A city of hope

I have always maintained that my favorite thing about Washington D.C. is the public space: hallowed, holy, set aside for all. It is that demarcation which makes this nation great, the “our’s” we which identify, recognize and choose to hold in trust together.

This was a busy week, Holy Week. Children were out of school, many parents released from work, our electorate at recess as well. But the crowds wandering and the spaces devoid of business as usual did not lessen that sense of space  sacred.

We took  elementary and senior high students alike. Most did not read every marker, some tried. Most did not catch the significance of every symbol, some had eyes more able. Most did not regularly know, name or number the heritage of those swarming about as were we.  But,  all of them experienced that space. I watched them take it in, their eyes stretched down far horizons, their necks craned to capture heights, the breath within them held tighter and longer than their chests’ regular rise.

I watched them experience people, not at war, in shopping malls and upon green malls alike, people whose ideas might be, but whose bodies recognized better angels indeed. I watched them make friends with folks who hold ideals they might (unknowingly) besmirch in yet unlearned jest. And I watched shared humanity water the seeds of humility and understanding.

I watched our kids stretch out their hands to veterans on perhaps their last trips and to vendors not long among us. I watched them laugh with others in lines, and more remarkably, remain in love’s sway with their sibling like companions.

Washington is a city of compromise and sometimes compassion, a place where we can all sense the riches of the trust we have been afforded.

Above all, it seems to me, a city of hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The waters are rising…

I wrote this a couple of years ago. It seems in every way as timely today, we are delayed by flood in our school day, as then…

 

This season comes around every now and then. Flood. We don’t really mark our seasons in the US as flood or rainy or dry, but many places in the world do. That kind of weather is sort of intermittent here. A huge storm (tropical or otherwise) can set in and bring on flood. There are times when those storms are much more common. But you can’t plant your crops by them much less set your watch by the phenomena here. Rainy, dry and flood make for good spiritual metaphor. I feel flood waters rising. You know that point where it has rained enough, the ground is all saturated, pools are forming in yards, the creeks are out of their banks – usually that’s when the rain stops and the waters begin to recede. But sometimes, it rains more, then more, then more…and things move and shift and slide and sometimes succumb. Flood looks like the least frightening of the weather phenomena, but that is deceptive. We have lots of thunder and lightning storms in the South, and lots of tornadoes as well. That kind of weather makes the hair stand up on your arms, it gets your attention, and if it doesn’t, the sirens that accompany it surely will. But flood is subtle, a building thing that comes continually and calmly, doing its quiet damage under cover of the waters. We had a “for real” flood in our little town about two months ago. The creek that joins up to the river about 1/2 mile down from Helena, rose maybe 25 feet in a hemmed in place. The creek bed is rock lined. This creek doesn’t flood wide and shallow; it grows tall and powerful. The great scooped-out space at the base of the falls was filling like a tea-cup. The waters surged just under the only open (non-flooded) bridge to my town from any direction for about day. I could only imagine the shifting, the destruction occurring underneath the brown, frothy waters. My children routinely play in that creek; they fish, wade with nets, catch crawdads and ride kayaks in those waters all the time. They have free run in the park aside it. But as the flood waters rose and we went down to see them at the falls, I could not help but hold the t-shirt backs of my children who stood ten feet away from what was becoming the bank. I was shaken; people came and stared. There wasn’t much to say above the never before heard roar. It scared me; I wondered what would remain, what would stand in its former place. I went back a week or two ago. Plastic trash bags flag the trees twenty feet above the settled waters. I don’t know how to get those down. All other debris was pushed far beyond the falls. Tomorrow, as we paddle, I’ll look miles down the river for the dead trees, as wide around as my arms will reach, that I saw bouncing upright like British style bobbers do in the currents. Flood is frighteningly powerful, carving wide and deep the channel of its flow. There was nothing living that could have resisted those waters. The flood of God’s waters is rising in me…(Buck Creek is never above waist-high in Helena.) But I feel the waters at my chest this very moment. It’s still rising. I could try to stand “my” ground against it. But it’s still raining and I know that another inch of rain will raise the flood waters feet. I’m about to succumb and secede. Nothing else can occur.

