Monday, February 17, 2014

Watching History From the Sidelines

"History never looks like history when you are living through it." (John W. Gardner)

I can remember moments in my life when I knew that I was witnessing history.  I'm sure we all can. These moments, whether they are big or small, global or local, have one thing in common.

They change us somehow.  They change what we do in the future, or how we see things, or what we value.  That's what makes them personally "historical" to us.

And because they have that impact on us, it means that when they occur we are more than just silent observers of the event.  We are participants, through our witnessing, in a unique and special way.  But as Mr. Gardner noted above, we aren't often aware of all of this at the time that we're caught swirling in the middle of it.

It's easier sometimes to see that in big "international" stories, or "landmark" events in our lives.  I can remember where I was and how I felt when:
  • 7 brave American astronauts tragically died when the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded on a cold January morning in 1986.
  • The buzzer sounded on the floor of the Chiles Center in March 1990 and I and Mark Neffendorf shook hands having just seen our Glencoe girls win the State Championship in basketball.
  • The numbed shock I felt on September 11, 2001 watching the World Trade Center collapse after terrorists slammed jetliners into it.
  • The quiet joy and peace that radiated from me as I stood in the sun on the banks of the Rogue River on my wedding day in September 2006, waiting for my bride Deborah to come down the steps towards me.
I know that each of these events changed me.  They either changed what I valued, or they changed the course of my life, personally or professionally.  But I doubt I could have told you that when they happened.

I have the feeling that the same thing will be true about recent local events I've been witness to during the last 10 days.  My friends and colleagues in the Medford School District have been on strike since February 6th - trying to get a stubborn School Board to honor a commitment they made two years ago to fairly compensate their teachers.  It's been a difficult struggle to watch from afar.  I watch, and read, and listen to colleagues I respected deeply fighting for what they're due - yet since I'm retired, I'm also separate from the battles.  Part of me is relieved at that, and yet part of me feels drawn to "try to do something".  Just as there are "battle lines" outside each of Medford schools, there has been a similar division within me, trying to pull me its way:  deeper into the fight, or to try to escape it.  It's been a good thing to watch.

So, I guess that's why I wrote what I have; an attempt to understand the significance of the events and how they're impacting me.  But I also had another motive pushing me.  Like any good historian, I simply wanted to archive some "artifacts" from the last week or so.  My colleagues and their students have been prolific in flooding the social media with comments, writings, videos, etc. to rally people to their cause.  I wanted to save somehow some of the ones that most moved me.  

The first one is a letter my friend Adam Drew posted on his Facebook page titled "This All Matters".

I was moved by his passion, as well as his realization that he was teaching a larger lesson to his students through his very actions. (But that's Adam, if you knew him!).  One of his last lines read: "And we make you this solemn vow: when we get back in the classroom, when we get back with our students, we will teach with a ferocity like never before."  It brought tears to my eyes.  

The second one is a video titled "Support Our Teachers".  I'm not sure whether the MEA or a student produced it, but it also moved me.

Almost every one of the teachers interviewed on here are my former South Medford colleagues.  Seeing them, and hearing them speak with such strength and conviction, made me appreciate even more deeply how lucky I had been to be able to work with them.  They are a special group.

The third artifact is a letter written by one of my ex-students on his Facebook page.  Because he mentioned my name in it, I was lucky to be able to read it.

Travis surprised me with his courage and willingness to speak up for his mentors and friends, and I was humbled to know all the challenges he faced while in our classrooms, unseen by us, and yet he persevered.  I'm proud to have been one of his teachers.

The last artifact is another video, this one produced by a SMHS student, Daniel Elmore.  In 2 1/2 minutes he presents an unblinking look at the impact of the strike on SMHS students and makes the case for why the Board needs to end this strike.

