Friday, May 26, 2017

The Modeling Agency

My cell phone rings...should I risk answering?

It's a no-name call. An unrecognizable number.

I answer.

"Hi. Is this Mrs. Martinez?"

"Who's calling please?"

"Is this Mrs. Martinez?"

This is my phone and this person called me; the least he can do is answer MY question. I don't back down. "Who's calling please." My voice takes on a bit firmer tone and it's no longer a question but an imperative.

The solicitor gives in, "This is the Royal Modeling Agency. I'm calling to see if you received our flyer."

Click, click, click, go the cogs in my brain. Modeling agency? I grew up practically down the street from the Lenz Modeling Agency which advertised and even had free introductory classes. But, at my age...this is ridiculous, and I'm going to use this to my advantage with this nice phone solicitor.

"I'm almost sixty years old (an exaggeration by a few years-ha vanity!), and I'm really not interested. But,"

The man who's interrupted my day starts laughing, "We're a RE-modeling company and we're offering a special." He keeps laughing.

Which triggers my laugh, and the phone solicitor is no longer the enemy. But still, "I don't need remodeling, so thank-you, and goodbye.

In the days before caller ID, even answering machines, when phone solicitations were more frequent than phone calls from the neighbor wanting to borrow eggs, my dad figured out a way to deal with the incessant calls for credit card offers.

Phone solicitor: "Hello Sir, this is John from the Apex credit card company. We are offering an introductory rate with just an 11.9 % APR. Are you interested in applying for our card? Free first month interest?"

"Yes," Dad responded.

The inquiry continued, but not for long. The minute Dad could, he interjected how he needed the credit cards because he just got out of jail, and couldn't yet find a job. The enthusiasm ceased on the other end of the line.

"What were you in jail for?"

"Credit card fraud."

The phone call always ended.

In time, those land-line phone solicitations ended because everyone started screening their calls.

Then came the cell phone, and we had a reprieve. When it rang, I knew who it was. The public was under the erroneous assumption that no one had access to cell phone numbers. Maybe for a while they didn't, but that a while, didn't last long.

It used to be the door-to-door salesman who interrupted our mother's lives. Mom bought our beloved encyclopedias from a man who rang the doorbell. She also bought a set of illustrated Bible stories. She didn't have a car, and she probably welcomed the interruption to her day and the chance to bargain with the vacuum salesman,  the Fuller brush man, and the Avon lady.

Then people stopped answering their doors.

Then came the in-house parties scheduled by a sales-woman, or sales-man friend. A bricklayer in Texas told me if he drove by a house mid-day, and it was surrounded by suburbans and station wagons, it was surely a Tupperware party.

Then the station wagons disappeared.

The ultimate right is privacy. The ultimate right is free enterprise. What happens when they clash? When one is a nuisance to the other? When they work together, free enterprise will figure out how to maintain privacy, and free enterprise will follow on its heels with the code to enter.

Until another genius comes along and figures out how to eliminate cell phone solicitations-- beware the modeling agency.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A New Normal

It was an adventurous week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was just another week...that included toddlers, teenagers, more responsibility than usual.

Eight periods of listening to and judging seniors' Last Lectures, then driving to help care for two toddlers, a tween, a teenager, and a worn out Tony.

A few weeks later, waking up in my own home, things back to normal, I can look back to evaluate, reminisce, and feel gratitude that my normal was only delayed by a week.

Sometimes the return to normal never happens. It disappears when a driver fails to stop at a red light, when a baby is born, or when a medical test comes back positive.

This is when life orders a new normal.

I had never thought of normals as mutable until a wise friend described the new normal after she got cancer. She didn't want the abundance and joy of life to change---but it had, so, she changed her expectations.

She couldn't expect to have her regular hair appointment for awhile, or even have hair.

She couldn't expect to pop out of bed with her regular call to "Charge!"

She couldn't enjoy the taste of macaroni and cheese, or apples, or homemade bread for awhile without losing her stomach.


she could enjoy the new normal of wearing fun hats and scarves;
she could enjoy the contemplation of bed rest and the gratitude of those who cared for her;
she could look forward to the day when her appetite would return;

she could enjoy the new normal because she shifted her expectations.

Twenty years later, cancer in remission, even long gone, she's facing a new normal:

Her husband's failing health, her own slowing down, her diminishing ability to hear.

