Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Water

A light rain falls on a dark-clouded day. The waves pound, the surf takes out the sand built up against the sidewalks. We won't be swimming today or lounging in the sun. I've even brought an umbrella on my walk just in case the drizzle turns to hard rain.

When I pass the pool, it is mostly empty; the few families still swimming are gathered under a pool cabana.

Except...

One little girl is stretched out her full body length, floating in the water. The raindrops fall on her wet face. She is completely Zen. Relaxed. Oblivious, yet completely conscious of the moment in which she is still. I stop walking to watch her. She is a masterpiece and becomes an image I can't let release.

 I see myself in this little girl. I too have spent copious time floating in water~as a child, a teenager, as an adult, inter-cending into a quiet world of perfect peace.

I love the way the blue rectangles of carpet beneath my bathroom sink form under and cuddle my feet, and the way the memory foam mattress at the beach cradles my body. But nothing forms better than water in which we float. It separates, swirls and flows perfectly into and around our bodies.

Our affinity for floating in water comes, I am certain, from those nine months of perfect nurturing. Muted sounds, gentle wave riding from caresses or bumps. The perfect climate controlled temperature, sustenance, and environment for growth--our first sensual exposure to existence.

Do you like roller coasters? *It is late in Chicago, and if my daughter is still awake, she will be startled by the question. When she was just the size of an apple, when she was bumper-padded safely in a salted-water womb, I was body surfing and met unexpectedly with the curl of a wave. Pounded and tossed, I emerged a little stunned and worried about the child. What did this tiny human feel within? Was she as protected as I assumed?

For the same reason I love salt water, is the possible reason for my love of rhythm. There is not a more familiar sound than iambic pentameter~~boom-boom.....boom-boom...boom-boom. The beat of poets, of lyrical language, the sound of my mother's heartbeat.

*My daughter responds, "Yes I like roller coasters. Why?"


Monday, February 27, 2017

Ambassadorial Goodwill

Dear Professor H,

You recently sent my husband (Dr. M), a decorative clock as a thank-you for his work.

When my husband showed me the clock, I was sitting at my desk preparing a history lesson on the past conflicts between Iran and the US. It was a  moment of serendipity to have a gift of gratitude and beauty placed into my hands-- I no longer saw the past, but the present~~that we are just people who enjoy beauty, who work to support our families, and that we all desire peace and love for each other. 

I was able to share this with my students. Your gift reached beyond my husband. Your kindness and the artisanship of Iran taught a group of American students too. 

Much gratitude,

Pat M & students

Professor H's reply:


Dear Pat M,
Thank you very much for your kind message. It is a great pleasure that you liked the clock. I appreciate you and your students for the lovely photo. I wish the best for all of you.

An ambassador: an unofficial representative of goodwill.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

For Sophie: The Power of Concern

The one minute bell had rung. The final bell chimed, yet one-third of my class, the whole left-hand side was missing. What's going on?

No one seemed to know, but this was more than a coincidence. Finally, a young man sworn to secrecy led me out of the classroom.

"Sophie was diagnosed with leukemia today. Everyone is at her house."

It couldn't be. I'd just seen her mother this morning.

"They just got the call, took her home and will take her to the hospital in just a short while."

 I started class, but nothing seemed important enough to teach. As the missing students trickled in, they brought their sadness with them. Foolishly, I took them out of the classroom and tried to catch them up. Their minds were elsewhere, but we had to march onward. One of our teachers came by and reasserted that no one was supposed to know until they had an official diagnosis. We had to pretend; I told them my neighbor's son had been mis-diagnosed, so maybe, just maybe Sophie's was the same mistake....I didn't tell them the mis-diagnosis was 20 years ago.

The next school day, before first period started, all teachers were summoned into the faculty workroom, where the director gave us the official punch: Sophie had acute lymphoblastomic leukemia and was in for the fight of her life. I put my head down and wept.

When I returned to the workroom, the soccer coach had just gathered his team to break the news. I walked out just as he gave them the news, and knowing of the shock to come, I put my head down again.

Yesterday, the soccer coach, who'd started a go fund me, asked if I would help get the word out.  Teachers and students were donating, but he knew it wouldn't take the fund very high.

Acute lymphoblastomic leukemia is a costly fight.

When I saw Sophie last week, she was happy and confident in spite of just having had bone marrow taken out of her back. She looked so tiny in her hospital bed, a David against a Goliath with one tiny stone.

