Sunday, January 16, 2011

All It Takes Is One Step

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Taking the first step.

It sounds so easy.  Just put your foot out there.  It's just one step.  No big commitment.  No "marathon journey" to endure.  No need to whomp up a bunch of courage.  Just begin.  "Just Do It".

And a part of us says, "Sure - I can do that!.  Don't know where I'm going?  Don't know what I'm doing?  No problem!  Just call me "Mr. Trailblazer" - I love surprises!"

But the older I've gotten, and the more honest I've learned to be about myself, the clearer I've seen that "taking the first step" is something more easily said than done.  That despite all of the apparent "trailblazing" that I've done in my life:  as the oldest child, first to graduate from college; as a teacher, "captain of my own ship" everyday in my classroom; as a "world traveler" to places distant and beautiful; as a man, single and "carefree" for most of my adult life - most of the time I have been pretty reluctant to actually venture out and do something, learn something completely new.  I've hugged the shores of the known, the familiar, the comfortable pretty closely.

It's said that one must "take a leap of faith", but now I think it's that idea - that faith requires a giant "summoning of one's will", a great act, "a leap" - that prevents us from actually practicing being truly faithful as often as we could.  All it really takes is one step; one act; a willingness to step into the unknown or sit in a silent moment of indecision, and to try to not do what we've always done.

And if I can, oh what gifts there are there!  What possibilities!  And along with this can come the discovery that "having faith" did not ever require me to imagine a desired outcome, or "wish upon a star".  Faith simply requires me to act - not think about acting - and then to be open to receive whatever came next.

So I'm sure you're asking, what inspired all of these lofty thoughts?  I'm not sure. I know that sitting down in front of this blank page always requires some faith (What the heck will I write about now?  How will it come out?).

I know that the times I've taken that step up the "staircase I can't see" have been the moments I now most remember:  stepping off the plane in Ireland for the first time; moving to southern Oregon; my first date with Deborah; rafting down the Rogue River for the first time (and bouncing off the rocks, again with my brave coxswain Deborah); asking her to marry me a year later; giving a toast at my brother Dave's wedding last year; accepting a student's dare to sing a Justin Bieber song in front of my A.P. Economics class this December (and then seeing the video of it "go viral" on YouTube minutes later!)

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. (Anais Nin)

Here's to taking more of those "first steps" in my life - and to discovering some hidden pearls along the way.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wistfully Watching Winter - "Haiku, Can You?" Pt. Two

"The fog comes on little cat feet.  It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches, and then moves on." (Carl Sandburg)

Ahhh! (sigh of contentment!)...Here I sit, enjoying a special "bonus":  a Friday afternoon, home early from work. I spent the mornings in a meeting, sharing with some other teachers all the tools and "tricks" I have learned over the years in teaching Economics.  The compliment that I most appreciated at the end of the meeting? "Wow!  I didn't know Economics could be so fun!  I can't wait to teach it!" ... Mission accomplished!

My reward was a chance to come home a little early, and to enjoy some simple things I rarely get to do on an afternoon in January:  enjoy a late lunch "date" with my wife at work; take Izzy, our faithful Chihuahua sentry, on a walk while it was still daylight (she acts like she's "in charge" of the whole neighborhood - a pint-size Presidente!); and now, a cup of coffee, while I let a winter day slowly settle around me instead of slogging exhaustedly through it.

And I thought I'd write a couple of new haiku;  I haven't done that for a few months, and it's good to try to write short things every now then. (I can see I need more practice at this - It took me 190 words just to get to that point!)  So, with further adieu, some haiku...

Winter in the Rogue Valley
January gray,
Fog muffles and shrouds the hills
A cold winter shawl

A January Dream
Any winter day,
Kids (and teachers) share a dream;
"Snow day! Whee! Snow day!"

Only in Oregon - 2011
Can Ducks beat Tigers?
Fans in green, gold flock and boast
The world's gone "quackers"!

So, there's a few new haiku...for view...maybe you'll pursue...this poetic path too...Adieu! (I can hear you saying "Pee-You!  When will this rhyming be through?)... Just this last haiku, courtesy of Izzy!

