Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

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Photo by Charles on Pexels.com

I am a planner, a controller, a doer. I usually fill up my calendar and keep myself organized and busy. I’m like the energizer bunny on steroids. I make my bed each morning and put everything away in its place each evening. I know what I am going to do and how I will accomplish it weeks in advance. I rarely waste a single minute of each day even in retirement. Suddenly my way of living for a lifetime has been upended. My calendar is empty. I’ve come to fully appreciate my mother’s mantra of “God willing” when agreeing to any future activities. Covid-19 has forced me more than any other event in my life to slow down and smell the roses. 

I now allow myself to stay awake until 2:00 in the morning if something catches my interest late at night. I no longer feel guilty about sleeping until 9:00 in the morning or staying in my pajamas until noon. I eat ice cream and make banana bread instead of worrying about my waistline. I have not used makeup since February. The only time I wear shoes is when I’m walking on my treadmill or working in the yard. I “attend” mass on Sundays in jeans and baggy t-shirts. I get great joy out of very small things like a strikingly lovely bumble bee who hovers over my hibiscus bush or the family of cardinals that feast at my bird feeder. I enjoy the laughter of the children playing in my neighborhood as much as the sound of a symphony. I celebrate the mere act of waking up each morning and still being virus free. 

It’s not easy to set aside a lifetime of habits. Nothing before made me change my ways, not even retirement. I measured the success of my day by the number of my accomplishments. I judged myself on the miles that I walked, the pages that I wrote, the places that I went. As I erased my future plans one by one from my calendar I became less and less sad. They were just ways of filling the time, small sacrifices compared to the ones that so many people have been making. I realized that nothing that I did was as important as doing my part to help slow the spread of Covid 19. That meant curtailing my usual activities and being conservative in my outings and contacts with people. 

I’ve had to find ways to make my quietly mundane days bearable. In doing that I slowed my pace and learned to revel in silence. I have always struggled with the idea of meditation because my mind seems always to be racing. In the past many weeks I have enjoyed sitting and listening to my own breathing. I have felt the pulsating beat of my heart. I have noticed the wind and the birds and rain falling on the pavement. I have felt a greater appreciation of just being alive.

I would love to go back to church and sit among the people there. I want to get my hair trimmed and enjoy a pedicure. I long to hug the members of my family and my dear friends. I want to travel again before I grow so old that I am no longer able to walk for miles exploring new places. I dream of  being able to visit my aunts and uncle who are in nursing homes once again. I miss having tea time with my niece. I find that there is little else that I now want to do. I don’t need to shop or eat out or go to a movie theater. I don’t want to run around all day doing things that I may accomplish inside my home. Covid 19 has allowed me to think deeply about what is most important. 

I am happy to do my part to help end this tragic occurrence that has so changed our world. I still teach my little band of students remotely. I wear my mask willingly. I order my groceries through Instacart and give the workers who bring them to me very generous tips because I so appreciate what they doing. I get most of everything else I need from Amazon or by purchasing from other online vendors. I support local restaurants by getting take out now and again. I mostly take rides for diversion rather than mixing it up with people in enclosed spaces. I’ve already signed up for voting by mail to insure that I will be able to cast my vote in November no matter what the state of things may be.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but somehow Covid 19 has managed to do that for me. In a strange way it has actually made me more aware and thankful. Nonetheless I feel great sadness for those who have been so hurt by this sometimes deadly virus. I cry at the news of a teenager losing both of his parents or the story of an elderly couple dying on the same day. It is difficult to see Covid 19 as anything other than a great tragedy. I pray constantly that an end to all of the suffering will come sooner rather than later. I pray that each of us will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I pray that we will never forget how dependent we are on one another. I pray that I will spend however many days and years I have left on this earth always remembering what is truly important. 

 

Sameness

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It is raining as I write this blog. The dark sky and the sound of thunder are a welcome change from the sameness of the overbearing July heat. There has been a sameness about everything for some time now. I wear the same pairs of jeans with the same shirts each day as I change out of the same pajamas after I take the same showers. I dry my hair with the same lack of concern for my appearance that is an outgrowth of the lack of variety in the current state of my life.

I know that I am blessed as I listen to rain falling on my roof. It is comfortable inside. I am surrounded by things to occupy my time. I have food in my pantry and a supply of all of my necessities. There is no reason for me to feel sorry for myself so I tamp down the longings that I have to roam freely again. I thank God for my health and for the many people who have made my life more interesting than I ever imagined it might be. Then I pray for our world. I pray that our goodness will overcome our temptations to be selfish and unconcerned with the sufferings of others. I pray that we will be willing to endure difficulties if that is what it will take to end the toll that Covid-19 has taken on our land. I pray and pray and pray.

