Today I drove into the parking lot of my school to see our flag was at half mast. We all know why, and thoughts and prayers aren’t going to do a lot to fix it. I don’t know the answer to this problem. I’m a teacher. I can tell you that this year for most students forgetting their homework was the least of their worries.
Each year, one of our assistant principals asks the teachers to identify 2-3 students that need extra attention this year on a 3×5 card. Students can end up on my list for a variety of reasons, but after the first week in middle school I do a little activity that helps me identify just who might need this the most. I ask 6th graders to write down who they are friends with during homeroom. It can be first names or descriptions, and sometimes I get things like “kid who sits by me at lunch wearing the red hoodie.” I do this to ensure students have a friend. I tell the story of my own child who went to school her first day of 6th grade and came home so excited. She said, “I made a friend, but it was really two friends.” I asked additional questions, and she informed me she thought she made one friend in science and one in math. At lunch it turned out identical twins were dressed alike, and they both found her at the lunch tables. We still laugh about this years later.
Can you imagine spending 7 hours a day somewhere you had no friends? This year only two students reported they had no friends during homeroom. One was a student named Lucas. The other student was named Katie. Immediately, I knew they would be two of my students for my personal 3×5 card.
The other two on my list happened in a more complicated way. “Winter” was added because she rarely did as she was told, and she filmed a raging Snapchat video calling me out by name and school. She called me every name in the book, and some names I was pretty sure she made up on the spot. As it turns out, she lived with grandparents, and one was ill. She would come in some days eager to learn, and some days she was anywhere in her mind but school.
The last name on my list, Kaitlyn, slept through my class (or tried to) each day in the first 6 weeks of class. She had a daily smirk on her face, and she was besties with “Winter.” One day I made a point to try to get to the bottom of why Kaitlyn was struggling, and I found out her phone number did not work. None of the phone numbers worked. Digging further I discovered her family had been evicted, and she was likely sleeping in her car. It all made sense now.
There are plenty of other students my team had this year that needed extra attention, but the other teachers claimed those students for their own 3×5 cards. While focusing on my 4 students, I discovered that Lucas was DELIGHTFUL. He was too wise for his years, and he was “get off my lawn years old” at the ripe age of 11. He is hilarious to listen to, hangs on each detail of what other people say, and will go out of his way to help anyone. He also is a tech guru, and he will help each student find the charger for his or her Chromebook with minimal complaining. He volunteered to clean the desks, ran the sanitizing station, and if you need an errand kid, he is your student to send on a “hobbit journey” to the office. He will likely one day employ half his classmates at some startup, and they will be astounded at what he will accomplish. I will not be astounded. I am quite sure he is beyond capable of doing anything he puts his mind to doing.
Katie was a little more complex. She was so quiet and shy I almost couldn’t hear her. She never smiled. Most people don’t know I’m partially deaf, so I am excellent at reading lips. Katie gave me a lot of practice this year. The lunch room is so loud, so I offered her a safe place to eat in the classroom as long as she asked two or three friends to come with her so she could chat with someone. One day a sweet student came up to me as I was waiting on Katie’s group to get lunch trays and asked me if Katie was “allowed to” maybe eat with them that day. I don’t know who smiled harder- me or Katie! By January she was eating in the cafeteria more, and by March she quit coming to my classroom. She has loads of friends. They all beg her to sit with them. She smiles all the time. It will never stop amazing me how much she grew over 6th grade this year.
“Winter” had ups and downs. She struggled all year. Once the Snapchat was out there, I never told her I had been shown the video by another concerned student. Each week I would ask her if she needed anything. She never had a snack when the other kids did. I started giving her bags of Goldfish crackers. I never fussed at her for not having supplies; I quietly gave them to her. Her attitude changed over the course of the year. She agreed to do what I asked, and she told me more about her home life. She started trusting an adult. She might not have learned a lot of my subject matter this year, but honestly, some lessons are more important than state standards.
