October 30, 2012
“Why can’t I feel it?” she wondered, as I cut her hair this afternoon.
Feel it being cut, you mean? I asked.
Wow, that’s a really good question, I thought, trying to summon up my middle school science class memories. Out loud, I mused, I think it’s because the hair itself is not alive, like other parts of you. You feel your fingers and toes, because they are alive, but your hair is not.
“How does it grow, then?”
Well, the part the pushes out the new hair is alive. It’s just the hair itself that’s not.
She nodded. “Well, it’s pretty, for not being alive”
Then I continued thinking out loud, and what came out went kind of like this.
You’re right. God gave it to us for a reason and, you know, I think that’s actually one of the reasons He did. I think God cares about pretty things, as well as practical things. And I think it makes Him happy when we see how pretty someone’s hair is, and we enjoy it. I think that He wants us to see things as beautiful, like He does . . .
The conversation has had me thinking since then, wondering in part why I’d never thought about that before. But saying it made me think about it, and I do like the thought now that I have. Incidentally, please forgive me, scientifically-minded folks, if my facts weren’t perfectly aligned in that explanation :-)
October 26, 2012
There are a few things that count as life’s true luxuries in this one life I know. And somehow, in the midst of traveling and future-wondering stresses, this day has managed to catch me off guard with a surpassing sense of luxury.
Was it the warm air, and sun, that seeped into my already cold-weary cells? Was it the conversation that provided a glimmer of excitement for the future possibilities? Was it the act of slipping pajama footies onto sweet little feet? Was it sharing an afternoon at the pool with several of those sweet little feet-pairs? Was it the expression on her face as she held splayed fingers up from the pool, in front of her face, with a look of confusion when I asked if she had “prune skin”? Was it goodnight kisses and bedtime prayers.
October 22, 2012
Today was Parent/Teacher Conference Day. Truthfully, I didn’t really expect any library visitors. But when I ended up with a handful of parents coming in to ask about their child’s interest in library class, or to see the place for themselves, I was quite thrilled. For much of the day, however, I had the role of an usher: shuttling parents to the correct classroom around campus. After a few hours of this, I began to notice a curious pair of little ones. While their parents we occupied, these best friends planted themselves in various different locations, with various forms of amusement. And eventually, after smiling at the sight for a while, I wizened up enough to carry my camera around for random sightings :-)
October 21, 2012
In a split second, my reaction went from “Oh, how beautiful!” to “Lord, have mercy!” In fact, it could have even been a reversed response. The reason for this tempered norm, as far as my usual appreciation for beauty is, quite simply, my fear of the cold.
This morning was the first time this year that I’ve seen the mountains fully coated like this. It is a stunning sight in the early morning light. But my sensibilities switch instantly, from beauty-appreciation to a combined cerebral and physical memory of last winter. The temperature has begun to drop rapidly, and we will have no methods of heat for some time yet. So for the past week I have had an underlying sense of anxiety about the pending wintery doom. It is not quite a rational fear, as eventually there will be heat, even if it is rather inadequate. But I have no rationally reasoning mind when it comes to my memory of cold. Well, I can reason with my mind, I suppose; but it does little for my fearful spirit.
To be fair [need I be fair to the weather?], it did get significantly warmer today than it did over the past few days. The sun came out and warmed both the air and my own spirits. But I know, too well, what is to come.
Ye of little courage.
Someone dear to me once complimented me hugely, calling me brave. I don’t feel very brave right now. But here’s to a hope for enough braveness to face the winter . . . and maybe a bit of hope for temperature-mildness this year, to boot :-)
October 18, 2012
Today I set aside my weekend schoolwork and planning, opting instead to attend a seminar on “Secondary Trauma and Compassion Fatigue.” I knew I needed to hear what this visiting expert had to say to those of us who are, as she said, “living this reality.” One thing that stuck out to me, considering the realizations I had over the summer, was when she mentioned the common talk about PTSD, or Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. What she noted was that most of us in settings like these are not actually experiencing PTSD. Rather, we are experiencing “The natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person” (Figley).
A few things resonated in me as I digested this information. One is that it is “natural.” How comforting to think that the wounded heart is a natural reaction, and not, presumably, a permanent damaging. What I worry sometimes is that the portions of me that are wounded are also permanently hardened. But I don’t think that’s the case. As she told us, most often those who are experiencing Secondary Trauma can successfully use it as a life growth tool.
