Vision board

I’ve taken down my vision board. You know – that collection of images that was meant to set then accomplish my intentions. Oprah made it hip about ten years ago. And, sucker that I am, I went right out and bought one. Most of it never came true. I wanted to drink more water, become more heart healthy, gain a circle of intimate friends, reconnect with my nieces, begin a meditation or calming practice. And, there were even more far-fetched ideas: owning beach house and getting a book publish by a major house. The only think that did come to fruition? I wanted Barack Obama to get elected and re-elected. As we know, that happened, but I am pretty damn sure my vision board had nothing to do with it.

Today, I took it all down and hung up this print made by my friend Heather. It’s a much better symbol for my life right now: a crazy mix of efforts, none really streaming in a unified way. Beautiful, nonetheless, so appealing.

I love setting intentions, but I’m not going to be fooled into thinking that setting an intention, alone, will yield anything. Goals take work.

Today, for dessert, I am having an apple. That, for me who is addicted to popsicles, especially after an 84 degree day, is work.

And now, right now, my fingers are pounding down on this keyboard, not necessarily to illuminate anyone’s understanding or inspire, but simply because I made a commitment to write every day, and so I must. I am tired. I typed for two straight hours at a meeting this afternoon. I typed up several documents for my principal and the art museum too. I am dog tired, and it would have been really easy for me to skip tonight. No one would notice, I’m sure. But my ass is in the chair. My fingers are moving. No intention can do that. It’s determination.

Like my friend, Janet, who is walking and walking and walking 10 – 15 thousand steps a day. Like my friend, Adrian, who is riding his bike and running on the treadmill. Like my friend, Cullen, who is arguing in front of the Supreme Court of Ohio tomorrow. Like my friend, Lorene, to fits into her green linen shirt again. Like my friend, Tricia, who is revamping the organization she works for.

Work. Dogged, sometimes delightful, work. Not intention. Commitment.

There are so many of us putting down the miles, spending the hours. It is not something that will make any of us famous, but, damn, there is something heroic about it. Thank you, friends, for allowing me to be witness to the vows and promises you are keeping. I’m watching you, and I’m cheering for you, even if you don’t know it.

Nothing

Sometimes, nothing happens. You do not have an exceptional meal. You do not have a moving conversation with someone special. You do not go anywhere new or see something you have not seen before. You do not see a cloud in the shape of your Grandfather’s hat. Or a sunset of mixed pinks and orange. Sometimes, the sun rises and sets, with loose and aimless hours in between.

I could lie to you now, make pretty for this blog, or I could just tell you the truth. I woke up late. I went to church. I came home, after eating a sub at Jersey Mikes. I took a nap that lasted too long. When I woke up, I ate popsicles with my neighbors, then called my dad. I ate rice and brussel sprouts for dinner. I didn’t roast them, marinate them, flesh them out with bacon or ponzu sauce like they do at Melissa’s. I microwaved them and added butter. Now I am watching Netflix. I am on the 20th episode of Louie.

It’s okay to admit that nothing happened. Nothing stirred your soul. Nothing shifted in you or thrust you forward. Sometimes I wish, on Facebook and in other venues, we would flood the posts with what we are really doing. Eating toast. Reading a book, a really bad book. Leaving our beds unmade. And dishes in the sink.

Today was a pause. A comma. A full rest in the measure of busy days. I loved it and don’t feel guilty at all. This day was a detente, and laziness won the battle.

The Cleveland Pickle

Right now, people are flocking to Fairmount Church for the funeral of a twenty-four year old. Kevin was a student of mine, but not one stayed in contact with.  Still, though, I ache.  For his short life, for his family’s grief.  For the test that said yes to the gene, and the second that confirmed stomach cancer, not so long ago.  

And, right now, my father is being sedated.  He needs to get some teeth removed for an upper plate.  He says he’ll be fine and I believe him, but I’m thinking about the next few days. Pain, sleep, sipping juice through a straw.  

About an hour ago, I headed west, wanting its inherent hope, and, on the way, I saw a wedding party stream out of a church.  A gaggle of kids in a tennis tournament.  A man running – his quadriceps, the basket of his rib bones against his gilded skin, the rise and fall of his chest.  

Now, as the minister and the oral surgeon work, as the wedding party dances and the man is finishing his warm down, I am eating.  Tearing my teeth through bread and cheese. Crunching down on spicy pickles. Chewing longer than normal.  Feeling the food work its way down my esophagus to my belly. Realizing that this simple meal is not so simple after all.  

