Saturday, December 24, 2016

MY CHRISTMAS PRAYER


I pray for peace
Blessings and honor
Heaven right earth's despair
This is my Christmas prayer


If you are like me, you probably hope to slow down around Christmas, to not permit the turbulent activities of this time of year to transform into a cacophony of meaningless noise, a disharmony of messages which overwhelms a perfect time for reflection. If you are truly like me, you may have lost any hope of this happening weeks ago. Still, it is never too late; hope springs eternal.

This fall and early winter have left me desperate for a time of peacefulness. It is difficult for me to unroll a list of "things for which I am grateful" when I know there have been so many parts of life which cause great sadness for me. I have felt the brunt of an acrimonious election season, I have seen pictures and video of the tragedy in Syria, I have experienced the absence of loved ones, either through death or simply their day to day presence in your life. The chaos of the holiday season, while meant to generate hope and anticipation, ratchets up my own anxiety over aspects of life which are challenging to overcome. 

You likely have a set of Christmas songs which you unearth in order to make life right this time of the year, as right as it can possibly be. Yes, I always have the "standards" on hand, but there are some songs that speak to me differently than others.

One of the songs on my "Christmas Favorites" playlist on my computer and iPod always puts me in the best mood because it encourages hope, regardless of the darkness which may surround us. 

Bebe Winans' "My Christmas Prayer" is a duet between Bebe and Rob Thomas (90's people know who this is). At the center of the song is a beautiful bridge in which we are asked to fill our hearts with "hope" in order to be "the light in the dark" for those around us. The chorus speaks to the importance of "love" in this world and how we can all "pray" that it "rule and reign."

Listening to this song triggers all of the memories of love I have and how powerful it has been in my life. I hope that you can take a quiet moment to stop and listen to the song. I share it with love in the hope that you can be a light in the world, shining your "light through the dark."

Merry Christmas to all and thank you for taking the time to read my blog over the past year!


My Christmas Prayer
Bebe Winans (featuring Rob Thomas)

I pray for peace
Blessings and honor
Heaven right earth's despair
This is my Christmas prayer

For those that grieve
God will bring comfort
Laughter will rapture there
This is my Christmas prayer

See I pray that love will rule and reign
And I pray that time will rid the pain of this world
As we learn to trust and care
This is my Christmas prayer

I pray for you (Yes I know you do)
That your triumph and conquer
Poses the strength you need to bare
This is my Christmas prayer

For those in need
There would be plenty
And each other's burdens share
Oh, this is my Christmas prayer

See I pray that love will rule and reign
And I pray that time will rid the pain of this world
As we learn to trust and care
This is my Christmas prayer, Oh

So let hope fill our hearts (Let's let hope fill our hearts)
Shine the light through the dark
All around the world
And everywhere
I will pray
This Christmas prayer

See I pray that love will rule and reign
And I pray that time will rid the pain of this world
As we learn to trust and care
This is my Christmas
This is my Christmas prayer

See I pray that love will rule and reign
And I pray that time will rid the pain of this world
As we learn to trust and care
This is my Christmas prayer
This is my Christmas prayer


Image at Top:  Google Images
Video: YouTube

Thursday, November 24, 2016

IN OUR HANDS




"Bucon, these look like turkeys we did in kindergarten! What are we doing?"

"Oh, my gosh! It is only a turkey if you want it to be. Just give me five minutes to explain what we are doing, OK?"

"Oh! No! Are we seriously painting today? I hate these handcrafted projects. I am not creative!"

"Stop. You are creative. You will be creative. Now smile."

"Yes! No writing today. Right?"

"Bahahahaha!"

"YES! I love this doing this stuff!"

"I love you, too."

I am eternally grateful for my students, even though some may exhaust me, some may frustrate me, and some may paint my head with remnants of their own hand prints. Students riddle my life as a teacher with a constant barrage of unbridled enthusiasm, cynical skepticism, and understandable anxiety.