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1000 threads

I  do not often post on this, my public site, anymore. It doesn’t mean I am not writing. Oh, I write. Writing secures a measure of sanity for me. I  write.

It has long been an indulged habit of mine to write toward someone, a witness if you will to what it is  I sense that I must address. I have moved that burden about over the years I have been again writing. Old friends and new friends alike have so graciously let me “write their way.” And that is no small sacrifice. I may not be profound, but I am prolific. I write a great many words every day. I write to compensate for much insanity about me, one I do not want to succumb to myself.

Presently, my best friend ever, forever has taken up the duty of at least acknowledging what I write, secreting it, asking me some good follow-up questions, and supplying prompts when further exploration seems wise. It is a great gift, the most precious of gifts, she gives to me in doing such. ( If you have done the same before, you have, I trust you know, saved my life.) Yesterday, we hit 1000 threads, in a little over a year of writing, well me writing ad nauseam and her responding or occasionally sending me something. Do you have any idea how many words that is? How many thoughts and considerations? How many questions I have posed to myself, tried to answer, and sought better questions to better address all that is before me?

It is a lot to slog through.

If you, especially you whose duty has been presently relieved, ever wonder if I am writing at all, the answer is, “Yes, I am writing… and writing…and writing.”

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They still love math

I substituted for a friend today, a young woman my youngest daughter babysits for in the summers. She teaches 2nd, yes, second graders. It is an anomaly for me to sub for such an age. They wear me out! It is a battle at times to keep high schoolers awake. That is not so for 2nd graders. At all. ( I might have taken them out and run them.)

Anyway, we wrote out spelling words and played spelling games. We read and drew and answered many comprehension questions aloud and independently. We practiced our penmanship, no I didn’t remember how to make a cursive upper case Q. When have I last written in cursive? And then I taught a math lesson on equality. (Those who know me well are smiling. ) I told them I didn’t know a dang thing about elementary math, how their teacher taught it, etc. I taught seniors, 12th grade math, the best I could do for them was some geometry with a few fractions and decimals thrown in for fun. Their eyes got big, 12th GRADE MATH! Yep, your teacher told me you were very smart and could handle anything I dished out. They nodded, of course. 

I  made them put up their workbooks and just watch. We were going to learn how to do math intuitively. We would check ourselves with counting and regular old math. They were game. We started with the geometry of circles and triangles and squares, learned the relationships inherent. We eye-balled equivalents. Then we counted to check them, and do you know, along the way we learned all about equivalent fractions and how to reduce them. And no one was afraid or shut down or was unable to get it. Because they were smart at math, their teacher said so, and I proved it for them…I just proved it for them.

Later in the day they went to centers, things which I have learned save teachers’ souls, and I asked them what they were playing. “Math games! they are much more fun than word games.” This Word Girl, who just teaches math to those who need more counselor than instructor, had to smile. Math is a mental thing, the game gets gummed up in the mind when you are told how hard it is, how weak your skills are over and over. The best mathematicians I know are intuitive in how they reach their ( correct) answers. They see it first, then prove it with numbers or statements…and consequently their scores.

2nd graders can still see it, like Santa Claus sailing across the night sky or that glorious as of yet unhidden forest. 2nd grade  is the time, now, before it is too late, to let them see and then believe.

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known by name

I have noticed something these years I have been in schools, among the students, especially those who are new to me. I have discovered that if I know their names, learn them quickly, immediately…call them by them before they expect I might, the nature of our relationship changes dramatically. They become, for the most part, my help, support, even defenders. We are not locked in some strange vertical association that rarely brings about much real learning, we are comrades on a journey together towards knowledge and understanding. I do not know of many other ways that real learning well occurs.

I love to call roll in someone’s class and be smiling into the eyes of a student as I speak her name aloud. There is the magical moment of recognition, mine of the student, specific, unique, a gift, and his that I have remembered who his is, clearly a gift to me.

