Friday, August 31, 2012

Watching While I Stroll

"Memory is a child walking along a seashore.  You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things" (Pierce Harris)

Our minds are funny things.  Why do they hold on to the things that they do, but let slip away the things that would seem most useful to us?

Yesterday afternoon something unexpected happened, which triggered my question.  After coming home from a lunch date with my wife, I let our dog Izzy out into the backyard to do her usual sniffing around and leaving her little "Pee-Post It" notes for any visitors.  When she returned to the sliding glass door, I saw she had something in her mouth.  Puzzled, I took it from her, but then recoiled in shock when I realized it was a big piece of a chocolate brownie!

My mind began racing:  "Chocolate can kill dogs!  How much has she eaten?  What do you do?  Do something!  Don't just stand there!  Deborah's gonna freak!  Ok - get a grip on yourself, you ninny!  Think!"

I scooped Izzy up into my arms, jumped into the car, brownie in my pocket, and raced to the vet's office.  The vet examined Izzy, and said it would be best to keep her there overnight for observation.  They would try to make her throw up anything she ate and put her on an IV to flush anything dangerous out of her system.  We both agreed that since she's such a little dog (6 lb. toy chihuahua), and since we didn't know how much of the brownie she may have eaten, it was better to be proactive and safe, than sorry.

I called my wife at work and told her what had happened, and thankfully, she took it all pretty calmly (not what I expected!).  As we sat and talked about the "mini crisis" over dinner, I surprisingly found myself getting very emotional.  Tears came to my eyes and my voice trembled as I talked about Izzy.  In an unusual reversal of roles, it was my wife who had to reassure me and tell me "Everything's all right, Jon.  You did the right thing".

I knew I had done the best I knew how to do.  So what was behind this surge of emotion?  Reflecting this morning, I can see there was a rich concoction of images and memories that had all been stirred.

  • Paternal feelings:  Izzy was "my little girl" and I missed her, and wanted her to "be alright"
  • Guilty feelings:  How could this have happened?  Did I overreact?
  • Anxious feelings:  Will Deborah be upset?  How will we pay for this?
And deep underneath all of these feelings was a memory - a dark, sad memory from 8 months earlier.  The very painful memory (still) of taking my cat Buddy to the vet and not coming home with him.

The emotion that welled up in me was a mix of all of that.  Memories, associations, assumptions made about who I was or was supposed to be.  And through all of that, my mind had strolled and picked up a few painful things to stick in its pocket as "treasures"; as "real".

But none of these "treasures" were real.  Izzy was fine.  We will pick her up later today.  Bad things happen in life.  I couldn't have prevented any of it, nor could I have done any differently than what I did in the moment.  Deborah was not upset, and we will be able to pay for Izzy's treatment.

Out of all of this, though, I want to remember one thing, something that Guy talks a lot to us about at class:  the importance of SEEING.

"Right now, you don't know the difference between THINKING and SEEING.  Our lives are meant to be lived in seeing - not in "figuring out" what we're seeing" (GF)

I want to remember the importance of keeping my attention - watching my mind before it goes wandering off wherever it wants to go - to pick up whatever it thinks is valuable.  My memories - whether pleasant or painful; my expectations of who "Jonathan" should be; my predictions about what others will do or should do - are all based on the past.  On thought and imagination.  None of which is real right now.

I know I can be a bit of a dreamer.  But just because my mind picks up a shiny shell while on one of these "scenic tours",  doesn't mean I have to stick it in my pocket and call it mine.

That's a pearl I want to remember, because I know I'll be going on many more leisurely "mental strolls" in the future.  I just want to be able to see all that's being offered me, without relying so much on my "egghead" brain telling me what it all means.

Me and Izzy at the beach

See you soon, Izzy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Looking Before I Leap: Another Year of Pearls

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an
end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” (T.S. Eliot)

It's funny just how true that quotation is this week for me.  Beginnings are endings.  Endings are beginnings.  Both all at once; the two interwoven like some cosmic morning glory, snaking its way through each day.

It's the last week of August.  My summer vacation has officially ended; another school year has officially begun.  Lazy days of leisure, where making my wife's lunch for work was the grand accomplishment of the day, are gone. 

