I Needed A Lucas

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.

Are Your Relationships Up On Blocks?

Along with our sweet tea, SEC football, and good manners, in the South we also have an affinity for lawn ornaments.  These can range from the occasional flamingo, the weeping angel statues you’ll find in gardens, or my favorite eyesore- the car up on blocks.  I’m not sure why you will see so many cars up on blocks here in the South, but I like to think that it tells us a lot about the person that lives in the residence.  When I see a car up on blocks I have a few thoughts about the person who owns that car, and things that might be true about him or her.  Cars can be a lot like people, and symbolic of relationships.  Some cars can be members of the family and some even have names.  A few questions come to mind when I see a car up on blocks.  Is it fixable?  Is it worth it?

Cars aren’t meant to work forever.  However, if treated properly, they can last for a long time with maintenance.  If a car isn’t maintained, much like a relationship, it will break down and it will not be usable.  When a malfunction occurs it could be something simple, but odds are, if the car is up on blocks than it is definitely a problem much more complex.  Most of the time before a vehicle completely breaks down there are a lot of signs that something has gone wrong.  There might be a little symbol in your dashboard, or there could be a noise you hear when you are running the roads.  Relationship symbols and sounds are a little different when they are signaling trouble, but they are there nonetheless.  Communication is usually the key to both the breaking of the relationship, and also whether or not it gets fixed.

Signs your relationship are headed for a breakdown are easy to spot.  While oil in a car is necessary, the relationship equivalent of oil is communication.  It is the one thing that can help keep everything running smoothly.  As long as communication is open and honest, there is hope to keep your engines running.

Another sign your relationship is headed for a breakdown is the same as if we were talking about a car.  Sometimes, with little warning, something breaks. Something changes. It could be circumstances, it might be something deliberate.  With a car it doesn’t matter if someone cuts your brake line,or someone let the air out of your tire, time is of the essence in figuring out what it wrong and getting it fixed.  The same can be said of most relationships. Getting to the problem is half the battle, but fixing the problem can be the most tricky.

Which leads me to what happens when something breaks? When a breakdown occurs, one thing is for sure.  It won’t fix itself.  With relationships, because there is more than one person involved, this is a complex situation.  In order for it to function properly it is not as simple as replacing a malfunctioning part.  The process can take a long time.  Also, there is the risk that it might never be fixed. Not everything is fixable.

When something has gone wrong you can respond in one of a few ways.  You can try to fix it yourself, take it into the shop, or you can rely on a friend to help you.  As a last resort the car might be beyond fixable, and therefore you might have to make a bigger decision than you first planned.  In rare instances, a car might end up on blocks until you can decide what direction to go in.  Restoration, trading it in, scrapping it, and just letting it sit there are all things that could happen to a car that is in need of assistance.  When a relationship runs into trouble, the options are very similar.

Restoration is the first option.  When a car is a wonderful piece of machinery and it could be worth much more fixed, people will choose to restore the car.  It will require much time, hard work, and probably money, but when they finish what they started, it will be something to be enjoyed for years to come.  Sometimes restoration is a wonderful option in relationships too.  Sometimes with a little tender love and care an old beat up relationship can seem new as long as both parties are committed to the process, and it will be a process.

You can trade a car in, and sometimes that is truly the best option. Maybe you aren’t attached to the car emotionally, and the best thing to do is to just replace it with a new car.  Getting a new car can be exciting and fun.  The same is true with a new relationship.  If the commitment isn’t there, maybe the best option is to get a new one.

Sometimes you don’t need the car, and you can just scrap it.  If it doesn’t work anyway, it’s a great option.  You might not need to replace the existing car, but you know holding on to it isn’t the best thing to do.  This is also true about relationships.  Maybe you are better off single for the moment, or maybe you just need some time to figure things out.