Another thing that struck me relates to the sense of inadequacy that I felt for much of my first year here. I had a great deal of insecurity about my work and person; as a result, I felt that I somehow didn’t deserve to struggle as much as I was. Those with more responsibility and more impact on others here could justify weariness and emotional reaction; I, as a “newbie” with little apparent impact on others here, surely could not justify being personally impacted as much as I felt I was.
But the truth is that, if this concept is true, the “wanting to help” is as valid as the actual helping . . . thus giving gravity to even the emotional reaction of inexperience, and inadequate, souls such as I.
Apparently, history of personal trauma also intensifies one’s susceptibility to struggling with Secondary Trauma. Suffice it to say, I had plenty of reaction–and something to say–on this topic
There was a wealth of information covered in this short seminar–more than I could really go over in one of my in-the-moment blog posts. I will not try.
Yesterday evening, in the midst of busying about the work of the day, I paused as I went up the stairs of my house. I noticed the way the light was shining in through the windows and knew that something watch-worthy would be happening outside. So I paused in my own agenda and walked around on the roof till I found this: an ethereal mixture of gray and white clouds; a near-sunset glow upon the hills; a child in solitary play, stopping to sit for a bit, perched upon his soccer ball; a piece of peace.
October 16, 2012
I tacked this question on the library computer screen yesterday. As I went through my notes from the past quarter of ladies’ study, this portion caught my attention. I looked at the question and, instead of shredding it as I was doing with other notes, I ripped it out and taped it up. I needed to ask it of myself again. Who do I believe He is? At the moment, I am feeling weighted down. And the worry nagging at the core of my heart is one that tells me that I’ve messed up and that, as a result, God is going to “take.” So in writing this–bluntly, straightforwardly–my prayer is that truth will prevail. In this world and, yes, even in this one little life of mine, as insignificant as it may seem in the grand scheme of things. I choose to believe in His goodness now; I choose my Giving God.
On a lighter note of the day, we practiced turning pages in the library today. For the little ones who are still working on basic book care skills, it is an oddly important thing to teach. I couldn’t help but laugh as I coached each one of them and laughed at how eagerly they showed off their fine, flipping fingers.
October 12, 2012
I think that normalcy has developed a strangeness about it these days for me. Or at least it felt strange this afternoon. After the morning large group meeting we had a “community day,” playing games and enjoying the October sunshine. I remember how strikingly relaxed this day was last year, and this was no exception. While the grownups played volleyball, us “kids” played a series of improvised set-ups. A rules-relaxed version of baseball, for one. Though I guess I wasn’t as relaxed about it as I should have been: when playing the field I did catch one little one’s play, for a sound “Out!” call. Bowling, however, I was decidedly laid back about. When asked how many times she could roll the ball without hitting the pins, I just told her to keep rolling till she hit them. It took a few rolls, to use the term “few” loosely . . . but eventually we managed a spare. Technically, I suppose it may not have been a spare, seeing as how we were missing a pin, leading to a bowling setup more closely resembling a disjointed diamond than a proper triangle. Well, no harm done, I don’t think :-)
During the morning Funday School, I had the children do an activity in which we made a paper chain to symbolize bondage that we have freedom from. Once completed, we broke our chain and talked of ways in which God gives us freedom. I expected to hear more along the lines of life hardships and dramatic events that here we know unfortunately too much of. Instead, they gave answers of “family” and “home.” I thought better of correcting this when I realized that, in fact, this was more true than any pat “freedom” answer I would have envisioned. Because really, what better than family and home to symbolize freedom? Or at least that’s what I was thinking about as we enjoyed our community “family” this afternoon.
Later in the afternoon, I ended up with a sleepy little one in my arms. We watched the volleyball match until she conked out and then I just stayed there, still rocking her back and forth, and savoring the sweetness of life’s pause button.
October 10, 2012
The school day was just about done, with classes finished. And the weekend was upon us. So as I stepped out of the library to photograph the kindergarten program today, I couldn’t help but be tempted by the sight of a sparsely populated playground and a free swing. A few children called to me, excited that they had won a bit of extra play time for extra good behavior this week. Instead of waving and carrying on my way, I tucked my phone in my pocket, looped my camera on my wrist, and hopped on the empty tire swing to enjoy a few moments of relaxed play. The girls laughed at the sight, and asked if they could push me. I didn’t see any downside to a few young ones’ amusement, so said sure.
Then I heard a distinctly more aged call of my name and saw a team of high schoolers happily approaching, armed with cameras. The yearbook crew was passing and seemed to think that Miss J, wedged into the tire swing, would be perfect yearbook material. So much for random moments of anonymous amusement.