Let us never forget, or take for granted, the workhorse of the body.  How it labors, contains our spirit, makes our memories, sheds our sad tears.  And let us never waver, hungry for more and thankful for whatever we are given.  

Rest in peace, Kevin.  Good luck, dad.  

 

The wave

I don’t know if you know this, but people on motorcycles wave at each other. It’s a simple signal, left hand extended down and slightly out from the body, fingers in a “V.” I never got the wave when I rode a moped, but I get it on my scooter. Not every time, but today was one such day. I got the wave heading out Woodland on a ride to Chagrin Falls.

It always makes me happy, and that’s always been true even when I didn’t know what it meant. It seemed to me to be a special hi. A signal of brotherhood. A “keep it safe” reminder maybe.

I was not quite sure, until just now, when I looked it up and read that the wave began after WWII, when there was a glut of motorcycles and men who came back from the war. It was safe to assume then that any young man on a Harley or an Indian was also a veteran, so the wave was a sign of respect and solidarity.

I love it. Love them, these strangers who pass me by and extend peace in my direction.

I, myself, have never waved first. There seems to be a hierarchy and, surely, my sea foam scooter is at the bottom of the pecking order. In fact, I don’t even know how to do the wave correctly. I just lift my fingers from the left handle bar in response. A tiny little thing. Barely a hello at all. I’m wave shy.

Today, maybe because I am tired from the first week of school or a bit sappy from the optimism of these first days back, I swear my heart swelled because of that man and his wave. We do not do that often enough. Smile at a sister just because she is a woman. Nod at a guy just because he has a gimpy knee too. Raise an eyebrow at a soul sibling because he’s singing along in his car just like you are.

But tomorrow I plan on starting – simply being more cordial. More connective. Not in an obnoxious way. Quietly, subtly. We’re all here together after all, riding around on this big old ball. Might as well show it.

Five guys

…walked in to Five Guys. I could tell they were college students, and it seemed like they were from Case instead of John Carroll. I started making up stories, gluing every stereotype to them as possible. One was gay, I’m pretty sure. Three were computer nerds. One was a throwback to the seventies, long hair and odd shoes. They were trying to be social with each other, but the conversation was halted and awkward. I assumed they were freshmen, barely a hair on their chins.

I felt myself thinking about their futures. Sad apartments. Empty weekends. Lonely jobs. Scrounging for dates.

Then I stopped. I actually felt an instruction: pray for them. And, instead of presuming the worst, saying a prayer to heal them as if there was something wrong, my prayer leaned into confidence. Please, God, shower these young men love. People who’ll value their expertise. Give them good work, creative vocations. And let them have fun tonight, with their burgers and fries, peanuts and pop. Amen. My prayer took its own direction. It was more kind than I was inclined to be.

I got a little choked up. Started wondering what the world would be like if we floated out these little blessings all day long. If we stopped presuming, assuming, placing and naming. And just simply wished good things.

Thank you, boys, for this lesson. I hope your lives are wondrous and full.

Talking to Siri

Adrian and I were talking today about the ways we could use Siri to improve organization. I said I needed Siri to remind me of everything. EVERYthing. Once school starts, I get going a million miles a minute. Today, I had so many things to do, I had to plaster post-it notes on my computer screen just to keep it all straight.

I wondered, had I logged all of my tasks into my phone, if Siri would just ping at me all day long. Jean, remember to talk to Chris about the bulletin boards. Jean, remember to post the POI door signs. Jean, remember to take a picture of Nakita.

So, after school, I did just that. Talked to Siri for about ten minutes, telling her everything I had to take care of tomorrow.

Then, I thought I could use Siri for so much more. She could become my life coach.

Jean, brush your teeth. Two minutes.
Jean, do not leave the upstairs without making your bed.
Jean, less cheese on your breakfast sandwich.
Jean, would it kill you to walk around the block?
Jean, when is the last time you read a book?
Jean, have you called Nikki lately?
Jennie?
Your brother?
Jean, try to laugh today. At least three times.
Not the puny fake laugh either.
Jean, remember you are here to help.
Jean, ignore them if their energy brings you down.
Jean, it’s okay to smile. Relax.
Jean, remember to rest.
Jean, remember you only live once.
Jean, remember to be honest with yourself.
Jean, remember to be kind.
Jean, remember to love. And be loved.