Kaitlyn ended up placed with a different family member as a result of a sibling finally sharing the situation. We made sure she had dress code clothing, and we let her change as needed into the clothing. The team all stepped up to help her succeed, and after the day I carefully told her I knew she had been homeless, and we were going to take care of her anyway we could, she never slept in my class again. She didn’t end the year with us. Our area got expensive, and she went to live with family in another state. I say prayers for her all the time, and I hope she finds a real home and sense of home wherever she is now.
We try to not let any students fall through the cracks. We try to identify those that need extra. We try to meet needs that parents can’t meet. We try to help each child feel like they belong. We love on the babies. Middle schoolers will tell you they aren’t babies, but I’ve taught just about all grades from 1st to 12th. Let me assure you, they are BABIES. Some are very tall babies, but they are still babies. Brains do not get finished “cooking” until they are 25. My students’ brains are just half-way done with growing and forming. Of course they will make mistakes. Of course they will regret things. Of course they are at the mercy of puberty. Of course they are at the mercy of their personal circumstances. Those things are not the fault of the child I teach each day. Sometimes even the adult that belongs to them isn’t at fault for the failure. Sometimes life just isn’t fair, and some of our students know and feel that on a more personal level than others. I can only do what I can do. I am one teacher.
This morning I went into my classroom and a gift bag in my favorite color was on my counter. I assumed a coworker left it there. I checked the card, and it had my name on it in childlike handwriting. I opened it carefully. Out fell a gift card to my favorite restaurant. The card thanked me for the school year. Underneath, in careful 6th grade penmanship, it said, “I appreciate you more than you will ever know.” It was signed by Lucas. The gift card was beyond sweet. My favorite candy was also in the bag. The words written in the card are what almost knocked the wind out of me.
I sat down at my desk, the only thing left in the room not stacked in neat rows for the summer cleaning ritual. I reread it. I was overwhelmed, but words written were the best gift I was given this year. The 2021-2022 school year was HARD. At times I felt like I failed daily. I opened my desk drawer to find the 3×5 card from the beginning of the year. The little list of names with Lucas at the top was just inside. He noticed. He recognized he was cared about.
I love these kids. I only get one year, and then most students might not remember my name or say hi if they see me at Target. I will not forget Lucas. I will not forget Katie. I will not forget “Winter”. I will not forget Kaitlyn.
I will not forget them because I needed a Lucas this year. I needed a Katie, “Winter”, and a Kaitlyn. I learn so much about compassion, anxiety, generational poverty, homelessness, and friendship from these students. We don’t have to change the entire world. We can just start with our Lucas.
I don’t always teach students. Most of the time, they teach me too.
This picture hangs in my classroom in the corner. It was a gift from my friend, Chad. I never knew the mammoth weight of what it held and what it would mean to me in the days to come.
April 28th , 2021- It has been nearly 5 months since then. Words still fail me. Words still haunt me. The last words I typed to him were “I’m praying for you. Just FYI.” He never read them.
He was such a fighter, the day before he claimed to be “doing okay.” He wasn’t. His tolerance for pain was immense. Nothing would be okay for him again.
Grief makes you feel empty and incredibly overfull simultaneously. A moment can seem normal, and it takes one second to remember that normal is no longer an option.
Grief can turn the mundane into tragedy, or it can take the tragic and make it hilarious.
All of the things your brain thought it knew no longer apply. A major interstate inside your brain was deleted, but you still need to get from point A to point B– as if that is still a possibility.
Silence becomes a language. Food becomes an enemy. Sleep becomes restless. Simple becomes complex.
The person I grieve already knew all of this on a deeper level than I did. The loss of a child isn’t something I can fathom, nor is it something he would have wished on his worst enemy. He spent all of his days pouring into people to combat grief, guilt, time, and loss. I was one of those lucky people to call him friend. He wasn’t just a friend. He was practically psychic when it came to understanding people. I had known him 34 years. We shared a loss date. The date I lost my dad happened to be the same day his daughter was born. His daughter had a traumatic birth that resulted in a lifetime of just 10, fraught with a fight for her life. He never got to even hear her speak or see her walk. He lost her 12 years before he joined her.
