Friday, April 24, 2009

On friendships

I love Fantasia's "Truth is: I ran into an old friend yesterday..familiar face from a chapter in my past." I think the song can apply to friendships, not just romantic relationships. I saw two friends this week that I hadn't seen in over 5 years. Their familiar faces are from a chapter in my past: college. But the familiarity, the easy conversation and the comfort level were so unparalleled. The time with them, not over coffee, but jambalaya and fish, fed my spirit.
Some chapters should be closed as we move forward. However, others need to always have an open door. I'm convinced that some connections to the past are always important to staying grounded and moving forward. I felt lifted and comfortable; it was home. They say you can never go home, but just experiencing it for a short time is crucial. Sometimes,those small moments, memories can make such a difference, carrying one backward and forward at the same time. Remembering a time, holding people close--remembering the importance of connections, friendships, old chapters.
The visit reminded me friendships come in all different flavors and it is so important to nurture them, for the sake of the friendship, for one's own spirit.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On seeing his tombstone

My mother drove away from the Rivergate area toward Briley Parkway and I just looked out the window, like a little kid, at the restaurants, car service centers, discount stores--remembering, seeing Nashville in a different way.

And then we came upon a sign I wasn’t expecting: Springhill Cemetery. A gush of sadness rushed over my brain into my heart. We buried my father there almost four years ago. I had been back to Nashville every year since then, but never had the courage to face the cemetery, the tombstone, the ground where they lowered my father’s body. I didn’t want to go there; I didn’t want to cry.

Nor did I want to remember all too vividly the service at the site. How awful it was to watch my brother insist on carnations being placed on the casket. The workers had taken the gigantic clump of flowers we had given my dead father as a beautiful decoration for his casket, decorations he couldn’t see or even know about, off his casket. My brother stood and said wait; the tall blond woman, who helped us find the perfect place to bury my father’s body, (next to my great aunt and across the street from the military cemetery where my grandparents lie), held up her hand to the men and went to my brother to find out what he needed. She took out several red carnations and placed them on the casket for us.

I didn’t want to revisit the images that made up such a definitive moment in my life.

I didn’t want to remember how the funeral home director gave us seventy-three cents in a large transparent ziplock bag—money we were told that they found in my father’s pocket. Nor the messy office in which we sat with that insensitive director to discuss the arrangements.

Nor falling to my knees when I saw the lifeless body on a metal table with cotton on his eyelids and his hair uncombed, so unlike my father.

I knew seeing his tombstone, the burial grounds would bring back too many memories of that July when we learned of my father’s death from his sister. The memory of another aunt asking did I know anything about his business, the first thing to tumble out of her mouth, ready to take control, failing to provide sympathy. Memories of planning a funeral while battling shock.

I knew seeing his tombstone just reified the hard, stone truth that my children would never know their grandfather, that my father would never see his second grandson, nor watch the boys grow up, that I would always feel a sense of loss.

The tears began to form before we reached his plot, going through the maze of plots, of sadness, of memories…

The tears climbed from my eyes as we approached his plot and then one by one the tears fell as I walked awkwardly across the lawn, not sure where to step, trying to avoid other people’s loved ones, unable to touch the stone, not wanting to read his name or think about whom was actually there. I brushed them away not wanting them to get in the way, but the tears became the way for me to deal with seeing his tombstone, to remember and mourn…

My mother asked me if I wanted to stop, I wanted to say no, but I shook my head yes and convinced myself if I don’t allow myself to remember, stand in these moments of his death and burial, then I won’t remember to live.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On learning how to teach from a student

She wrote, thank you for treating me like a human. In an email, my student sincerely expressed her gratefulness for being treated like a human being. Wow! I simply told her she didn’t have to take her final exam a week after her brother had been shot. But what in the world were her other teachers doing and saying? Why did I stand out as the compassionate one?

Here is a snippet from an email this student wrote (sans editing):

“I am Just writting you this email to Tell you that I am very thankful for you being my teacher this school year and I hope the best for you through out your many more years of teaching bright and young teenagers. Of course it will be tough and hard to handle but you always have to think "These are not just my students, but my Childern when they step into my class. I add something more to their life then just a book of knowledge. I help them accept who they are and "TRY" push them to work for more then they want to".

"Thank You", I really mean this. With out you I don't know how I could of survived with going to class on a normal basis. Their was plenty of times my mom offered me to get home schooled from earlier this year but I resisted because I had something to look forward too on A-day and B-days and that was you. You have this smile that always let me know that you were there for everyone not just by teaching but by ensuring that we left your class each day with Knowledge from a book and about our selves. I appreciate you more then you could ever know. I am not only a student Im a human and you treated me like both and more. I hope to keep in touch and check on you and see how you are. May be Things will get better for me through out the years but right know I just look at things like " bad things happen know to show me that good things will come later". I have hope and I believe in GOD so i know through him anything is possible. I know I will become everything I've dreamed of. One day on your door step youll recieve a box full of roses and an invitation to my highschool graduation and college gradutaion. Yes, I'll think of you. Because you Thought of me.”

Her message was and will always be the box of roses for me. I never felt like I did enough in the way of connecting. But apparently, it was simply by doing what came naturally that I connected with at least this one student. My first year of teaching I focused on getting my students to think critically, enjoy literature and write clearly in preparation for the high school assessment test and eventually college. Slowly, I’ve moved toward being me more, being more natural, connecting more. I’ve come to accept that for some students, it’s about me reaching them with my words, my hand, my presence. I’m learning that part of my teaching is through the tangible, immediate aspects of humanity: telling a student she does not have to take a final when her brother just died, giving a sympathy card and a journal to a student whose parent just died, giving small gifts to students who are expecting their first child, listening to a student talk about an alcoholic parent. It is not always about the text, it should always be about connecting, touching, taking care of, loving, teaching humanity through being human.

Monday, April 6, 2009

On taking care of my relationship with my oldest son

Yesterday, my husband in one of his more brilliant moments suggested that Elijah and I take a walk together, instead of the whole family going. Elijah, much like his father in terms of brilliancy, said "can I bring my camera" and then told me to get mine also. In the shortest half an hour I have ever spent with my son, we took a walk, chatted and took pictures together. I loved every minute of being with my son, which I haven't felt in quite some time. I wasn't annoyed by his incessant talking and questioning and competing for attention. We had a peaceful and enjoyable time.

In learning how to mother two, nurse, recoup from my c-section and maintain my sanity and still love being a mother, I need to procure more time alone with my oldest sooner than later-when-I-feel-better. We may have to make photography outings our thing: as I loved seeing what he thought snap-worthy.

Enjoy his five year old eye.