History is being made.  People's lives are being changed - I hope in the end, for the positive.  It takes courage and sacrifice to stand up and act in pursuit of real change.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.  WE are the ones we've been waiting for.  WE are the change we seek." (President Barack Obama)

Some of South Medford's finest - I hope you don't mind that I borrowed the picture, Brenda D.!
Medford students and teachers are showing that kind of courage and resolve.  I have no doubt that it will change them, and change their world. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Casualties of An Ill-Advised War

I was moved to write this today, and will likely try to publish it wherever I can.  I had to speak up.

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”  (Jeanette Rankin, 1st US Congresswoman, 1880-1973)

For 21 years I worked for the Medford School District teaching and coaching students at South Medford High School.  Normally when I would say that to someone, it would have been natural for me to have said “I proudly worked…” for that District.  But that is not the case right now.

It has been with great sadness and frustration that I have witnessed the war that the current School Board and District Administration has been waging against its teachers, my colleagues and friends, for the last 6 months.  And make no mistake – it has been, and is, a war that they are conducting.  The battlegrounds have been behind closed doors in Executive sessions, and in “negotiations” where compromise and fairness was the furthest thing from their agenda.  Today the battle lines shifted to the school grounds as “guest teachers” were brought in to conduct makeshift classes for ½ days to 1000’s of Medford students who came hoping for the best, but I’m sure were sorely disappointed. 

In a war it is the innocent that are most often the victims.  And in a war, truth and honor are many times sacrificed for the sake of “victory” – no matter what the cost.

That seems to be this Administration’s and Board’s intent.  For despite all of their reasonable sounding words, their actions reveal themselves.   They have been willing to sacrifice the education of Medford’s students – the innocent – and the truth of why they’re doing so – for the sake of a “triumph” over the Medford Education Association.

Over and over again over the last 10 years, Medford’s teachers made significant financial sacrifices during difficult economic times to help the District maintain its image of excellence.  I won’t detail all that Medford teachers gave up – it is a matter of public record.  I was one of those teachers, and I did not complain because I knew the necessity of doing what we were asked to do then.   I, and all of my colleagues, agreed to do more for less, year after year.  But we also believed the Board and Administration when they said they would make it up to their teachers when they had the funds to do so – a promise they made in writing.  

The Board now has the ability to keep that promise, but refuses to do so. Time and again in its “negotiations” with the MEA this year, it has refused to provide any just compensation for past sacrifices.  Instead, it has demanded that teachers accept a contract which would ask them to work longer, doing more with less time to adequately plan, and to do so earning less take home pay than they did 5 years ago - all in the name of providing “a quality education” for our community’s children.   Anyone with the smallest sense of honor recognizes the injustice in this.  Perhaps that is why our Board Members have stayed silent and hidden over the last few weeks.  They know in their hearts that the stand they are taking is indefensible.

Instead, the Board and District have acted like bullies; feigning a sense of outrage when Medford’s teachers cried “Foul!”, and  then acting with a “puffed up” false sense of strength. It is they who abruptly ended a collaborative negotiating format months ago – one they had previously praised as being “helpful and enjoyable”.  It is they who arbitrarily imposed their contract on teachers in December, leaving them no choice other than to submit meekly or strike.  It is they who have called their teachers “quitters” and have brazenly tried to manipulate the media through providing false or inflammatory information.

The District’s actions and message are clear.  The appreciation that they have said they have over the years for their most valuable resource – their teachers – has all been nothing but lip service.  The proof is unarguable.  In 2006, Medford voters narrowly approved $189 million to make their schools bright and shining monuments of academic excellence.  Eight years later, the District is perfectly willing to close ½ of these schools and staff the rest with “guest teachers” that they barely know.  Dr. Long proudly said today, “We are ready.  We have the curriculum and we are prepared to teach.”  After hearing reports of what happened at schools today, I doubt that either was true.  The District’s own mission statement claims, “We are a high quality teaching and learning organization”.  Their actions today revealed themselves as mere lip service in pursuit of this goal.