Once more, I reluctantly "walk the plank" and jump back into the world of work:  meetings to inform, meetings to inspire, meetings to meet new people I haven't met yet and to meet those I've met already;  a million things "I've gotta do now" (and no time to do it), and an ever changing whirlwind of current educational-ese I'm supposed to become an expert on yesterday (proficiency based grading, "scaffolding", "unwrapping the standards", formative and summative assessments, rubrics, relationships, and "raising the bar").  It's no wonder I feel like I've just let go of the tire swing called summer, and done a big loud bellyflop into the ice cold water of work!

But the beginning is also quite likely an end.  This may be my last year teaching, so it's sobering to reflect and realize that each of these experiences that I grumble about and try to scurry past will be the last time I do them.  Perhaps I should try to slow down a bit this year and savor the end of the long and winding professional road that I've been on.  That would be a worthy intention.

It's also the 2nd anniversary of when I began writing this blog:  another ending, another beginning.  So what "Pearls" did I glean in the past 12 months?
  • I didn't write as often as the first year, and I struggled with that.  I know I need to just commit to setting aside a block of time, regularly, each day to write.  Just an hour.  No Facebook distractions.  Don't have to write a masterpiece.  Don't even have to finish a thought - can come back later and finish.  But just write.  More.  More often.  The rewards will come.
"Write down the thoughts of the moment.  Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable." (Francis Bacon) 

But at the same time, I was very proud of the 17 entries that I did write.  Some of them were great surprises to me in the depth and creativity that they expressed.  Each of the following were highlights for me:
  • The fun I had with words in writing stories like "Nature's Rebellion" and "A Meeting of the Minds" (leaves saying "It's humiliating to becoming hummus!"; the curmudgeonly journalist arguing that writing should be "Short and sweet.  Like a tweet.  Nice and neat.  Don't repeat.  Take a seat.  Complete!")  I love how writing opens me up - even amuses me, while it teaches me.
  • Two poems that I wrote, both inspired by Love.  One a Valentine to my wife ("One Is Greater Than Two") and one to my mother ("Waiting For A Whisper").  I am deeply blessed by the gifts of Love that each of these beautiful, strong women have given me time and again.  Their love inspires me and strengthens me.  "All that was in you, is in Me.  And I in you.  One is greater than Two."
  • The most valuable entry I wrote this year?  It was also (once again) the most difficult.  "A Promise Kept", the entry I wrote after my cat Buddy died in January, was heartbreaking and painful (still is when I read it).  But it also was cleansing and a comforting tribute, and farewell, to a dear companion.
  • The biggest surprise?  What I wrote in "The Most Important Lessons"!  This entry, in which I wrote about what were the things I really hoped I had taught my students shocked me - not sure why.  I guess I didn't know that's what I thought - until I thought it! "Be Curious.  Be Humble.  Be Courageous.  Be Honest."  I actually went on to make copies of that entry and shared it with some students who had made last year so enjoyable.  I hope I continue to model these things to my students this year.
So, here's to another year of beginnings and endings.  May I remember to let pass that which is passing, and be open to all that is being offered to me.  And I hope to continue to use this blog to discover the little bits of magic, and Pearls, that Life hides all around me.

"I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning." (J.B. Priestly)

"On y va!"...Off we go again...on the long and winding road!

Me hiking up Cape Perpetua on my last adventure of the summer

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Magic of A Touch

"To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms, but absolutely terrified of the word "Boo." (Robert Brault)

What do I know about being a "Grandpa"?  A "PeePaw"? "Boppa"? "Nonno"? "G-Daddy"?  "Wompa"?

About as much as I know about being...
  • A plumber
  • A golfer
  • A white water guide
  • A skydiving instructor
Never really had an interest in being any of those.  Never thought I had an interest in being a grandpa either (though I did have the grumpy gruffness down pretty good already!).

"Never wanted to be a dad, don't see why I'd want to be a granddad", I grumbled grinchily.  "Besides, little kids are noisy and a mess!  That Jerry Seinfeld guy knew what he was talking about!"

"Having a two year old is like having a blender that you don't have the top for." (Jerry Seinfeld)

Then I met my wife, and fell in love.  And she had a son.  And her son had a child.  A little girl named Marley.  And whether I liked it or not, Life handed me an unexpected invitation:

"You are now cordially invited to "Grandpa School".  Attendance is required; doing so happily is optional (but will be better for you!)"