The gratitude page is a staple of our senior scrapfolios. We create them the last three days before Thanksgiving, spending the time painting the palms of our hands to create a hand print of who we are physically at this time in our lives then reflecting upon aspects of our lives for which we are grateful. We take those reflections of gratitude and encircle our hands, an abstract act of expressing gratitude. It is a good time for all of us. Well, it can be exasperating for me as I need to step back and let my seniors be kids for a few days. I always want these activities to be "perfect," but there is no perfection in the process. There is only joy in the finished products.


This is my gratitude page from 2012. My students put their own creative spin on this.

It is Thanksgiving so I am going to move quickly to my point.

My students took time this week to examine their hands. The moment was more than simply the colorful physical manifestation of their hand prints on paper. They peered into the open hands of what they have freely received in their lives: the everlasting friendships, the teachers and coaches who have nurtured them, the pets who have remained loyally by their sides, the warmth of good homes and shelters from cold, the good health to participate in all of the activities they enjoy, those who have come and gone before them, the gift of life from God, the unconditional love of family. 

We can all look into our own hands today to count the blessings which we have freely received in our lives. We can all take a moment to be grateful.


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

COUNTING ON A MIRACLE






Pressure smack dab in the middle of my head irradiates down through my eyes, flowing into concrete tension in my neck while leaving my legs too wobbly to stand for long. There is no pill to remedy the ache, no tonic to flush the anxiety, no prayer for a miracle whose time has passed and will never come again. I am tired.

No matter how much we prepare for the death of a loved one we are never truly ready when that day comes. Everyone knows exactly what I mean, having lost a colleague, a friend, a spouse, a grandparent, a mother, a father, a sister, or - a brother.

For what exactly are we preparing? Are we organizing the visitation at the funeral home, searching for those special pictures to place in a memorial video? Are we talking to the children about the loss of a person close to them, struggling to explain death and its transition between life and the afterlife? Are we clearing our schedules of incidental duties so that we can "be there" for anyone and everyone who needs us? We all go about our business preparing for the death of a loved one, none of us really choosing to do the same thing but ultimately arriving at the same destination.

We all want to arrive at the point when we can genuinely and faithfully “let go” of the sadness, the heartache, and the hopelessness, without admitting, perhaps selfishly or shamefully, that we need to do so in order to move on with our lives. To live in a perpetual state of grief is not healthy and certainly not what the person we mourn would want us to do.

Central Catholic High School and the Wheeling community lost someone close to us this week: math teacher, baseball coach, God’s disciple, loyal friend, and loving brother - Jamey Conlin. We all have been preparing ourselves for this day since last spring, desperately praying for that miracle that never appeared while praying that God would be merciful to Jamey.

Jamey would stubbornly lecture us all about not making such a big deal out of him. Yes. He would.

Tuesday was a long day at Central Catholic High School. In my soul I knew the time had arrived. By eighth period I could barely pull my emotionally depleted body out of the comfy chair at the front of my room to conduct these darn book talks with my AP English students. I feared that they would see the lack of heart in my eyes, that I was tired from preparing for this moment, worn-out from the constant worry about my friend. 

Tuesday night we all received the news of Jamey’s passing in one way or another, whether it was a call from a friend or a notification on Facebook or Twitter. Countless people took to social media to express their love and respect for Jamey. Parents. Friends. Colleagues. Current students. Graduates. Everyone testified about what a wonderful person Jamey was, word by loving word attesting to the specific differences he had made in their lives. I placed one of my favorite pictures as my cover photo and told Jamey that he had “made the world a much better place.” 

Jamey, Nate, Me, and Betsy
CCHS 150th Celebration - 2015

But why do we have to let go completely? Sadness will eventually dissipate over time as our lives slowly return to normal, but we can hold on to something that will keep the person we have lost with us. Not pictures, jewelry, or letters. Those tangible objects fade, tarnish, and tear, even while personal memories exist within them.

What if we take a quality we most love or admire in a person and make it ours? Make this quality a living, breathing testimony to the person who is no longer with us? What if we did our best to emulate this quality in order to make our own lives and the lives of others better?

Over the course of the next week or month, I will gradually let go of my sadness and heartache, taking comfort in this transition as I consider which of Jamey’s remarkable qualities I will keep with me and aspire to make a part of my own life, choosing one which will continue to make my world, our world, a much better place.