One day he was telling me how I was going to set up an editing service, and I was telling him how incredibly busy I was wrapping up the longest school year ever due to a pandemic. So busy, in fact, that I didn’t seem to notice when he fell ill. I did notice. I just honestly thought he was dealing with his own dragons. He was. This time they were physical dragons and not the kind you keep at bay with reruns of The Big Bang Theory.
One day he was leaving me a hilarious message on my voicemail about how he was trying to find something delicious to have as a treat since he was struggling with food. He dropped 7 glass bottles on the floor, threw towels on it, and headed to bed after leaving me the message. The next he stopped reading texts. He had never gone longer than a few hours without reading texts. I didn’t hesitate to contact his mother and sister to see if they would check on him. He would have not been happy if I stopped by with anything since I asked him the day before and he strongly declined. Now, I wish I hadn’t listened. His mother informed me there was, as I suspected, rootbeer all over the kitchen floor from the previous evening.
Time was of the essence, and he didn’t want to go to the hospital. He thought he had Covid. He couldn’t taste anything. It wasn’t Covid. His heart needed a life saving pacemaker, and he ignored doctor’s orders while telling his family and close friends he was all better. He likely thought he would handle it after the worst of the pandemic was over. He didn’t get the chance.
My friend, the one who sent my children dozens of baby hands they would wear on their fingers just to be weird, a rubber chicken that screamed when you threw it, plushies until I threatened to mail them back to him, things that made loud annoying noises, and glow sticks for snowman eyes was gone. I am surrounded by things daily that he sent over to my house without asking if I needed them. He just… knew I did. The man who would cook a tired teacher dinner and leave it on the porch before she got home when she was working 3 jobs and trying to hold grief and hope in the same hand. He was the giver of perfect gifts from signed copies of books, to templates for post it notes, to tiny books that I had shelved on Goodreads throughout the years. He compiled quotes as he read books that I suggested to share with me, and he even typed them up and bound them. Words were special to him. He also realized early in our friendship that words were as important to me as water or food. The saint who cared for everyone almost left earth with no one by his side, but he would never admit it. He will never know this, but if that had happened, I would never have forgiven myself.
Hours after the phone call where I said goodbye while he was sedated in a hospital bed, not knowing fully that his departure was imminent, I was in his apartment. It used to be my apartment. So here I was, going home, but walking straight into the kind of emptiness I dwelt in when I was living there following my divorce. His mother pointed to the bookshelves and explained he wanted me to have the books. All of the books were mine to take. I left her the Bible he got when he was saved at age 7. I left his doctoral dissertation that made him so proud. Personally, it gave me a headache reading the title. He would have laughed if I had told him that.
Words. He left me a legacy of words. He wrote books, and I have copies. He had a blog, and I have his thoughts about the world, his family, and even our friendship. I have copies of his first edition Potoks. I have classics, new fiction, old scifi, textbooks from his teaching, and self-help books. I have the words. For the first time I almost understood why the prophet Jeremiah ate a book. Grief makes you want to swim in the words. You wish you could pour them out of a cereal box and pretend you are in a children’s ball pit. (I feel my friend would feel obligated to point out that it would be a ball pit minus any substances children typically lose at the bottom of normal ball pits. Trust me on that one.)
Daily I had memes about academic topics, he helped my child pass chemistry and pre-calculus while we struggled with at-home learning options, and he never failed to send Christmas cards to my family. He played my mother in Words with Friends. He read every book I labeled a 5 star book on Goodreads. He called his mother each evening. He loved his cat even though she knocked his water glass off his table once a week. He knew details about his siblings that they probably didn’t know he noticed. He was fiercely loyal. He was a fantastic professor. He was an unmatched mentor. He loved biscuits from Hardees even though he knew it would come back to haunt him. He had a cat that was named after Emily Dickinson. He loves Macs and hated Windows machines. He felt like everyone needed their own soundproof personal bathroom they didn’t have to share with anyone.