Please read Sophie's story, and if you feel moved to do so, throw in a stone.

https://www.gofundme.com/sophiestrong-against-leukemia


This morning I opened my email to find this message from a Japanese exchange student who is currently attending our school. I immensely appreciated his perspective because I was worried about sharing this with family, friends and with blog readers--especially when we might be getting used to gofundme requests. We may forget the power of concern that comes with itHe writes:

This is the link to a gofundme for a girl at Maeser that has cancer.  We can send her money through this link in order to help her with treatment.  I want to encourage you guys to help her by sharing this on Facebook or saving a couple of dollars and donating it to her.  We can all do something for her.
I'm so surprised to see this campaign.  I have never seen anything so wonderful like this to help somebody.  I haven't ever seen this in Japan, espcially near me.  I have discovered how kind , awesone and helpful Americans can be to each other.  Maybe Japanese people can learn from this.  
Before, there were many occasions that I would get bothered or annoyed by small things, like a paper cut, or when my host siblings are fighting.  These seem so small in comparison to being sick with cancer and being stuck in a bed in the hospital.  I feel lucky now and am just thankful for ordinary days.  I really want us all to find ways to help this girl and I hope she gets better very soon.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dependance



Jillian and her little sister are on the bike path ahead of Tony and me. There is a grocery sack in her basket. A small gust catches it and sends it our way. She turns around quickly, yells to her father. She never stops; she never looks back. 

Farther behind Tony, I didn't hear what she yelled. But the bag flies past Tony who tries to grab it, and when it floats beyond his reach, it's up to me to catch it. When it comes in for a landing, my front tire stops perfectly on it. I back up, awkwardly straddling my bike, and pick it up. 

“What’s this?” I ask Tony. 

"It’s Jill’s bug."

Ah, the bug collection for Science class. She has the same teacher as her older sisters had, and this is the third time we've spent half a year in pursuit of unusual bugs and insects. I still can't dig up a bug without wondering who in the neighborhood might need it for Science class.*

What strikes me about this incident is how it's a microcosm moment that symbolizes the enormities of parenting.  Jillian long gone, is the quintessential confident child who will turn and ask something of her parents, never looking back. She knows her parents "have her back," and in that knowing, she has become.

Jillian is now a twenty-six year old, college educated, married woman, who lives 40 minutes away. 

Last night, she sent a text asking me to find a certain jacket, to wash and dry it. She'll stop by in the morning to pick it up before she heads up the canyon for a retreat. I am comfortable and happy knowing she can still depend on me to catch the flying grocery sack of her needs. But so many years later, she knows she must follow up with a reminder, and in the morning when she arrives she's brought a box of donuts to say thank-you.


*Most recently while weed pulling on the hillside, I found an insect so distinct and disturbing, I actually called my neighbor. I knew her son was a scientist kind of guy who might also be collecting insects because it was the first term of school.

He came right down and identified the creature, but informed me he only needed to take a photo. Science class had moved into 21st century awareness that bug collecting might unnaturally tip the balance of our small neighborhood eco-system.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Warmth

Anna finished a thick Young Adult book series in a week and a half; when she turned the last page, she burst into tears and hasn't read a book since.

The author killed the heroine.

Maia read the Box Car Children at least twenty times when she was in the fourth grade.

Elijah was only five years old, when every night at bedtime, his father read him The Hobbit.

 Shoya heard a Japanese storyteller in his native country. Her English flowed, and he decided to come to America as an exchange student to improve his own English.

"When was the first time you were really sucked into a story?" I had asked the class. Or when did the emotions of a story overwhelm you?"

For me, it was sitting in Miss Nielson's third grade class listening to her read Where the Red Fern Grows. I remember the moment of impact~~the collision of comet with earth. Yet I can't remember what caused the collision: which dog died? Was it Ann or Dan?

I google: Which dog died in Where the Red Fern Grows?

When I read the answer, that Ann dies from grief over the grave of Dan~~bam! I'm back in third grade feeling a merciless lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

 And so it is, on this cold day, when the seniors seemed appropriately grumpy for a Friday afternoon close to the end of the term, I only long for the comfort of a fluffy blanket and a warm book.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Please and Thank You

I teach hard working, kind, and appreciative students. So, when I noticed that very few of them said, "Thank-you," after I'd made 70 crepes for their enjoyment, I was perplexed. I never doubted their appreciation for the good food--they're hungry seniors. They even said things like "You're awesome," but most were silent.

I started paying attention, even started counting the number of students who did say thank-you, and the numbers were few. Most of all, I was sad, that I'd even started counting. It's a horrible thing to look for lack, instead of abundance.

On my way home from a walk, I run into a friend who is waiting at the end of her driveway to talk about the state of students. She volunteers at the school, and she'd felt a void of gratitude too.

She'd also noticed her daughter hadn't been teaching her son to say please and thank-you, and at just a year and a half old, she almost felt like it might be too late.

I remember hammering please and thank-you into my little children's vocabulary and hearts. I'd with hold the desired object until I heard that sweet voice say "Please," and waited on their heels for that "Thank-you." It mattered, and for a surety, my example mattered too.

So I'm wondering, if my students aren't expressing gratitude through the simple but meaningful phrases please and thank-you, am I not using them either?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

IN Peace

Just home from work, Tony steps into my office with a white box.

"I thought you might want to see this," he says.

Curious, I take the box and pull out a strangely beautiful clock of elaborate design.

"Where did you get this?" I ask.

"A professor sent it from Iran, a thank-you for reviewing journal papers."

I turn the clock in my hands and observe the craftsmanship. I'm captivated not only by the intricate inlay, but by the rough, unfinished edges. Such contrast. I run my fingers along the smooth edges heavily varnished and the wooden cuts left un-sanded. I see an Iranian artist or perhaps a woman on an assembly line glueing or perhaps painting with delicate strokes the feathers on a bird or the leaves on a flower.