Maybe the miracle for which we prayed finally arrived, just not in the form or time frame we had hoped it would. Maybe the miracle is our ability to surrender the best parts of ourselves to the hearts of others and never truly leave our loved ones behind.

Outside Jamey's Room



Jamey, This post is dedicated to you and all of your accomplishments. As I have said quite often, you have made the world a much better place. Thanks for being there whenever I needed you to be and for being the kind of person I want to be. Rest easy now, my friend.


Pictures:
Top Picture - Personal (Sign Creation - CCHS Students)
Middle Picture - Personal (Selfie Stick)
Bottom Picture - Personal (CCHS Students and Staff Creation)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

SOUL IN THE MACHINE


The soul.


As I began to write this post, I found myself starting over and over again because I kept coming back to attempting to define a word which is so abstract that people and religions have many ways to actually explain what a soul is.

I am not entirely sure why I am so obsessed with this word right now. I just know the inspiration emanated from my students this week, Homecoming at CCHS, and their creation of an alphabiography in senior English classes. The spark began there but grew throughout the week, ending somewhere around the football game and Homecoming dance.


The soul. 



A person's inner essence. For many, a person's connection to God.

I catch glimpses of the soul in other people when I notice their actions or inactions, the tone of their words, their interactions with others, or what they create artistically.

In order to develop their hand-crafted alphabiographies, my students focus on their first or last name then write paragraph descriptions of various aspects of their personality using each letter of their name. Writing about your personality or what you perceive to be your personality is not easy, but making a creative representation of this is even more challenging. While some jumped spiritedly into this activity, others struggled to find "their voice" as they wanted to make sure the final product represented who they are. 

My alphabiography that I share with my students for this project


That is not an easy path for anyone to walk. Life is a journey which is directed by the soul and whether we choose to listen and act upon the voice we hear. We all hope that our final product is one which represents the best of who we are, flaws and blemishes not hidden but overshadowed by the good that we do.

After an exciting week of these alphabiographies coming alive in front of all of the students who invested time, energy, and souls into the project, I asked them to allow me to take an individual picture of them with the final product. For some strange reason, I wanted them to hold the alphabiography in front of them and say "I am" before stating their name. Let me tell you something, I am not always sure why I make certain decisions, but I have learned to trust my instincts. But - the looks. The horrific gasps. The eye rolls. I thought the football team was going to hurt me. Others students wanted to hide behind their alphabiographies. Everyone did it though. Maybe they saw my soul in my request.

How did this activity begin my journey to this post about the soul? My students' enthusiasm thoroughly captured my interest in each project being created. As teachers we always strive to know exactly what our students are doing and that they are "on task," but it is rare when we have an opportunity, as I had with these alphabiographies, to be totally invested while students put so much of themselves into their work.

So as life during Homecoming Week continued like a well-oiled "machine" with activities from beginning to end, I began to notice more "souls" throughout the each day, outside of the classroom. I became hyper-aware. When I am this way, I like to take a step back and just observe, seeing God's magic working around me as students quietly reveal sides of themselves when no one may be paying much attention.

There was the girl who accepted my last minute request to write her own post for Weelunk, a local website about happenings around Wheeling. She was so scared. "I don't know if I am good enough to do this," she offered uncomfortably. I reminded her of our guest speaker who talked to the students the previous day about not listening to people who say "you can't do something" and to take control of their own lives. I told her this was her chance and that she should not be the one to tell herself that she cannot do this. The student wrote a heartfelt and soulful post and was so proud of herself.

There was the student who noticed that his friend was struggling to find his footing in class, having fallen behind on his work. It would have been easy for this young man to simply verbally encourage his friend to pick up the pace, but he professed his "belief" that his friend could do it and jumped in to help him muddle his way through his alphabiography. Honestly, the teacher in me thought he may have been helping too much, but the student knew his friend, he knew that he was drowning, and he helped him tread water until his friend regained his direction. I had to step back and let his soul speak.