Her new normal is gratitude for the days her husband gets out of bed.
Gratitude for her growing grandchildren.
Gratitude for her own attentive children who have cared for their father as never before.

~~~Last night, as Tony and I were sitting at the bank, notarizing and buying EUs, I noticed the details in his face were vanishing. He was fading, or rather my eyesight is fading. My new normal, to which adaptation is really quite easy, includes the more frequent wearing of eyeglasses, or a new life metaphor. English teacher that I am, the new metaphor brings a smile as I contemplate this new normal.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

From a Hostage's Perspective

That our terrorism-simulation final fell on the morning after  the Manchester terrorist attack was a poignant tragedy, and a reminder that terrorism's goal to terrorize, is unpredictable and terrorizing. Yet, the odds of being in an attack are almost negligible--which brings no comfort to people who have experienced otherwise.

My learning objective for the simulation was for students to use critical thinking skills--and they did. Contrary to what images terrorist-simulation may evoke, it was a role-play that was also intended to bring understanding to complicated issues of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and negotiation.

The simulation results were open-ended, but at the end, the students felt it was pointed--only because, I believe, they are extraordinary people whose possibly unconscious desires were to preserve life--even those playing the terrorists.

The simulation was created by two men who'd known what they were doing. Terrell Arnold was a one time consultant on terrorism and crisis management to the Department of State, and a former senior foreign service officer who had served in the Middle East.

The second creator brought a more interesting perspective to the simulation: Moorhead Kennedy was an economic analyst in 1979 when angry students stormed the Tehran Embassy and held hostages for 444 days. Instead of bitterness towards the Iranians, he sought and came through the experience with a deeper understanding of political helplessness, and his own role (along with his country's) failure in dealing with foreign entities.

Hence, now my students had a chance to experience in a very surface way, all the complications of international relations--and as previously mentioned, the terrorists reduced their demands and the president and his cabinet softened foreign policy to negotiate the captive's lives.

In the debriefing and Socratic discussion following the simulation, we took Kennedy's further writings to deepen our understanding of this terrorism conflict that is still with us.

We began with the roots of the Iranian crisis: the Shah of Iran has been in power for 30 years with the support of the United States. This friendship supports our oil and business interests and keeps our fist in the middle of a volatile area. Over time, amidst opposition and a growing tide of religious fanaticism, the Shah evolves into a despot. His creation of the secret police SAVAK, furthers his unrighteous rule. In part, the great unshared, unequally distributed wealth from oil revenue is the problem. The Shah's wealth and lavish lifestyle when people are still illiterate, when the infrastructure lacks amid abundance, it all causes discontent. Discontent (and a lot of other factors),created a schism for Ayatollah Khomeini and....chaos. The Shah's life was in danger and it was the US that brought him to safety in America.

First diplomatic problem the students must relate to: what are the obligations to America's allies and friends? What happens when those friends turn into dictators?

Festering anger and protest drove students to storm the embassy in November of 1979 and take the hostages. They wanted the Shah to be accountable for his crimes, they wanted America to return him. Fifty two hostages was their bartering power. History teaches us not one life was lost and all hostages  were eventually returned---but never the same.

The students' simulation result mimicked what had happened in Iran 37 years earlier.

An especially haunting prediction came from Mr. Kennedy: the copyright of his book, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral, was written in 1986--he predicted terrorism would be with us for at least another decade. Three decades later...

With the fake-experience under their belt, with just a little bit of understanding, they would now listen to some of Mr. Kennedy's advice.

1. Travel. Learn and know about other people's cultures, sufferings, and triumphs. In travel comes compassion and understanding of the human family.
2. Parts of the world disdain our country's dominance and success. It is important to let people see that actual people represent the "America," they categorize as an entity void of people who feel, laugh, and suffer as they do.

And a few thoughts from the teacher:

3. Never has a greater responsibility rested with Americans to be good representatives of their country than in this century. Great blessings require humility and respect of others.
4. Acknowledge the shortcomings and mistakes of our country's past--it doesn't diminish from its greatness--greatness comes from learning from the hard-to-reconcile past if we implement it into the present and the future. Mistakes can be a catalyst to greatness.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This year is Mom's 80th birthday year. She doesn't turn 80 until December 21st, but in her habit of living large, she's declared the entire year her birthday celebration~~and she's sharing all the fun.