Such beauty. Such beauty that came at the crossroads of old American wounds, even a wound I still felt.

I am preparing for crossroad #3 in our study of moments that solidified the Islamic movement towards radicalism. Number three is the the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran. That his return could oust the westernized Shah and establish the first Islamic state infuses the Jihadists with proof it can be done.

The proof came with violence aimed especially at the United States. Students in Tehran seized the American embassy and took 60-plus, people hostage. The Iranian hostage crisis lasted 444 days and was at the forefront of America's concerns. How could this crazed country get away with holding American citizens hostage? The world had surely changed.

We waited. Hostages were released. Later, when an ill hostage came home, there were yellow ribbons everywhere, relief, and belief it might finally end. It did, but it tainted Jimmy Carter's presidency, left us waiting in long gas lines, and our faith in normal had waned. Almost forty years later, Iran is testing ballistic missiles and our two countries are word sparring again.

I am soaking in these memories, these hardships, nursing certain resentments, when Tony hands me the clock.

I am reminded we are just humans who love beauty, who need to create, who need to support our families. Iran had come to me in peace and beauty.







Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In The Eye

Found in my notes written four years ago and written out of exasperation--obviously:

One  uptight, nervous, nineteen year old daughter for sale, for lease, or maybe for borrow. She should have ordered her foreign currency weeks ago, she shouldn’t have bought so many shorts, she shouldn’t be so nice to every one else while I stand by seething because the wrath of her uncertainty has made me resent that she can be so nice to everyone else.

Her room is always a mess, so much that I sometimes ask, “Did I teach you to keep your room like this?” And yesterday I had to ask, “Did you want to save the Styrofoam carton for any reason?” She’d had her leftover Mexican food for breakfast and the plate, the carton, the spoon were still sitting on the counter at 5:00 that night.

Times change, people change. Children change, daughters change. Parenting the scattered nineteen year old, the high school junior who hasn't lately bothered to attend her Biology class, the child who insists on running alone on a dark night, is like hanging on to the end of a rope swinging in a hurricane. But eventually the hurricane passes and we slide off the rope onto solid ground. 

But within that hurricane, there is always the eye, the center, or the place of astonishing peace. How fascinating that nature has provided a place of calm, amidst one of the most powerfully destructive forces on the earth!

Why else, except for example?

It is for the eye of the hurricane I hurry to, relax into, talk myself into going.

This past week, I had a miserable young man create a hurricane in my class--a week long hurricane. He has failed every semester--until the very end, when he makes up just enough to pass, or when he failed, he made up the class in an online rush that caters to credit recovery. The young man moved beyond his circle of misery and decided to draw me in. He did pull me into his hurricane, but I stepped beyond, into the eye, the place of peace. 

He decided to ridicule my class choices. If I mentioned "Life and death ethics," he'd throw up his hands and say, "Not this again." I was okay in my place of peace until I realized the disturbing hurricane winds were blowing the rest of the class.

Time for accountability--in the director's office. 

I stood before him in a peaceful, sincere, place, and told him I didn't care what he thought of me because I know who I am. 

But each time he says or acts negatively, he hurts himself. He deepens his wounds, his negativity, and since it was spreading to the class, he needed to make a choice. If he didn't like our class, I encouraged him to take Language Arts and History from another source. He would always be welcome, but the choice was his.

He decided to stay. Even told the director he liked the class. He wrote a note of apology.  We'll see. In the meantime, I will be resting within the eye of the storm.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Rock Pushing

1942 was the heyday for French existentialism, which seems an appropriate time for the French to question their existence and responsibility in an irrational universe: the insanity of the German occupation, persecution, and mayhem in what seemed to run (for a very short time) as a well organized machine--which would have magnified the absurdity.

Last night, after reading again, Albert Camus'* The Myth of Sisyphus,** I have been contemplating the pushing of that boulder up the hill. Camus writes that when the boulder rolls back down the hill, it is in that moment of Sisyphus' contemplation, that he, Camus, is most interested in. "That is the hour of consciousness." That space of decision and determination is Sisyphus' choice to take control of his absurd curse. In getting behind the rock and heaving it back up the hill, "We must imagine Sisyphus is happy."

Determined to stay aware of our new presidency's thoughts and actions, but to keep the information balanced, I followed on twitter: Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Great information can't be conveyed completely in little squirts of opinion, but it is a kind of pulse I can keep my finger on.

Last night, I hit the wall. Our president's tweets are exacerbating, along with his cabinet's defense when asked certain questions about his policies. I've tried to rely on the primary documents, listening to what the players actually do and say instead of what the naysayers say. In my fed-up state, I unfollowed all the tweeters, even though Hillary Clinton's tweets have been positive and upbeat.