He used to say I was Jacob, and he was Esau. He said one day I would see how special I was. He told me some people just are. When someone spends so much time speaking life into you, you can’t help but start believing them. I still hear his voice encouraging me and telling me things he said 100 times a week.
He loved his Jeep, reading, writing, editing, helping, laughing, making other people laugh, ALMOST irreverent memes, finding new pens and notebooks, planning, researching things, cooking fancy meals, taking care of his parents, a good burger, The Fifth Element, his friends, and… redheads. Wherever he is now, I hope he earned a redhead companion.
“Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.”
-Counting by 7s
Rest peacefully, Chad. You were truly one-of-a kind. You were an amazing friend. I will take great care of the words.
As a recovering people pleaser, it pains me to have to say sometimes you just have to make people mad at you for a good cause. Last week I made a coworker mad at me by simply stating facts that were true, and while painful, if she had just been a little more proactive in her job approach, things would never have gotten to this point.
The old saying goes “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I’ve always thought that was incredibly unfair. It made more sense to me that the wheel that never gets squeaky because someone was proactive enough to make sure they took great care of their wheels should have grease before any other wheels running around being squeaky. As it turns out, those that are excellent at caring for their own wheels run around this planet greasing other people’s wheels too because they are too thoughtless or lazy to grease their own.
I’m not speaking about those that need occasional help. I’m hardly perfect, and I will ask for help from time to time. I’m talking about habitual squeaky wheels. Those kind of people that run around complaining about whatever at that moment needs fixing are exhausting. It seems they are never happy. Someone’s inadequacy or sheer laziness prompts them to look beyond themselves for a solution to their problems and that usually means a person that is a professional problem solver. The issue with that is that means the professional problem solver is now doing two jobs: their own and the problem maker’s.
The inspiration behind this piece smiles widely all the time while spewing poisonous myriad issues. She has a job, doesn’t know how to do it, and instead of figuring out how to do super productive things like download her own attachments, she chooses to yell like a toddler that needs their rear wiped. I’ve discovered that people enjoy making her shut up so much they do the unthinkable. They wipe her butt. I’ve done it. Those in charge have done it. Those that work in her team do it. The reason they do it is simple. Her butt is dirty, and we are horrified at the fact she is unable to do her own job effectively.
As toddlers we are eventually potty trained when we get old enough to understand that there is a cause and effect situation going on with our body. Steps are taken to ensure that we know how to use the toilet. The last step in toilet training is learning to effectively wipe our own butt. Otherwise, disaster ensues and there are bigger messes to clean up than originally were necessary. At work, this translates to someone who doesn’t know how to wipe their own butt has two choices: find someone to do the job or walk around with turd butt. Those of us that understand the fine art of butt wiping are horrified by the later, so we inevitably do the former. That is ridiculous. Adults should wipe themselves.
When someone is getting paid for a job, they should do it. They don’t have to like it, but certain things that aren’t negotiable. Just because they don’t like one aspect of a job does not mean they should get to neglect it or find someone to do it for them. Some jobs are dirty. Some jobs have things that are not fun about them. We don’t sign up for just the fun part of a job. We sign up for the whole thing.
There are problem makers and problem solvers. Everyday I encourage students to be a problem solver, and not a problem maker. I do it because I don’t want to live in a world with a lot of people that can’t solve basic problems themselves. If we don’t allow people to wipe themselves the problem doesn’t go away. Poop happens. You can wipe it, but odds are, the problem is going to happen again. Without learning how to deal with the problem, the problem maker is going to keep on making problems forever, and that is a perpetual problem in and of itself.