You’re welcome ~ Siri

One of the new teachers at school…

…has spent less time on the planet than I have spent working at Fernway. I’ve been there 28, maybe 29 years, and she has only been alive for 23. There is something mind-blowing about that to me. My first students are well into the middle of their careers – policy makers, internationally known diversity expert, physicians, EMTs, financial experts, a Broadway actor, a DJ, architects, teachers, insurance agents, a professional tennis player, I could go on.

Sometimes, I grieve the time I have spent in one place, wondering if I could have learned more and done more had I had a broader range of experiences. In those moments, I think I gave my life away so that others could use their gifts. I could have been a writer, a geneticist. A retreat leader in New Mexico.

Other times, like today, I think the exact same thing, but it hits my heart a different way. I gave away my life so that others could use their gifts. Wow. How amazing is that? To have been a river, a wire, an oil well.

So, today, I want to thank my fellow teachers for being teachers. For setting the foundation, for sparking creativity, for delivering others into their lives so selflessly. And I want to wish my new friend, our talented young teacher, the best of luck. May she too, years from now, look back at her choice to become an educator and feel great gratitude.

Just like I am feeling tonight.

One of the new teachers at school

…has spent less time on the planet than I have spent working at Fernway. I’ve been there 28, maybe 29 years, and she has only been alive for 23. There is something mind-blowing about that to me. My first students are well into the middle of their careers – policy makers, internationally known diversity expert, physicians, EMTs, financial experts, a Broadway actor, a DJ, architects, teachers, insurance agents, a professional tennis player, I could go on.

Sometimes, I grieve the time I have spent in one place, wondering if I could have learned more and done more had I had a broader range of experiences. In those moments, I think I gave my life away so that others could use their gifts. I could have been a writer, a geneticist. A retreat leader in New Mexico.

Other times, like today, I think the exact same thing, but it hits my heart a different way. I gave away my life so that others could use their gifts. Wow. How amazing is that? To have been a river, a wire, an oil well.

So, today, I want to thank my fellow teachers for being teachers. For setting the foundation, for sparking creativity, for delivering others into their lives so selflessly. And I want to wish my new friend, our talented young teacher, the best of luck. May she too, one day years from, look back at her choice to become an educator and feel great gratitude. Just like I am feeling tonight.

A prayer for the first day of school

May the door always be open,
the teacher ready to shake your hand.
May your tears be wiped and
your loose shoelaces tied.
May you be rewarded your perseverance,
celebrated your kindness, noticed for
the ways you are changing and learning.
May you be seen, dear child, for your
innumerable gifts and experiences,
your heart valued as much as your brain.
May every adult treat you with grace and mercy,
forbearance and forgiveness.
May your homework be fun,
your lunch always taste delicious.
May recess be long, and, when
you need to stare out the window,
may the trees be in full bloom,
or lace the winter sky like mazes.
May your creativity be welcomed,
your unique thinking be valued.
May you be encouraged to make mistakes,
to take risks, to put yourself in new
situations with confidence, delight.
May the work be interesting, but even
when it is not, may you understand
and accept the benefits of discipline
and concerted effort. May you work well
with others, contribute to the greater good.
May you be happy, proud of your labor
when each day comes to an end.
May you run home to a family that loves you,
and helps you do what needs to be done.
When they ask what you learned in school,
may the conversation be juicy, long,
tendered up with great enthusiasm.
And when you wake up every morning,
ready yourself and your things,
may your first thought be:
here I come, school, here I come.

Today’s lessons

Strawberries and almond butter are a good combination.
Four people eat more food than one.
Carry extra towels in your car, just in case.
Even wearing a Princeton Seminary t-shirt,
I can be mistaken for someone who owns a gun.
Sometimes, I just need to cry.
It’s okay to eat ice cream for lunch.
Always get in the photo booth.
Kids make friends easily, they just say “Hi.”
Don’t try to shoot the moon, in fact avoid playing hearts.
But be playful, especially, when your heart hurts.
Ask for what you need. Hug first.
Don’t think too much, let your guard down.
A trampoline and a big blue ball are a perfect combination.
Be obvious with your love. Give thanks
for the noise and people that filled your home.

 

Big ugly cry

The last time I felt this sad about someone moving, was when Judy Buck left Pittsburgh with her family when we both were eight.  Fourth graders don’t really know how to express the mishmash of heartache so, after a shared family meal,  I said good-bye, gave a shy wave, then -after getting in the car – looked at Judy  as long as I could before we turned the corner.  The rest of the trip was long, silent.  I am sure my droopy head was leaning against the window the whole way home.