My wife fell in love instantly with Marley, and even though she didn't get to see the baby nearly as much as she wanted to, she became "Wonder Grandma":  capable of super-human feats of love and endurance;  able to answer the same question 100 times patiently, make any boo-boo better, and laugh in delight at the smallest of things.  But I was more withdrawn (big surprise!)

"What do I say to a 4 year old?  She seems kinda shy towards me.  Maybe I should just leave her alone.  Besides, what do I know about what little girls like?  I'm not really her Grandpa anyway.  I'm just a nobody.  She won't even notice me."

But then something wonderful and magical happened.

One day, Deborah and I took Marley to a local park to play on the swings.  Grandma Deby, Marley, and Izzy our chihuahua trooped ahead, and I walked behind - content to be the "official photographer".  But as I squinted through the viewfinder, a small voice chirped up at me.

Walking to the park one summer day
"Papa Jon - hold my hand!"

And in that split second, like the Grinch on the top of Mt. Crumpet who when hearing the Whos in Whoville singing below, something changed in me.

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

I gently took Marley's hand and we walked together.  The simple touch of Marley's small fingers, dwarfed in my "big" man hands, instantly melted my heart and opened it.  "Papa Jon" was born and I began to be given some of the "super-powers" bestowed on grandpas around the world, such as:
  • Learning how to make the best Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners ever.
  • Being able to watch "Barney:  A Very Merry Christmas" 3 days straight (in August!) and still smile contentedly
  • Make goofy enough faces to laugh at (but not so weird to be scary!)
  • Make putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the United States seem really fun (and even manage to teach a little geography too!)
We see Marley regularly now, and truth be told, I still have a lot to learn about being a grandpa.  But I know my heart is open to doing so, especially when I remembered an equally magical moment from my past.

Seven years ago, on our first date, Deborah won my heart when she reached over and held my hand as we walked into the restaurant.

Our fingers touched and my heart melted.  A small hand, warm and soft, dwarfed in mine, invited me to step bravely into a new world.

And when I did, I found Love there.  Just as I did on that walk to the park with Marley.

Coincedence?  No.  I think it was an angel.  An angel whispering to the "better angels" of my own nature, offering me a great gift in exchange for my willingness to be open and grow.

I never would've guessed that there was such power in the tender touching of two hands.

"Creation of Adam" - Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
Ah, yes.  Of course.  How could I forget.  How else would Life and Love touch us?  All that's required is we reach a little on our own.  A good Pearl to remember.

Grandma Deby and Marley swimming at the Club

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Meeting of Minds

"Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything." 
(John Kenneth Galbraith)

"Attention, please...let's call this meeting to order!  Quiet down everybody!  We have a lot to go over this morning", Jonathan Edward said to the other committee members as they all scrambled into his office.  

Chattering self-importantly to each other, pushing to get the best seats, slurping their Starbucks, the other Jonathans tippity-tapped their laptops and impatiently waited for their chance to speak.

"So, the first item on our agenda today is an important one, and it's critical that we all agree on it.", Jonathan Edward said.  "We must decide what to write about.  How shall we make our mark today?"

Like a pack of paparazzi, the other Jonathans all began jumping up and down, waving their hands frantically and shouting "Me! Call Me! I know, I know!  Call Me!".  Jonathan Edward banged his gavel to calm the googly-eyed group, and then listened patiently to each.

Professor Jonathan (a very serious sort) harrumphed and said, "We should write something very important and profound - something erudite and educational.  We must impress our readers with something long and thoughtful.  Words of wisdom...Pearls for epic epistle of..."

"What a crock!", Jonathan the Clown snorted, and blew a raspberry at the Professor.  "That would be SO "Snores-ville", Schnorny!  I say we just have fun!  Slap on our red noses - break out our Ooooga horns and tickly feathers - and just make people laugh!

"No, I think the good Doctor has a point", Jonathan St. Jonathan the poet sighed.  "We must touch people's hearts.  Our words should weave whimsy and wit and tickle and touch.  Let's paint pretty pictures with rhyme and verse.  Life can be our palette and pilot....oooh, I like that!  Let me write that down!"