A strange thing has been happening in the library and classroom of my mind. In the early morning hours, when I am in a somewhat conscious state of sleep, my mind has been rationalizing, teaching, and seeking understanding. The myth of Sisyphus became the frame from which a new understanding emerged. Like Sisyphus, I have been placed in a world of torment and futility with a task of rolling a boulder up a hill--in this case the boulder is politics. In that moment of contemplation, deciding to push the rock up the hill or not, or whether to stay privy to politics is a decisive moment. In my decision to disregard the political venue of twitter, I've walked away from the task. When enough people refuse to participate, refuse to deal with the burden, that is when politics run rampant into absurdity; it is when heads of state gain too much power and tip the scales of democracy. A democracy consists of Sisyphus-like people who are willing to roll that darn rock up a hill to make sure we stay a democracy.

Will I get back on the twitter feed of the president, the past president and one-time president contenders? No. Not for now. The fight and the fighters can be as absurd as the reason to fight. There are other ways to protect democracies, I just have to find the best way to roll my rock up the hill.



* Jean Sartre, Simone de Bouvier, Albert Camus were the best known French existentialists.

The Myth of Sisyphus,**There are many versions of Sisyphus' condemnation from the gods. Essentially, the King of Corinth was punished horribly in the afterlife because he loved life more than he loved the gods. His doom was to push the boulder up the hill, watch it roll down, and push it up again in an eternal cycle. His curse is often compared to the drudgery of life--and so it seemed again this morning as I contemplated whether to get out of bed again, and start the routine all over again. In that moment when I decided to pursue life, I was also determined to add some spice to this day, so I could dance, skip, and laugh while pushing the rock.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Children's Hospital

Finally, I could sit and worry no longer. I got in the car and drove 40 minutes to pick up lunch and take it to my friends. I stopped at the store and picked up some fruit and some nuts. Over the next few weeks, they'll need much more than this.

My friend, was my student. My friend was her mother, and one day earlier she'd been diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia. Thank goodness she's a fighter, because she's just entered the ring that will require everything she's got.

I've been trying to process the randomness of the strike. Trying to process how we will start class on Tuesday. Trying to process the non-importance of teaching terrorism or grammar, or MLA format on their research papers. Everything about life has been re-shuffled. Categories of importance have been flipped.

How will we carry on? How will we discuss our book when our missing student was at the center of the discussion? Her book was decorated with colorful sticky notes. When questions were asked, she had an answer. She was the one with the questions, and the quotes that fit just right.

My stay was short. Less than ten minutes. Yet, I walked away with more life re-shuffling, more life prioritizing, more gratitude. And the distinct feeling that once a year, everyone should visit a children's hospital. Not because I would wish their lives to be interrupted or to interrupt the hospital.

 All one has to do is sit in the lobby and understand the preciousness of life, the uncertainty of life. Every person who enters is pained. He or she carries gifts, or food, or a burden. Even in the lobby, one sees the children who are well, go home, and the children who are never well, go home too. Yet, amidst the gloom, there is hope and love and patience. It's a place where I am sure angels reside. And at least once a year, we need to be in the presence of angels to keep our hope, to extend our gratitude for the preciousness of life.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Catch-Up



Hours after a student called me sophisticated and I denied being so--I walk into my home still filled with Christmas decorations. I should have responded to the student: I'm not sophisticated, my Christmas tree is still in the living room window, my fireplace mantel still has a wreath, and other Christmas et cetera still adorns my home.

The worst of it is, I'm too worn out to care.

Life's chores have been parceled into emergency only, ICU, general care, and negligence. Tony is somewhere between general care and who are you? Thank goodness he does laundry, replaces the fire-flickering microwave and takes out the garbage on Tuesday nights.

Even my exercise-always lifestyle has become a twice a week indulgence.

The crazy-busy, unexpected lifestyle came, because my teaching partner had to switch months. I dove into the current event/history unit without adequate preparation. The development and history of terrorism was a new subject. Entirely.

I only have four more days of teaching and then I will play catch up; I will go to yoga class; I will do the laundry; I'll visit my daughter; I will grocery shop and cook dinner; I'll make granola.

I am fully aware of the blessing of playing catch-up and for many people catch-ups are rare. Work weeks are long and weekends can mean more hours at a second job. Catch-up may mean resting one's eyes on a bus ride. During my father's illness, Mom rarely had time to catch-up. Yesterday, while my students watched a film, I sat in the teacher's lounge with a over-burdened teacher whose toddler was scheduled for a second heart surgery in a week.

I remember well the times of unrelenting responsibility: the newborn who didn't sleep the first year, the demands of toddlers before they were old enough for school, a mentally ill acquaintance who called daily. Jobs that were everyday.

The memories magnify my appreciation for the pauses I can take in between the continual, seemingly unending demands. The memories also spur me to give up those first few days of my much needed break to help the teacher, the mother, whose child will have surgery.

Friday, February 17, 2017

If You Could Choose A New Name

It was a simple exercise based on a character in a book. The character had come to help a family and in her service and love, she gave herself a new name. Her new name was Jispa, really an acronym created from the letters of an old French phrase that spoke of selfless sacrifice.

I stood before my students and passed out squares of recycled paper. "Some of you won't take this serious, so we'll have some laughs. I want you to create a new name that would represent your best self. Who you would want to be. We'll keep it anonymous, so you're free to choose without feeling self-conscious."