Tonight, we were just having a  normal, perfect conversation, then it was time.  I honestly don’t know what Clover and I said, but I know we cried and we laughed, which seems only fitting.  I know I couldn’t stop the feelings from flowing.  Love and gratitude are emotions  I can no longer contain at this age, especially when I am expressing them to someone for whom I have the deepest admiration and affection.

This was the best kind of hard good-bye.  We stumbled through the words we had to say.  We hugged and we meant it.  We looked at each other, and without even saying a word, we said everything that needed to be said.

I know Clover’s dance card is stacked, and that many of you are having your own beautiful sweet moments with Clover as she is wrapping up her time here in Cleveland.   I know lots of us are left with huge knots in our throats and globs of gooey mucus running down our cheeks.  I am not the only person who has had a big ugly cry at Stone Oven this week.

I know it hurts, but, man, how lucky are we?  This kind of stunning sadness is the very best kind to have. It means we got to know an extraordinary person, we got to be lead by an extraordinarily gifted leader, and we felt — we will always feel – a shiny, compelling, fierce kind of love for an extraordinary soul.

Thanks, Clover, you have changed us all, all for the better.

Three men walk into

… a hotel after an arduous trip.  It’s late at night and this is the only hotel in a small town.  There’s only one room.  The men ask for the room and the clerk says it will be 30 dollars.   Each man pitches in $10.

Later, the clerk realizes that they are running Tuesday night special and the room should really only cost $25.  He gives the bellhop 5  one dollar bills and tells him to give the men back their due.

The bellhop decides to take $2 for himself and give each man $1 back, so that it’ll work out nice and evenly.

So, now, each of the three men has paid $9 (the original $10 – $1).  That equals $27 (9 x3).  And the bellhop has $2.

$27 + $2 = $29.  What happened to the other dollar?  Seriously.  Where did it go?

THIS is the kind of question what Adrian posed in the middle of Common Planning Time Thursday, and it still is spinning around in my head.  It would be an excellent question for our mobile math lab at Fernway (though we would have to explain what a bellhop is – and why the heck there is a bellhop working in a $30 a night motel).

And this problem, that Jocelyn asked us, would be another great question for math talks: How many ways could we make rectangles that have an area of 24 sq. feet?  (I thought of a million answers for that.  Actually, an infinite number of responses.)

I have so many ideas roaming and rearranging in my head after this week’s professional learning.  They range from the ways to create culturally proficient class communities to the ways to incorporate brain frame graphic organizers to make the writing process explicit.

School is awesome now.

I think back to my education – rows and basal texts.  SRA (which only made me read fast not well).  Language workbooks.  Science workbooks.  Social studies textbooks with ten low level comprehensions at the end of each chapter.  The teaching/learning was so mundane and simple.  And, yes, I know – we did turn out alright.

But now?

School is awesome.

Teachers are geniuses.

And we work our asses off to make it better and better and better.

So, Governor Kasich, if you become King of America and you are able to ban all teachers’ lounges (which, yes, I do understand is  metaphor), I just want you to know that we would just find another room to meet  in.

We would gather and think and plan and plot – like we do every day. Not to talk about politics and all of our “woe is me” concerns,  but to think and plot and plan about how to make school better.  How to make every day a great day.  How to teach with greater effectiveness.  How to make sure each child is valued and engaged. Because  that’s what we do, Governor Kasich.  That’s what we do.

Governor Kasich’s comments about teachers’ lounges

 

 

Freshman year

This is a picture my niece, Grace, posted on Twitter.  It’s her side of the room in her new dorm at Loyola Chicago.  She’s a freshman there and today was move-in day.

Grace is a remarkable kid – tremendously outgoing and furiously talented in graphic design and all things digital.  She will have huge success at Loyola and one of the main reasons is because she carries so much love with her.  Grace, like all of Mark and Jean’s kids, genuinely appreciates and champions her friends and family.  She’s chosen to build a big and tight circle.  Just look at that wall – Grace will never feel alone, even in this new place.  And soon, I suspect, she’ll be posting new pictures of new friends.  She’s just that way — easy, fun, eager.

When I went away to Miami freshman year, I was the complete opposite of Grace.  Shy, anxious, contained, not very creative.  But somehow, the minute that station wagon drove away from McBride Hall, something in me clicked. I could be whoever I wanted to be and, thank god, I chose to experiment with mild extroversion.