“He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind.” (Proverbs 11:29)

This dispute will end sometime – it must.  And in the end, there will be no “winners” on either side.  But it saddens me that one thing will be certain.  The District will have lost all credibility and trust with its teachers and many in the community because of its “scorched earth” policies.  As the Biblical proverb warns, they will gain nothing of value from the stubborn stand they took, and they will have only themselves to blame for the seeds of division and resentment that they will have sown and the storm that will follow.

I said at the beginning of my letter that I could no longer easily say I was proud of working for the Medford District.  That could still change.  But there is one thing I am still very proud of – the courage of my colleagues to stand up for what they believe is right, despite the sacrifices they must make to do so.  They prove to me, once again, that despite the current emphasis on “proficiency”, “mastery”, “essential skills”, “common core curriculum”, etc., that the most valuable things excellent teachers teach their students are taught through their example.  Medford is lucky to have attracted such quality individuals to their community.  I pray they’ll be lucky enough to keep them when this is all over.

Jon Schnorenberg
Retired Social Studies teacher, South Medford High School (1992-2013)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wanting To Wander

"Not all who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Why does it seem that the older we get, the less willing we are to wander?

I don't know if you've noticed it, but I've begun to see this in me lately and I don't like it.

What have I seen?  Or to be honest, it's actually more that I've FELT it.  And what I've felt has been two seemingly contradictory forces in me.

The first is a desire of a part of me to just stick to the familiar.  

When left to myself, Jon will pretty much do the same things he's always done, go to the same places, think the same thoughts, etc.  In the mornings I read the newspaper, sports section first (woe to the newsboy if he's 10 minutes late!).    In class on Wednesday and Friday nights, I tend to only raise my hand to speak when I'm sure ahead of time what I'm going to say.  After class, I go home and eat the same sandwich and watch the same TV shows ("Survivor" and "Gold Rush").  I take Izzy on the same walk around the block we've done 1000's of times.  I'm happiest when other people are happy (with me or just in general), and I get irritated or upset when I think someone's unhappy with me, or I think I've made a mistake.  It's as if Jon is the perfect expression of Newton's 1st Law of Motion:  a body at rest, wanting to remain at rest, thank you very much.

But at the same time I've also noticed just the opposite at times when Jon is in full "I'm putting down roots right here in Camp Stuck-a-Muck mode".

I feel a real reluctance to sit still - like right now - and just wait, staring at the blank page, for what may come.  Both physically and mentally a part of Jon is always on the move:  gotta check my Facebook page; gotta check my e-mail; gotta jump up and go do the dishes; gotta think about what to fix for lunch; gotta worry about what I should be doing other than sitting here trying to write; gotta have a plan, gotta know what's happening next; gotta go work out... gotta, gotta, gotta, go...go...go...  And there again, I'm the very embodiment of Newton's 1st Law, just reversed:  a body in motion, wanting to remain in motion.

But to go where?  To do what?  Is any of this motion new or fresh?  Or is it just being stuck in a familiar rut?  A return to Point A from Point B?  A loop of Self closed - comfortable once again in knowing itself as it always has known itself, just like Bilbo Baggins:

"Sorry!  I don't want any adventures, thank you.  Not today. Good morning!  But please come to tea - any time you like!  Why not tomorrow?  Good bye!" (Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit)

And there it was - a revelation.  Something I saw that I hadn't before.  The Scurrier and the Sloth were both the same nature.  Neither one of them were me, and that's why it was so valuable to just sit here until that came clearly to me.  It's only in being able to see both sides of this Nature that I have a chance to live a new life, a fresh life.

That's the journey I'm meant to be taking.  One whose wanderings will require me to sit still at times when a part of me just wants to go; and to get up and move myself when a part of me just wants to sit.

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." (Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring)

Ah, but that's where real life is.  I want to rekindle that little spark of "wanderlust" in me - the wish, and the challenge, to keep wanting to do, and think, and see something new.

Funny thing is...that's not the Pearl I expected to find when I first sat down to write today.