I am substituting this year, and as such, I have discovered something about me. I so much more enjoy that moment of recognition than the material covered, even that which I was passionate in presenting. It is that moment that makes this job matter, at least to me.

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Talking about tone

I had an English class today, one section is especially talented and teachable, a rare combination.  They are constructing a persuasive essay. Their research is completed, their arguments are selected, they are weaving together a draft of a “persuasive” nature.

We talked a bit about persuasion, how it works and how foolhardy that work can be, if undertaken unwisely. Such can convince, without argument, one entirely otherwise. Tone is everything, argument is only somewhat important. I told them what I thought was the secret to teaching high school, gaining trust and allowing the love of learning to grow. I told them how I would never dare to tell one of my students what was so. How the whole point is for them to discover  and come to more and more understanding on their own. A key is to always use a back door, never come barreling in the front, “The Answer,” or worse, “YOUR answer, is here!” It seems better to knock at the back door, the friends’ door, with cookies, warm. I try to let another come to their own answer, present understanding, to honor that, respect it as untested by life as it yet is. Give them that grace to learn, to truly learn and gain “what is valued above all else, wisdom and understanding.” – Proverbs 3:13

As I demonstrated plainly one’s reaction to frontal attack, immediate defensiveness, instinctual, ingrained defensiveness, some saw that I spoke to more than the essay before them. Some saw what I was saying to them in our own back porch conversation.

Then I explained to them that as a writer, I have come to learn that a back door approach is nearly mandatory, most good story is told from that perspective. The young, will be writer in the room, looked up and wide-eyed at me, Aha! all over her face. Back door, baby! I silently shot toward her quick eyes, as she nodded, yes!

My day’s work was done.

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“maybe when things turn green again…” – J. Mayer (In Repair)

Meg had a track meet. Of course, it started early and we had to be there even an hour earlier. It was cloudy, cool, threatening to rain on us again. Last year there were lightning storms and tornadoes in the nearby sky. I did not want to be there, then. I did not want to be there this year. I am a horrible parent/friend fan, a burnt out one.

All Meg’s ( and my ) favorite friends of hers were there competing. I see them all the time. At school, at our house, at theirs. Today, I saw them all differently, better. I saw sweet Maggie, whose love for Meg holds her no matter what comes. Maggie is Meg’s steadfast forever, who is more excited for Meg’s victories than Meg or even her mama. Alex, who broadens Meg’s world and reminds me of me before I let them run me far on past what seemed sane and true and good. Alex, who sat with me and talked call to care and to be there for those who need. Alex, who will not miss her moment, or the opportunity to sit aside another in his or hers. Payton, who has all the answers and shares them as generously as Meg shares her two sandwiches with him at lunch everyday. Payton who every day grows more humble and more gracious and more kind. Payton, who will help Meg, I know, and will offer all in his hand when the wind blow the other direction. And it will.

As soon as I saw them, today, this fair weather fan decided to stay on and watch, all day, to see what they would show me and us all. I hope when I hugged her like my own, spoke with trust  to her like the old soul she is, and fed him in Meg’s stead, that they realized that my time and interactions with them were life-giving to me. Yes, they ran well, jumped far, bested their times tremendously. But, more than that, they loved me well and let me love them in return.

And in the down times, when none of them were on the track  or field, I  got a few of my own miles in, too.

It took me only a few minutes out of the parking lot to realize that something had shifted since I had been (walking) in Birmingham. The pears had flowered… even before I saw them, their scent caught me. It is not a favorite scent of mine or many. It is a sickening sweet, with a rough edge to it which is all at once everywhere. People plant those things in yards and along roadways and in parking lots. When they flower, all the world knows so.

I took a few tentative steps beyond the black top aside the stadium and they assaulted me, first the scent and then the white flowers were also in my face. I dropped my head to block both and saw a green, new, deep and dark upon the dirt. It gave under my tread and spoke silently, “it will be good…to say you know me.” – JM

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