blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Desert Places..

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces Between stars--on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places.
-R. Frost

I’ve often heard tell that this time of year can be the hardest to face even when you have many blessings to count.  It just feels like this time around it’s even more painful than I recall it being in other years.  It feels like tragedy is touching my life in ways that dig deeper than the sad brushings of pain I can sense but cannot feel as keenly as those engulfed and reeling in its wake.  It seems it began as summer passed into autumn, the days grew shorter, the wind grew chill..

I have said many times that life moves in ley lines that sometimes arrange themselves in brilliant mosaics that leave us speechless and thankful.  Sometimes, though, the ley lines carry naught but tears and the hitching of breath that never seems to be enough to truly feel alive.   As I wake to muted dark mornings and deep blue nights, gazing up at sullen grey skies and endless expanses of stars, so many around me are facing unthinkable pain.  This is for them.

For Linda, who lost a nephew in one of the most inconsolable ways imaginable…
For Karen, who lost an aunt who was also very much a friend…
For Holly, who lost a brother in arms who paid the ultimate price…
For the Biddles and others, who lost a friend whose smile brightened the world…
For FLCC and beyond, who reeled when his story came to an end…
For those who have lost elders and youth, friends and family four-legged and two…
For Ben, whose family is straining against a dark cloud of fear and heartache…
For Larry, who walked a path of uncertainty to bring his mother comfort…
For Allison, who supports a son and a husband who need all that she has to give…
For you, for your own battles and tears....

And for me…

For myself, I will hug my loved ones, appreciate my many blessings, and smile as the snowflakes fall and the bells jingle.  But I will also keenly feel the acute sense of loss and heartache that faces so many that I love.  It is the price one pays for wearing her heart on her sleeve and entwining others' lives into her own.  I would not change it, but I will seek solace in what counts as prayer in my worldview...

May each of you – each of us – find solace in warm memories, good friends, and the promise of brighter yesterdays and tomorrows both.  May we hold on to our loved ones – the ones who are here, the ones who are gone, and the ones who may leave us at any moment.  May we love them – all of them, may we never shy away.  May we never be afraid to love, to reach out, to hold on.

Hand in hand, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, we will all learn to smile again.  Our strength lies in one another - the rhythm of beating hearts, the light of love.

Let no one be lost, let no one be alone.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This is Teaching...

As I sit here writing this, my students are reflecting on the paper that they wrote for our class today.  As they work, they will occasionally look up and make some sort of comment about the project, their state of mind, or the contents of what they are writing.  Sometimes, their comments have nothing to do with what they are writing about.  But they are working.  It is an eclectic group of students -- nursing, business, biology, music.  Only five students and the campus where I teach them is a half hour drive from the main campus.  The course sits at the end of a long day in which I've likely already taught three classes and attended at least one meeting.  Normally, this would be exhausting and three-hours dragging by in the painful way that only night classes can.  But not this time.  Not this time. I am teaching.

To really understand the scope of what I'm talking about, you have to understand that this class is an experiment - an introductory writing class that is half online and truncated to fit into a half a semester.  On some level, it feels like it is set up to fail - sped up, half-removed, tiny.  But, against all foreseeable odds, it is not failing.  It's working.  The students are engaged, active, thoughtful, funny, participatory, and alive.  I do not list these qualities as being somehow different from my other classes, really, I am looking at them solely on their own merit.  I can sum up by saying this: I leave after a fourteen hour day energized.  They are helping me shape this course into something that is actually useful for them and a place where, despite all the elements that made me expect failure, they can succeed.  This is teaching.

You see, none of them want to be here, really.  One of them admits to putting the course off for two years because he "doesn't like to write."  One student was struggling to make sense of what to write and how to write it and another told him, "we will help you."  They are supportive of each other in the face of their own intimidation, fear, insecurity, and doubt.  They stress.  They ask questions born from these feelings.  But, they ask questions.  They will interrupt me to ask a question that is maybe not entirely on task but is about writing and all the nuances of it.  They fret about doing well.  They raise eyebrows at the amount of work and the time period in which they have to complete it -- but then they nod and dig in.  They panic that they can't do it all, except then they do.  This is teaching.