But that's the beauty of letting yourself wander.  You never know what treasures you'll find.

I look forward to doing a little more wandering again soon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Good Morning, I'm Mr. S."

"The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher." (Elbert Hubbard)

"Good morning, I'm Mr. Schnorenberg.  You can call me "Mr. S."

So begins each day of my new vocation - life as a substitute teacher, instead of working full-time in my own classroom.  Since I last wrote, I have been as busy as I want to be: working 2-3 days a week as a substitute in Medford schools, teaching all kinds of classes.  I've taught Science, Math, English, PE, Health, but ironically, not much of what I'm most experienced at:  Social Studies.  Nor have I worked a lot at my former school, South Medford High School.  I've worked more often at one of the local junior highs - a truly karmic coincedence.  Thirty years ago, I began my career by student teaching at a junior high, but then spent the rest of my life as a teacher in the "grown up" world of high school.  It seems I've come full circle, back around to the beginning.  The perfect balance of life positively proven.

It has been an interesting experience; one in which I've learned to appreciate some new things about this noble, yet challenging profession of being a teacher.  What's been most surprising is that I swore 30 years ago that "I would never be a substitute teacher!".  Didn't like the idea.  Didn't want to do it.  Never even considered it.  Case closed.  Door shut.  Big safe pushed in front of that door.  Elephant sitting on top of the safe.  No way, Jose.

And if that had remained the case, I never would've learned some valuable things.  So what have I learned?  I thought I'd call these the "Plums and Prunes" of substitute teaching (not sure why that popped into my head!).  The "Plums":  the sweet, unexpected things that make the job fun.  The "Prunes:  the tougher challenges that have proven good for me.

The "Prunes"

  • Walking into classes "cold":  The biggest challenge for me is not knowing what I'm doing that day for a teacher before walking into their classroom.  "Teacher Jon" worked hard to always be prepared, always organized, always "in control" - if not in fact, then at least in appearance! (Like the proverbial duck:  Calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy underneath!).  Last week I showed up at a school I'd never been to.  I had only 15 minutes to find 3 different classrooms I was in that day, and learn two different lesson plans for classes I'd never taught before.  Whew!  I've had to learn to to let go of the illusion that Jon must always be "in control.  Just do the best I can and leave it at that.

  • Being completely dependent on someone else:  Kind of related to the above.  For every job, I'm completely dependent on how good of a lesson plan the absent teacher left me:  How clear are they?  How well did they estimate the time it would take students to do what needs to be done?  How well have they taught their students to work independently?  You can learn a lot about how good a teacher is, even if you never meet them, from the lesson plans they write.  Most teachers do a good job - mostly because they have low expectations of what subs can do for them.  So most of my days have been easy.  But my biggest complaint?  Teachers not being clear about how to run the technology in their room.  I'm pretty knowledgeable and experienced, but every classroom is different.  And a lot of time can be wasted just trying to figure out where to plug in a DVD and how to turn up the volume, all while 35 teens wait impatiently!  So, I've had to learn humility and how to ask for help - two things I didn't always do when I was Mr. Teacher :-)
  • Getting to know the kids quickly:  So hard, yet so important to learn names quickly and to quickly assess who are the leaders in a class, who needs help, who is bringing positive or negative energy into the room, and how to channel all of that so that we all have a good day.  Patience and persistence is the key.  And ultimately the knowledge that almost all students appreciate a sense of order and calmness and want you to establish that.