Lastly, you could just let it sit there.  This is the option I refer to as putting a car up on blocks.  This particular choice makes me wonder more than the other options.  Letting something sit there with no progress toward the greater good also means that there will be negative consequences.  Things rarely just sit and don’t get worse.  When a car, or a relationship, is up on blocks it’s not going anywhere, and there are usually no plans for it to go anywhere.  So, why keep it? Sometimes it is the sentimental reasons that make us reluctant to let go.  Maybe a lot of firsts happened.  Maybe you just aren’t ready to have a final decision.  Maybe you don’t know how to fix it, and you are waiting on something to happen to guide you in the right direction.  Perhaps you just don’t have the time to devote to fixing it, but you don’t want to let it go just yet. Whatever the reason, when I found myself pondering this recently, I found myself judgmental of those I knew with those kind of relationships. Then I realized I was in possession of a few relationships up on blocks myself.

I decided that I had been holding on to things because I was scared of letting them go.  I was scared because I wanted to keep them so much, I didn’t care if they hurt me.  For a long time it was worth it to not say how I felt because I wanted to protect someone that meant everything to me, but I knew that in their eyes, it was me that was up on blocks.  The truth is as human beings we are worth the best life we can lead.  It may not be what we want, but maybe things will find their way to make them okay.  So if you are reading this and someone is not choosing you, then choose yourself.  You choose  you, because you are worth it.  A good friend of mine has a dream car I’ve never heard of, but that means there is someone out there for everyone.  You are someone’s dream. It might not always be perfect, but you deserve something amazing.

A relationship is not a trophy.  It’s not a merit badge we wear with our accomplishments.  It’s how we treat another human being , and they in turn translate that into having value to you. You are essentially letting someone know you love them when you are investing in your maintenance. When you invest in a person, you should get a return on your investment.  The value of a car that is being worked on rarely goes down, and the same could be said about most relationships. But if for some reason you are pouring money into the car equivalent of the Money Pit, and you love it with all your heart, but it will never transport you anywhere again, please ask yourself why you are doing that.  At the end of the day, you aren’t going around in circles, you are going nowhere. We all know that it is rare that a car up on blocks ever actually makes it off.  Luckily, here in the South, with a little kudzu we can consider them yard art.

When A Truce is Greater Than Friction

I love the Union and the Constitution, but I would rather leave the Union with the Constitution than remain in the Union without it.” – Jefferson Davis

April 9th, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of a farmhouse in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. This event set off the chain of surrenders that swept across the South, thus indicating the end of the Civil War.  This made me think about my own Civil War I fight every single day.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about The Civil War because I feel as though I walk around with a Robert E. Lee and a Ulysses S. Grant waging war inside me.  I fight against what my heart feels and my head thinks every single day.  Every once in a while they meet just like the real ones did and call a truce.  It can be for one hour, one day, or one week, but truces never last.  The Civil War continues on.  No one notifies the rest of the troops, so the battles never cease.

Robert E. Lee for me symbolizes the general for my heart.  Lee lived in the South, however  originally his desire was to see the Union intact.  He fought for the exact opposite on principle. My heart is the same way.  Because it is my heart, it tends to make decisions for me without bothering to ask my brain what the best plan would be, but my heart always has the best intentions.  After all, it is my heart. Lee lost the war, but what he really wanted was peace and harmony back.  Hearts are like that.

Ulysses S. Grant is symbolic of my brain.  My brain can make a deal with the Devil to make the March to the Sea happen and burn every metaphorical Atlanta on the way.  My brain is strategic.  It has excellent leading capabilities, just like U.S. Grant.  It has iron will.  Stubborn to a fault, my brain will argue with the strongest arguments it can come up with.  My brain is sometimes completely and utterly wrong. Does that mean my brain will stop spewing words out of my mouth faster than it can filter them? The answer is absolutely not.  Grant won the war, but there was a lot of collateral damage and Reconstruction took years.

Could the South have won?  Perhaps, but it doesn’t all boil down to leadership.  It comes down to decisions.  Some decisions the generals made, but other decisions were out of either general’s control and belonged to other people to make.  Many battles were fought prior to that surrender 150 years ago.  I’m sure there were several times Lee probably felt like the best thing to do was surrender.  Other times I’m positive Lee felt the best thing to do was fight as hard as he could for a cause he deemed worthy enough to die for.