As predicted, most of the students took the assignment seriously. I collected the pieces of paper and read off the new monikers. There were a few who chose Hope; a Lancelot showed up. Someone chose Charity. A few students kept their own name. Well that's good, I thought.

I then came to a little piece of paper that made me pause. It began: I am transgender and if I could choose a new name, I would choose... I read the name to the class, but the students were aware of the pregnant pause.

"It has some personal information, and I'm not sure..." I looked to the student for assurance whether to read or not. The student nodded. Deep breath. I read the note. Thanked the student for being so open and brave.

 At 3:00 a.m., I awoke from a dead sleep. The student wanted to share the personal information. Needed to share the information. I didn't really know what transgender meant. Could I ask? Did she need to answer the class's questions?

I decided to ask if it was okay to ask. The student said "Yes."

I learned the meaning of transgender. I learned the student's hatred for her own body. I understood what a difficult journey she'd traveled. I was moved by her courage. At the end of our short conversation, she moved forward and I took the moment to embrace her with gusto. I cried. I felt overwhelmed with love and compassion for her. "I love you," because I couldn't hold it back. It was as natural as she was finally starting to feel.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Photo Fuss

The instructions were implicit: passport must be valid for six months within foreign travel dates.

My passport was set to expire a few days before the six month limit. Should I risk it?

I did, and there was a glitch. My boarding pass wouldn't print: PASSPORT INVALID. Oh no, I thought. This can't be happening.

I proceded to the agent. She looked at my passport and changed the trajectory of my night, my life: she printed my boarding pass.

So tonight, Tony picked a day-after-Valentine's restaurant close to the Fed Ex store that will take our passport photos. Danny, the young and cheerful employee, grabs the camera,  pulls down the backdrop, and voila,~~a photo studio, step right up.

Content with a full belly of Indian food, I do step right up and flash a big grin.

"Excuse me," Danny smiles, "you can't show your teeth."

I feel like a mean dog. I close my mouth and lose the smile.

"Ma'am, I need you to make sure your ears are showing."

I feel like a poodle in a dog show.

"Oh, is this a new requirement?" I ask Danny. My last passport was issued in 2007, and I assume a lot of changes have been made. I push my bushy hair behind my ears. It's not enough.

"I need to see your entire ear."

Okay. I fuss just a bit more.

"The one on the right."

"Should I take off my coat?" I ask Danny.

"Actually no. You can't take a passport photo while wearing a white shirt."

Thank goodness for the black coat.

"If you were wearing glasses, you'd have to remove those too. No eyeglasses."

"Ma'am, you need to push your hair behind your ears.  No, no, like this. Yes. That's good."

After looking to the side of the camera, I ask if I'm supposed to be looking directly into it.

"Yes, I believe so. We can just retake it."

He deletes the photo.

I stand erect and prepare for the second photo.

"Hair behind your ears." Pause. "Push it back again."

Click.

Danny processes our photos.

Tony says, "Come here, this is the strangest photo of you."

I cautiously approach the counter. "You're right."

Danny rings up our purchase: $32 for two wallet sized photos that will open the door to the world.




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Storytelling Cafe

What triggers an idea?

Perhaps it is when we notice a need, or when we see the potential of fulfilling a need.

Hence, observation is the first step to combatting idea paralysis; when ideas are absent, so is action.  Action paralysis is the great threat to an abundant life. Life without action, without ideas is a desert.  Ideas are dew drops from heaven, coaxing flowers and suppleness from dry and shriveled cacti.

Or perhaps ideas spring from abundance. Yes...in my class, it was the abundance that created an idea.

When the talent in my storytelling class manifested itself so well, we had to utilize that talent. Storytelling lunch hour! Their response was--open--willing--excited--all the trimmings for an idea to move beyond a mental picture.

We picked a date, sleuthed our opening storytellers, and chose love stories for our debut festival. A student gave it a name: Storytelling Cafe. The most unexpected, excited student created a flyer and designed small notes to tape on lockers. We chose an emcee and decided to serve cookies.

The plans looked good, but until we actually had our first storytelling cafe, it was like a porcelain cup balancing on the head of a toddler--would it crash to the ground or stay balanced? If........we mused, storytelling cafe is a success, we'll make it a regular Tuesday event.

As the days neared, I became keenly aware of another need: the students who eat alone, who walk the halls alone, who sit outside on the school steps eating their lunch alone. Storytelling Cafe held during lunch, could be a refuge for the lonely! I invited my students to seek out the lunch loners and invite them to room 147.

I excitedly entered the room at the appointed hour. It was almost full! Both our storytellers were ready. The emcee stood--curtains! The extra chairs filled with late students and at least five had to take a seat on the floor. Our two guests, beloved teachers, couldn't have told a better story. There were laughs, and oohs and ahhs. It was the most enjoyable lunch time I've had since sitting in a Parisian sidewalk cafe with the one I love.

Our class had witnessed an idea, that turned into an event, that only took one short week to plan, prepare, execute, and enjoy.