Later in the week as we were trudging up the hill through the rain to the gym for the pep rally, I caught sight of one of my students removing his plastic military poncho to offer it to a girl who was being soaked by the downpour. She seemed unsure about whether to take it, perhaps because it was such an unexpected act of kindness. The young man practically begged her to take it but ended up putting it back on when she finally refused, laughing that she would be fine. These two souls brought a little sunlight into a dreary afternoon.

Another student has made his pregame cookout a tradition ever since CCHS moved its games to Bishop Schmidt Field at Wheeling Jesuit University. This guy has a tent in place, his food arranged, and his grill fired up by 5 PM as people stop on their way to the game. He and his friends graciously invited me to join in the festivities so I brought some pizza but definitely left room for hot dogs and grilled wings. You have to witness this kid. He soulfully cooks on the grill, making sure everyone has something to eat, smiling widely as his friends stand around, talking about their week and how good the food is. There is not a better place to be. 

The week was full of soul-sightings like these. Countless ones, each and every one just as enlightening, just as inspiring. Honestly, when we open our eyes and hearts, there is so much to see.



You do not need me to remind you about how dark and hopeless the world can be sometimes. Just watch any news channel or read any internet news source. Among the vitriolic discussions about Trump and Clinton, the polarizing arguments over National Anthem protests, the mounting anxiety over terrorism, sometimes we cannot see through the inner workings of this societal machine.

One of my favorite groups, The Goo Goo Dolls, released a song called "Soul in the Machine" which pinpoints what is at the heart of the machine of society. Us. "We are the soul in the machine." Society, with all of its dishonesty, violence, and fear, can grind away day after day, leaving us hopeless, but as the song says, "When you look up at the bright stars, we are a part of everything."

So this week I took a break from all of the turmoil that clanks loudly from the machine. This week I stopped to look and listen more carefully to find the souls that reside in all of us and found these genuine souls in the youth of today.





Taking a lead from Bruce, I have a musical companion piece to go along with this blog.





IMAGE CITATIONS

HAND (TOP): www.otherwiseliving.com
ALPHABIOGRAPHY (MIDDLE): personal file
EYE (BOTTOM): www.thespiritscience.net

WORK CITED

The Goo Goo Dolls. "Soul In the Machine." Warner Bros. 2016



Sunday, September 18, 2016

RUNNING OUT OF TIME


Amos Lee - Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC, 2011
I took this!

"Woke up this morning 
and the sky was colored gray.

I gotta' do a little bit better 
than I did with myself yesterday.

Gotta keep myself from falling so far behind.
Oh, keep getting myself right on down the line."


If I remember correctly, I first encountered the music of Amos Lee when I was completing my National Board Teaching Certification renewal back when I lived in Wilson, North Carolina. I was tirelessly pounding out those reflections on the work I had accomplished that year and needed some music to pace the rhythm of keys on my laptop.

I am sure everyone has some artist who can energize you when you start falling behind in life or when you simply have lost that energy to keep pushing through an arduous task. This same artist who inspires can also be that breeze when a journey is accomplished, that gentle rain to wash away the dirt, that glass of wine to quench your thirst, that mirror to reflect who you are, where you have been, and where you are going.



Years ago Amos Lee performed at the Lincoln Theater, this old tobacco warehouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, that had been converted into a bar/concert hall which held not more than 500 people. I went to see Amos Lee at this theater on a rainy Saturday night with Toni Varrachi, a friend of mine from back in the day in Wilson. I recall arriving REALLY early at the Lincoln just to make sure we knew where the show was. When we saw a tour bus behind that dilapidated old building, Toni and I parked out back as well, hoping to catch a glimpse of Amos.

Toni and I bantered back and forth when we witnessed some guy with a beard exit the bus and enter the back of the warehouse through a propped open door. I told her we should run up to see if it was really him. My gut screamed it was him, but oddly I was still unsure. I have never seen Amos sporting a beard so I tried to assure myself that this figure could not possibly be him. I should have just hopped out of Toni's truck and coolly sauntered up to the door to find out. I hesitated. If I had a beer or two in me, I do not think I would have internally debated this decision. I shrugged my shoulders, reassuring myself it could not have been him, then Toni and I went to a local eatery until the concert.

