more accepting of others’ annoying habits. I doubt I would have lasted very long in my profession if I had been even marginally upset by some pet peeve or another. I learned the importance of mostly being chill with my students and their parents. I tended more toward attempting to understand why they had various bad habits, rather than becoming irritated by them. 

If I had to dig deeply to actually identify at least one pet peeve it would be that there is still far too much ignorance in this world in spite of the vast amount of knowledge that is available for the taking. I do not mind that someone does not have a raft of degrees, but I worry that far too many of us are simply taking shortcuts when it comes to accepting or rejecting information. We base too many of our important decisions on hearsay or hunches. We listen to television personalities rather than doing the hard work of researching topics and ideas to learn about what is real and what is a hoax. Whenever I hear sound bites being repeated as reasons for accepting certain philosophies, my reaction is to grit my teeth and worry that our general laziness in seeking truth will be our societal downfall. 

I suppose that my life as a teacher has been dedicated to encouraging young people to learn how to think. I hark back to my own school days and remember the warnings of the best of my teachers to always dig for the facts and truths rather than falling prey to propaganda or lies. I took their words to heart and so my life has been focused on an effort to learn more and more about everything before making decisions or following a particular path. I don’t mind having my beliefs challenged, but I would be remiss if I did not then do some study to determine what is real. I don’t understand why this is not a generally held way of living. 

I won’t even call a plumber unless I know something about him. The few times I’ve had to blindly go with a repair person it has turned out badly. It’s easy enough to learn about a company’s certifications, business ratings and to see examples of their work. While public opinion is certainly one aspect of making a judgement, I would never go to a doctor based solely on what others have said about him/her. I want to know where the physicians went to college, where they have hospital privileges, what their peers think about them, whether or not there are any lawsuits against them. 

We have to make decisions day in and day out. Sometimes the ones we face will have a long term impact on our lives. Arming ourselves with information helps us to weigh pro and cons in a rational way. Our emotions often come in handy by providing us with a sixth sense about something but we have to look at the facts as well. For that we should be using all of our senses and a raft of research. If we all did this I suspect that we would be able to come to more sensible conclusions for solving the problems of the world instead of bickering.