Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sometimes Currents Take You Places Least Expected

Sometimes currents take you places you don’t expect.   

Last summer I spent a long weekend with friends in New York City.   I was there to cheer lead my friends as they swam the length of the Brooklyn Bridge in the East River as part of NYC Swims.  All three are strong swimmers and all three were not able to complete the race—along with about one third of all of the swimmers who were part of the race.  An unexpected current came about, making dangerous conditions for the swimmers.  The event was cancelled mid-way through and the swimmers were plucked out of the East River and brought close to shore where they swam the last 200 yards.  My friends were initially disappointed and then grew to appreciate the adventure they just had and that all of the swimmers were safe.  Under different conditions, the swim could have been finished by all—in fact in previous years, had been finished by all.  This year was different.  The current took them to a place they did not expect.  With a story to tell from the adventure along the way.

I find myself reflecting…where are the currents of my life taking me?  I have not written in my blog for a while because of unexpected currents.   The currents have swept me away to places where writing in my blog has had less importance. Writing actually was painful.   A sick son who has needed my attention.  The death of my ex-husband—a man who has been sick with Parkinson’s Disease and who I cared for even long after our divorce.  A new position in a Charter School with work I love and a commute longer than I anticipated.  All of these currents have swept me away from the course I thought my adventures would bring me these past few months.  And as I have struggled with the current, some of the activities I love that feed me have not been able to be nurtured.

The swirling of the waters continue.    And momentarily I have been plucked out of the water, with time and space.  Like my friends in the East River, who had bruises and cuts from being pulled by the current to a wall where they clung, waiting to be picked up, I have my bruises too.  I am experiencing a weariness, not like me.  Or perhaps it is a mourning.  They are bruises that need tending and that will heal with time.  Like my friends, who were picked up by the coast guard and brought to a safe place to be dropped back into the water to swim to the shore line, I, too, have been buoyed by friends  and family who have supported me along the way.  And are watching as I now swim toward the shore in safer waters.

The mourning and sadness will change to appreciation and gratitude.  And, I must say, even in the mourning and sadness, I recognize my life with appreciation and gratitude.  The currents of life change, moving through moments of deep sadness and exhilaration.   All currents have a story to tell.  Like my swimmer friends, whose adventure was not what they expected and excitedly talk about the next swim, I, too, will dive into the water, knowing the next current will take me to a new place with a new story to tell and an adventure along the way.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sometimes You Have to Get to Give

Get—to benefit by receiving e.g., get flowers; to retreat or go to a new place, e.g., get away

Summer break in New York is finally here and I find myself in the “not-often-the-case” position of getting.  Two plus weeks ago I had surgery—something planned so that I would not miss the end-of-school-year activities and would not miss out on consulting/work time over the summer.  Get—both the receiving kind and the retreating kind have been part of this summer life.  Friends and family have showered me with visits and food and flowers and words of inspiration.   On a daily basis, it seems, someone arrives on my porch to offer support of some sort.  I have never been one to put myself on the receiving end…I can actually state that I am uncomfortable on the receiving end, yet I have found great grace and joy in receiving the gifts that have been poured out to me. 

This summer has also been one of getting away—not physically because I really did need the time to heal and a jaunt to the beach or to the mountains would have been impossible.  Rather, I have gotten away by turning off.  By sleeping, by being entertained by series where thinking is easy and the work to understand is minimal and by sleeping yet again.  I got lost in the world of series I have long wanted to watch but have not allowed myself the space to do so.  At first I thought I would get away through the pages of a book.  I found instead that soon after the first paragraph, my mind would wander, my head would nod and my eyes would become heavy.  Not so with Downton Abbey.   I can honestly say I never saw an episode before June 24 and I am now a proud viewer of all four seasons.  I retreated to England where beauty lives in the vistas of the plush countryside, the lilt of the language and the costumes of eras past.  What a retreat!  I became entangled in a land where civility and propriety are mainstays.  I got lost in the lives of Mary, Daisy and Grand mama.  I am not one to get away through watching, much less sleeping—especially in a few week sitting, and I find that it has been a delightful way to heal and renew.  Sleep, watch, sleep—all forms of getting away have served me well.

Today I got in yet another way of receiving.  Most of my work life is about teaching writing and writers’ workshop to others in one form or another.  Today I found myself on the receiving end of the writers’ workshop—and what a delightful experience it was!  Denise Leograndis, presenter for the Accelerated Learning Institute and author of the book, Launching the Writing Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide in Photographs, led me and a number of other educators down a path where we got to look at writing through the lens of writer.  I happily wrote, revised and conferenced with the goal of creating my own writing—a means to its own end—not a means to teach others.  To simply get.  And from that get—to create.

I am a fortunate girl.  It has been a summer of getting, of stopping, of slowing down.  They say, “It is better to give than to receive.”   I live by that life principle.  But this summer I have viewed this life truth in another way.  What better gift can I give to others than to allow them to give to me?  What better gift can I give to myself than allowing space to get away? If we are all givers then who will receive?  If I receive in gratitude and humility, am I not giving? 

So, I joyfully and gratefully get this summer.  I get to heal.  I get to write and create.  I get to renew by allowing mindless entertainment and sleep.  I get meals and cards and flowers.  I get to be loved.  And I get to love myself.

I get to give by receiving.  What could be better than that?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


The end of the school year is nearing in New York State.  Graduation is just around the corner.  The time approached yesterday when I take my yearly journey to my desk and gather another bunch of letters to mail.  Mailing these letters marks for me another end of a high school era for a group of students I once taught.

During all of the years that I have taught grades five and above, a closing activity that my classes have done as the year draws to a close is a special letter writing activity.  The students write a letter to themselves—their high school graduating self or their college graduating self (depending on the age of the students).  They write about what it is like to be a fifth grader (or whatever grade I was currently teaching).  They write about things they hope they did in the time between the letter and when they receive it.  They write about the hopes they have for their future.  Students give me the letters addressed to a stable home (grandparents, mom and dad) and I put a Forever stamp on it.  I wrap the stacked letters in a bow and put a sticky on that says something like, “mail for graduation, 2014.”

This week I pulled the letters for this year out of my desk.  I look at each envelope and remember the fifth grade child.  Then I put my return address on each envelope and on the flip side wrote a simple message—“Happy graduation.  Write back!”

This has been a tradition for many of my years of teaching.  I still have three packets of letters in my desk, the letters stopping with my move to primary grades and then to administration.  These letters have been links I have made with my students.  They link me to an older version of the students I once knew.  They link them to themselves—a younger child to the older, graduating young adult.  I love the responses I will soon receive through the mail.  I love imagining the surprise on the senior’s face as s/he opens a letter from long ago and long forgotten.

The end of a school year is upon us.  For the seniors that will soon be receiving their letters, the end of their public schooling is upon them.  Congratulations to my students from long ago.  May you begin this new era with strong dreams, joy and the knowledge you received from your schooling and life.  May you leap into your future with these gifts tied into a bow to be successful and happy in whatever you choose do do!