So in September, we will gather with all her granddaughters for a pre-December extravaganza, and the question came up, What's Grandma's favorite cake?

We all knew she loved cookies, but when it came to cake, we were a bit stumped.

The first suggestion came from my sister who said, "I think it's German chocolate or sponge cake."

When I read her response, I laughed. I almost couldn't believe it. For German chocolate cake is my sister's favorite cake; sponge cake was our dad's. Yes, Mom made those cake annually for their birthdays, so my sister erroneously assumed.

The next suggestion was "ice cream cake."

It came from Mandi, another granddaughter. Again I was stunned, because I happened to know ice cream cake is Mandi's favorite, and for Mandi's birthday in March, Grandma ordered an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins.

I felt a little sad I couldn't definitively name my own mother's favorite cake, but I had a hunch.

I called Mom. "My neighbor made the best carrot cake, should I get the recipe?"

Though we were speaking on the phone and a thousand miles apart, I could see her leap from the couch. "I love carrot cake. It's my favorite."

The mystery was solved, but not without some amusing conclusions.

1. Projection. Not a bad thing, but the things we love, we project and assume to be everyone else's favorite too. It's why I'm always surprised when Jillian says she hates something and I respond, "No you love it." She really doesn't; I'm the one who loves it, and I have to be reminded even after 20 years of her reminders.

2. Cake is trivial. But be aware of the more important likes and dislikes of loved ones.

3. One year is not enough time to celebrate. Hence, life should be a continual celebration of all things good.

4. What are you doing for your mom's birthday this year? Do you know her favorite cake? If you are no longer blessed with the presence of your mom, find someone else to be the recipient of your child-self love and devotion to Mom.

5. Be the kind of Mom, or person, that deserves a conversation about the cake you love.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pass The Torch

I slip into a pew at the back of the church. The church is full, and the predominant color is black. I search for my friend and her family, and recognize the backs of their heads. How familiar they still are when I cannot see their faces.

We are gathered together to mourn the loss and to celebrate the life of Jean--a woman I hardly knew except that she was my friend's mother. Even though she was in her eighties, her death is a shock. She was a vibrant lady who'd played her weekly golf game a few days earlier.

Jean's life's ambition was to do three good deeds a day, and she impressed upon her grandchildren to do the same, not only by suggesting it many times, but in doing it herself. The five grandchildren who spoke mentioned her aphorism "Do three good turns a day," and all could recall a story of receiving a "good turn," or being with Grandma when she did a "good turn."

She passed out bushels of apples from her orchard; she made phone calls and connected to the disconnected everyday. She refused to use a cell phone, which often put her on the doorsteps of strangers asking to use their phone. After one of these encounters, she spent the next hour warming the heart of a downtrodden woman.

Grandma Jean reached out to so many people, loving them, cooking them breakfast, attending their sports events, calling to check on them,--one grandchild wonders how the world will go on...but Grandma Jean accounted for that, intentionally or not.

By her life's example, she is an inspiration; not one person could leave the funeral without wanting to serve more, love more, live more. Her good example is clearly a torch in need of other strong hands to bear the weight.

When another friend's mother died unexpectedly, she promised her nieces and nephews she would carry on their grandmother's Christmas traditions she'd brought from Germany as a young girl. The advent calendar, the stollen, the cookies, the lighting of the tree. Her job, her torch to carry, was clearly defined.

Grandma Jean's torch is not so specific.

It's as if the world is supported by Greek columns: the Doric, the scrolled Ionic and the Corinthian. If one column collapses, thirty people must rush in to hold up that square foot of the world. Jean's work was the work of many. She was a stable column, a torch bearer, a care bear, yet 300 people heard her legacy and we now know there will be a sagging part of the world if we don't rush in to hold it up.

Reach out your hand--a torch has been passed.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Graduation 1949/2017

We gather for brunch (chez moi) with four young women who've been part of our advanced placement literature and language composition class. It's a special group of students who love literature and language, and who were willing to push themselves academically.

We've had a great year. We read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre; a myriad of short stories, and the poetry of Milton, Shakespeare, Yeats. They wrote essays--boy did they write essays. They looked for literary terms and searched for universal truths within the imagery, the diction, the tone, the structure. They read to understand logical fallacies, to discover the ethos, pathos and logos in time-tested communication.