"In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn." (Phil Collins)

The "Plums"
  • Don't have to do the "hard stuff":  No lesson to plan, no tests to grade, no staff, PLC, Core team meetings to anxiously sit through, no retakes to organize, no phone calls to return, no grades to update, etc., etc.  It's amazing to be able to step out of all of that and wonder:  How in the world did I do all of that?  For 30 years!  Wow!  
  • I work whenever I want:  2-3 days a week is perfect:  Just enough to earn extra money (Never had that experience in my working career!  EXTRA money! Cool!)  And best of all?  On the days I don't work, I don't have to get anything ready for anyone else to take my place :-)
  • I get to learn new stuff all the time:  I love this!  I've had so many opportunities to learn and relearn things as a substitute - it's like being a student every day.  Learned Chemistry; Algebra; Personal health; read novels I've never read; coached weight lifting; and even dabbled in Physics.  It's fun remembering how to be a student, and never feeling like I have to fill the role of "Expert" anymore.
  • You're Thanked:  I can't tell you how many times I've been thanked for what I do as a sub:  by teachers I help, by their colleagues, by the secretaries and principals I meet.  All appreciate subs who do a good job for them.  But sadly, I thought:  When I was a full time teacher, I could go an entire year and never once be thanked.  Too bad.
  • But the biggest "Plum" of all has been, surprisingly, the chance to simply relate to kids.  To smile as often as I can.  To encourage them.  To laugh with them.  You'd think it was full time teachers who would do this the most, and there's no doubt, they have many more chances to do so.  But it's so easy to get caught up in all of the "busy-ness" of teaching (like all the Proficiency Grading nonsense my ex colleagues at South are struggling with this year!), and forget the importance of just being Present with kids.  No matter the age, they are always sponges that absorb lessons from the adults around them.  I've appreciated the chance to remember that, and to try to practice that, every time I visit a new class.
"Kids don't remember what you try to teach them.  They remember what you are." (Jim Henson)

So, a toast to all the good substitute teachers I've known and who made my life a little easier each time I was gone the last 30 years... "Mr. S." is happy to join your ranks.

And to all of the good teachers I've worked with anywhere, a salute for all you do, in spite of any and all obstacles.  And two simple words that I know are true Pearls.

Thank you.

I pray you'll hear that again sometime very soon.  Hopefully today.

You deserve it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Lunch Date

"Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby." (Langston Hughes)

Rains splatters the street and rattles my roof this morning.  Ahhh...fall is finally here!  No more 95 degree days, thank you very much.  I'm ready for sweatshirts and jeans, breezy days and cool mornings, and yes, a little rain to wash the world clean and paint my window with silvery jewels.
I thought today would be a good day to invite you for a Lunch Date.  Haven't had one of those entries for quite awhile.  Nothing too serious in a Lunch Date entry - just chatting, musing, sharing a laugh hopefully - while I fix us lunch.  Today I'm fixing something warm and hearty - comfort food to celebrate the arrival of the rain.  Macaroni and cheese!  Who doesn't love homemade mac and cheese! Steamed fresh green beans on the crisp for dessert...sounds yummy!

So, while I'm cooking and bustling around, what would we talk about?

How's retired life?  Pretty darn good!  Schools have been in session now for 3 weeks, and I haven't missed being there at all.  I've especially enjoyed not feeling the tension in the middle of my back and in my forehead that seemed to start ratcheting up every day as I drove to work.  It rarely was a product of having or expecting "a bad day".  It was mostly produced I think by the fact that I was diving into a high energy environment each day - surrounded by 2,000 people, all scurrying through a fast paced, hectic day, trying to "get stuff done".  I love waking up when I want now and mostly letting the day unfold as it does.  And surprisingly, I've been just as busy - but not as stressed!  So what have I been up to?

Being Mr. Landscaper!:  Deborah and I spent a lot of time and effort into redoing our front lawn.  We took out 3 humongous Mugu pine bushes along the driveway; picked out a gazillion rocks and made them into a "river"; dumped some dirt, and planted a bunch of new flowers and plants..."English style".  Heather, verbena, lavender, pansies, pots of geraniums, and plopped a transplanted Crepe Myrtle tree in the middle of it.  Blanketed it all with barkdust and then put a brick border around it.  Very proud of it!  So proud, we put a new bright table out front so we can sit and enjoy it in the evening!

