Thursday, April 29, 2010

Say goodbye now--counting our privileges and losses

Today I spent my last day in class before I have my baby, and the experience called up for me the ways in which teaching has shaped my life. Saying goodbye to this, even temporarily as I am, has implications on the way I will come to view my identity. All this time, I have invested myself in the betterment of others--through writing and learning and discussion. I have seen students grow and other stymied, caught up with them years later and marveled at change, at maturity. Now I will come to see this at the other end of the age bracket, in my own child.

I also saw in myself growth and change in ideas, and in the way I share these with others. I have made my classroom a place where not only did we discuss literature and all that usually entails--I made it a place where awareness becomes central to the lesson. I feel enriched by the experience of considering everything from my student’s varying faith perspectives and practices, to discussions on the Middle East as it now appears in literature and culture. Instilling this I hope to create a desire for change and peace, active and alive in our communities and in the world these students enter--a world I am not sure I will know how to explain to my child. With time I want to create a salt of the earth human in my little one as much as I did as an instructor.

So many other ways to say goodbye--some inevitable, some forced. This morning, when I heard from a Catholic mission worker of local Mexican families broken by deportation, I tried to imagine how hard this goodbye could be: one woman, pregnant as I am, lost her husband to deportation, and has no means of support at the moment or capital to join him. I could not imagine losing my husband right now, supporting myself. Eventually I would do it--and in part because I have the support I need in place for me--but I know this woman does not, and the separation for this reason is unconscionable. Even worse, the other wife and children lost husband and father. They’re blessed to have a Sister of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart in their presence sharing in compassion with them in any way she can. I find myself praying for that goodbye to become less painful as the months go on.

Driving home, I saw a man nailing up a for sale sign on a business--perhaps his--and thought of that forced goodbye to business and wherewithal. For some it might be a home, or it might be a relocation for a job. Many experience this goodbye at the moment, trying to make sense of the loss, be it of livelihood or vocation. I’ll be in the same position should my tenure at the job I have loved get cut short--until then I will readily count my blessings, especially when I do have the privilege of choices. Still, that goodbye to the way we bring ourselves into the world and make it alive, better, productive--that’s a hard loss to count as well.

Even in our losses, we define ourselves. We become new--not perfect or ideal, but new. With people of genuine soul we find support, which I hope will be the case for each of these people I encountered today on my journey. For some, goodbyes are welcome: goodbye to debt, to hard times, to grudges, to fears and sorrows. Goodbyes are a necessary thing, indeed. How we encounter them--with both blind faith in grace and dedication to our part in recreating ourselves--makes all the difference to what extent we’ll be made new. Goodbyes forever mark us with an ending that leaves a question mark in the air, to be answered at a later time.

How do we live up to the answers?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stellar Networking

Last night I counted the stars--for the first time seeing the moon and Saturn through a real telescope. Considering the constellations and the rich history behind them inspired me--the connections between the stars, the patterns they make, finding my way along the sky by the laser pointer of the kind gentleman who enthusiastically taught us what he knew.

This morning I find myself thinking about this in the context of the friendships that have sustained me over the years. I have albums and boxes and now digital scores of pictures from every treasured trip, many moments of joy and of milestone. Friends and family in them tell me about myself, in retrospect-- I can’t repay the debt of gratitude I have for my friendships except to honor and commemorate.

All this social networking has been a boon to friendship--I find deep delight in reconnecting with long lost friends as if we’d never had time and space between us: it’s a sort of alternate universe of friendship. I see connections now I hadn’t before--how the friends of my teen years reappear, in some ways, in friends from my graduate school years; how my tendency to make friends with people who not only understand me but somehow seem opposite of me have contributed to my soul. How God created in my life patterns of lessons through these friends.

As much as my friends have taught me, I hope I share something of value with them--a bit of myself, faith, love, hope, comfort. In my younger years I thought friendship was about being everything to one person, but in reality each one is a small part of the overall beauty of the individual life. Long ago I traded my childish ways of thinking about relationship for the richness of perspective, and I know I have more to learn--that’s the humbling part.