The class culminates in two nationally administered tests. On both May 3rd and May 10th, they answered 55 multiple choice questions and wrote three essays to demonstrate their understanding of literature and the nuances of rhetoric. We won't know their test scores until mid-July, when hopefully they can apply their high scores to college credit classes.

Once the test is over? It's party time: reading Pablo Neruda just for fun; gleaning Free Fruit for Young Widows, just for the profound life lessons...and brunch on the regularly scheduled final, because it would be cruel to give them another final after the AP tests.

Yuri has brought an insulated bag full of crab, salmon, vegetables to make sushi. She has a portable rice container with sticky, flavorful rice. I am the crepe maker and Sarah helps me cut up strawberries, bananas, and squeezes the lemon juice.

Deb has brought beautifully wrapped presents: books. She scoured the used book store for antique classic treasures. She even brought a new edition of The Great Gatsby, stamped with the coveted Paris Shakespeare book store quatre corner from Notre Dame. It's for Jocy who adores F Scott Fitzgerald's iconic, tragic hero.

As the girls open their classics and ooh and ahh, I ask for a closer look at a beautiful, old Wuthering Heights. Except for the dated cover, it could be new; I suspect it's never been read, but the owner did leave a piece of her past within the pages. When I pull it out and open it, I gasp~!

"You're not going to believe this!" I exclaim to the girls. The moment is pure serendipity. The paper has been folded and hidden for 67 years. It reads: Graduation Requirements June 1949- a mimeographed list of instructions. Perhaps the book was a graduation present.

We are in a circle on the floor. I place the copy in the middle of the six of us. We bend over and twist to see how graduation requirements might have changed for these modern women.

Indeed it has. Their graduation requirement list will not mandate that:

*Hair should not be visible on forehead
*Girls must wear starched collars which must be basted to the neck of gown
*Length of gown:should be anywhere from 6 inches to 14 inches from the floor
* (caps gowns) will be turned in to the checkers in the Barn and the Student Body Office

On the eve of graduation, that we have found a young girl's graduation requirements in a book---is lusciously coincidental.


I have always loved margin annotations. I have always loved surprise notes left in between the pages. Love notes, a poem, even a to-do list. I've decided to personalize my bookmarks~~ and hope that someday~~50-100 years from now, someone will open a book I once owned, and squeal, "Look what I found!"

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Simple Thought

It started with memories and wanting to share.

Memories are like a train. Each car connected to the next, pulled by the engine and followed by the caboose. But sometimes, we lose our train of thought; the train cars unhitch and are diverted to a different track leading to a different destination. Mom wanted to keep her memories, record them, send them to her daughters and granddaughters. Mom's memories have become a file in each of our emails.

She started with the memories of Dad, then skipped to parents, her grandparents. Her college studies. When the brightest of memories faded, she moved on to different themes: cars, travel, special occasions.

 As Mom's memories were counted and checked off, the weekly Sunday emails transformed into Mom's ruminations. The blessings of granddaughters. Birthdays. Then a niece unexpectedly died, so she shared her thoughts on the precious, fleeting nature of life.

As the weeks passed, as I've read her thoughts, I've noticed they always include and conclude with gratitude.

Yesterday, in a group of friends, we asked each other, "What's the secret to a good life?"

When it was my turn, I paused--because to reveal the secret of life requires thought. After fifteen seconds of waiting for the right answer it came: gratitude.

Almost 80 years of life later, Mom is an example of having found the secret to a good life and then she made good use of that secret. Gratitude is at the core of her train of memories.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Will You Remember Us?

It's amusement park day for the seniors, which means, only four seniors are sitting in class while the others are braving roller coasters, frozen bananas on a stick, and unexpected cold weather.

Students are supposed to be doing make-up work, but the atmosphere turns casual. It's difficult to stay serious with four, when the other twenty are far from the classroom.

One student asks if one day I will accompany her and a few other students to Paris.

"Of course!" We can make it happen.

"But will you remember us?"

"Of course."

The crowd still looks dubious.

As their teacher at the eleventh hour, I still feel the need to convince them.

"I'm still friends with the grocery store manager who was one of my ninth graders eight years ago," I tell them. He shows me photos of his wife, his beautiful daughter, and when I asked him if he still hated writing, he responded that he writes poetry now. And lyrics. A coup.

Young faces flash before my eyes: the resistant, the sponges, the jokers, the kind. Students I have loved.

