Wonder and Awe and Deep Listening

I may look back on my childhood with wonder — idealizing the sunny days spent climbing trees. But let’s face it, childhood years can also be a struggle and a time we may need protection. As children, we do not yet have words or power to express or change our deep and unspoken worries. I know many children have a heart for environmental justice. They care about preserving nature.

I like to think of myself as a good listener. I hear the concerns of children in my job as a teacher. Teaching is my second (or third?) career. I love how uncensored children are – so hilarious, so much nonsense, so many emotions, so playful. I especially love how they can be brave at expressing unpopular opinions, worries, vulnerabilities, and honest emotions.

Sometimes there is cruelty. The Seventh Grade class at school just finished reading Lord of the Flies. Tough stuff.

I cannot stop wondering why and how people can be so cruel – my inclination is first, always, to help, to be kind.

I try not to judge anyone. In my rush to support students, I can be righteous or judgey. I want to remember that I am not always seeing the whole picture — from the leaders at the school or the students — I do not always know what else is going on in a person’s life. As an admitted know-it-all, I have a million good ideas for everyone else’s right actions.

I want to keep the focus on myself. Last weekend, my son and I were talking about how listening makes you feel loved. We wondered whether we truly listen to understand or just to wait for the pause in the conversation to get our words in.

Yesterday, after a long day, I walked home from work. It was about 5:15 pm. It was cold, yes, but the residue of a sunny day hung like a banner across the blue sky.

Whether I know it or realize it — spring is coming — buds on trees and green shoots are going to burst from the frozen ground. I hope that all people with worries, especially children, can hang on to the power of spring.

Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power. – William James

When we know that God loves us deeply and will always go on loving us, whoever we are and whatever we do, it becomes possible to expect no more of our fellow men and women than they are able to give, to forgive them generously when they have offended us, and always to respond to their hostility with love. By doing so we make visible a new way of being human and a new way of responding to our world problems. – Henri Nouwen

Adirondack 2019
Look forward to this new writing workshop. http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/register/adirondack-writer-retreat/

Les Mis

Yesterday I saw Les Misérables. This is my guilty pleasure. I love the musical. I have always loved it. Loved Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman and their vulnerability. I loved that they let themselves look like (or be covered in) shit. That’s an actor!

Today’s prompt is:

Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.

I hate to love the movies, but they are my therapy.

They take me away. In the last month, I have seen a couple of awesome French films, Amour and Rust and Bone. And now Les Mis, which is set in Paris. The city is moody and dark, yet it is the city of light. This year we need a lot of  light.

I’ve wanted to go to Paris for years. I have friends there and a place to stay, but I feel it’s too far or too expensive. With Chris’s illness, I feel I should only travel close to home and only for a few days.

When I go to the movies, I go to Paris and am still home in time to greet the kids as they walk in the door after school.

One of the darlings went to the premiere and met the celebs. Here she is with Amanda Seyfried.
One of the darlings went to the premiere and met the celebs. Here she is with amazing Amanda Seyfried.

The life lessons in Les Mis are brilliant:

  • To love another person is to see the face of God
  • Show faith in and forgive people cast off by society just as the priest forgave the thief Valjean, played by Jackman
  • Let your children love and let them go. This song, “Bring Him Home,” by Jackman was a real tear-jerker
  • Care for all children, as if they were your own
  • Show kindness, always
  • Have passion for your cause
  • Know that change will come
  • Workplace squabbles can lead to prostitution

Maybe that last one is not a good life lesson, but you get the idea.

Believe in the power of passionate individuals to change the world. I know there are many more life lessons in Les Mis to explore, but I am heading to Middle-earth today.

Yes, I am going to see The Hobbit at noon.

And so I leave you with the words of Valjean.

And from a writing teacher’s point of view, I must point out these lyrics are so brilliant because they are so simple. Almost all of the words are one syllable, but they pack in so much emotion, just like the musical.

“Bring Him Home”

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home

Forgiving the Bad Apples

We had a class meeting the other night. One parent reported that a few bad apples have spoiled the whole class’s reputation. Several people nodded and one parent said something like, “Yes, if we were rid of those bad apples, everything would be fine.” Most of us nodded. (I didn’t even know the bad apples, but what she said made sense. Like the song goes, “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” Oh, wait, one doesn’t spoil the whole bunch! Good to know!)

One woman spoke up, “I think we’re too involved. Let’s let the kids work it out themselves.”

Jones Beach in winter

Another said, “Yes, we should teach our children to be forgiving. We hold our grudges for too long.”

Walking out with these new friends from the meeting, I said to the woman who advocated forgiveness, “What a powerful idea. I forget about forgiveness.”

“Some of my students’ parents still remember when their child was wronged in 1st grade and I teach 8th grade,” said a new friend, a teacher in another school. “We have to let go.”

I’ve thought about this conversation for several days. I wonder if I, like many people, define myself by NOT being one of the bad apples (and certainly none of MY children are rotten!). And I’m not sure I always forgive and forget.

I have always liked being a good apple. And have enjoyed the smug pride of my righteous, responsible and kind nature.

I actually despise bad apples. I detest overly negative people. (Especially since giving up gossip again this Lent!) And yet, I recognize the irony — I am extremely negative about negative people.

I wonder if I might try this new practice of forgiving the bad apples, the good apples, the negative people and even, myself.

yoga and my manic mind

At the end of yoga class today, when the lights were turned off and the meditative music was turned on, my mind did not automatically rest. I found myself composing Facebook status updates, mulling over possible writing topics, questioning my kids’ afterschool activities, on and on.

Today, in addition to the sound of slamming lunch trays in the adjacent cafeteria, I was also distracted by a baby crying right outside our class.

yoga class from creative commons

Jen, my teacher, said, “Breathe and repeat the word, ‘Inhale’ on your inhale and ‘Exhale’ on your exhale. This will help you block out the noise.”

At first, I didn’t mind the sound of the baby’s cry. Not too much. Until after a while. Then it was really irritating. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. “Will someone feed that child? Give her a binky!” Iwanted to yell.

The good thing about hearing a baby cry is that eventually the crying stops. Sweet relief. Thank you Jesus!

And eventually, my manic mind stopped fretting too. For a minute at the end of yoga, I drifted. Got silent. Like the baby, I descended into a place of contentment. It was really nice.

I forgave myself and everyone for everything. I felt only love for the whole wide world, even, and especially, that crying baby.