So, what would happen if everyone stopped wiping people’s butts? It would be messy for a while. Yes, when we train a toddler we take a risk, and when we do this with a coworker, it can be just as risky. What if they fail? What if they do something wrong? In the end it is a much better solution than just continuing to do your job and theirs too. There comes a time when you have to remove the help they depend on and allow them to have ownership over their problems. In a world where Google exists, is there much they can’t figure out when dealing with most jobs? I doubt it. Let them get messy. Let them yell. I bet that eventually they will figure out the solution. If they don’t, at least they are finding someone else to clean up after them and it doesn’t always fall to you. And that? That’s one less problem for you to deal with!
After a school year spent sitting in other people’s chairs, I was eager to have a chair of my own as school started this fall. After a roller coaster where I thought I had a job and then I realized I did not, now I am back sitting in someone else’s chair again in an interim position next door to a classroom I thought might be where I’d spend years. Then last week the school I was non-renewed from 14 months ago had a few spots open and I decided to apply. The principal was no longer there, and I felt like I had great relationships with the people left there. I knew it was a risk, but I decided to do it anyway. I could tell you this really long story about how I had an army of people behind me, amazing recommendations from principals, and a fantastic interview, but I’ll just get to the point and say about the time I was listening to Journey sing “Don’t Stop Believing” in a T-shirt shop the size of a postage stamp in a tiny village in the North Georgia mountains my phone rang with bad news. Despite all those awesome things, the job was not mine. Once again, I was not enough. I’ve come to live with rejection so often these days we need bunk beds. (With my dumb luck, rejection probably snores and sleepwalks.)
If you are going to have really bad news thrown at you, the best human to drag on a road trip with you is a guidance counselor. She can talk you through it, help you laugh at yourself, and drown your sorrows in a river when she takes you tubing. So, on our adventures the next day we decided to zip-line off a mountain, and we saw a pottery shop as we left where we thought you could paint pottery. As it turns out you can no longer paint pottery, but we took a look around. We saw this set of mugs on the shelf and the lady told us those mugs were really special for a big reason. They were wood fired. This made little sense to us, so she explained further.
Wood fired pottery is special as the process is not only time consuming, it is labor intensive. Few people use wood as a fuel to fire pottery. It is hard to produce identical pieces because where each piece is placed in the fire creates the results. It’s chaotic in nature, and though it can create beautiful pieces, most potters would rather have a consistent result. Fire will have a range of temperatures throughout the kiln, so each piece will be unique.
The mugs she showed us were created identical, but the mugs were not all exactly alike. She explains that there was no glaze on the mugs at all. The fire created the glazed look as the flames hit the surfaces. Flashing is the name given to where the fire hits the piece directly and in the places where the fire touches the unglazed pieces those places are the prettiest. So, if you are a piece of pottery, you want to be directly in the flames.
She directed us to another shelf where two bowls were. She showed us they had the same markings, but they were completely different. One bowl was amazingly beautiful up close. The sister to this bowl was okay, but not shiny at all, and would fetch less money. The only difference in them is how much the fire touched them. She took the beautiful bowl down and showed us the inside. It has this amazing looking interior in the bottom and she explained that that was ash glazing. This type of firing made even the ashes beautiful. The ashes get so hot in the kiln, they actually turn into glaze and glass.
I was amazed by all of this and then I had this striking thought. Sometimes life burns us when you expect one thing and get another. Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into something you think is going to be amazing just to be disappointed. Then there are times that we realize that on the other side of the intense heat we feel, we will be better. I guess I’m not ready to leave the fire just yet, but on the other side of this I will be stronger. I will have marks where the fire touched me, but they will be beautiful. Even the ashes will have purpose. Even the ashes leave beauty.
Have you ever told yourself a lie? Did you keep it up for days? How about months? I think I reached gold medal status because I told myself lies for years. I’m not sure how I got away with it, but I do know why I did it.
I am an optimist. I love smiling. I love the feeling when all is right in the world around me. I believe when I see a pile of poop, there has to be a pony in it, right?! But what if that pony made a pile of steaming mess and left? What if that pony is not there anymore? At what point is optimism actually denial? And, at what point does that denial turn you into someone you don’t really want to be?