We were early for the concert in order to secure a nice spot in the pit near the front of the stage. This spot was close enough for us to see that Amos Lee did have a beard. Damn. 

"Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on me.
Lord, have mercy, please, 
Cause we're running out of time."

The song "Running out of Time" on Amos Lee's latest CD Spirit speaks to that hesitancy we all have and its ramifications on how we see our world when we wake up in the every morning. In his opening verse Lee captures the emotions of a morning in which "the sky was colored gray," a self-critical product of his regrets for "falling so far behind" in the past. He needs to use this day as a new beginning, to add color to that gray sky by taking action in his life, thereby living his dreams and overcoming the hesitancy that affects us all at one time or another. Lee understands the finite nature of time itself. He asks "mercy" of the Lord because he realizes that he may not have strength to continue pushing forward.

"Oh, that train come 
Full speed ahead.
It's a rumbling down the track.
Well, I know that train ain't stopped before,
And I know that train don't know how to turn back,
so I gotta do a little bit better than once I did."

Lee's train metaphor reinforces what we all know about the nature of life itself with each individual person as a passenger. Life travels at "full speed" whether we are ready or not. As we grow older, we all learn that this train does not stop, and it certainly does not "turn back" for us. Thus, we arrive at the message Lee is conveying: "(we) gotta do a little better than once (we) did."

That's what life is, doing a little bit better each day we board that train. How do we do that? Regardless of our age, each of us should be more introspective, asking ourselves if we are loving our neighbors, our friends, and our families as we know we should, asking ourselves if we are stoking that inner fire of our passions so that our flame does not turn to embers then ash, asking ourselves if we are waking each morning to a gray sky that is a manifestation of our own regret because, deep down, we know we are running out of time.

Amos Lee - Running Out of Time


AmosLeeVEVO



Amos Lee - Flower (Another GREAT song!)
AmosLeeVEVO



Work Cited
Amos Lee. "Running out of Time." Spirit. John Varvatos Records/Republic Records, 2016.


Monday, September 5, 2016

STILL CALLED TODAY



The week leading up to Labor Day. Emotional roller-coaster. 

I am always pretty guarded with my emotions and need to step back from "life' to write a narrative that makes some sense of it all. I grasp at my strands of varying perspectives and attempt to weave them into some kind of a map, a mantra, a vision.

In all of my senior English classes, we take multiple roads toward finding our own voices in writing. It is certainly not easy for most people to find the words to match the thoughts and feelings which run through their minds as they place them on paper. I ask my students as they write in their journals, papers, or blog postings to keep writing and revising until they find themselves evident in the words.

On these roads my students take time to open their journals to each other, allowing others to identify what they find interesting or compelling. This can be traumatic to nearly all young writers. You take a risk to be genuine and real while praying no one ridicules you for what you have written.

So early last week, it came as no surprise that many peers struggled to say something "positive" to a fellow student. I make it even worse for them. No apologies. So often the students believe they only need to interact with me so I ask them to look directly at the person they are recognizing, smile, then send those compliments a-flying. This is both painful and joyous.

As I examined this activity, I recognized that it is not just about the student sharing his or her written word with others. This day, this week, this moment for so many of us, appears to be about how much of an impact we can leave on others through our words or actions. We can choose to be harsh, biting, and critical when the opportunity arises, but we can also choose to show support, encouragement, and unconditional love to those who open their journals to us, to those who wander into our lives. This day, this week, this moment for so many of us. Just making sense of it all.

CCHS Candlelight Vigil 2016

Friday night after the opening football game, the Central Catholic High School community remained in the stands, the weary football players stood on the track around the field, the past and present members of the student body gathered at the track fence, in a hotel parking lot in Huntington, and outside of dorms in Morgantown. We gathered for a candlelight vigil to pray for two people, both of whom have shown support, encouragement, and unconditional love to so many in this community. 