Have you ever believed in something so much you’d be willing to die for it?  When your heart and your head agree on opposing sides and they both are willing to sink the ship to win the war, who wins?  Can there be a winner?  Is a truce within ourselves ever really a truce, or is it just a lie we tell ourselves to get us through another day so we can wake up the next day with enough energy to fight again?  There are always casualties of war, and sadly either way, it’s me going down with a fight.

My Life, the Coloring Book

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.

The Absolute Value of Humans

This week I taught 5th graders about integers.  We discussed the number line they were used to, which started with zero and only had positive numbers, and then I added in negative numbers.  We practiced getting used to this number line by doing the integer dance.  It closely resembled the electric slide, but the point was to get the students used to moving positive and negative directions.  After all, number lines can be tricky.

We are taught in primary grades that zero is a starting place.  Eventually we get fluent enough in math to amend our previous thoughts about zero and the number line to include negative numbers.  So, now our number line increases to show that really, zero is the middle of a big scale with infinite integers on each side. All numbers on both sides gain their identity from the zero, or the origin.  So, you could say the value of a number is dictated by how far away a number is from the origin, or zero.  This is the absolute value. This week while teaching I wondered “what if we saw people with absolute values, instead of only positives and negatives?”

Zero is the only integer that is neither positive nor negative.  In theory we all want to be greater than zero.  No one wants to be a negative number.  Theoretically being a negative number means you are worse than when you started at the origin.  Zero technically means no objects are present.  If you offer a child zero popsicles, zero pieces of candy, or zero trips to the zoo it might seem to them that zero is a negative, but really, it isn’t.  It’s just unrealized potential.  Zero of something just means nothing has been added or taken away.

Life is just a giant number line.  It’s a series of positives and negatives.  We take steps forward, and we take steps backward. Sometimes we are way ahead of the origin.  Sometimes we are behind the origin.  There are times we tend to feel our value is less than zero when more bad than good happens.  I was encouraged when I thought about absolute value.  We can be -6 or 6 from zero, and the absolute value of both of these is still 6.  There are no negatives in absolute value.  So, even when we have terrible things happen, our value is never negative.  We are always just so many spaces away from where we started, and knowing that can help us get back on the right path, which is right back up the number line.  As we take steps up and down the number line, instead of focusing on the negatives, it is a lot more fun to pretend we are just doing the electric slide.

The View from the Existential Porch

A porch used to be a state of mind, especially in the South.  It was a place to wax philosophical about the world and everything wrong with it.  It was a place to share news, shuck corn, snap green beans, and catch a breeze.  In the year 2014 modern conveniences like air conditioning and refrigeration have caused us to lose the need for fresh air. When we lost that, we lost valuable communication time.  Last week I caught a glimpse of the past with a couple of friends.

We are lied to as children and teens and told that one day when we become adults we will be able to do exactly what we want. All too often life gets in the way, and it leaves no time for us to do those things we wish to do.  But once in a while stars align, and we end up on the porch with friends, old and new. I found myself on my porch surrounded by friendship, laughter, and cigar smoke.  I ended up with an evening that couldn’t possibly have been planned in the best kind of way.

Perhaps the porch atmosphere first exists within ourselves.  Maybe the porch is an existential porch before it can be anything else.  The people on your porch define your porch.  For instance, on my porch I had two friends.  One old friend and one brand new friend helped define that porch for me.  We are subject to what others will allow us to share withholding judgement.  We are also subject to what we feel comfortable sharing and discussing.  That particular night felt like a no-holds-barred getting real with ourselves kind of night.  That is probably the rarest of porches.

What makes a porch a porch?  As I was sitting outside under the stars with my friends talking about everything from philosophy to theology, love to divorce, and all the things that make us humans, I realized I was in a  consecrated gathering place.  I was in a meeting of sorts, although a very relaxed one, holding council with people that matter about the things of our lives that matter. I watched my concrete (in both senses of the word)  porch transform in front of me into a state of mind where  I experienced acceptance, thoughtfulness, and companionship.  I laughed, I thought deeply, and I listened to two guys that at times I was doing well to catch 5% of what they were talking about.  I grew as a person.  I considered things.  I wrote down books I wanted to read.  I never wanted to leave the porch. Why would you want to leave a place that made you glad to be a human?  I could have stayed on the porch for days.