That year, I never went to sleep.  If someone was out in that second floor hallway talking, I stayed awake to be part of the conversation.  I was learning, finally, to listen, to talk, to laugh, to try to be funny…to join the narrative arc.  And, though they did not know it exactly, all of my parent tuition remittance went to learning about making, keeping, and losing friendships.  Sure, I got a degree in Elementary Education and I obviously had to take classes, but all of my important learning took place in Dennison Dining Hall, in East Quad, down in the ravine, in the lobby of McBride, in our corridor, in those residence hall rooms.   I am still bearing the fruits of those social choices today. This morning, as I stood in front of the 40 people on staff at Fernway?  Well, that is only possible because of Miami, where I learned to be a person.  A friend. A colleague.

So, Grace, I know your parents don’t necessarily want me telling you this, but have fun.  Keep making friends and learning about people.  Don’t sleep.  If you have the choice between studying and staying up all night to steal milk crates from dining halls (not that I did that, wink wink), do a little bit of studying then stay up all night.  Keep an eye on the shy girl on the edge of the conversation.  Swoop her into your circle.  Test out your ideas, be reflective about your personality.  Take risks.  Widen your family.  Tell good stories.  Ask questions.  Find out what others are thinking and feeling, be open-minded.  Engage in deep conversation.

I am so proud of you, Grace,  and excited for this next part of your life.   Go get ’em.

Volume up, tears coming down

This song took the byway
from my ears to the hard knots
in my back where my ribs
fit into my spine, and
I found myself crying, again,
not because I was sad or happy,
but because the steady rhythm of truth
seemed to be breaking down
my bones into small pieces
that might be mistaken for
oyster shells or baby teeth.
And I felt like, if I need to be
torn apart, it should always
be through song, and, if I am
to be changed, let it be right there,
where breathing meets purpose,
where expansion is joined
to boldness, backbone, and resolve.
Let it reside there where love
needs to be, in the center,
taken in and given back,
twelve times a minute, every
single day from this day,
until the very last.

Listen:

Mary Lambert ~ She keeps me warm

Mr. Q’s Cupcakes

We only had to ask him a few times, but we did it with such love and affection that Mr. Q woke up at 5 am this morning to make us red velvet cupcakes.  As always, they were delicious (and I don’t even like red velvet).

When I saw Angell’s face – so full of pride and desire to please – I thought about teaching.  How we need to recognize students’ skills.  How we need to ask students to actively share those skills – maybe even demand that we get to harvest the gifts. How we need to savor their products of expertise, make yummy noises and close our eyes in ecstasy, like we did today with Mr. Q.

So often these days, we walk a politically correct middle-of-the-road stance.  We say that everyone can do all things well, that everyone should be celebrated all of the time.  I want to tell you this: My handwriting is really sloppy.  I completely suck a basic home cleanliness.  (Please don’t inspect my baseboards, especially in the bathroom.)  I am unable to  retain foreign languages, even if I were to tattoo the words onto my lips.   I cannot read music.  And red velvet cupcakes?  Hell no, mine would have flopped.  I have hundreds of relative weaknesses.

The opposite is true as well.  There are dozens of things I do extraordinarily well:  ride a scooter, coordinate house colors, write and deliver sermons, plan and execute meaningful and engaging professional development, talk with kids, appreciate the high desert, lead women’s retreats.

If you ask me about those?  Or ask that I use those skills for the betterment of the group?  Man, I would walk on on water to do my best.  Just like Q did this morning.

When we falsely state that all people can do all things well,  it sets our children up for mediocrity.  Not excellence.

They never experience blood, sweat, or tears and, thus, do not have a gauge on what true excellence demands of us, nor what it feels like to mount an extended push for accomplishment.

But when we know and elevate students’ strengths and passions, then they will do whatever it takes to prove us right: practice, exert time and energy, show a desire to help others.  And, in the end, they will gain authentic pride and true self-esteem.   Not the cheesy kind that has given us smiley-face grades and participant ribbons.

Thank you, Mr. Q for the cupcakes. Thank you even more for the love and expertise your folded into the batter and whipped into the frosting.   I could taste it and I know everyone else did too.

 

 

 

Clint Smith, Sherman Green, and Kerry

It’s good to be back with these goofballs at Fernway. Kind of like returning to a family reunion. Matt gave me a brother’s hug. Adrian chatted with me about movies. Jennifer made me laugh. Roope extended me her steady honesty and encouragement.  It’s good to be back home.