Then one of the four reminds me of limited teacher capacities, "I remember once an old student came in and you and Ms. F didn't know who he was."

Ouch. This seems impossible. She is proof that it isn't.

Because, we can't connect to everyone. But to some we connect and I share with the four, a connection to bolster their hope, that they won't be forgotten.

We had a student. A kind, sensitive, bright young man who is plagued with choices that seem unfair. They tumble him as if he were a wet pair of sneakers thrown in the dryer. The bumps are loud and we wonder if sneakers even belong in the dryer.

I saw the young man, and then a day later, I felt an impression: I needed to tell him I loved him. I needed to thank him for being who he was. Only through a Twitter direct message--the way we stay in contact.

The impression was important enough that it came again. And because former teachers hesitate to tell students they love their students, the impression had to come again.

So I tell the students, "We don't forget you, we don't stop caring about you. Just last night, I wrote to a student to tell him I loved him. I could never have imagined a year ago, that a year later I would feel this need."

They're quiet, perhaps surprised, even worried that I'll send them a message a year from now.

"And you know what? He needed to hear that message, and he wrote back how much it meant to him at a difficult time in his life."

No, we don't forget those who need to be remembered--I hope. I hope and pray.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Step Inside

Almost a year and a half ago, the stars aligned and convinced me to become a vegetarian.

A few of the stars were:

1. My daughter's experience with  flesh in the anatomy lab.
2. Three students I admired who were dedicated vegans because they truly cared about animals, and they were some of the sharpest and kindest people I knew.
3. Having read such books as The China Study, Diet for a Small Planet, and listening to and reading the words of health advocates.
4. I'd never been much of a meat eater; I'd never liked hamburgers, was repulsed by chicken, but still loved a filet mignon.

Given the infrequency of a filet mignon on my plate and the exorbitant cost, it was easy to abandon meat..

So it's with a minimal amount of pride (when I meet up with any one of the three students), that I always mention, "I've been a vegetarian for a year and a half now."

I anxiously anticipate their approval and affirmative head nodding, which usually ends with a "Wow," or a "Good for you."

 I must admit that I bring the subject  up because I enjoy their accolades and respect for adopting their enlightened way of life--you know how teenagers are! The conversation usually ends with "We'll have to go to lunch. I know a great vegan restaurant."

I saw one of the above-mentioned students yesterday, and again, I bring up my enduring vegetarian lifestyle expecting the usual accolades and comradeship in a world that "Needs to be enlightened."

But things have changed.

My cheery heart sinks just a little when I hear, "Oh, I'm no longer a vegetarian."

"What happened?" I ask trying to mask the disappointment I feel.

Nothing definitive, he just changed.

Change is good. Change is a privilege.

I can't foresee the day when I'll eat meat again, but it is possible, so disappointment changes to curiosity, to support, and then to wonder. Wonder at what piece of meat could have enticed such a change in my young friend. Imagining a glorious fresh caught, freshly filet-ed piece of salmon from the wild rivers of Alaska, or an adventure when he ran out of food and had to slay a rabbit for life-sustaining sustenance, I ask, "What did you break your vegetarianism with?"

"Chicken nuggets."

I am speechless.

 "My dad changed too."

"And what was his enticement to the carnivore world?"

"A hamburger and a hot dog, all in the same day."

"Did he get sick?"

He laughs, "No."

Then as if to let me know my eating habits are no longer esteemed, he adds that the purist of the group, is no longer vegan.

"But still a vegetarian?"

"Yes." He laughs, indicating that maybe she's gone rogue too, but he's keeping it secret as to spare me from further shock and suffering.

But, what would the shock and suffering come from?

Judgment. My judgment.

What if we wiped judgment like we wipe mud from the bottom of our boots on the doormat--before we step inside.

When we truly step inside each other's minds and hearts, leaving judgment outside, enlightenment arises. Relationships become rewards. Ideas are sparked, and we are motivated to become more than we are. When we step inside without judgment, we step into sanctuary. We enter into the warmth or the comfort of air conditioning. We remove a coat, or layers that keep us bundled and distant.

A young man gave a powerful message when he admitted how he thought everyone  was judgmental and foolish... until he realized he was the one who was judgmental and foolish.

Then he could step inside.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Just What I Needed

Senior prank day. Who started this tradition?

Eight years ago, seniors broke into the school and filled thousands of dixie cups with water and placed them in every square inch of the common areas. It was a shock walking in and discovering the mined floor. Everyone got to work emptying cups. It was kind of mind boggling, kind of sweet.