Jamey Conlin, a respected and beloved teacher and coach at Central, has been waging his own personal battle with cancer over the past year. I have only known Jamey for five years now and have to admire his inspirational courage to continue teaching and coaching last year despite undergoing treatment. The real evidence about Jamey's impact is reflected in the pictures people post of him on Facebook, the tributes that people write, and the stories that they tell of his graciousness and friendship. I have so many stories about Jamey, from his "jaggin" me, calling me "Hollywood" for wearing some random sunglasses which were too big for my face, to his patient explanation on more than one occasion of points and percentages to a mathematically-challenged English teacher. Keep up the fight, Jamey.

Saturday morning, I attended the funeral of Greg Sacco, another long-time CCHS alum and staff member. Monsignor Kevin Quirk delivered a beautiful homily about Greg's life and his humble nature as a Christian man. It triggered one of my best memories of Sac. Back when I arrived as the new teacher at CCHS five years ago, he wandered into my corner classroom as I unpacked my boxes and moved around desks, asking me questions about where I had been teaching for twenty years and offering to help with my return to Central in any way he could. It was not so much the assistance Greg gave that meant so much; it was the lasting memory of a man who provided a welcoming comfort and a spiritual presence just by being in his company at a time when I was unsure of my place here at CCHS. Thank you, Greg.

Falling back into my music collection is my way of creating a soundtrack to accompany the good and more difficult times in life. Back in 1992 Steven Curtis Chapman and Bebe Winans shared the vocals on a song called Still Called Today. The song focuses on our challenge of dealing with deep regret for emotionally hurting people that we love as well as the effect on those we have hurt. At its heart, the song is clearly about asking forgiveness from those we have hurt, recognizing that we have a finite amount of time in which to do this. The lyrics in the bridge of the song speak to more than that when taken out of the context of the song:



'Cause there's a time when the sun goes down
And the flowers are laid on the grave
Will the tears that fall to the ground
Be the tears of regret for the words someone didn't say


Moments to make amends, to express love, to show appreciation come and then - go. Do we ever consider how we "leave" things on a daily basis with the people around us? Do we ever wonder how we would feel or how another person would feel if that moment were to be our last together? We do not need to have someone fight a terrible disease to show appreciation for the value he or she has in our lives. We do not need to have someone pass away before we admit how much that person means to us.  Have we said everything we "need to say" to each other right now? Perhaps when people open their lives to us, we can look directly at them, smile, then send those compliments a-flying, doing it now - while it is still called today.



Sunday morning I drove my mother and Aunt Lou out to Ohio to visit my uncle at his nursing home. Uncle Bill has been there for over a year now and is doing well despite a couple falls and some seriously-challenged hearing. The day was a crisp, sunny day in September. We pushed Uncle Bill's wheelchair out onto the porch and around the parking lot. Mom and Aunt Lou "yelled" kind and gentle words into his better ear and shared candy and cookies with him. After two memorable hours on this Sunday morning, the nurse came to take Uncle Bill to lunch. Mom and Aunt Lou kissed him goodbye, said they loved him, and told him we would see him soon.

This is a YouTube video which contains the lyrics to Still Called Today.


http://wallpaperfolder.com/

Saturday, August 20, 2016

RIPPLES IN THE POND

www.phoenixisrisen.co.uk

Imagine you are walking in a shady, wooded area where a small pond rests in the heart of the beauty which surrounds you. Imagine that you pick up a small pebble, one that appears insignificant to the landscape. Imagine gently tossing the small pebble into the water with very little effort, creating a circular collection of ripples that expands outward, brushing the edges of the pond near you. 

A couple of weeks ago someone threw a pebble into my pond.

I like social media because it affords me an opportunity to remain connected to people with whom I have crossed paths throughout my life: childhood friends, college cohorts, work colleagues, family, and, as a teacher, former students.

Mike's Memorabilia
About two or three weeks ago a former student posted this picture on my Facebook page. Mike had been going through a collection of old memorabilia from his past. Clearly one of my students. He found this piece of paper, a little "attendance award" I gave to students who had perfect attendance in my class. I recall there were special perks the students received besides the little paper certificate, but I am the one who received the perk rippling back to me. In his post Mike said my "class is just about the only thing (he) never missed a day of ever." He shared that to help me "prepare for (my) 25th year of teaching." Thank you, Mike.