When the bell rang and the students filed off to class,  I saw at least one of my wishes had been fulfilled--a young man who walks the halls, alone, during lunch, had enjoyed the storytelling cafe.

Storytelling had more than fulfilled its purpose.

Next week: Traditional story re-telling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Le Jour D'Amour

For Dad, on this day of love, he was greeted by a plate of heart shaped sugar cookies frosted in pink and red. Those cookies were Dad's and I don't remember ever partaking of one. Surely Mom must have given us one~~but maybe not. Valentine's Day was for him.

And for her.

I was maybe eight years old and Dad was coming home with a surprise. It was Valentine's Day, and I waited by the front door in the company of my four year old sister. Like a flash, a darting comet, a mugger who turns the corner, the little red Mustang pulled into the driveway out of nowhere.

Mom's Valentine gift.

The sugar cookies became my tradition. Soft, large, heart shaped. Each year for my daughters and for Tony.

I've made them for young women, so they wouldn't feel compromised on this confidence boosting or inflating day. I've made them for my entire classes after a meaningful presentation on soft hearts vs. hard hearts.

Today I made them for the women I visit teach, and for our first storytelling cafe, which the theme is love stories. Of course.

I  made them for five beautiful girls in my AP Literature class who have complained in the past few days that they have not received val-o-grams--the high school money maker and status builder/breaker. We will also read and explicate some of the world's most enduring love poems: Shakepeare's sonnets, Anne Bradstreet's poem to her dear and loving husband, Andrew Marvel's To His Coy Mistress (scandalous), Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley's Love's Philosophy and more.

This morning, Tony said, "If you feel like it there may be something in the freezer for Valentine's Day." After a late night of baking, frosting, and eating sugar cookies, ice cream in the freezer didn't sound so appetizing. After he'd left for work, I peeked into a bottom drawer as instructed and found a J CREW bag. For a moment, I was stunned he had bought me clothes. What a departure from his language of love: food (is that a love language?). Seconds later, the tricky bag trick revealed my typical, wonderful, predictable Tony: two pints of premium ice cream.

How appropriate it is to love the day of love~~and of course, I am wearing red.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Refugee's Story

When talk about refugees came to the forefront of our classroom discussion, my students told me we had a refugee in our school. By their calm telling and seemingly taking his presence for granted, I assumed his story was unremarkable--perhaps--but not unimportant, not in the least.

I pushed and pulled for answers, and finally, they remembered he was from Pakistan. I erroneously assumed his passage to America was routine.

Little did I know, I had seen the young man almost everyday; but he had a presence of confidence, he fit in, he looked nothing like (what I assumed) was a refugee. So what does a refugee look like? Does he forever bear the scars or the look of the trauma endured? Apparently not.

The young man decided to come forth with his story. He'd learned plenty, and he wanted to help others. A colleague sent me his Go Fund Me website. I was mightily surprised when I recognized him, but had never assumed he was the refugee.

He reveals the haunting truth in his story...yet it didn't hit me that this bright eyed, healthy and happy young man had gone through such horrific circumstances until I saw the photo taken of him a week after the boat accident.

Though I'm sharing his story, the photos have a kind of sacredness to them, and I feel apprehensive to post. You can see the photos at: https://www.gofundme.com/refugees-edu


My name is Mustafa Hamidi.  I am 18 years old and a refugee from Quetta, Pakistan.  I enjoy hope and opportunities that were not possible in my home country.  I am in the United States because of the generosity of others.  I am sharing my story because I want to help give educational opportunities to other refugees who are beginning their journey.
In my home country, I did not have the freedoms and opportunities that I now have in the United States.  My ethnic group (known as Hazara) is still targeted, threatened, and oppressed daily with ethnic and religious discrimination.  The Hazaras are peace loving people and the extremist groups do not want our people to succeed in careers or education. Within my hometown, I was reasonably safe, if I stayed within an approximate five-mile radius of my home, but our people are regularly targeted and killed when they go outside the boundaries of our community.  Close members of my family have paid with their lives by simply looking for work outside of our town.

When I was 14, my mother paid a smuggler to get me out of the community so I could be safe and eventually help them get out to safety.  My intended destination was Australia where most of the migrated Hazara community have found asylum since the late 90’s.  We traveled under the the cover of night to avoid being caught and sent back to danger.

After a week of leaving Pakistan, I arrived at Jakarta. A few days later we boarded a worn down wooden boat at 3:00 in the morning.  We had to avoid the police because capture would lead to a guaranteed jail sentence.  I was the youngest of 72 people on board.  All but the captain were refugees.  We expected a 24-hour boat ride to Christmas Island (an Australian outpost).  The seas were extremely rough.  I was seasick, laying on the deck.  Nine hours into the journey, the boat was overcome by the waves.  One wave finally broke the boat into pieces.  Because I was on deck, I was one of the first to fall into the water.  My companions who were under the deck couldn’t escape.  Only 14 of us survived.  We held on to floating debris from the boat, and tied ourselves together.  We were alone in the water for 24 hours.  A fishing boat from Indonesia discovered us and took us back to the police in Jakarta.  The only way we could stay out of jail was to give all our money to the police.  They dropped us off in the streets at 2:00 in the morning.  We were in a foreign country; homeless, hungry, and completely broke. After difficult application process, I was fortunate to receive temporary asylum in Jakarta under UNHCR (United Nations High commissioner for refugees).  This was the first time since I left home that I had legal protection, and the first time in my life that I was free from the fear of life-threatening persecution. 