Volunteering more at the Foundation:  Deborah and I attend classes at the Life of Learning Foundation in Merlin, Oregon.  We are both grateful for all we continue to learn there about letting go of harmful negative states and living a kinder, compassionate life from our teacher, Guy Finley.  Since the Foundation is a non-profit organization, it depends on the efforts of volunteers, so I've been doing more.  I help administer its Facebook page, give talks once a month, facilitate online study group sessions, and even cook lunches on Saturday every now and then for the volunteers.  There's no doubt - Guy knows how to "find something for you to do" - and it's always rewarding to give back in appreciation.

What do we do for fun?  We love hanging out at Troon Vineyards, enjoying their wines and the great view out back. (Tiffany, the tasting room manager treats us like royalty!  "Hello, my lovelies!" She's sweet and generous!)  We also keep trying to work out more at the Club - no easy job "staying young"!  Haven't had any "big" adventures yet, but we have some planned in the next few weeks.  Going to Sunriver for our anniversary - Las Vegas next month to see Deborah's parents.   Our days are always filled - no wonder we're tired and in bed by 9:30 pm!

Oh, boy!  My first substitute job!  Got called yesterday for my first job as a substitute teacher - a new adventure coming!  Returning to South Medford to sub for one of the American Studies teachers for the day.  Good luck to me!  Hope I have an easy day of it!  Wonder what we'll be doing? 

Our 7th anniversary is next week.  We'll be celebrating at the Sunriver Resort in Bend.  Looking forward to riding our bikes, going on hikes, swimming at the water park (hope the weather is nice!), and just being together with my beautiful wife.   And what will I be giving Deborah?  7th anniversary gifts are traditionally copper or wool...hmmm.... how will I surprise her?  We shall see. Stay tuned!

Well, time to do the dishes.  Finish up our tea and dessert and say "Later, alligator!"  Rain's stopped - time to go find something else to do

"One never knows what each day is going to bring.  The important thing is to be open and ready for it." (Henry Moore)

So far, that's the gift that retired life has given me, and there's one thing I know for sure.

I'm a lucky guy.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seven Years, Seven Threads, Seven Pearls Discovered

"Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years." (Simone Signoret)

Calliope has been whispering to me today.  Many days she seems to have little interest in inspiring me, but today is different.  The Grecian muse of writers has been gently prodding me today, softly saying, "You have something to share.  Share it."  So I will.

Calliope, Greek muse of writing
I saw on Facebook today that some friends of ours were celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary (Hooray Ed and Denise!), and I wished them both well.  "Wow!", I thought.  "Lucky them!"   Then later in the day, I serendipitously came across an article titled, "The Ten Things I've Learned After Ten Years of Marriage."  Click the link below if you'd like to read it.

The Ten Things I've Learned After Ten Years of Marriage

Our own anniversary is just two weeks away, so it seemed to me that this wasn't all just random sprinklings by the universe.  I was being asked to ponder something - something positive - something special.

What are the special things that I've learned after seven years of marriage?  What are the gifts of understanding that I've been given?  That I couldn't have received any other way than by agreeing to share my life with Deborah?

A Golden kiss - September 24, 2006: Along the Rogue River
So, in honor of Ed and Denise, Sasha Emmons and her husband, but most importantly, my partner, lover, and best friend, Deborah DeMattia - here, humbly submitted, are Seven Pearls I've Discovered after Seven Years of Marriage.  I celebrate learning these things, and want to remember their value whenever I act with them in mind.

1.   Be On Each Other's Side, No Matter What:  This was #1 on Ms. Emmons list, and I couldn't have said it better.   In a world that through events, its challenges, technology, the pressures of other people, etc. is always trying to pull you apart, always "looking for a crack", it's vital to know that you are each other's greatest ally, cheerleader, and protector.  To know that there is one person who, while you may not always agree with them or like them in a moment, you know that they always will support you and give you the benefit of kindness in that same moment, is a divine blessing.    Thank you Deborah for all the times you've done that for me.