The word denial can mean the refusal of something requested or desired. It can also mean a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real. The first definition is very simple, but it can also lead to the second definition. If someone is denied something they really want, they can be in denial about it. Denial begets denial. Because no one ever wants to believe something painful, it is easier to just lie to yourself. The lies we tell ourselves are the ones you have the greatest belief in. You are invested in those lies more than you are invested in the truth because, let’s face it, the truth freaking hurts.
The first lie I told myself is probably bordering on the limits of pitiful and possibly institution worthy. I told myself my father, after committing suicide, wasn’t actually dead. That’s common enough, I know. Lots of people tell themselves that lie when someone they love dies. I didn’t stop there. I had a dream about him living in a little cabin at the top of the mountain where he died. He asked me to come in and told me all about how he just wanted to live up there forever, so he did. He had handmade all his furniture. It was a beautiful little dream, and I didn’t want to wake up. I had to pass the place he died on the way to and from visiting my mom several times a year ,and each time I passed the location where he died I would whisper to him I loved him. I would visualize him up there on the mountain ridge and not really gone. Twelve years after I first hatched this lie, I took a walk with a friend of mine to the top of the mountain where my dad died. It was an emotional walk, and while I knew I wouldn’t find anything at the top of the mountain except nature, I wanted to see for myself. The truth was hard for me to accept, and I didn’t do it all at once. It took twelve years for me to admit to myself that there had never been a cabin, and my father had not heard me whisper my love for him all those times I passed. I knew it all along. But in seeing it, I finally believed it.
I told the second lie to myself for almost the same length of time and during the same years as the first lie. After getting married at age 21, I knew almost immediately it was going to take a lot of sacrificial love and patience on my part. My second lie was that my husband loved me, he just didn’t know how to express it. I told myself this almost daily. I read books about love languages. I took personality tests. I explained to him with patience how I needed love shown to me, and he just let me know in no uncertain terms that it was not who he was, how he was raised, and what I was asking was impossible. I knew I had made a choice, and we had kids. I told myself over and over that love was there. He just didn’t understand me. He didn’t understand himself. Then I picked up my Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Now, you don’t have to agree with the Bible or believe in God to believe the definition of love in those words.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
My husband was not patient with me, and he was unkind about my likes and dislikes. He was jealous of my friends. As I kept reading I felt so defeated by the truth. If he loved me, wouldn’t these things be true? If he loved me, wouldn’t he be exhibiting proof of the love? The day I stopped telling myself this lie was the day I started breathing in my marriage again. Now that I knew the truth, I could save it. But, sadly, there wasn’t much left to save. Maybe if I had just stopped believing the lie earlier, I could have made a difference. I will never know, and I don’t need to know. The most important takeaway truth I have from this experience in what love is not, is finding out what love is from the people that do show me those things. Few people in our lives show us REAL love. A lot of love is conditional. People are offering that everywhere. But I found out just how many people I had that would show up for me to show me REAL love when I needed it most. Those are the people you keep. My friends that have shown me patience, kindness, and kept no records of my wrongs I count more valuable than anything I have. This past year they protected me when I needed it, trusted me and let me trust them, shared my hopes, and held up my head when I just couldn’t persevere anymore. Grateful will never cover it. ALL I gained outweighs what I lost exponentially after I stopped lying to myself about what love was.