How did I end up on this porch?  The short answer is relationship.  A porch is a starting and ending point.  It can be where you greet someone new, or it can be where you watch someone exit.  You can turn a stranger on your porch into a friend.  Some porches are traveled on everyday.  Some people wind up on our porches more than others.  In today’s society, we are used to finding our identity in what we have instead of who we are.  If we drive a nice car, have a nice job, and have a nice television we must be good people. But what happens when people never get past the porch? Will they still like you when they aren’t going to sit anywhere but the front steps?  Can you offer others undivided attention, heartfelt concern, and thought provoking questions?  Do you have friends that you can debate whether you are looking at a star or an airplane for 10 minutes straight?

Your porch is what you make it.  What kind of porch do you sit on?  Some people have a hard time seeing past themselves, but a porch can help you see the world in a different way.  It can be a place to share humanness, struggles, and advice.  It can make new friends seem like old friends.  It can remind you why your old friends are still your friends after all these years.  Sometimes the easiest way to go somewhere is to stay on the porch, and the places you end up may be out of this world.

Unapologetically A Human

Lined up across the room of my 8th grade literature class was every student waiting for their turn in the spelling bee. I was sweating bullets when I finally got my first word.  It was the first round, and I was so relieved when I heard my word.  Sugar.  I was so excited I quickly blurted out S-U-G-E-R.  I then promptly smacked myself in the face before the teacher had a chance to tell me I was wrong.  I knew I was wrong.  I heard it with my own ears. To say I felt stupid is the understatement of at least 3 decades. My first word in the spelling bee was also my last. The other kids went on spelling words for what seemed like forever while I sat cuddled up in my shame. I guarantee those kids don’t even remember that day, while it is marked in my history forever.

We all do dumb things.  We all get overconfident and immediately become righteously human in ways unimaginable seconds before. Moments of weakness remind us daily we are not deity, and we should have no such grandiose opinions of what we are capable of doing. To remove all doubt, I’ll admit that just this week I tripped over my own feet a few times, closed the door to teacher’s lounge on the principal I’m currently working for, had my car get stuck in gear and lurch forward in front of a group of new friends, and I called someone by the wrong name 4 times in a row.  Did I mention it is just Monday? So, my point is impressing people isn’t exactly a forte of mine.

We all want to belong.  That’s why we struggle with rejection from an early age.  It doesn’t matter if we are on the playground, in a classroom, or even at home with our siblings.  We strive to fit in.  We want to make people like us because it’s a part of what makes us human.  To be rejected on a basic level is devastating.  As children, those that reject us will be considered sworn enemies for a lifetime or until the next week when a different kid tells us we can’t play kickball, we are picked last for a team, or we are laughed at for not having the current cool item.

As nice as it would be, this doesn’t go away when we become grown ups.  We want to seem acceptable to our peers.  Some of us might want to be the funniest, the prettiest, the nicest, the best cook, the best party thrower, or even the best screw up, but we all want to be something to someone.  To be nothing to anyone says we are practically invisible and unimportant somehow.  As a fly on the wall at any water cooler scenario you could listen in to conversation to see that the basic need to not be rejected is still relevant and alive in any person.  Can some people generally not care?  Yes, I believe that is possible.  On a more specific note we all have people who we invest in their opinions more than others.  We will care about them, even if we don’t mind the herd’s point of view.

Lately I’ve been considering what happens to you after repeated rejection? What if the rejection is from the one person that has an opinion that matters to you?  I know what was true for me.  I started to tell myself stories. I made excuses for the person rejecting me.  I considered maybe the person didn’t like himself. Maybe he is hurting right now because of something that he is going through.  Or perhaps he is depressed. He had a poor situation growing up, so maybe that explained it.  Specific days of rejection I’d say to myself that he must have had a bad day at work. In general, I would hypothesize that perhaps he just didn’t value the same things I did.