This morning’s convocation was highlighted by Clint Smith. I can’t do justice to this poet philosopher.  Someday, if I am very very lucky and very very inspired, I’ll write something half as wise and challenging as Clint.  Treat yourself by going to this link:

Clint Smith ~ The Danger of Silence

After professional day, I headed to Office Max to get some enlargements of our school’s IB Dude.  When I pull out my personal credit card, the man next to me asked, “It that for a school?”  I nodded.  He went on, “And you don”t have an account or a school credit card?”  I said no, I didn’t.  Then he reached into his wallet and said, “I am sick of this.  Teachers spending their own money.  I’ll pay.”  And he did.  $8.49.

Sherman Gold, thank you very much.  You had my back.  After a year of battles with politicians about testing and union busting,  it felt so good — so good — it’s good to know that you are in our trench too.

Then, after stopping by Blicks for more supplies, a man sitting on the sidewalk said, “Ma’am, if you have just a bit of change…” and I reached into my back pocket, apologized that I only had a dollar fifty-seven to give him.  He shook my hand in thanks and I noticed he was missing part of his left arm.  He smiled and I noticed his missing teeth.

“Kerry,” he said, “is my name.  What is your’s?”  I told him Jean and we kept talking for ten minutes – about my scooter, his bike, my purchase, what he might buy for dinner.  Kerry was glowing with kindness, said I was one of his “people.”  And, honestly, it felt like high compliment.

I had no idea I would meet any of these men today, and each taught me about justice in a different way.  Clint taught me to use language to combat inequality.  Sherman taught me to use generosity to counterbalance injustice.  And Kerry taught me champion relationships to bridge inequities.  He and I are much more similar than different.

What a day, what  good and sanctified day.

Thanks be,

Jean

 

 

What students want

I’m not a big fan of going back to school. After months away from kids, I sometimes forget the gift of my vocation and start to think that napping on the couch would be a really good way to spend the fall.

But, today it happened. I clicked into gear. This kid (who was a stranger to me), Tamir, was doing tricks on his bike. He rode straight at me then dismounted in a fullspeed run, telling me the brakes weren’t working. I said, “Whoa, wow, look at you!” Then he did it again, just to see if he could get even closer to my parked scooter (which he did) – big old smile on his face like he had slayed a dragon or climbed Everest.

I said, “You got to be careful, I don’t want you to get hurt.” He nodded, and I said it again, feeling maternal and committed, as if this kid was my kid.

Tamir followed me as I started to scoot home from church. “You like boxing?” I nodded. “You know Willie Nelson, the boxer? He’s my cousin.” I said wow or cool or something like that. “And Shaquille O’Neal, he’s my cousin too.” I swear, if we had had more time, he would have told me his whole life story. When I asked for his picture, Tamir posed.

Then I got it – there are just two things all kids want from teachers: a chance to show us what they can do and a receptive ear. That’s it.

If I prove a willingness to give them those two things – honor and an ear – they will risk life and limb for me. They will learn until their heads explode.

Thank you, Tamir. You returned me to my work in the right frame of mind.

I know you start school in a few weeks, August 31st. I hope your teacher is your champion and friend. Until then, be careful, sweet kid. Be careful.

Tent revival

  

The highlight from Mennonite Tent Revival has nothing to do with the preached word. Or about an expression I loved: We must burn that which binds us.

What I’ll remember is this. The most joyous moment I saw at the revival, the most obvious expression of revision and renewal, came from watching a toddler boy run away from his handsome father and mother.  How he sparkled with mischievousness. How he ran, but not too far.  How every time he went a bit out of safe range, one of his parents caught up to him, scooped him up, rubbed his belly or nuzzled his cheek.  How he smiled, they smiled.  Every single time. 

Sure, Jim Newsome preached for an hour, and he preached well.  But, for me, God showed up in this sideline  interaction and taught me that we should be delightful and delighted.  That we should play.  That when we wander off track, love will find us.  Scoop us back up.  

Again and again and again.  

A prayer for the last day of summer

First, I want to say thank you.
For letting me stay up so late,
and awaken after ten. It’s a luxury
to find and hold my natural
sleep pattern. I needed rest
for computer-crouched back,
for my knees, for my spirit –
still troubled by testing and rabid
accountability, adults rewriting
childhood. Thank you for rest, for time.

The world shifted on its axis
this summer: marriage equality,
healthcare secured in a supreme way,
and that eulogy in Charleston,
a speech we’ve been waiting for for years.
Thank you for this amazing grace
in a world still hungering for justice.

Thanks too for simplicity:
the sound of rain on the yurt,
that song sung in Princeton’s chapel,
the sanding and scraping of the men
who worked so hard to revive my little house.
Young strong women playing softball,
boys sifting dirt through their fingers
even as the pitch was heading home.