October 8, 2012
My heart has gone haywire. The daily moments, and humdrum details, have taken on a sort of technicolor level of emotion, at which I blink back tears at the most inopportune of times. Thankfully, this has not yet had an adverse effect on my workday moments. Children do a great job of allowing one to busy about with the practicalities of living in the moment. At least those I work with do. Sometimes I laugh at the things that come out of my own mouth, actually. This morning the lines of elementary kids got overly excited as they recited the last stanza of our poem, lapsing into a jumbled mess of rushed words. “That was horrid!” I blurted out, as they finished, proceeding to lecture them in proper poetic annunciation. Afterwards, carrying on with lessons, lunch detentions, and duties, I mused on the humbling nature of this work: you never really know what effect you are having on young ones, and just kind of have to trust that there is grace for the mistakes.
But back to the topic at hand, or in mind, as the case may be. In my ladies’ study this evening, it did not come as a great surprise to me when I lost my stoicism and broke down into tears. It is times like this when I am tangibly reminded of the blessing of life in a close community like the one in which I live; when I am forced to face up to the intensity of my inner life, I am brought to my knees by my own neediness for the company of people I trust. We were speaking of prayer, and of how we are to approach it in a way that both trusts in His providence [and not our own ideas of what should happen], and yet that shows faith in the promised power. As I enter into the “mid-thirties,” as I like to call this past birthday’s threshold, it is getting strangely harder for me to reconcile this paradox. I think I used to have an easier time just stepping back, emotionally, and taking things as they came in life. But I am too old for that, in many ways, now; my life does not need to be as much of a “martyr-like” struggle as it did at one time, for various reasons. So I am forced now to sit with the reality of my own choices . . . and to make those choices. It is my choice, for instance, to bare the vulnerability of my heart in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever done before. It makes little sense for me, at the age of thirty-three [yes, I like goofy rhymes] to try to be anything other than the odd soul than I am. Is it uncomfortable to be real? Goodness, yes! Does it hurt? Absolutely! Is it worth it? My prayer is yes.
So in the middle of my workday, I take a break from shelving and blow bubbles with a student. We play with the photographic effect for a bit, laughing at the effort, and then I resume the business of books. And at the end of the workday, I walk to a neighboring classroom and join in their “math night” fun, doing a sort of numbers cake walk with the children. This is my life at the moment. It will likely be very different, very soon, but it makes no sense to do anything but live in it here, now.
October 2, 2012
Each morning I greet the elementary students when they arrive at school. I stand at the gate and shake each child’s hand with what I am aware is a rather sing-song-y “Good Morning.” There are a few who dash in for a hug, which I quite happily accept, but most are more on the reserved side. And then there are 2 siblings who have such noticeably firm handshakes that I asked one recently if she had been taught how to shake hands. Sure enough, she informed me that her mother had taught them how.
Morning duty entails a fair bit of policing, so far as play goes, along with answering questions about various items of concern–oftentimes about their library books or library class. Then, once the hour has come for school to begin, I line everyone up into their grade levels and we work on whatever poem we are learning at the time. The last one we did was “Eldorado,” by Edgar Allen Poe . . . one that I particularly enjoyed memorizing myself when I was in high school.
At any rate, morning duty is, for the most part, all about routine. I laugh at myself sometimes for my love of routine when it comes to education and childcare, but I really do believe that it is crucial in that developmental period.
But the past few mornings I’ve felt the need to stretch my own little routine boundaries. Instead of simply allowing the soccer ball to be passed around a bit, until it became a bit crowded, I surprised the boys by intercepting their ball yesterday morning and joining in, in between handshakes.
So this morning I announced that it was “Girls’ Morning,” and that the girls were going to get to participate in races. I dredged up my old Cross Coaching self, and briefed them a bit before we began a round of interval races. I’m used to getting excited about seeing girls get to participate in sports here, but this morning I was especially thrilled about it. Maybe hoping that it will spark some bit of future aspiration.
I’m afraid I was a bit let down shortly thereafter, though. As I walked back to the library, one of my old middle school students called me over to her P.E. spot. She proudly pointed to the top of her head, and I laughed, seeing immediately what she wanted me to see: her hair was carefully pinned into a bow-shape, clearly modeled after the shape my own hair tends to take when I pull it up into a half pony tail and add a hair clip to secure it. “You should take a picture!” she said. With my camera in hand, I couldn’t very well say no. So much for inspiring dreams of athletic prowess. inspiring creative hairdos is not exactly what I was going for, but so be it: guess I’ll take what I can get :-)