I write my blogs even as I worry that my words are beginning to sound like an irritating noise. I clean my house that really needs little more than a bit of dusting and sweeping and mopping. It makes me feel good to be able to accomplish something, to bring a task to its conclusion. I correspond with family and friends through texts, social media, phone calls and Zoom conferences. Those links with other humans are like a lifeline that keeps me moving from one day to the next.

I will soon begin teaching again. I am almost giddy with the prospect of seeing and hearing my students. Ours will be a remote interaction but it feels almost like being together once again. I’m planning my calendar of instruction and deciding how to present the lessons. I’ve purchased fresh dry erase markers and new materials. There is an excitement to that, a purpose other than just making it from one day to the next. I have a feeling of power over the virus as I ready myself for something that feels normal and important. Even from a distance I can make a difference. What I do can be essential to the betterment of society. It feels very good.

My life has rarely followed a straight path from what I dreamed of accomplishing to the realization of my goals. In almost every case some obstacle or sudden change seemed to block my way forward. It has always been in those moments that the most wonderful things happened, reminding me that I do not always need to be in charge. I felt sorry for myself when my mother made me attend a birthday party for a cousin and then I met the man who would be by my side for the rest of my life. I was angry when there were no teaching jobs after I had worked so hard to complete my degree and then I got a call about what would be the most perfect position that I might have had. I wanted to run from the responsibilities of caring for my mom’s mental illness and then I became a stronger and more compassionate person from needing to understand what was happening to her. I know from experience that our time with Covid-19 will teach us unwanted but possibly invaluable lessons.

I look around each day at things that remind me again and again of the truly remarkable journey I have enjoyed. I realize that when all is said and done it is in our experiences with people that our greatest joy is found. It calms me and makes me certain that there is enough good in our world that we will overcome our troubles with or without leaders to guide us. It will be the things that we choose to do for love that will be the difference that we need. For love we will wear a mask. For love we will remember to help those who do not have the security that we have. For love we will allow differences, even those that we may not understand. For love we will not cling to money or things. For love we will not judge. It is in love that we will find our way to brighter days.

In the sameness of my days I arise each morning with great hope, almost ridiculous optimism. By the end of the day I am tired in body and mind. The darkness brings my worries to the fore. I begin to wonder if the world will ever be the same again and then I realize that it does not have to be. I think of the times when everything I thought I knew was upended and it turned out to be the best thing that might have happened to me. I suppose that this pandemic will indeed change us and that is not necessarily a bad thing for we were meant to evolve. This may be the very moment when we break with many of the problems of the past that have been holding us back.

The sameness of today allows me to dream of a better tomorrow. The sameness of today teaches me the importance of people and experiences over things. The sameness of today gives me time to quietly listen to the voice of God in my heart. The sameness of today is the very pause in the hectic rush that I needed to reset my priorities and my beliefs. I can finally see that there is a way forward that is far different and more meaningful than I have ever dreamed. I embrace the sameness for now.

Silent Heroes

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We love our children. Parents dream of helping their offspring to live glorious lives filled with joy, success, and love. Teachers play a huge role in the journey of a youngster into adulthood. We put our educators under a microscope, judging their every interaction with our youth. Each day in classrooms across the globe men and women accept the awesome challenge of educating the adults of the future. The work is both daunting and rewarding. Teachers quietly and tirelessly perform their duties without a great deal of encouragement. In fact we are more often likely to hear criticisms of their mistakes than compliments of their dedication. Nonetheless teachers carry on with their vocations even when the conditions are difficult, the pay is subpar to other professions, and the evaluations of their worth in society are not indicative of the enormous sacrifices and contributions that they make.

Teachers are often told that theirs is a last resort occupation that is the solution for those who cannot find anything better to do. They hear snide comments about their short work weeks and three months of vacation. In conversations about improving education they are generally the last persons whose opinions are considered. Instead lawmakers, business people, and an assortment of souls with no experience managing a classroom decide how to run the educational system. Nonetheless our teachers return for insult time and again simply because they have a beautiful secret. They love their profession and they adore their students. No amount of indignation can chase them away. They have a mission that drives their enthusiasm more than money or status.

A tiny virus came along this spring to upend the educational process without warning and along with the chaos that ensued came a pleasant surprise for everyone except those who are teachers. With amazing speed all across the globe educators went into action to create remote classrooms and lessons. They transformed bedrooms and dining rooms into spaces where they might continue to demonstrate their magic. They spent untold hours learning how to manipulate technology. They found ways to bring the needed equipment and conferences to each of their students. They worried over their flocks until they were certain that everyone was present and accounted for. They grieved at the loss of being with their students in person and wondered if their pupils had enough to eat or if they were being abused. They even went on parades inside the neighborhoods that they serve and made efforts to personally congratulate the top graduates in the Class of 2020. Not for one single minute did they forget their students in fact they spent sleepless nights worrying about them.