But they'd taken the prank just one step too far and broken into the headmaster's office and laced it with underwear. The headmaster was more concerned about the private documents in his office than the underwear---or was he?

So this year when the mumblings of senior prank began, I held my breath. Hoped their enthusiasm would wither like it does with end of year assignments. They seemed to get creative as the days loomed closer.

Each senior English/history class decided they would create their own prank.

One of my classes decided to build a blanket fort in the main hallway.

They had spoken so openly in class, I thought each prank was already sanctioned by administration. Maybe they just trusted me or took me for a fool. As soon as class began, they were off! Dashing out of the school to their cars, to bring in a tent, blankets, stuffed animals and pajamas!

As they enthusiastically began to patch, string up, and create, a thought came to mind.

"Did you get permission for this?"

The previous class had played loud music from the in-class phone-intercom system. I heard the director was furious since students were still testing. Oops. My room. The responsible teacher had faltered.

When the answer was "Yes," I believed the little darlings. Paranoid from the previous prank's interruption, I went to administration just to be safe.

"Who did they get permission from?" the academic advisor asked.

Oops. I called the director; she answered: "My concern is if the fire marshal came; is it obstructing any doors?"

I didn't think so, but I told her I'd give them ten more minutes. But they hadn't finished and hadn't had a chance to enjoy their daring creativity.

Feeling like a traitor, I went to the next level. I needed someone to see it and okay it. I needed support. The operations officer's door was open. She was in a good mood and came out to see the fort. She smiled.

I relaxed. We let them have their fun.

When the bell rang, the younger students gathered in the main hallway to gawk with surprise. I was left to stand guard next to the sign that said "Seniors Only."

I knew it was all worth it, when a middle school student, gawky, braces, gold colored polo shirt that flatters no one, stood beside me, in her tense days before finals and sighed with relief, "This just makes me happy."

I turned to acknowledge her happy state all the while thinking of my own panic and reserve. "Can you tell me why?" I pleaded.

She shrugs her shoulders and says, "I don't know; it's just what I needed to day."

And she is just what I needed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Things Fall Apart, Things Come Together

I can't think of the phrase things fall apart, without thinking of Chinua Achebe's Nigerian novel with the same title.

Things do fall apart--not just African tribes, but tangible, organic and inorganic objects. An unused muscle will atrophy, dead roses will turn to compost, bikes at the beach will tarnish with rust, the Roman Empire fell. Eventually. Motors quit, tires wear, vertebrae lose their cushions--and we become little old men and women.

But...things do come together, and when we are a part of the miracle, we know it to be true.

When I learned about the No Border school in Athens, created for the refugee children who washed up on shore and didn't have an opportunity for schooling---energy, love, and concern came together. People came together and created a school that knew no borders. When I learned about it, I wanted to help it come together too. I'll be teaching teachers for just one night, but one night may help just enough.

When a math teacher colleague learned where I was going, he asked if I wanted to take a brand new box of math curriculum to the No Border School. I'm not sure how I will cart it all the way to Athens, but I have faith it will come together.

When a group of students learned about Kara Tepe refugee camp, they came together to earn money for a needy situation.

We are in the last days of high school with our seniors. We gathered the seniors and juniors together for a spontaneous question and answer session concerning the senior project. The conversation evolved from the capstone to their last lecture writing. After a year of sometimes-resistance to assignments and learning, our seniors testified how the year's learning had prepared them for this final assignment. They gave high regards to the beginning-of-the-year essay-a-day; they even saw the value in the poetry unit and how it helped them with choosing details and making careful word choices.

It was a clear reminder that things do, eventually come together.

Friends forgive, children return home, Nazi-stolen artwork is recovered; even ISIS is losing ground in Iraq. We can't lose hope or focus. Persistence in the mundane and the most dire of circumstances is a must. Hang on, hold on, after things fall apart, things come together.

Monday, May 15, 2017

It Wasn't Quite Right

I got a glimpse of how a despot may come to power, and it was only through the dynamic presentation of a teenager. Let me reiterate the word: dynamic.

He or she, because it doesn't matter which (despotic power is not immune to gender-though I believe a she may do it more gently), gave their speech with the roar of a lion. The lion pounced to the front of the class and held its classmates in the stance of silence. His voice commanded attention. Her direct look into our eyes demanded rapt attention. When our speaker closed with a clever, power punching thrust, the room fell silent with respect and awe.