Mike was one of my students in my first class at my first official teaching position at Ralph L. Fike High School in Wilson, North Carolina, over 25 years ago.  I immediately began to look through Mike's Facebook page to see what he had been doing all this time. What stood out is his young son who looks remarkably like the high school student I remember from over two decades ago. Nothing is better for a teacher than to see a former student happy and successful in life.

The ripple Mike created continued for the next few weeks, leading up to the outset of my 26th year of teaching at my alma mater Central Catholic High School. Something unexpectedly joyous happens to teachers as we continue into our twilight years, occasionally looking back at the ripples in the pond.

Sabrina is another former student from my days at Fike High School. I remember Sabrina being an incredible track athlete at Fike. I do not remember all of the accolades she achieved in high school, but there were enough accomplishments to garner her a track scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Sabrina was so much more than a track standout. She was an incredibly passionate, hard-working student with a desire to leave a positive impact on so many people. 

As a teacher we do not always know where our students will end up later in life. Sabrina and I have remained in contact ever since she called me five years ago to tell me she was going to be on the CBS reality show Survivor. Imagine the joy I had watching a former student on a nationally-televised program.

www.youtube.com
Sabrina is a motivational speaker, a professional photographer, a co-founder of WEEN (Women Empowerment in Entertainment Network), and is now creating a web-series called The Department of...Ed, based on her experiences as a teacher in an inner-city school in Brooklyn, New York. From time to time Sabrina also gives me some much-needed personal advice about life and social issues; she is one of those valuable "tell it to you straight" people everyone should have.

Sabrina at The Department of...Ed
So now Sabrina is creating her own ripples in the pond as she speaks to young people around the country, helps young women become empowered entrepreneurs like her, and pays tribute to teachers who can become disenchanted with the system, surviving the best that they can with humor and compassion. One day I hope that Sabrina will see those ripples returning back to her shore. If I am right, she probably already has.

The Department of...Ed.
One of the greatest challenges of being a teacher is that to do it well, you have to make that personal investment in students, to care about them beyond the content of the classroom while preparing them for their future with the content of your class. I make that investment the best that I can and hope that a connection is there. 

This connection is at the heart of joy when I see former students achieve their dreams. Like Pablo and Santiago, two Venezuelan brothers who became American citizens while they were in my class, with Pablo joining his family bakery in Brooklyn and Santiago beginning law school. Like Kate, teaching young children about eating well while on her own path of studying diet and nutrition. Like Hunter and Joey, two young men who took similar paths into the military academies of West Point and the Naval Academy. Like all of those students I greet as they walk into my classroom then a year later watch as they cross the graduation stage and into their futures. It is difficult to let go as a teacher once I have made that connection, so it is a powerful experience to quietly watch those ripples every couple of years, maybe five or ten years from now, or, for me, a quarter of a century later.

Pablo @  Everybody Eats, INC.
Joey inducted by his grandfather
Such is the life of a teacher. We do our best to gently toss those pebbles in the ponds that are our classrooms with the hope that we can create ripples or even waves in the lives of our students. We choose those pebbles carefully, praying to make a deeper impression that will move students in positive directions throughout their lives. If we are lucky, those students, by our example, will toss their own pebbles into the lives of others, leading to ripples throughout a much larger pond.

photo by Alyson Hurley (mother of a former student btw)



Please take a look at Sabrina's preview of her web-series The Department of...Ed.

   

Sunday, August 7, 2016

FRIENDS, THE LIGHTHOUSES IN OUR LIVES


The first known lighthouse was built by the early Egyptians in 285 B.C., standing at 440 feet tall for over 1,500 years and serving as a beacon to bring travelers at sea home to the port city of Alexandria, Egypt. Throughout the ensuing centuries, lighthouses continued to be used to provide seafarers safe travel until the late 20th century.

Electric beacons have replaced the traditional lighthouse, removing the need for the light keeper, the actual person who watched over the gas beacon and reflecting mirrors. Many of the lighthouses have been abandoned or revitalized as tourist attractions.