As moms and dads contended with having their children under foot all day long they began to marvel at the patience of teachers who shepherd whole classrooms of kids and somehow remain calm. The parents realized how complex the concepts and lessons actually are and realized that one would have to be rather bright to explain such things. They began to reconsider the value of teachers in ways that had not before occurred to them. As the long weeks in isolation went by they learned of the many skills and talents that good teachers so humbly provide to society.

In spite of the newfound estimation of the educators of the world many old habits are slow to die. In planning for the reopening of schools at some future date few teachers have been consulted even though they are very people who may have the best answers for the logistical questions. When grateful citizens provide food and gifts for first responders and essential workers they tend to forget the teachers with such rewards. There are even those who wonder why teachers are still being paid since they are just sitting around at home. Some suggest beginning the new school year in July but without any extra pay even though the salary that teachers will receive in that month is part of contracted pay for this past year.

I am and always will be a teacher at heart. I think that mine has been a noble profession that ranks alongside the most needed work in all of society. We have learned during our lockdowns and stay at home orders what is most important in this world. We can live in our pajamas and walk around the house in our bare feet. We can cook for ourselves and find entertainment in very simple things. Slowing our pace has brought us new found joys and realizations of what and who we most need. Our world has become a quieter and less congested and polluted place. We see an opportunity to change some of our habits which may not have been good for us individually or for the world collectively. We stand at a moment of possibilities and among them is a new way of viewing our educational system and our teachers. Perhaps it is time that we acknowledge the wonderful men and women who care for our children as the heroes that they have always been.

Most teachers will tell you that the joy that they feel for their work is not about the money. They will admit that they don’t even need the respect that other occupations provide because there is something innately glorious about having a career that provides so much purpose. Each day for a teacher is a meaningful experience and teachers never forget the students who have passed under their watchful eyes. They think of them and dream of them and worry about them and hope for them. Their ultimate reward is knowing that their efforts have made the world a better place.

May is traditionally the month for acknowledging teachers. Find a way to reach out to the valiant and selfless people who have influenced either you or your children. Try to understand how much love was poured into their work. Let them know how much you value them. They are already planning the future and it will no doubt be very good. Let’s acknowledge them as the silent heroes that they have always been.

A Time For Healing

It’s far too soon to speak of the Covid-19 pandemic being over. It’s doubtful that we will be able to flip a switch and go back to the normal, at least for a time. There will be a wariness in the air until there are no longer daily outbreaks of the disease and a trustworthy vaccine is available to everyone. Still, we are becoming more and more anxious for that day to come because at heart we enjoy being part of a community. It is in our natures to be productive as well, to have purpose in our lives.

We’ve spent time away from the ebb and flow of the world at large. Our streets have been quieter along with our daily routines. We have had time to think, to meditate, to consider what kind of changes we might want to see in the new normal that will emerge. In some ways we no longer wish to return to the status quo as it once was because in our days of isolation we have realized new possibilities. Our worldwide distancing has in an ironic twist made us somehow feel closer. The individual who dies in Italy is as important to us as the grandfather who does not make it in our hometown.

We have witnessed a simplification in our lives, reminding ourselves of what and who is actually essential. The skies are clearer all over the world and so are our priorities and obligations to share our lives with others. As we enjoy our own blessings we realize how many people it took to make them happen. We may be in a cocoon of safety right now but we survive so pleasantly only because an army of people have worked diligently to keep the supply chain of goods and services running.

We look to our medical community for answers and comfort in time of need and see the immense sacrifices that have always been part of their work. We struggle to keep our children learning and realize the creative and caring presence that teachers have have been even while we often criticized their efforts. That onion or that loaf of bread are suddenly precious commodities brought to us with the backbreaking labor of migrant workers, people that we have sometimes derided in the past. We look to the wonders of technology to keep us connected and pray for the genius of our scientists and engineers to bring us out of this crisis.

We must surely be humbled by this pandemic which has both upended our way of life and demonstrated the amazing human spirit. Heroes that we once thought to be ordinary have emerged with powers more wonderful than Superman. That nurse who dons her battle gear day after day to administer to the dying deserves a Medal of Honor. The drivers who bring food and supplies to vulnerable shut-ins are providing an immeasurable service. The neighbors who look after one another are the very foundation of who we are as people.