A student couldn't help but utter, "Now that speech will make it into the top ten finalists."

I too walked away thinking  I had been among greatness--then why didn't it feel very good?

We adults gathered in a private corner of the school.

"That was great," I said, "but why didn't I like it?"

Mr. V, the young teacher of Chinese, looked sick to his stomach, "I couldn't figure out what he was saying in the middle of his speech. The end was great though."

There were a few other nit picky reasons to eliminate the essay. It was gone from the list of viable contenders.

But, it haunted me in the night, enough to wake up the next morningwith the speech on my mind. Had we been fair in dismissing it without reading? I needed to get my eyes on that speech; the written words would reveal the truth.

I read it slowly. I absorbed. Some of the writing was as eloquent and well delivered as the speech. Still, the nagging discomfort. I needed a new pair of eyes. Tony.

With no preface, I asked him to read it and tell me what he thought.

"It's good."

But he wasn't moved. He had that same uneasy look as Mr. V.

I stayed quiet and waited for him to process the information and articulate what was wrong, what made him uneasy.

"She makes a discovery, and then she dismisses the discovery about learning, only in the end to say that is the way to learn."

"Thank you, you nailed it."

I hurried back to the computer screen to study the essay further. Once I understood its inherent flaw, that it was indeed flawed, I could easily see the other fallacies in the writing. The paper actually espoused some grave misperceptions about learning.

Yet, we had all been captivated by the bravado, the confidence, but something just didn't feel right...and it wasn't.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

On the eve of Mother's Day, I find my self standing in line at a cookie store next to a young mother I don't recognize, until she calls out my name.

"Megan!" She is visibly pregnant, and I learn that in three days she will be giving birth to twin daughters.

A lump in my chest forms every time I think of her. I am overwhelmed for her.

On this sacred day set aside to honor mothers, she has become my poster-child for everything this day embodies.

I see her, the discomfort her enlarged stomach testifies of, her willingness, even joy to bring forth--children. It's a brave thing to ride the motherhood train clear to the end when there are so many stops along the way.

Without mothers, there would be nothing. Literally. Life would stop.

Hence, it somewhat puzzles me that missing from the Christian narrative is the story of Mother.

I truly believe without a Heavenly Mother, there would be nothing.

Life on earth follows the pattern of God's glory. The ideal Christian life is composed of a father, mother, and children, brought together by the sanctity of God, or Father in Heaven. We live this life in preparation for eternal life where we are promised the joy of eternal family and associations.

Heavenly Mother cannot, absolutely cannot, be missing from the heavenly family equation written in our hearts, practiced on earth, life perpetual impossible without that mother.

~~It is on earth as it is in heaven.~~

~~Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.~~

My own religion acknowledges her existence no more profoundly than in a hymn we sing with regularity. Eliza R Snow wrote 173 years ago: In the heavens, are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare; truth is reason--truth eternal, tells me I've a mother there.

Yet, why is she seemingly absent from the Christian narrative?

Traveling as a teenager, in yet another long airport layover, I met a travel-seasoned American man who worked in Saudi Arabia. He opened his passport like a magician and a tumble of extended pages rolled out, each page stamped with countries of admittance.  Having recently earned my own driver's license before leaving the states, I asked him why women couldn't drive in Saudi Arabia.

His response was genuine. "The Saudis so revere their women that they cannot allow them to drive. What if they got into a car accident? What if they had to go to court? Saudi women are above such reproach."

His statement has stayed with me for forty years, yet it is not a complete answer. There has to be more of an answer than a comparable practice in the culture of an Islamic society.

The images that clarify the possibilities come from the memories of my own experiences.

I sit behind the child we are helping learn to walk. My hands are firmly planted around her waist, until she is ready to venture out. She takes her first step. My grip loosens. She takes her second; my hands slip away. She takes two steps forward. I am right behind her waiting to soften her fall.

I am behind the child on the bike without training wheels. We just unscrewed them and walked the bike to the open road. She sits on the seat-it wobbles, but I am behind her steadying, keeping her balanced. I am there. I push her off, let go-- she's riding the bike--if only for two seconds, so I am right there to steady her way...again, and again. Always behind, always ready. She will only see me if she stops to turn around. But she can't look back; it's not in the nature of learning to ride a bike.

My child insists on walking to school alone for the first time. It isn't far, but I can't let her go all alone. So I stay behind, just enough to see her to safety, just enough so she won't know I'm there.