It is not perfect; sometimes, in the online portion of the class, there are more crickets than I would like to hear.  But, then again, that is also partially my fault.  We are all on a leaning curve here, and sometimes we slip down a little bit as we try to find our way.  They are easily distracted...but also easily reigned back in.  This is teaching.

This is teaching.  And I am grateful.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Just Save One...

Life has ley-lines -- defined in different ways depending on your spiritual inclination -- but I'm simply referring to the way life seems to comment on itself and rearrange events so as to have them line up in interesting and often fortuitous ways.  I will explain.

Day One.  Morning.  I sat in the new auditorium at work listening to the opening remarks made by the president of the college.  She talked of the things she always talks about -- enrollment and retention, initiatives and strategic plans, budgets and construction.  In her graceful and eloquent way, she spoke of her dreams for the college and, as she often does, she made it deeply personal.  She talked of students as if she knew each one and as if her heart broke a little every time we lost one.  And I'm sure, in a way, it does.  As part of this talk, she asked us to imagine how different the college could be if we each saved one.  Just one.

Day Two, Morning.  I had breakfast with a former student.  We always talk of getting together, but we don't manage it nearly enough for either one of us to be happy.  During the course of our conversation, it came to light that she wanted to return to school, but knew she owed money to the college and was trapped in a reluctant, embarrassed cycle of procrastination and fear.  I knew she was capable of so much more than she was currently in a position to do, so I suggested -- then encouraged, then downright demanded -- that she return to the campus with me and speak to the powers that be about what she owed and how she might go about fixing things that so she could return, someday, to school.

Day Two, Noon.   I was speaking to a friend and colleague in the lunch line about the morning's events without really realizing that the president of the college was behind me, listening.  After a few minutes, I realized this to be the case and I expanded my explanation to include her as well -- we talked of the ache of watching dreams slip away for something as frustrating as money.  We talked of saving a student.  Our conversation ended with her suggesting I speak to the controller of the college about the situation.

Day Two, Afternoon.  After exchanging a couple of emails in which I was told that something could likely be worked out, I went to the controller and told him the story, and within a few moments, the hold was lifted on her account and she was free to register.  The only caveats were that she make arrangements with the collection agency, she get a job on campus, and she do well.  I had countless assurances from her that she would.  Just like that, an obstacle became a concurrent responsibility.

Day Three, Afternoon.  The student became just that - a student at the college.  She took care of the collection agency, financial aid, and reactivating her account.

Day Three, Evening -- As the student and I discussed possible student aide jobs, I had a flash of thought and sent a message to the director of the writing center on campus inquiring as to whether or not they were looking for peer tutors.  They were.  Now, the student will be meeting the director at a staff meeting on Friday with a writing sample and a letter of recommendation.  It is not, of course, a sure thing -- but the match seems a good one thus far.

In a space of sixty hours, one speech from a college president who was cutting the ribbon on a new academic year led to an unemployed young woman actively accepting personal responsibility and becoming a college student with an achievable and realistic dream.

She calls it a miracle.  The friend in the lunch line calls it knowing people in high places.  I'm sure the president would call it the least we could do.  I call it serendipity.  I'm not sure it matters what we call it beyond the acknowledgement that these three days unfolded in such a way as to completely turn someone's life around.  She has dreams and her feet are now on a road to achieve them.  It won't be easy for her -- no one is giving her handouts.  All we are doing is giving her the chance to show us what she has.  And me?  I'm not sure I did any real magic -- but I'm not sure that matters either.  I put my neck out there because I believe in her and because the message of enabling success in others was still ringing in my ears.  And I work in a place that is willing to put action to word.  I'm not sure that echos positively on me, or the college, or both.  But no matter where the magic and the power began -- it lies now with her.  And I, for one, cannot wait to see what she can do with these opportunities for I know that she has it in her to do what the president challenged all of us to do.  

Just save one.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


I'm trying out the Blogger app on my iPad. I can't believe it doesn't rotate, Then again, I can't believe they don't have an iPad version. Oh well.

Anyway. I'm hoping to resurrect my blog. This is an odd way to do so. I love my iPad, though, so maybe that will be what it takes to get me t owrite again. The keyboard makes it even easier to do so.

I'm not sure I have any readers left -- not that I had that many in the first place. I think I'll just try to do this for me and just see what happens. Time to post and see if it works.