I now have been in the United States for 2 and a half years and I am finishing the last semester of my high school senior year. I now have the opportunity to go for further studies and achieve my goal and pursue my dreams to become a professional pilot. I am extremely grateful to have all these opportunities, a wonderful and amazing foster family and friends in the States who support me all the time. None of these great things would have happened if it was not because of all the wonderful people I have met through this journey. I know that I have the opportunity of living the American Dream.

Since arriving in the states, I have longed to reach out to other refugees who are at the beginning of their long, hard and stressful journey. I understand their desperate desire for a safer and brighter future.
Since arriving in the states, I have longed to reach out to other refugees who are at the beginning of their long, hard and stressful journey. I understand their desperate desire for a safer and brighter future.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Questions For A Museum Exhibit

Through a dear friend, I was asked to answer some questions for a potential museum exhibit. The interviewer's title, the consultant company creator, instead of CEO, was Chief Curiosity Officer! Who wouldn't want that job?


1.  The First Amendment grants us five freedoms:  speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly.  Think of your daily life.  Which of these freedoms (1 or 2) intersects with your life in areas that you treasure the most?  Please explain when and how.

I see Norman Rockwell's thematic paintings honoring the four freedoms.

Unfortunately, because of my surroundings, I take my religious freedoms for granted--in spite of knowing how prevalent religious persecution has been throughout time; in spite of my best friend's grandmother who lost her entire family in WWII concentration camps; in spite of my own grandmother who came to America for religious freedom; in spite of mild persecution (even from my own family) for my beliefs--yet I still take this privilege for granted and hope I always will; to take this for granted is a privilege I acknowledge. The "otherwise" is unthinkable. 

In today's political environment, the freedoms seem to be equally important. Hugely important. Yet, I wonder how many people realize that free speech, petition, and assembly, also have the power to instill fear to do so. Freedom has an often ignored yet absolutely necessary equalizer: responsibility. As a teacher, I honor the responsibility of my right to "free" speech. I have been reprimanded by students who felt I had breached my responsibility.  I love that women gathered around the nation to protest, yet as I listened to some of the heated speeches, I felt they had let go of a certain civil responsibility-- portrayed in a former student's instagram photo and explanation which showed her holding a sign she had created with her own menstrual blood. I fully support her right to protest; I was disappointed and grossed out by her choice of medium. These freedoms survive because of accompanying responsibility.


 2.  What is/are the feeling, emotion you obtain while in that pursuit? For example, some respondents feel powerful while protesting; others feel peaceful at Church.  In your words, how do you feel, what do you learn about yourself in this activity?

I find peace in the contemplation of these rights. That I can see multiple sides of the freedoms, that I see them as treasures, and that treasures can be plundered. I feel sadness that the very treasures of these freedoms have the power to deny them in others.

I have learned I am not a protester. I despise conflict. I can hardly stomach political talk, and wish there was a place to turn to where I could find unbiased interpretation of current politics. 

3.  Finally, what’s your belief about the power, potential and resilience of the human spirit?  

Last January, I was staying in a cheap hotel in Athens Greece. Each day I would rush back and forth to my third floor room, and in my rush, would pass a group of people who had a certain longing in their eyes. They must be refugees. When I got the chance to talk to them, I discovered a resilience heretofore unseen. Sixty people had paid smugglers to leave in a boat built for 15. They had endured hardship unimaginable to escape hardship even more unimaginable. In this group were Christians, Muslims, and people without faith. They asked, "If we can get along, why can't all people?" They were waiting to move to Poland, and in their fears were also found a power and potential of the human spirit.

I just learned a young man in my school is a Hazara refugee from Pakistan. In a desperate attempt to escape persecution, he endured that same horrific smuggler/boat experience we are seeing over and over again. Yet, I would have never guessed his depth of his resilience needed to endure what he did.

These world conditions are creating what author Phillip Hallie refers to as life and death ethics. It is in this critical moment that we are not only seeing the formidable human spirit to survive but also the human spirit to help--the ship captains on the island of Lesbos (NYtimes video 4.1 Miles), the family that took the Pakistani refugee, into their home. The human spirit rises in life and death ethics.

The power and potential of the human spirit also rises over time, often in a person's own time and it can't be forced, as seen in the young student who was moved by the description on pages 139-140 of a book (previous post: Timing).

Unfortunately, the power, potential and resilience of the human spirit, has an opposite side too. It's what is required to build a charter intent on the destruction of Israel, or the creation of ISIS.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Timing

He's over six feet tall, weighs at least 250 pounds, and last year, he took great pride in having made his teacher cry.

