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Archive for May, 2011

Lessons

I haven’t been blogging for two weeks because I‘ve been working on my book.  I’m so close to getting it done that sometimes my hands shake in the excitement, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been sent messages during this time.

Last week I subbed in a 5th grade class.  Their teacher had read to them a brief biography of Anne Frank and the children were working on character traits.   Of course it is impossible to separate the holocaust from Anne Frank.  One is nearly a part of the other and as we worked they naturally questioned.  One girl looked up at me and asked “Why?  Why did the people fall for this?  Why didn’t anyone realize how bad Hitler was and stop him?” Not an easy question to  answer by any stretch and it is certainly not my place as a substitute teacher to get into an in depth discussion, so I explained it in the way I understand it, the way I see things, which is always through human nature and emotions. I explained where the country of Germany was before the war, the hatred for America after WWI, the need to blame someone. We talked about how the Nazi party slowly and expertly insinuated themselves into German government and was thier economic savior, at least for the time.  I also mentioned that despite how awful Hitler was he was an eloquent speaker and that along with his own agenda he did believe he had Germany’s intrests at heart.

We also talked of how humans are quick to find a reason to put others down to make them feel better about themselves and that sort of bullying is not far from their own school.  I asked them if they would be susceptible if someone came to them putting someone else down and expecting you to join in.  Would you?  Have you?  What does the need to bring someone else down say about you?

The class was silent, many children were leaning forward in their seats silently waiting for the one word or sentence that would make the madness understandable, for  a reassurance the horror would neveragain  happen in their world.  I couldn’t give them that reassurance only a call for them to be aware, know themselves and know others and to always treat each other with compassion and understanding. It was a powerful message.

During this time one student who had been quiet, who is never quiet, raised his hand. Believing I had actually reached him and so pleased he was actually on task, I called on him.  He asked, “Do you grow onions?”  The class groaned, told him to shut up and I ignored the comment and continued on with the lesson.

But that moment stuck in my memory.  The class was focused on me, not him.  He couldn’t stand being invisible and had to bring the focus back onto himself and all I could hear in my head was

A person will never grow if they can’t sit quietly at the feet of others and learn.

Was I him?  Am I in need of attention so much that I am missing the profound wisdom around me?  What is the balance between talking and listening?  Will I ever find it?  And if by some miracle I do find it, What is the possibility I will ever be able to teach it to him or others like him?

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I waffle between the idea of staying silent and not being obnoxious or speaking and impacting someone else in a positive way.  It may seem presumptuous of me to believe that I could utter words capable making a difference in someone’s life but there have been times in my life when my ramblings have actually had value.  A number of years ago my oldest son got into some trouble.  It is no mother’s dream to have her child brought home in a police car and I’m sure it’s no surprise I was completely despondent.  I moved around with what felt like a broken heart.  The pieces precariously perched in my chest, one wrong or jarring move and they would fall to my toes and be crushed to dust.  My students, who knew me so well, noticed my unusual somber attitude and asked what was wrong.  I briefly told them the story and then went on to say how we parents work so hard and give so much to raise our children in the best way we can so they can grow to become responsible honorable adults and when our children make mistakes we hurt as if those mistakes are our own failures.  While I know I can’t live his life for him I will always feel his life with him.  A few days later a parent came up to me after school.

She said, “I don’t know what you said to my daughter but she came home the other day, hugged me and told me how much she appreciated me and how she was so sorry for all the times she had upset me.”  She looked at me and said, “You may not know it, but you are reaching these kids.”

(As far as I am concerned, that statement is one of  the greatest things anyone could ever say to a teacher.  It reminds us that we make a difference.)

Another time I was camping and we had made friends with a family next to us.  One of the women was recently separated and was dealing with a terrible divorce.  We swapped horror stories and in one of our impromptu conversations she told me, “at least you had your passion (teaching) to pull you through I never had time to find mine.”  I looked at her and with a wisdom that must have come from somewhere else I said, “Now you do.”  Her eyes opened wide with realization and she agreed it was now time for her to find her own passion.  I am positive she went home and looked at her life in a different way because of words I happened to say without thinking.

                         If I shut up to avoid saying bad things will I miss opportunities to say good things?

I would like someone to guide my mouth.  I would like some higher power to swoop in and give me the words to say that are good and fruitful and stop me from slathering out the words that are embarrassing and hurtful, but as I see these words before me it becomes clear I am asking for too much.  I am asking for perfection.  To never again make the mistake of saying or doing the wrong thing and if we were to live this life without ever making mistakes then why even bother being here.  What would be the point?  We could stay in heaven and be perfect.  Making mistakes is what we humans do.  It is how we learn and how we grow as spiritual beings so that eventually, when we are called to take care of others we can do it with… well … Quiet Wisdom.

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Be Still

So I’ve been in turmoil.  Something I said upset a friend and while I  think we straightened things out I am still miserable.  I moped around for a few days agonizing that I may have affected our friendship, internally flogging myself for hurting someone I truly care about.  After three days of misery I wake up to a beautiful spring morning and find myself in a silent house. My husband and oldest daughter are off to work and school, the younger children are still sleeping and in the rare silence of a typically noisy and energetic household it comes to me;  the peace of forgiveness.  It stole through the room like a fog, gathered me up in its compassion and eased my pain.  I began to think.  Maybe the message is not “shut up” but “forgive yourself.”  Maybe I am constantly making mistakes not because I am supposed to learn how to shut my mouth but how to forgive myself.

I have no problem forgiving others.  I am one of the few people who can have a conversation with a teenager and not be offended by adolescent attitude.  I never hold a grudge and with Herculean effort I forgave my ex-husband for years of emotional abuse.  So why is forgiving myself so impossible?  Why would I choose to wallow in misery instead of extending to myself one tenth of the compassion I extend to others?

I did not think this piece would get done.  I struggled with the right words, how much to say and how to say it and now I sit in the silence and feel the peace of forgiveness and wonder,  the next time, and let’s face it there will be a next time, will I allow myself to find forgiveness again? 

Be still and know that I am God.  Psalms 46:10

I am not one who goes around quoting the bible regularly but the words seep into my head and fill me.  My skin tingles and I know I am onto something.  Spiritual lessons are like that.  You have to be still and quiet in order to get the message.  You have to shut up long enough to listen.  You know, maybe this quiet wisdom thing is going somewhere after all.

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