My mother's heart is an inherent part of who I am; it is inherited. I know she is there, behind me, even holding on and guiding me. That she is missing from our prayers, our regular religious discourse, from the paintings of a loving Father in Heaven and his son...her absence leaves a void that tightens my heart with an ache and a longing, but a clear affirmation of her existence.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wisdom From Babes

At the end of the school year, our seniors write and present a Last Lecture speech. It came about after I found a small heartfelt book written by Professor Randy Pausch, who after he was afflicted with cancer, gave a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon.

This is our fifth year of all seniors presenting a last lecture in their classrooms. From the classroom presentations, ten finalists are chosen to present their speeches at the end of year, Last Lecture essay contest. Students don't know who will be chosen--it's a television game show kind of atmosphere--the  New Price is Right kind of feeling--students' names are called, and they run to the pulpit to dole out wisdom to underclassmen.

The fifth year effect of seniors' reflections and wisdom has been cumulative. There is an unprecedented level of excitement, engagement; alchemy is brewing. Many seniors have written double digit drafts. The wisdom in their words has been impressive, heartfelt, even overwhelming.

As I listened, I scribbled down notes from their insights. So impressed by some of the aphorisms, I would approach a student and ask if the thought was original, "Yes, I came up with that," or "It took me an hour to craft that one line."

After one poignant, resounding essay, I was so impressed, I jumped up like a preacher filled with fire and brimstone calls to repentance, to tell the class how much I had learned from them and how I longed to learn more.

How I wish I could share all of the essays. Here are a few snippets from our seventeen and eighteen year-olds' wisdom-filled essays :

"Even though the truth hurts, I don’t have to let the truth hurt me."

"Weakness is like a thought, no one else can tell you what it is, no one can see it."

"Perfection is procrastination in disguise."

"Greatness is the ability to overcome the normality of not trying."

"Your world is only as cold as you make it. I nearly froze myself to death; all those (negative) things I thought about my peers, was me."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Dining Alone

"The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal." CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory 1949

I had somewhat taken the family meal, complete with laughter, taste comparisons, and stories, for granted. I'd grown up in a family, had a large extended family and most of the time our gatherings revolved around meals. Even now we gather for Sunday afternoon dinners. Even our funerals end with a meal. 

Years ago, on a solo trip to New York, I became aware of how much the enjoyment of my meals depended on company. For the first time, I was eating out consistently and alone. Sure, there were other people eating alone, but the contrast between the silent, book reading or phone tapping patrons, and the tables of merriment, were not so subtle. I wanted to join the big Italian family or the girls' night out.

The day came when I did return to New York with company. It started with two families and became three when my friend's sister and her husband the veterinarian, Dr. Pet, joined us from Boston. We were six adults and seven children eating pizza at a late night diner, waiters were combining tables, and yes we had laughter.

The Velvet Taco and family, Chicago Illinois, March 2017

However, the need to eat is more frequent than the availability of friends and family, so I've learned to enjoy, even saturate myself in the pleasures of solo dining. 

Requisite is gaining comfort in my aloneness. Eating alone doesn't mean I am friendless. Nor should I be self conscious while participating in what is usually a group activity.

Choosing the right table and immersing in the ambiance is another enjoyment factor. If dining alfresco, I try to choose a table front and center to sidewalk traffic, so I can people watch.

While waiting for food, I do like to have a task: making notes, mapping out a location, reading a pamphlet or an article, deep thinking.

Gratitude is at the foundation of every good meal. While gathered around the table at home, it's prayers before forks. It's a moment to pause and show gratitude for the abundant blessing of not going hungry. A chance to acknowledge God in so many aspects of life. Yet, I'm not often comfortable with outward prayer in public.It doesn't mean I don't pause and bow my head or not show gratitude for those who have made it possible to relax, eat, and not clean-up.

When the food arrives, I try not to make it a task to get through, but an enjoyable moment of celebrating taste, texture, and time. By myself.

 And...when food becomes the only company, make it worthwhile!
Mom, sister and I are eating at a fine restaurant. We dressed up for the occasion. At the table across from us is a woman, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, dining alone. Since this subject is on my mind, I glance in her direction every so often. She eats slow. She seems to enjoy each bite. She savors. She drinks. She doesn't appear to be conscious of eating alone. She's my hero.