Thank you for that day we shot Nerfguns
at targets pretending that we could be heroes.
The canal boat ride, the sunset cruise
on the shoreline, the plane ride to
San Diego, where I tried my best,
among the best. Thank you for
mid-day movies, and mid-day naps.
A game called Munchkins, and
rows and rows of gin rummy, even if
I most often fell on the losing side.

Thank you for that huge orange moon
splayed out on Rt. 2 driving home from
Toledo at the end of July. Oh my god.
And the two tiny kittens we tried to rescue,
their tiny urgent peeps, much like my neighbors’
who hear all day: Mom, Mom, Mom.
Thank you for popsicles, even at breakfast
and every day with the crew before dinner.
And sweet corn from a road stand,
that Amish country pizza. You know
I met Jersey Mike this summer, and, yes,
he and I have fallen a little too much in love.

Speaking of which, thank you for
that conversation in Columbus, and the ones
at Retrodog and driving back from Buffalo.
I feel, though lonely, still loved.
I know I let you down: my laziness,
my talk of travel that never manifested.
Some day, we will make it to Selma,
I promise. I know that projects remain undone,
corners still filled with dust and detritus.
(And, when I say corners, I am speaking
of my heart as much as my house.)

Please, stay with me. Your calm,
your playfulness. Your broad sweeping
colors. Even your hot unrest,
as we work to show that black lives matter.
We are entering the season of harvest,
let us bring your gifts with us for the work.
Thank you for early morning sunrises,
long lasting light, the purposeful way
that you extend the notion of day.
There is so much we can do in the time
spread between darkness and darkness.
Help us carry that hope into the coming days.

Amen.

Exam Room

Earlier, I went to see my magic physician.  Dr. T, who is a DO, does manipulations to reactivate muscles that have been dormant. Last time I was there, he solved a problem in my foot by squeezing my shoulder.  Kind of like going to Jesus, but with a  co-pay.

I was eager to see Dr. T this morning to work on my knees and ankles.

I greeted the nurse at 7:54, and she told me it was “bound to be a crazy day.  I just started and I’m already running behind!”

I purposefully lowered my voice, whispered, “Good morning.”  And added, “Let’s get you off to a good start with me, then.” We chatted for a while – surveys, office space, paper records versus electronic, new docs coming to the practice.  Mostly I listened.  It seemed like the right thing to do.

She rounded her desk and popped open the waiting room door, escorted me to Exam Room 2,  and said, “I’ll take your vitals here before the doctor sees you – as soon as I finish up with the woman in the next room. Be right back!”

I hate vitals.  I am vitally opposed to them.  My height is shrinking, my weight is expanding. They always ask if I have started taking medication after my blood pressure is taken.

I heard Janice ask the woman to get on the scale – 143.  Height – 5 feet 6 inches.  Then some mumblings while she was fitting her with the cuff.  123 over 75.  That low reading made my own blood pressure zoom.  Peer pressure.

All the while, the scale was staring me down.  The bottom counterweight was on 50, so that would mean I – or she – would have to slide, slide, slide, slide, slide over all of those other fifties to get to the end of the bar.  She would have to say the number.  I would have to hear the number.  I felt like I was going to throw up.

(Which might not have been bad, given that I would lose some weight).

(Plus, I hadn’t pooped yet, which sure must give me a pound or two to explain away).

(I know how crazy that thinking is, but it was my thinking nonetheless).

Janice continued next door.  Finishing up the vitals with temperature.  A perfect 98.6.

I heard her leave and head in my direction.  I could feel the thump thump thump of my anxiety in my temple.

Janice popped into my room, looked me up and down and said, “What do you say – how about if we skip your weight for today?”

I swear to God I had to stop myself from flying over to her to give her a big fat kiss.  I had actually already taken an instinctive step in her direction and felt my arms rise for a hug.

She nodded, as if to say I got you, sister.  

I nodded back.  Thanked Janice with my words and my eyes.

It was simple, this gift. It was grace.

I am grateful, sweet Janice, for the bye.  I’m going to try to pass it on today.

Now, like Janice did for me, go be gentle and brave,

Jean

Graycliff

Perfect day for a trip to Western New York to see Graycliff, the summer house Frank Lloyd Wright built for soap mogal and Buffalonian, Darwin Martin.  It’s one of his lessor known and revered structures – but I’ve never meet a Frank Lloyd Wright house I didn’t like.