Last semester he was only present in body. He'd sit down in his seat, barely fitting, and check himself into the pages of a Brandon Sanderson fantasy. When he failed the second quarter, I wasn't surprised, didn't even think much about it.

But he did, and apparently, he'd given it enough thought to make a change.

This week, he came into class excited, "Mrs. Martinez, did you read page 139-140?"

I had--many times--but not enough to know exactly what it said. "Yes, I read it, but I can't put your page numbers to the story."

He implored me to read it as soon as I could. "I will," I said, "but first I've got to start class. Give me the context of what it says."

"The father. He's so strong."

That's all he said, but in those five words, so much was said.

I started class, then opened the book to page 139. Through all my readings of this book, the glorious annotations in blue and yellow marker, the stars, the sticky notes for emphasis, I had never marked this passage. It hadn't resonated with me the way it resonated with him.

"Papa, Papa!!" (his children) would cry, not because he brought them gifts--they were too poor for that---but because he brought them himself. Two of the three boys would seize his legs...and stand on his feet so that he could make an elephant walk...Sometimes, if he was too tired or too full of pain to play such games with them, they would sit around him while he told them a newly minted episode in the unending story of the Little Beast... (Phillip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed)

These were the pages that captivated my student about the strong father, and his reference wasn't only to the man's physical strength. In the margins of my book, on page 140, my notes now read: 2-9-2017 Zac pointed out to me how much he loved this part because of the father~~Trocme is so strong.

Not only do I have the note, the book, but I now have the treasured visual of my student, overcome with emotion and excitement from reading about a powerful father. How lucky I am he shared these feelings. Good literature has the power to incite change, and I hope that someday, my student will become like the father he so admired in a book if we had read just a few months earlier, he may have resisted.

Friday, February 10, 2017

My Fun, Witty, Food Loving Friends

A man plans to take his wife to his favorite barbecue joint, Red Hot and Blues. He discovered the restaurant while on a business trip to Tennessee with some of his male buddies. The man and his wife don't live in Tennessee, but he is thrilled when he discovers a Red hot and Blues near his home in Washington DC. Their trip to DC involves other things, but the highlight is definitely the meal at the Red Hot and Blues for some pulled pork.

He is excited as he pulls into his favorite restaurant, as his wife is in for a special treat as this is her first introduction to Red Hot and Blues. For weeks he''s been thinking about what he's going to order: the time-honored and obvious choice-the Tennessee triple. On his recommendation, his wife orders the pulled pork. The man is having a wonderful time indulging in his tasty BBQ and listening to Blues classics.

Midway through the meal he notices his wife might be enjoying the fresh, hot bread more than the pork.

Upon leaving, his wife comments that the restaurant was pretty good, "If you're in the mood for BBQ."

This sounds like a backhanded compliment to her husband who so loved the experience. Having assumed that his wife would love the place as much as he did, he dug up his standard, good-humored defense and told her that he hoped that in taking her to Red Hot and Blues, he hadn't just cast pearls before swine.

Without missing a beat, she replied, "It was more like casting swine before a pearl."

To which he could say nothing, it being both a true and witty retort, and a reminder of his greatest pearl: his wife.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Engagement of True Learning

We've been studying the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

We started with the Abrahamic covenant: Father Abraham was promised a great nation would emerge in the land, the land of Canaan, the land that would eventually become Israel. Jewish people strongly believe it is their promised land, and Arabs, Bedouins, many Muslims-some Christians, believe the Abrahamic covenant comes through Ishmael, the son of Hagar and Abraham--hence it is their covenanted land too. We are trying to solve a thousand-plus-year-old problem, and the last 70 years have been a little rough.

Our culminating writing project, required students to pick a side of the recent UN Resolution 2334, a resolution created and passed in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlement building and Palestinian terror. The US abstained from voting, and ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power presented a logical defense along with a condemnation of UN practices of bias against Israel. Yet, the US failure to veto the resolution, caused an uproar among Democrats, Republicans, Israelis and pro-Israel thinkers. Though the US officially abstained, it allowed the resolution to pass 14-0. The US has had a history of supporting Israel, come what may.

It was only after my students received an unbiased history of the region could they make a decision about the resolution, and even then, many could not. They are learning that many difficult political conundrums require a tough decision making process, and unfortunately have a glimpse now of why some problems are never solved.

The class period intended for writing essays became a laboratory. When students had to write, they realized they didn't have all the answers. Questions came forth, intense discussion and exchange of ideas, followed. I heard metaphors of comparison between the conflict and children fighting over a toy.

Two young men who pressed forward in understanding, kept asking all the right questions, and at certain points they would throw up their hands in exasperation.

"Now you're beginning to understand!" I said. The exasperating problem.

The room would quiet down for a short period, then I would hear a student bring up another point of concern to a neighboring student.

I wondered if I was asking too much of them.

They pressed on, and reached a most surface understanding of a seemingly unsolvable problem that costs the United States billions of dollars a year, that costs lives of innocent people, that has created a world-wide concern for peace, nuclear destruction, terrorism.

At the end of class, two students walked out together discussing the conflict.

This I realized at the end of the day, is true learning.