The third lie was the most difficult lie. I told myself I can’t do this. What “this” was differed from day to day. I didn’t know if I had a job from month to month. I felt like I couldn’t do a lot this year. Being lonely has been the hardest. I’ve talked to a stuffed unicorn at times. (Don’t worry, he didn’t talk back.) Each time I told myself I couldn’t do something I knew deep down that it was a lie. I called my mom one night crying and told her I couldn’t do this anymore. She reminded me that women giving birth will sometimes say they can’t do it just before the baby is born. The beauty of that set up is they don’t really have a choice by then. Transitional stage of labor is what happens just before you push. There is no rest between the contractions. The pain never subsides. It’s a constant reminder of what you are there to accomplish. It is the storm before the calm. This is when most women will start doubting themselves and want medication and possible mallets to the side of the head. You feel out of control and disoriented. You just want this to be over. But you know what happens on the other side of the transition stage? You get this perfect, new life. No matter how much self doubt you are dealing with, there is a new life on the other side. It’s that way with life too. We can have hope in that nobody ever stays in the transitional stage. Something new has to eventually be born. You just have to hold the pushing until it’s time, and before you know it all the pain will be in the past and all you will see is the new. In letting go of this lie, night faded away and I started to see the sun again.
So, I told myself a few lies. We all do it. We tell ourselves lies because the truth is just too painful. Grieving a loss is sometimes a lot more healthy than just living with the lie. We survive failures. We can move on from the corner of disbelief and stubborn and have something more substantial. Sometimes we just don’t get what we want. We could tell ourselves we will get the thing we want until we resemble angry toddlers who think if they say it loud enough it will just happen, or we can just adjust to the truth. Tucking dreams in for the night is hard. Tucking them in for a dirt nap downright sucks. Truth is truth. It sets you free, but first it puts you in a choke hold, throws a few punches, and makes you want your mama. I’ve learned the hard way the easiest way to tell the truth from a lie is silence. When everything is silent, what you truly know comes to the top. Truth doesn’t change, just like real love. Both never fail.
I can’t imagine a situation where the best thing to do is to send a flood, or any disaster, to destroy an entire world. I understand sometimes our lives are in drastic need of reshaping, and massive amounts of destruction are needed to right some wrongs. In order to build anything worth having, sometimes a little excavation is in order.
Surviving a disaster is hard work. Your faith is tested, and your hope is frail. I’m sure when Noah started building his ark he felt like a different person by the time he stepped off on to dry land again. After all, his whole world has changed. Nothing was the way he left it. His life was completely different, and he had to start all over again. Remnants of his former life were the people close to him and the memories of what used to be.
Just building the ark was hard work. Noah had the opportunity to prepare and get used to the idea that his life was going to change. When my son was moving from 1st grade to 2nd grade he loved his teacher so much. He said goodbye to everything in the classroom the last day of school. He knew it was the last time he would see the room exactly like that. What a gift it is to know you are saying goodbye! Humans are professionals at denial. We live in states of it, swim in it, and drink from fountains of it when we just aren’t ready to admit reality to ourselves just yet. I think of denial as our brains way of easing our hearts into what it knew first anyway. Noah had years to prepare. Typically, humans don’t get that long at all. We might get clues our lives are going to change, but odds are when an external force decides to change our world for good or bad we aren’t going to have time to build an ark.
Not everybody made it onto the ark. I’m sure Noah had a lot of friends that he figured out pretty quickly weren’t going to make it into his new life. When it’s time to clean house some people aren’t ready for the change. What a big disaster does tell us is who our real friends are. Noah might have endured a lot of hurt and ridicule before he got on that ark, but that is not specified. Noah’s friends didn’t just delete him off Facebook, unfollow him on Instagram, or stop sending him Snapchats. They died. That is an extreme example, but when a disaster happens in our lives, our friends seem to drop off the face of the earth too. It’s not any less sad to lose a friend to death as it is to indifference.
Enduring the storm isn’t easy either. The storm is real. The storm is loud. As it rages, you are changed. You’ll never be the same person again as you were before the storm. There are days you feel used to the rain. Why would it not be raining? It feels as though it’s supposed to be that way. Some days you start wondering if the storm is making you crazy. After a while you start wondering if the sun will ever come out again.