2.  Be Honest with Each Other:   Trust is the most important thread in a successful relationship, and Honesty is the seamstress which weaves that thread into a tapestry.  Some of my most painful moments have been when I've seen that I hadn't been honest with Deborah, or myself, about how I was feeling, or what I wanted to do, or thought.  Thankfully, she has always insisted on the Truth - never let me "squirm out" of it.  Always told me exactly how she felt, even when it stung a little.  And because of this, we grew closer together - closer now than ever before.  Because we can see each other genuinely, and we genuinely love the one we see.

3.  Don't Be Afraid To Laugh at Yourself:  Ms. Emmons said in her article, "Being vulnerable enough to laugh at yourself leads to a special kind of intimacy."  Amen to that.  Deborah's spontaneity, her penchant for teasing with a loving twinkle in her eye, and for saying whatever the heck pops into her pretty Italian head, has helped crack open this stoic, "proper" German, and enriched my life.  Thank you Sweetie for all the unexpected belly laughs and snorts, as well as the sheepish smiles when you remind me to not take myself so seriously.  And most importantly, thank you for loving me even when I'm acting like the biggest dork in the world!

Me being G.I. Jonathan on the S.S. Lane Victory in Long Beach CA
4.  Remember The Little Things that Make Each Other Special:  I will always seek out your hand to hold.  I will always appreciate the look in your eyes that tells me "I'm proud of you.".  I will always, always believe (and tell you) "You're the prettiest girl in the room."  I will always appreciate that the things you love the most about me are the inner characteristics of patience, stablility, strength.  They may not sound "sexy", but they are timeless.  I will always nurture, and take joy, in you learning something new.  You are my best "student".  And I will always be grateful to you for introducing me to the Work that we share through the Foundation and teachings of Guy Finley. 

5.  Let Go of the Little Things that Try to Pull You Apart:  It's impossible to live together with someone day after day, year after year, and not get "a little irritated" at times (euphemism for thinking "You're an idiot!").  But we've both learned to forgive and let go.  So for all those times I've forgotten where the car is, slurped my soup, stared at you with a blank face because I had no clue what you were saying, bristled at the suggestion I do anything that was "work" after 6 pm, or slipped into a pouty, clingy state, thank you for letting it go and loving me still.  And for all those times you've lost your glasses or your phone and we've gone crazy looking for them only to find them in your purse, or gotten grumpy with a store clerk, or talked about ten more things you'd like to do around the house before I've finished one, or scolded me for "monkeying with the thermostat at night, I promise to always do the same:  let it go and love you still.  Perfect Love doesn't always feel perfect.  But that's when you know it's real.  When you realize nothing is more important than that love.

6.  You Can Never Say "Thank You" Too Much:  Because we both came to each other in the later years of our lives, I think we've always had a special sense of gratitude for each other.  We both lived previous lives that left us very unhappy at times, so we are grateful to be with each other now.  And through our actions and words, we show that.  When I bring you your cup of coffee in the morning or when you bring me my dinner, we still look each other in the eyes and say "Thank you".  These little courtesies are also fine threads that lovingly tie us together.  We recognize and appreciate each other - nothing is assumed.  I love that.

7.  Keep Seeking New Adventures to Share:  From our first (and only!) raft trip together down the Rogue River 8 years ago, to our hike up Lower Table Rock two weeks ago, our lives together have been filled with new adventures:  places gone and seen, things done and shared.  Some have been grand:  our trip to Italy.  Others have been quiet and small:  painting the backyard fence together.  Some have required us to have nerves of steel:  ziplining through the trees in Cave Junction.  Other times all we did was sit quietly in a dusty, ancient California mission and breathed history and reverence together.  The new experiences we've shared have also helped bond us and write virtual chapters in the story of our life and love together.  I look forward to many more.

Deborah zip-lining and screaming "Oh My God!"
So to my wife, my partner, my best friend, my lover, my companion, my confederate and confidant.

"Molte grazie!"