It would be hard to pick my favorite part of this house.  Maybe the purposeful diagonal driveway that made your eyes move left of the house to see the watery horizon.  Or the way the windows were aligned on the north and south elevations so that, from the front yard, you could see through the house to Lake Erie.  I loved the bathroom window built into the chimney.  Also, the massive fireplace separating the living room from the dining room. I could go on.

Graycliff seemed to lay down and unite with the land it occupies.

If you want to see more, go here: Graycliff restoration

Last summer, when I visited Taliesin with my friend Celeste, I learned about FLW’s Organic Commandment.  See quote

“Love is the virtue of the heart, sincerity is the virtue of the mind, courage is the virtue of the spirit, decision is the virtue of the will.”  Pretty damn, cool, right?

You can argue about the fluctuations in Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal decisions, but you cannot find fault in his architectural and philosophical genius.

Today, I was again reminded of Wright’s propensity to compress entry hallways – make them short and narrow – so that after you move through them and enter the living space, you experience a huge expansion.  A widening.

I love the way I feel in a Wright house.  Squeezed, released.  Tight, then loosened.  He always seems to be birthing you into the next beautiful space.

So that’s the message I want to take with me today.  We are meant to evolve in this way: from constriction to spaciousness.  From tapered to broad.  We are meant to emerge and emerge into beauty our whole lives long.

Thank you, Mr. Wright, for your way of seeing the world and for creating extraordinary structures, including Graycliff.  I am, again, stunned by your brilliance.

Now, like FLW did in his own way, go be gentle and brave,

Jean

There’s something in the way she moves

I had just parked my car in the covered lot and was putting quarters in my meter, when in the farthest edge of my peripheral vision, I saw her.  The one who left me.

It was her walk that grabbed my attention, made me recognize her instantly.  The way she plows forward with her shoulders first –  a bit tippy toed.  Then I saw her hair, curls loose and long for the summer.  And her typical summer outfit, cropped pants, a flowy linen shirt.  Green and a little too big, like they always were.

I froze in the darkness of the parking lot, unable to move, and watched as she got into her car which was parked at this meter on the street.  She’s driving a big family kind of car with a  bicycle rack on the back.  Room for her Trek, her wife’s too.  It took her a while to pull out.  I just stood there, stone still.

I have only seen C three times in the seven years.  Once we met for dinner.  (I didn’t eat, only cried.)  Once when I walked past a beauty salon where she used to get haircuts.  And today.

I could, right now, tell you all about the hurt.  Or the reasons I stood immobile.  I could make this be a sad story.  But, like all stories, I get to determine the theme, the takeaway.  The way the conflict is resolved, the denouement.

I get to figure out the grace embedded in every event.

I am going to choose to say this: I’m grateful for senstate memory.  That my brain has the capacity to have known love, stored love away, and recognize that love years later by the smallest signals from 80 yards away.  I am going to be grateful for the all of the places I walked beside that walk. The beach in Saugatuck. The Christmas tree farm in Kirtland. The gardens at the Biltmore.

I’m even going to be grateful that that woman left so that I could know and build other loves.  Fuller loves.  Years ago, she said our love was not the best thing for her.  Now I know she was right; it was not the best thing for either of us.

Now go be gentle and brave,

Jean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shutters, blogging, failure, grace

I saw these shutters in Amish Country last week.  And if I could select an image to represent how I feel at this moment in my life, this would be it.  I know some of you are there too.  A bit worn.  A bit blue on occasion. Ready to weather any storm, angled and open for the light.

This blog will be about common graces, the things we see and experience every day that make us more gentle and brave, somehow both at the same time.  It’s been a while since I have done this, made a commitment to daily writing.  But I know when I see the world through writer’s heart, a soft heart, I fall a little bit in love with living again.  And that, my friends, is good.

About a week ago, I suffered a downfall.   Simply stated, I wanted a position that was not awarded to me.  I am not sure downfall is the right word.  A disappointment, to be more accurate.  And while I’ve suffered disappointments, this one seemed to be staying around longer than most, chewing on my brain.  You may have had that experience too – a gnawing that just wouldn’t leave you.

Last night I figured out its purpose.  To narrow and define my truest intentions.  This thing I did not get?  Well, I don’t think I really wanted it. I want writing.  I want a wider community that feels like a kinship, perhaps found and built here. I want this: eyes to see, grace to recognize, words to express.

Today I am grateful for the gifts of failure.  How it made it get in there, where the heart is gooey and slippery.  How it made me hold my heart, comfort it a bit.  Then ask, as Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “What do you really, really, really want?”

Thank you, failure.

Now go be gentle and brave,

Jean