Izzy's Haiku
I am your best friend,
Now, always, and especially
When you are eating!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Taking Time to Count What Counts

"Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys.  If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it." (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

It's a late Sunday afternoon on my last day of Christmas break.  A wonderfully peaceful and relaxing two weeks away from work is coming to an end, and tomorrow I return to the hectic world of a high school teacher: bells buzzing, lessons to be planned, stacks of papers that have been "hibernating" for two weeks, meetings and schedules, and the challenges of interacting with 120 different people, teens and adults - all with their own energies and agendas.  Quite a change from my quiet little world for the last 16 days!

Many times I find myself feeling a little blue on Sunday afternoons, or spending the time watching the time slip by and wishing, hoping desperately, it wouldn't.  But a question my wife asked me last night has stuck in my head all day and was what I wanted to explore instead.

"What's something that makes you happy?", she asked me. 

A seemingly simple question to answer, yet it caught me at a loss for words - which seemed odd since here I was, the lucky recipient of 15 days to do whatever I wanted to, and yet, why couldn't I name anything that made me happy (other than saying sincerely, "Being with you!")?

Have I been spending too much time, "counting my troubles"?  How can whole days, weeks, or even months go by and we haven't done what we say we love, or what makes us happy?  (A case in point - writing in this blog!  I've been absent from it for 6 weeks!)

So, a simple, but valuable exercise for remind myself to more frequently and intentionally remember what it is that brings me joy.  I'll be curious what comes to me in the next few minutes...

  • The first cup of coffee, sipped slowly in the morning (any morning!) in my quiet home, as I and the world get ready to meet each other.
  • Watching the flames flicker and dance in our fireplace always warms my heart as much as the heat warms my skin (and my wife's "popsicle toes"!)
  • Being surprised by a beautiful sunrise on my way to work.  Rembrandt, VanGogh, or Monet themselves couldn't have painted masterpieces as breathtaking as the pink sunrises I've seen across the skies this year.
  • My wife's gentle touch - her hand resting on my back - as I fall to sleep.
  • Finding a good story to read - one that just makes me want to race until I've finished it, hungry to read more and more!  I just finished such a book, "Unbroken", by Laura Hillenbrand:  an unbelieveable story about the heroic life of Louie Zamperini, Olympic medalist, WWII veteran and prisoner of war.  Two lessons learned from reading this:  Everyone I meet has "a story" - both amazing and painful - that I can never imagine... and secondly... That we are all capable of far more than what we believe we're capable of.
  • Cooking!  I love making things that are wonderful to eat and fun to look at to.  Whether it's BBQ or brunch, a simple salad or hearty homemade macaroni and cheese, something exotic like Thai Chicken Satay or something simple like an omelet, I love being creative in the kitchen (and even learning to love to clean up after my "creativity" - I'm like the Swedish Chef on "Sesame Street" sometimes!)
  • Raking the leaves on an autumn afternoon, knowing I won't get everyone one of the golden "paratroopers" dropping down as I work, but being OK with that.
  • Being at the beach.  Watching the waves ripple and foam during the summer, and boil and crash in the winter.  Smelling the salt air - squinting through my tears as the wind whips around me.  Feeling the power of the ocean and being reminded that there is much in the world that is greater than me, and so much bigger than my little desires or worries.
  • Seeing how excited our little chihuahua Izzy gets when I get ready to take her for a walk.  Oh, if I could only be so enthusiastic, and see everything I do in life as being fresh, and new, and as exciting as she does!
  • The joy that comes from giving.  Everytime I've remembered to give freely, I've always been rewarded by so much more in return.
  • Sharing my life - all of it:  adventures and quiet times, passions and pleasures, as well as painful lessons and challenges - with a partner, a friend, an ally, my wife.  Such a blessing...
Well, what do you know!  There's eleven things that make me happy, and so much more I could say!  I might have to return to this exercise again sometime.

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."  (Abraham Lincoln)

Here's to taking more time in 2011 to count the things that really count, and to finding the joys I tend to overlook, that are the "pearls" simply waiting for me to discover them.