As a result of all these stories I told myself something sinister happened.  The stories stopped being about the person who was rejecting me emotionally, and they started to be about me.  When the person I looked to for affection or affirmation didn’t have the reaction I was hoping for, I told myself I told the story wrong.  I felt like I was annoying them by needing attention in the first place, and just maybe I was too needy emotionally, and they deserved to be left alone instead of being bothered by me and my needs.  I felt like my narrative was uninteresting, and no one would want to hear about my day.  I questioned whether jokes were funny because he never laughed. It didn’t matter what excuse or reason I ended up telling myself for the day, the end result was the same. I felt alone, lonely, unloved, and unwanted.

Do you sometimes do dumb things?  Of course you do.  That makes us the humans we are.  If anything the stories that make us dorky or human should unite us and bond us.  We all have them, after all. Moreover, our stories are not important unless we tell them.  Our stories make us who we are, and we are wired to want to share, build community, relate, and communicate.  Relationships are tricky, but wanting to be accepted transcends age, gender, location, and whether we were popular as a young person.  There are people out there that want to hear your stories.  They want to invest in you.  They want to know about the time you spelled sugar wrong in a spelling bee, how you poured liquid soap into the dishwasher once and caused an evening of agony, and the time you took Benadryl right before a church service and couldn’t stop singing “I Feel Good” during the sermon.   If someone isn’t investing in you, don’t stop telling your stories. Tell the stories anyway.  Those that matter will adore them.  If they don’t, they just aren’t your people anyway.

Breaking Free of Silence

Silence can be an enjoyable thing or it can be a marinade of lonely mixed with apathy.  The first kind is found with old friends, a good book, or a hot bath.  The second kind was where I lived.

This Silence wasn’t characterized just by a lack of words.  It was a tangible entity enveloping all those that lived inside the house.  It settled first into the rooms, making them seem hollow,  then settled into the bones of the people that called that place home. Once it was there, even as an uninvited guest, it simply wasn’t willing to vacate, and Silence has a way of taking over.

Since the Silence isn’t just heard, it’s felt, those that dwell there try to fill it with other hollow things.  The one that created it will try the hardest to fill it up with electronic noise, which only serves to exacerbate it instead of filling it. The others try to fill it with comforting things like playing music, baking, talking to friends on the phone, or making plans with family.  All of those create temporary respite for those enveloped in the Silence.

Breaking free of the growing Silence, and it does grow, is complicated.  To get out you have to find the opposite of the Silence and try to replace it with those things.  Since the opposite of this kind of Silence is communication and relationship, this is a daunting task.  After all, Silence gave them a beating for months, possibly years, before they left for good.  Luring them back takes time and a lot of effort, and you have to pass the gatekeeper before they can get in.  The gatekeeper is the one that made Communication and Relationship leave in the first place.  If they can’t get past the gatekeeper, then there is only one other thing you can do.

Leaving Silence isn’t like leaving a person.  If you lived with it for years, then it has a habit of hanging around until you’ve made it clear it isn’t welcome anymore.  Silence is an optimist.  It will think that shadows of what you were in your former life will slowly become who are you in your new life, but this does not have to be true.  Now you are the gatekeeper, and you have the power to fill your new home with communication and relationship and finally be happy.  And when you are alone, and you have silence, it feels just like being with old friends, reading a good book, or taking a hot bath.

Knock, Knock. Change the Lock.

Have you ever fumbled with your keys trying to get them into a lock and you couldn’t remember what the key even looked like?  You just had to try them all and hope for the best.  Once, I couldn’t get into my car.  I hit the button on my keyring on my automatic opener, but nothing.  I tried it a few more times because I thought there was no way the battery could be dead.  Still it did nothing.  Finally, I tried the key, and it didn’t even work.  There was a pretty big reason for this.  The car wasn’t mine.  It was identical to mine, but it belonged to my friend that had one the same make and model, and I was trying to let myself into hers.  Of course the key didn’t work, the lock wasn’t mine.