"Short and to the point, I say!", grumped Jonathan Curmudgeon.  "Short and sweet.  Like a tweet.  Nice and neat.  Don't repeat.  Take a seat.  Complete!"

"Excuse me, if I may", Brother Jonathan the monk meekly whispered.  "Shouldn't we write something spiritual?  Something that will enlighten?  Something celestial?  Perhaps a prayer. Something to meditate on and ponder?  Something holy?"

Jonathan the Clown shot a rubber band at the monk, just missing hitting him in his saintly nose.  "Holy!  I'll give you something holey!", the Clown cackled, and threw a smelly sock at the Brother, and then blew his Ooooga horn right in his ear.  "Let's be goofy!"

"News is the only thing that matters", jeered Jonathan Journalist.  "Current events are what cut it.  Readers only want to know what you're doing - not what you're thinking.  Leave the thinking to the eggheads!"

On and on it went.  All the Jonathans talking, none of them listening to each other.  In fact, the only thing that quieted them was when Delightful Deby, Jonathan Edward's pretty secretary, would sashay into the room in her pumps and tight skirt and ask, "Would any of you boys like something hot?", and they all got tongue tied and twitchy.

Finally, Jonathan Edward had heard enough.  "Thank you all for your input.  Meeting's adjourned.  You're all dismissed."  

Shocked, the Poet and the Clown, the Curmudgeon and the Professor, the Journalist and the Monk all slammed their laptops shut, and shuffled out of the conference room, snorting and sniffling.

"I knew it was a mistake to invite all of them to make this decision", Jonathan Edward mused to himself.  "I can see now that none of them really wanted to write anything at all.  They just wanted to think about writing, and think that thinking about it was actually doing it.  But what am I going to do now?"

He then looked up and saw a little yellow Post-It note stuck on his laptop.  He picked it up and read it.

"Sit still.  Welcome the silence.  Trust your heart.  Write for you, not for others.  Let Love lead you, not the crowds."

Signed, Delightful Deby (your secret admirer)

Jonathan Edward smiled.  "Of course.  How could I have forgotten! Gotta remember to give her a promotion", he thought as he began to type.  "She's smarter than a whole room full of Jonathans...and I love those pumps".

So Jonathan Edward began to write, and wrote and wrote until he was done.

And when he was done, the voices of all of the Jonathans:  the Poet and the Clown, the Curmudgeon and the Professor, the Journalist and the Monk - had been included in what he wrote.

All in one, none bigger than the other.

And though Jonathan Edward didn't write the Great American Novel, he knew he was doing what he loved and that he was lucky to be loved.  

And Jonathan Edward and Delightful Deby lived happily ever after.

Jonathan Edward and Delightful Deby
(What would he do without her!)

The End.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Waiting For A Whisper

"I'm going to sit here,
pen in hand, until a poem
hops on my shoulder
and whispers in my ear"
(Mary Ann Schnorenberg)

This entry was inspired by my Mom - my favorite poet.  She would probably shake her head - "Tsk" - and say "Jonathan - I just scribble".  But I would tell her she has the eyes, and the voice, and the soul of a true artist.  Her "scribblings" (and she's published 3 books full of them) always move me :-)

A Shy Summer Spy

Yellow roses stand outside my window
Gently nodding in the mid-morning breeze

Little lemon petals curl and cup
Leaves stretch and strain
Trying to soak up every last drop
Of summer sunshine gold

They seem so busy being beautiful

Buds to burst
Honeybees to host
Ladybugs to look after
A world to silently watch over

They're much too busy to notice me

But every now and then, if I sit real quietly
And look, just out of the corner of my eye
I swear I catch them peeking through the window
Like little kids outside a candy store
Standing on their tippy toes

I thought I was the only curious one
Looking out the window this morning
Not realizing that other friendly faces
Were looking in at me

When our eyes meet, neither of us says anything
Too polite and proper to bother the other
But we both smile and wave and
Go back to our busy-ness

It's nice to be remembered

Thanks Mom for reminding me to just look outside my window, and to wait quietly until something hops on my shoulder and whispers "Let me in".

Love, your son
The poet