After the rain stops, it isn’t back to normal. You don’t come out of a storm the same way you were. You just might not recognize yourself. Something happens when you realize it isn’t raining. You allow yourself some hope. You’ve been on this “ark” surrounded by the wild animals of thoughts you have endured. You’ve listened to them day and night. Some gave birth to new thoughts. Some left enormous piles of waste. All were necessary in order to start over after the storm. Without the animals along for the trip the storm wouldn’t have changed us to help us survive what happens next.
That brings me to what happens next, and honestly I have no idea. I know that today I got an olive branch back when I sent out that dove. That branch does not just symbolize life, it is new life. It is hope. It is symbolic of what is to come, and I know whatever it is will be better than what I lost in the storm.
I have 35 coloring books lined up on a shelf. I refer to them in polite company as memories. Sometimes I take them down and flip through them. I’d like to say I colored them in all by myself, but I didn’t. I helped color them in by the things I did, people I chose to be around, and who I let hold crayons.
Who holds your crayons? When I was little my grandmother, my babysitter, kept the crayons on a high shelf in the pantry. At the time, I hated that and resented having to ask for them when I wanted to use them. Looking back, the ones we love hold the crayons in more than one way. She helped color those early years in, and kept my crayons safe. She helped choose people I would be around, and therefore she also chose who held the crayons to color in my first five coloring books.
When you get a little older you want to start making everything your own. You use crayons to color outside the lines to test your limits. You use colors you’ve never used before, and they might become new favorites. You start seeing friends, and not just family all over your coloring book pages. It becomes even more beautiful when you flip back though them.
When you are a teenager pages might have equal dark and light on them. Splashes of color that are vibrant are right beside colors of memories of middle school and high school trauma. We take the good with the bad and hope that in the end our pages look prettier each day. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
As an adult we choose who holds our crayons. We shape our coloring books just as much as we shape our family’s and friend’s coloring books. Loved ones get married. Loved ones have babies. We color the most vibrant colors of all. Loved ones die. Loved ones get divorced. We color some of the darkest pages of all as adults.
What color of crayon are you holding over your family and friend’s coloring books? Are you a bearer of light? Are you shading in rich, bold colors? Are you warming the pages with your presence?
Some pages are meant to be dark. Some beautiful things come out of darkness. If someone scribbles all over your pages with ugly colors, the pages that follow can be some of the most beautiful. After a rainstorm can come a beautiful rainbow. You can’t choose the colors when you let people color in your coloring book. You just get to choose the crayon holder.
There is nothing on my walls of my living room. I had never really thought about it until a friend of mine mentioned that the walls were bare at their place too. They too had gone through what I will call an unexpected loss of a long-term living situation. They said they couldn’t quite bring themselves to hang something up, but they weren’t sure why. That got me to thinking about what it means to hang something up on the wall.
When I moved out of the house I shared with my ex-husband I took a few of the wall hangings. They were things I loved or had bought specifically because I liked them, even though I knew they wouldn’t be his favorite. I had great intentions for those pieces, but so far 7 months after I moved out I still haven’t hung them up. Some are in storage, while others have sat right behind the couch mocking me as I chose not to hang them. I don’t have one picture displayed. What is wrong with me?
I thought about it and I think that while the walls around me are technically mine, I’m still possibly a little bitter that they are my walls. These walls are not walls I had planned for myself. These walls were walls I was forced into moving into because of a situation. These walls are temporary. Does that make them less important? Does a temporary situation mean I shouldn’t hang things up to make this place mine? Hanging things up means coming to peace with what is my life in the now. I have to admit that my life looks nothing like what it did a year ago, and I have to be okay with that.
After confronting a lot of feelings, a nice hot bath, and a fit of rage and crying I think I am ready to accept my walls. My walls don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be my walls forever. But my home is my home. My life is different, and that doesn’t make it bad. What my home was missing in the bare walls is life. We live here, so my walls should have life. They should have life because I have a lot of life left.
So, tomorrow I will hang up something. It doesn’t all have to be done in one day. I will make this place mine, because for now, it is mine. It’s time to build something new, and to do that I need to live where there is life all around me. I’m going to hang it up.