"There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing  someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps" (Ronald Reagan) 

Us along the Oregon Coast - March 2013
I'm that happy man.  The best is yet to come.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Letting The Breeze Blow In

" But I will give you a breeze to help you on your way; it will never tire nor fail, but bear you easily over land and sea." (Louisa May Alcott)

"Life seems a breeze right now".  That thought has ambled softly around my brain the last few days.

I'm slowly learning to adjust to a whole new rhythm of life as the fact of my retirement sinks in.  Summer is over - its carefree idylls ended.  Yet, here I sit at home this morning, while all across the state 28,000 teachers are greeting 583,000 students for the first time and launching a new school year.  The winds of Life - breezes or storms - will take us both in new, unknown directions.  I wonder if they are all as eager and hopeful as I am.  I hope so.

For the first time in my entire life in September, I can choose whatever it is that I want to do.  No ABC schedules; no curriculum goals; no bells; no periods; no Learning Targets; no meetings.  No 50 minute lunches, filled with 35 minutes of helping kids.  No more PLCS, SLCS, LPAS, or POPS.  No more fire drills, earthquake drills, lockdowns, or Discipline Lessons.  I am free to define my day however I want to, and not have its meaning and tasks dictated by a calendar or agenda.  Today, after helping my wife head off to her job (brought her coffee, packed her lunch, kissed her and waved goodbye), I hopped on my bike and rode over to the club and worked out.  First thing in the morning.  Just because I felt like it. Just because I could.  Wow!  Hard to believe I could do that.

"Life is a breeze".  Perhaps that's why we all long for the breeze. It reminds us of what freedom feels like.  I bet if you closed your eyes and thought for a moment, you could probably remember distinctly a breeze that touched and tingled a part of you.  I know I can.

  • The summer breezes I felt sitting in my back yard.  Morning breeze - cool and fresh.  Afternoon breeze - its music gently rattling through the trees.  Evening breeze - soft and sweet, lulling me to sleep.
  • Walking along the beach with Deborah and feeling the ocean breeze whip past and around and through me, turning me teary-eyed in appreciation as it raced along the sands to destinations far away.
  • The welcome breezes that came last month and scoured our gray smoky skies clean and brought back the bright blues and greens of the Rogue Valley - and lifted our spirits.
We love the breeze and we long for its caress.  But why?  I think the answer is because it touches a part of ourselves - a longing inside us - a need that gets buried by everyday life and the schedules, plans, jobs, and tasks that fill our days.  The breeze, whenever I'm present to its presence, reminds me to reconnect to Life. That's the longing that busy-ness blankets and blurs.  

Life is meant to be like the breeze - moving, ever changing, fresh and new.  I know that over time it's easy to become habitual and mechanical - stuck in what I've always done.  I want to seek out Life's breezes.  

But contrary to our assumptions, all breezes are not easy and soothing.  Some disturb and lay bare that which has been dusty and dry.  Some breezes shake things up and make a mess.  Some breezes chill to the bone, and are precursors to a storm.  But that is what my Life is meant to be - ALIVE.  Filled with all of that.  That which soothes me, makes me happy - that which shakes me, but in doing so, reveals that which is unshakable within.

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep." (Rumi)

I'm grateful to feel Life's breezes stirring me today.  I'm happy to be able to set sail for some new experiences in my life:  being a substitute teacher for the first time, new travels with Deborah, meeting new people at the Club, learning new things, and all the other surprises that Life will present me with as long as I stay open as I wander this new path.

"Hark, now hear the sailors cry, Smell the sea and feel the sky,
Let your soul and spirit fly,  Into the mystic" (Van Morrison)

Me on top of Lower Table Rock last week
I know that's the Pearl that Life has offered me.  A chance to be alive, and to experience all that's fresh and new - and to grow.  Whether I'm scaling mountains, or just putting a flower behind my ear.  

Out to dinner at Taprock with my beautiful wife
I intend to be open to it all.  I'm a lucky man.