When I was 10, considering the unending universe created in me a sudden and overwhelming feeling awe. Some of these captured moments of memory remind me some things did happen, others didn’t, and some have yet to appear, just as the cycle of stars rotates in the seasonal sky. The photo of a best friend lounging in the waning sunset light across from me in a little restaurant by the sea recalls our conversation: that we would find husbands and drag them back here, to this spot, and have dinner, and feel good about how in the end, love came through for both of us. We have not made it back there yet, but love came through--in ways neither of us dreamed or expected. The photo of myself and a friend who brought me out at a time of my greatest need marks a source of true friendship and support. While during that time I thought nothing would be able to console my sorrow, looking at the picture I know countless times I have received the comfort of others exactly when I needed it.

There are many photos in my constellation of memory--so much more to know about the mysteries of these patterns. Each time I look up I find a new guide, teaching me what she knows. In the meantime, I will do the same--as enthusiastically as the kind old gentleman who swept the sky with his arm to show us how everything is in its place, how time is marked above us, and how in its timelessness, the patterns of our universe return to us like a long lost friend.

Got published on Charis Ministries blog

I am excited I got to share this with a wider audience--and this blog is great if you're looking for Catholic perspective. Check it out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I find it hard to slow down. Are you like me?

I have made various efforts to--most notably Centering Prayer, which requires 20 minutes or so of sitting still, eyes closed, focused on nothing but one word--or, at least, coming back to it, after my brain continues to run through a list of things to do, runs ahead of itself. Each day presents new challenges to this contemplative practice, but I keep on--the rewards are too great in my life to give up, and I feel compelled to create that moment for God in my everyday life.

I was just thinking that, when I stay home this summer preparing for the baby and creating a curriculum for a new 1101 class, then my life will have significantly slowed down, and that I will probably have trouble not having three proverbial pots boiling at once! Perhaps I should enjoy this as the calm before the storm--the baby will certainly take a great deal of my attention, after all, and then I need to remember the other factors in my life: my husband, my friends, writing and expanding my mind. I need that--I need the opportunity to always think and consider and dream--I do not want to grow static in my own sense of self. We’ll see. If you’re like me you struggle with this too, but that’s just a part of it all. I have always tended to have three pots on the stove of my life, and think that if I don’t, I’m not productive enough.

Which of course is bollocks, to borrow a fave Brit term.

Real life is about enjoying the thing right in front of you: morning sunshine as I write has my attention at the moment. In fact, I suddenly want to stop grading and move out into the sunlight, maybe play with the dogs? OK--I know, focus is necessary. But is it really necessary to drive and text as I see so many students do around town? (Or walk and text, talk and text, shop and text....). Or is it necessary to answer the phone when you’re in the middle of something really interesting? Even being online on social networking--maybe hours are not necessary. What about the real, genuine moment? Maybe for you the moment is enjoying some music--really listening to it--not as background but as the foreground of your attention. Or relishing your food rather than eating it on the run. Or talking a walk, swimming, whatever exercise you like--and being into it, not thinking ahead at the next meeting or the list of to do items that must somehow get done. Life can be busy, and demanding, but we get one to live, and I am reviewing right now how I will adjust and live mine--I hope--in balance with all (well, maybe most of) those demands.

In the spirit, I’ll finish--and you can get up and go outside!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Keeping Watch by Heart

I am overwhelmed today with gratefulness for all the blessings I have. I have a child kicking inside me, growing from translucence to a creature of heart and soul, bone and flesh, and seemingly who already knows and understands me. I know some of this is in my head, but I also know that God touches me with thoughts and ideas and realities. It’s how I know my baby right now.

What’s strange about this is that while I feel movement, it’s still so unbelievable to think of how both separated and part of Peanut’s life I am. This unique time really has my attention: how can I feel such love and admiration for this little someone I have not met yet? I am so impressed with Peanut’s resilience--through two accidents and difficult times in the first months. I sense Peanut loving music of different sorts now--the kicking and dancing at bluegrass, peace and calm with classical and jazz, flutters with reggae. I love to feel the little movements--wonder what the baby’s adapting to in there? I know s/he can hear, and so I share and pray aloud with and for.

I am separated from Peanut by skin, bone, and organs--but am connected spiritually somehow. By God’s grace. What kind of blessing is this? I am in awe of receiving it. I wonder what will happen when I can touch those little hands and feet, legs and arms, feel a little heartbeat with my own touch. What will we come to know of each other?

What more can I learn about myself through those little eyes, for that matter?

An infinity of learning.

I write, I watch, I pray.