I spent years knocking on the door of a heart who never answered, and I ended up making my home on the welcome mat.  I was just optimistic enough to think that one day I’d finally pick the lock, hit the right combination, or be handed the key outright and I would finally see what made this person tick.  Some days I thought I was almost inside.  I had moments where I felt like I saw beyond the facade and beyond the day to day into something more real.  Conversations that were surface level ruled most days.  We discussed what we ate for lunch, what movie was being released on Netflix, who in the family was having issues, and then we’d hit this wall.  We couldn’t break through it, and I may never know why.

Trusting people is hard work.  Letting them see the you that most people don’t get to see isn’t easy because in order for this to happen you have to be vulnerable.  No one likes being vulnerable.  It carries risk, and the risk is rejection with a side of humiliation and a touch of unbearable pain.  So when someone lets you in, you should proceed with caution as though you are somewhere special.  Someone letting you in can happen in a matter of hours if you find someone that is a rare soul mate.  It can happen in days, months, or even years.  But there is a sad truth that some may never find out.  You can spend years with someone and never be handed the keys to their heart.  Their fences and walls may be up for even those most close to them, and maybe they just aren’t willing to risk it.

We lock our hearts up tight to protect us. We let some in and others seem to have their own roadmap once they get inside our hearts. But what I discovered is  there’s always the chance that someone is going to change the locks on you.  What happens then?  I had to change my perspective on this quite a bit.  What if there is a big reason you can’t get in? What if this lock wasn’t your lock to begin with?  What if the only way into the hearts with the highest walls  made of the toughest brick and stucco was from the inside out?  What if all those dead bolts they put up to keep people out of their innermost thoughts and feelings have to be unlocked willingly?  You have to deal with a reality that will make you pretty uncomfortable.  You were never meant to get in.  They didn’t choose to let you in, and they have their own reasons for that.  That lock isn’t yours to open.  Yes, it’s a hurtful thought, but either it’s yours and it won’t open from the outside, or it’s just not yours in the first place.

You can’t make someone let you in.  But when they do, make it count.  No one can live on a welcome mat forever.

To Kill A Pacifist

“Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

I’m typically a pacifist.  Don’t get me wrong; I love a good argument. I like to debate about things I care about.  That’s when I can feel like I’m really communicating.  I don’t need to win, I just like to show up to the conversation and that is winning.  That’s why when someone is mad at me I don’t handle it well.  Sometimes, they don’t even have to be actually mad, I can just perceive someone is mad, and it will make me physically sick.  There is a big exception to this.  A person that hurts others just for the sake of hurting them is something that makes me feel like there is a special afterlife for those people.

There are people out there that can make a sport out of making you feel bad for something they did.  Maybe you didn’t even have control over this thing they are angry about.  Maybe they are trying to reconcile their own failures. For whatever reason, they decide to make sure those around them are as miserable as possible.  They do this without a thought for others, and they do it in a myriad of ways.  These same people also enjoy punishing those around them to make up for their own problems.  This is, in a word, unacceptable .

There are also people that get out of bed every morning and dress themselves in guilt and other people’s failures the way most will pull on a sweatshirt.  They walk around on eggshells.  They hope things will be better than they were the day before.  They just want peace.  They just want to be happy for a few minutes.  The one thing they would change about themselves is their level empathy, and they try to be as helpful as possible hoping that one particular gesture might make the day bearable for everyone.  This is also unacceptable.

Toxic people tend to go around aiming at mockingbirds.  They don’t care if they go through other people’s lives leaving scars.  The sin they commit is indifference.  They are indifferent to feelings, emotions, love, and respect.  They use the people in their lives that see the human inside the facade of pain, and they don’t acknowledge that the pain they create has its origins with their behavior. Causing pain is sometimes its own consequence.  Those that cause pain to others without regard to who they are will bear the pain when that person is no longer around. Because sometimes mockingbirds don’t die.  Sometimes they rise from the ashes a phoenix, a new creation ready for a new day.