eroding into beauty

With the death of my Mom, my anxiety found new life. Like any parasite from a host, it crept into my veins and fed off my sanity, growing in strength while I grew in weakness.

Memories from this time flash all too slowly, too stubbornly, before my eyes. I remember the endless car ride back to her hospital in Chicago, racing against the clock of her pulse. Trapped in the suffocating space of my own mobile powerlessness, I physically felt death in my own body: heart racing, shortness of breath, uncontrollable fits of weeping, tremors that rocked my very foundation. I remember my terrorized eyes, next to my Mom’s closed eyes, near my sister’s side, looking up at my Mom’s kind doctor, asking for drugs to calm me down; anxiety now made me her only living patient in that room. I remember the feel of the bed that night, of the fuzzy blankets that to this day envelope me in the presence of my Mom, and the numb release those drugs brought me for a few hours of sleep…of denial. I remember months later, talking about these moments of anxiety along with the endless trail of ugly ducklings that ensue, my therapist’s words:

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

His question was designed to assuage the irrational fears that ate away at my sanity: I have cancer. I am riddled with tumors. I’m having a stroke. I have an aneurysm. I am dying.

I thought about the power of erosion as I lingered on the edge of the vast and majestic and overwhelming and wondrous and complex and gorgeous Grand Canyon. Layers of ocher shade into ebonies blur into grays cut against the hazy blue dome above. Horizontal lines on some ridges play tic tac toe with vertical striations on other towers. Ivory artery paths cut across plateaus and dip diagonally down canyon sides. And then the origin of this glory, the Colorado River: a mud-green snake, wide as a football field and a mile beneath, slithered in and out of sight, arching its back in white caps and bending around all red-rock obstacles.

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

I cannot see this glory were there not the horror. I cannot be this wonder were there not the eroding.

Millions of years, billions of raindrop-tears rolling down the sides of the River’s face. Tons of rocks, sons and daughters of crumbling grief racing into the Abyss. Echoes of raging winds, let-gos and let-downs dancing into Destruction. Gravity carving without levity, cravings eroding into the Center.

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

My Mom’s hands were like the Grand Canyon. Speckled russet from the sun. Gorged from the work ethic of West Virginia hills. Gnarled from the pain of so many Midwestern storms. Weathered from the weight of so many unmet norms. Twisted on themselves from the giver’s turning. Rooted in so many defeats and repeats and remembers and benders and whatevers and winners. One gold band, a circled audience, standing witness.

I miss those hands.

What if you imagined your body, your life, as an object, which like any other object, will inherently decay with time?

Here is beauty. Here is destruction. There cannot be one without the other.

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when saying no is saying yes

After 75 minutes of delicious, sweaty hot yoga, our instructor cued us to bring our hands to third-eye center and bow forward. This is the way class is usually closed. However today, this instructor took it to another level:

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

Well that’ll get ya thinking. And it did. And those thoughts came full circle to a blog a childhood friend’s husband posted this last week on prioritizing student needs.

I fully support the conviction and paradigm of student-centered teaching. My relationships with my students give me both the perspective and the motivation to be their advocates, to stand up for them, to put them first. Putting them first gives me a much-needed compass in a whirlwind of destructive politics and overwhelming educalculation. I have lived by this motto since I began teaching.

But I will not die by this motto. I guess there is a limit to what I’ll sacrifice to do what’s best for kids. The world of education, unfortunately, is littered with the broken pieces and fragments of marriages, parenting relationships, friendships, health, and hearts of men and women who have laid themselves on the line to do what’s best for the students. Yes-men. Yes-women. Adults who do not establish boundaries, but rather live in martyrdom to the fulfillment of the job. Sadly, so many of them do it because “it’s best for the kids.”

photo (1)But the problem with being a yes-man or yes-woman, is that there is a boomerang lashing to those yeses. Saying yes to school, to students, to grading, to planning, to driving students here and there and everywhere, to attending more games of other people’s children than one’s own, to running this meeting or attending that meeting, to taking on more roles and responsibilities–these are all yeses to the students who need us so desperately, but they are crushing nos to other areas of our lives. No to a peaceful dinner with the family. No to some time to center oneself. No to a connection with someone special to us. No to a quiet walk with the dog. No to the matters of the heart. No to caring for the body as a temple.

Before you misunderstand me and think of me as the heartless teacher (I would hope most of my students would also balk at this), I’d like to emphasize the sacred irony at play here: saying yes to ourselves propels us to be better teachers. The fuller I am, the more I can give. The boundaries I intentionally set and honor allow me to foster a learning-yard of compassionate and giving energy in which students can flourish. Sometimes saying no IS what’s best for students.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4).

From the heart, we teach. And so often our classrooms feel like a battlefield, with attacks both internal and external. Our hearts are wounded. Our hearts need tending. Yes, in the end, that will make us better teachers. But more importantly, it will make us better husbands or wives, moms or dads, friends. It will make us better guardians of our hearts.

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

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