We have learned to enjoy simple things. We realize that we do not need as much as we may have thought. The sound of a neighbor playing the violin is lovely enough to make our day. The birds that congregate in our trees are as entertaining as an evening spent on the town. The meals prepared at home are tastier than those at a five star restaurant. Maybe we don’t really need that extra pair of shoes or a new pair of earrings. Instead we might see who around us is struggling and help them to weather this storm.

When we speak of making America great I suspect that we now realize that it will require an acknowledgement that we are indeed members of a global community. A tiny virus has shown us that we cannot escape the fact that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa we are all somehow affected. This pandemic was not the fault of any one nation but we are all reeling from it.

Our new big idea should be to look around and see who or what needs help. We must look for ways to use our resources and our privileges more wisely and more universally. We need to consider our young adults who will be inheriting a world greatly changed. We must share our wisdom and work together to overcome the forces of human weaknesses like greed. We also must accept the reality that we are in a symbiotic relationship with the environment and everything we do affects the health of the earth. We humans are not the only ones who are sick, so is nature. It’s time we labor in tandem with our lovely planet.

I hope that we do not soon forget the lessons we have learned in our urgency to open up business as usual. We must be mindful of each other and what is truly important. If we just go back to our closed mindedness and most current tendencies of endless disagreements we will have missed an opportunity to not just recover physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. Now is the time for healing.

A Wonderful World

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My mother must have told me thousands of times to “watch and learn.” I took her advice so much to heart that she once had to chide me for always staring at people when we were out and about. I meant no harm, I was just observing them and taking notes in my mind. I’m fascinated by life and the way people respond to the world around them, so naturally I am obsessed with noticing how folks are reacting to the pandemic.

On the whole I’m pleased with what I see. I have found kindness to be on the rise with each passing day of isolation. Even business phone calls are more friendly and caring than they might have once been. People are genuinely wanting to be pleasant and helpful. Most of us are taking the time to be patient and thankful as well. It’s a nice contrast the the hectic stressful pace that seemed to be the way of life only a few weeks ago.

I ordered a birthday surprise and groceries for my father-in-law earlier this week. The woman who delivered the items picked up on the occasion and included a Happy Birthday balloon with the items. She also took a picture of my father-in-law at his door from a distance and let me and my husband know that seeing him smile had made her day. What she did was a little thing that only took a small bit of extra effort but it meant the world to our family. I learned something in that moment, namely that a bit of kindness goes a long long way.

I’ve had neighbors and students sending me messages to be sure that I am doing well. I cannot begin to express how important those connections have been. The isolation seems to dissolve with a text, a card, a phone call. I feel blessed to have such remarkable people in my life and to enjoy the comforts of technology that allow me to see and hear them. I know that there are people working quietly to insure that my internet and electricity keep operating so that I won’t lose touch with the outside world. They are nameless individuals but I actually think of them and feel so much gratitude for their efforts.

I see members of the healthcare community selflessly and courageously going to work each day. Some of them are members of my family. Others are former neighbors or students that I once taught. I know how afraid they are of becoming sick and being unable to care for the people who come to them. They also worry about infecting their own families and yet they overcome their fears and keep returning for another day of work.

One former student spoke of ending a twelve hour shift at her job in the Houston Medical Center. She was exhausted and ready to get home as quickly as possible when she heard a commotion on the street ahead. She worried that her journey home would somehow be delayed and just as she was feeling a bit irritable she realized that it was a parade of ordinary people cheering her and others who were leaving their shifts. She was moved to tears by their support and understanding of how difficult the work has been. For me that one moment describes all that is best in people during this horrific time.

There are hundreds and hundreds of wonderful stories which teach me once again how good we humans really are. For every bad egg there are a thousand as lovely as the finest one made by Faberge. Humankind has mostly been glorious during this catastrophe teaching me that we may be hurting now, and the future may still be difficult, but we will rise to the occasion. The collective virtue of the people of the world will sustain us.

I have also seen things that bother me but I am hoping that this experience has taught most of us to join together to do what is right and defeat the ugliness that often threatens to overtake us. We have seen how significant family and friendships are. We must cherish those relationships above all things. We have witnessed the importance of each individual within our workforce and never again take them for granted. We have experienced the loving concern of teachers for their students and should demonstrate our thanks and regard. We have realized the need for a strong healthcare system for all people, not just those who can afford it. We have felt how much we miss our faith communities and from henceforth we should embrace them with joy. Appreciation should become the central attribute of our daily lives. We must celebrate the young and the old and emphasize the value of each generation. We depend on each other in ways that have become so clear. We are interconnected with our brothers and sisters from around the globe.

I have learned so much while locked away in my home. The funny thing is that I see the world more clearly now than ever before and I am genuinely pleased to know how wonderful it is.