Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Days of Our Lives. . .

Yesterday's sunset. :)

I got my first teaching job fresh out of college as a December '01 Purdue grad. Although I was completely unprepared (when are you ever ready?) I began teaching algebra and physical science at a small, rural school southeast of Indianapolis.  The drive wasn't terribly far, yet the culture felt like a world away and there I was a stranger in a strange land. . .one new face among many veterans, taking over a position that had been vacant for the entire school year.  The students' circumstances were challenging, to say the least.  Many had little structure or discipline, low academic skills, unstable home lives, and/or lived in poverty.  As their dewy-faced and optimistic young science teacher, I was determined to be the very best I could be for them despite the obstacles.  I was met with some skepticism, some resistance, some outright defiance, but ultimately and most importantly with a lot of love.  Kids really just want to be loved and cared for, no matter how little or "big" they are.

One of the most interesting aspects of the school was that it was so small that our high school students had lunch all together, followed by. . .wait for it. . .recess.  Um, recess?  My mind was blown.  I didn't ask too many questions because, hey, that gave the teachers a blessedly peaceful hour of time to eat and prep, which was welcomed in the middle of an often challenging day.  My first day of teaching, I dismissed my students to the cafeteria and clip-clopped down to the teachers' lunch room, all dressed up in my black suit and high heels, the same outfit I wore for my college graduation, dark green grade book in one hand, little black thermal lunch bag in the other.  I sat down at a cramped folding table in the tiny room, which had a slanting ceiling, yellowing walls and looked as though it was perhaps a utility closet that had simply been reclaimed and deemed a lunch room by virtue of the microwave in the corner.  All wide-eyed and innocent, I unwrapped my cucumber and rye bread sandwich while the teachers around me kvetched, gossiped, worried and grumbled.  Hardly anyone said a word to me or asked me a question, which I understand looking back.  Why bother to get to know the new girl when no one thought I would last long? My tummy was a little queasy as I excused myself early and left lunch, and my mind swirling with all of the things I had just heard.  I felt like I was in that scene in Dumbo with all the lady elephants, and maybe I was Mrs. Jumbo.  The thought of that lunch every day for the rest of my career did not appeal to me and definitely wasn't going to nourish me.  

But, oh, there was a better way.  At the end of my first week, a friendly face popped into my room.  It was the biology teacher, our classrooms connected by a door right next to my desk.  She was a young mom several years older than me, petite and practical and smart and determined to make the best of our challenging job.  I liked her from the first moment I met her.  I also noticed that I had NOT seen her in the "teacher's lunch cave" during my gloomy daily visits.

"So, have you been going down to lunch?" she asked.
"Yes.  It's, um, interesting?"
"Yeah.  You won't see me there," she said with a wink.  "I eat lunch down here in my room.  I'm not trying to be antisocial but I've got to stay positive and it gets negative down there.  Do you want to join me?"

Um, DID I?????  Yes.  Yes, I did.  And so began a new lunchtime tradition.  I'd come right through the door that connected our rooms at 11:30 and we'd heat up our lunches in the microwave she kept in our stock room.  Then we'd sit in her dark classroom and enjoy the second half of Days of our Lives. . . because in addition to our kids getting recess they also had classrooms with full regular TV reception.  I know, right?  Sometimes we would chat about the events of Salem during the commercial breaks, and we always laughed that we never really missed anything by not seeing the events of 11-11:30.  We'd shake our heads at the ridiculousness, speculate what Stefano might do next or what would become of Bo and Hope.  And as the closing credits rolled and the sand poured through the hourglass, we'd part ways refreshed to finish getting ready for our afternoon classes.

That safe space she created for me in her room and our daily visits to Salem saved my first year of teaching.  She gave me the freedom to say "no" to something I felt socially obligated to, something that was detrimental to my spirit.  By her example, she taught me that we can know our limits and set boundaries for ourselves.  She knew she was a better teacher and mom if she took that time for herself each day, and she took me along for the ride.

So much sand has gone through the hourglass since then, but I'll never forget the lessons learned in those days.  They've come back to the forefront recently in the current election cycle.  In the last several months, Facebook, the treasured "lunchroom" of my work-at-home-stay-at-home-mom self, has become eerily reminiscent of the dreary closet-cave of my first teaching job.   As an extrovert I count on my social media interactions to supplement my need for connectivity.  Even when isolated and surrounded by tiny kiddos, I could log on and share a laugh or read a thoughtful article or a heartwarming story with my fun adult friends near and far.  But when every time I logged on to my happy place I was bombarded with images and opinions and grumblings and worries and complaints and gossip and attacks on people I loved. . .well, I didn't exactly feel like I was being led by the still waters to refresh my soul.

I took a break from Facebook.  For a whole week.  I know, right?  But it was a big move for me, Ms. Facebook junkie.  I stepped back in tentatively, but I am learning to pay close attention to how I feel.  Only you know your limits, and what you can plant in the garden of your mind.  I've worked hard to find mine, and every time I log off social media, I try to do a gut-check about how that interaction made me feel.  Was it worth the time?  Was it nourishing to my soul?  If the answer is no, I am trying to modify.  I can't pour to my family if I've emptied my pitcher on Facebook.  I'm a work in progress, but aren't we all?

Last week I was with one of my favorite new friends, a lovely woman that Noah and I visit every Thursday at the nursing home down the street.  We never talk about politics, but she shared with me that she was worried about her son.  "He just spends so much time watching the news and thinking about this stuff!!  What with the Hillary and the emails and the what's his name?  Trump?  It's all he talked about when he was here visiting.  What is the point?"
"Oh, I know.  I can't watch the news.  It just isn't good for my mind," I said.
"I am so glad to hear that!!!" she clapped her hands gleefully.  "I can't watch it, either.  You know," she stopped and looked at me seriously, "we have one most precious gift, and that's our time.  How you spend it defines you. It makes you who you are."

If my friend who has lived 91 years and is confined to her bed is careful about how she spends HER precious time, WOW. . .shouldn't I be, too??  My soul sister gave me a lot to think about, reinforced by our priest at mass on Sunday.

"When all is said and done," he said.  "We don't belong to Donald.  We don't belong to Hillary.  We belong to God."

BOOM! DROP THE MIC, Fr. Dan!  Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.  My nine year old laughed and we grinned at each other.
Father went on to share with us that God is the glue that holds everything together.  He's beyond all time.  He doesn't see time the way that we do, He sees eternity in a glance.  He loves us.  He made us.  We are His, and no matter what happens with Donald and Hillary we will always be God's.  It's not about this life, it's about eternal life anyways.
No matter what happens today.  Or tomorrow.  Or the next.  We're loved forever.

"No matter what happens."

Now if that isn't some comfort and grace for the rest of our days, I don't know what is.

Time is your gift to me God.
Help me to spend it wisely,
Loving my people.
Being a friend.
Building your kingdom.
Bearing your light.
All the days of my life.