I can recall climbing to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, a state I called home for over twenty years. It should go without saying that the view is incredibly breathtaking. For me, it afforded an opportunity to be reflective on exactly where I was in life, of places where I had traversed stormy oceans or floated on calm seas while looking for a different shore on which to dock my boat, always hoping there was a friendly soul in the lighthouse to guide me and welcome me there.




I suppose this is one way to look at life. We are all on the oceans of the world, navigating the best we can, visiting fascinating places, making new friends, and hopefully charting our courses as we do so that our boats can return to ports we have visited in the past.

While I did not actually travel to a lighthouse this summer, I can say that I am grateful for recent experiences returning to "lighthouses" of the past while enjoying those of the present.

Back when I was a student at Central Catholic High School, I acquired my first job at Oglebay Park's Good Zoo where I worked cleaning up buildings, spinning cotton candy, and driving the train with some of the most memorable folk to ever pet a llama or wrap a hot dog. My good friend Jodi is moving from Maryland to South Carolina this summer and wanted to gather the "zoo crew" together for the first time in thirty years. So Sonja, Jill, Lynn, Jodi, and I gathered at Generations to reminisce about old times and to catch up on the past thirty years. This group was my heart and soul as I navigated some turbulent times as a teenage knucklehead. 

I travel to North Carolina to see my son Robert and his family a couple times a year, and this summer was no exception. While visiting with them, I try to catch up with old friends and colleagues from my time teaching at Ralph L. Fike High School. As much as I would like to see everyone, I have come to accept that I simply cannot do that and am satisfied visiting with as many of those friends during the summer as I can. This year I enjoyed enchiladas at El Tapitio with my dear friend Felissa, a wonderful teacher with whom I had taught twenty years. I also ate some great Southern breakfast biscuits with Susan and visited my friend J.L.'s new home as she explained how she was going to remodel the place.

Here in West Virginia, where I currently dock my boat, I enjoyed two weddings of friends and colleagues, Betsy and Jamie, who have become part of my safe harbor at CCHS in Wheeling. It was a wonderful experience to gather together with my current group of friends while still feeling the love and joy of those friends and family from my past.

Life is transient; the current is constantly changing. Jodi and I talked endlessly about her moving to South Carolina (way too soon after we had just rekindled our friendship after so many years apart). My friend and colleague at CCHS Heather has moved to Florida with her husband, leaving a void in many lives here. My niece's boyfriend Michael has moved down to Florida to begin his post-graduate career as an assistant college basketball coach. Students who are still near and dear in my heart are taking their own paths to their future, beginning college this fall. As much as I wish life could stay the same, I have come to accept the fluidity of relationships. 

I read a book a couple of years ago called The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Steadman because the cover and title captured my attention. Is it not enticing? There is a wonderful section in the book about the importance of "lighthouses" in our lives. 




"There are times when the ocean is not the ocean - not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most."




As we grow older, we discover how much our lives change over time, that the "oceans" we sail can become quite turbulent more often than not. It is during those times of distress, fear, and uncertainty that we tend to forget the lighthouses from which we have received guidance through the dark. It is during those times we need to remember the strength, the love, and the light that our friends and family, both past and present, have provided us. It is during those times that we need to remember that the lighthouses are still there and occasionally return to them.


I know this may sound corny, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to spend time with so many guiding lights throughout my life during one summer.

left to right: Sonja, Jill, (Lynn's husband) Rick. Lynn, Jodi, and I
My Zoo Crew Lighthouses 
upper left to right to bottom: Felissa, Kathy, and Kim
Some North Carolina Lighthouses
Emily and Robert with Justin and Kaylee
My North Carolina Lighthouses
My CCHS Lighthouses

Emily and Michael
My Family and TOPPER Lighthouse
s




Works Consulted

The Lighthouse Preservation Society. Lighthouse Preservation Society, n.d. Web. 07 
          Aug. 2016. 

"M.L. Stedman." Simon & Schuster. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2016. 

Stedman, M. L. The Light between the Oceans. Australia: Vintage, 2012. Print.