Sunday, December 1, 2019

ON STANDBY


I know all about the pitfalls of traveling over the holidays, particularly over Thanksgiving. Of course, that did not prevent me from booking a last minute flight to North Carolina to see my North Carolina family. It had been quite a while since I ventured south. Life and all of its irritating complications pushed a visit back on a regular basis. 

I wish I could say I had grown accustomed to the unpredicatable nature of life, but I cannot do so with any degree of certainty; however, this journey wrapped some odd moments among important messages I needed to revisit. 

I was not going to be late for my 8:30 a.m. flight, so I spent the night in Pittsburgh where I could decompress before catching a shuttle to the airport for a 6:30 a.m.check-in. I had this all planned. I was going to be early, early, early so I wouldn't stress, stress, stress. Riiiiiiight. 

At baggage check, the cordial woman behind the counter asked for my destination. "Cleveland then to Raleigh." She informed me that I would not be going to Cleveland that day. "But that is where my connecting flight is." I distinctly remember planning this trip and finding it perposterous that I would be headed to Cleveland before Raleigh. She explained that this airline does not fly to Cleveland for connecting flights. "That can't be possible," I laughed, pulling my flight itinerary up on my phone. "See? CLT to RDU." She smiled and indicated that CLT is actually Charlotte. I felt like an idiot as I had complained to everyone the past week that I was going to Cleveland then Raleigh. 

Two hours later, I boarded a plane which was packed from front to back. I thought I was being so polite to the silver haired old lady who was sitting in what I thought was my seat. "Honey, I think you have my seat. I am 6D."  I was wrong again, showing the lady my boarding pass which clearly identified my seat as 8D. "That's all right," the nice lady consoled me, "maybe you should get your glasses checked, honey." I was so embarrassed that I stood in front of my seat before sitting until eveyone log-jammed behind me passed. Eventually an irritated woman in the seat in front of me yelled at me to please sit down already

Despite all of the excitement about our trips, all of us passengers cooled our personal jets while we waited on the runaway for thirty minutes until a break in the strong winds appeared. All I could think of was missing my connecting flight in Charlotte. I fell sound asleep watching The Office on my Kindle Fire, startled into awakening by the sound of my own LOUD SCREAM when the captain finally blared throughout the cabin that we would now be taking off. I pulled my ball cap down while apologizing for my scream to everyone beside me and in the two rows in front and behind me. The irritated lady in front of me just shook her head. I was now an official nuisance on that early flight out of Pittsburgh the day before Thanksgiving.
An hour and a half later we landed in Charlotte where my connecting flight had already begun boarding fifteen minutes earlier. As I exited the narrow confines of the B gate, I sprinted the entire football length of the Charlotte airport, stopping only because my legs were wobbly from sitting so long on the plane. I arrived at the C gate area to find it packed with people standing at over half of the gates while waiting to board their planes. I saw C18 at the far end of the terminal. The humanity, the sweating humanity. I sat a moment until the speaker announced that my group was boarding. "Group 6 now boarding." I edged myself into the throng, slowly moving toward the gate. I eventually saw the destination sign, now unobscured by the people standing in front of it. "Newark, NJ." Shit.

"Ma'am," I begged the attendant at gate C12, "my notification says C18. It really is not my fault I am late. I was stuck in Pittsburgh for half an hour, I sprinted here to this end of the terminal, and I was sitting right over there by gate C18. I couldn't see anything. Could you please open the door?" She shook her head, explaining that they change gates all of the time. I didn't even know how to respond to that. What was I going to do? It is Thanksgiving. The kids are waiting for me. 

"Sir, you will have to go to C6. They will put you on standby for a later flight."

Two hours later I felt as if someone had smashed my body into the standby window seat as punishment for my earlier expectations of a calm and uneventful travel day. I was definitely being punished with an inch of space between my knees and the seat in front of me. I pulled up my Kindle Fire again, slapped on my headphones, then sulked as much as I could while watching Doctor Who. I did not anticipate being able to fall asleep in that seat, but I did. I woke up as the plane was touching down in Raleigh. 

The rest of the journey was the uneventful journey for which I yearned earlier in the day, nearly seven hours earlier. I had a quick bag pick up of my suitcase which had arrived an hour and a half before I did, a nice choice of five different rental cars, and a trafficless highway between Raleigh and Wilson. I made it to Robert and Emily's home in Wilson around 3:30 p.m., only nine hours from the time I began this adventure.

Emily and I took the kids out to eat while Robert finished his shift at Firestone. Olive Garden was so relaxing that I was ready to explore the toys and candy sections at Five-Below with a renewed energy while making up for lost time with some special people in my life. We filled the evening with board games and coloring, excited about the beautiful Thanksgiving dinner the next day. Everything turned out fine, maybe even better than I expected.

Our lives are filled with moments in which we are uncertain of our destinations. Sometimes we are so absolutely certain of our paths that we stumble over our self-confidence, losing our purpose and determination when events steer us into different directions. Embarrassment, indecision, and doubt become traveling companions for whom we have never purchased tickets. While it is not possible to anticipate the unexpected, going on standby works really well as this provides us an opportunity to reconsider our direction until another more viable path develops that will take us to our ultimate goal.






Sunday, November 3, 2019

IN THE MIDST OF THE RAIN


The rain poured and poured on Thursday as the temperature bottomed out. I looked through my windows from my third floor classroom at CCHS, unable to see clearly as the mist covered the glass. The streetlights forced their gleam through the drops into the room, barely reaching the point of any type of illumination, yet I knew the lights were out there amidst the rain. 

I stayed at school a little bit later that day, finishing up some grading, talking to a student, planning for the upcoming week; Thursdays are that day for me as I attempt to pull my act together so that I can retreat to the comfort of home for the weekend. Once I finished, I cleared the top of my desk, put my pens away, stacked the papers I needed to distribute the next day, turned off the whirling ceiling fan, then locked the door as I left. As I trudged down the stairs and out to my SUV, I wondered if I had time to go home to rest in order to go to the Thursday night football game. The rain though. The rain.

My sister-in-law Lisa brought Mom home from her doctor's appointment with great news about her ever-improving health. The bad weather had been hovering over Mom for most of the summer, so positive news is always a welcome gift. It was cause to celebrate, so I chose to toss on some shorts and a t-shirt to hang out with Mom that evening and watch the live broadcast of the Central game on MEtv. Of course, the rain had other plans as the electricity blinked out fifteen minutes before game time, leaving us with the only option of listening on my phone in the darkness. So that's where we stayed. I pulled a blanket over myself on the couch, Mom wrapped herself in a throw, and Charlie-Bear curled up on his bed as a candle glowed from the fireplace.

The weekend brought less rain and more sun as I was finally able to make it to the mall on Saturday without having to navigate the construction that brought congestion throughout the week. Finding the time to slowly meander throughout the store while checking off items from a carefully developed shopping list was a catharsis for me. No place to go. No need to hurry. A sense of solitude surrounded by strangers.

As I exited the back row on my last leg of this trip, I cautiously avoided those moving at a quick pace that I chose to avoid this day. Fate brought me to Bob Furka, the father of one of my former students, his number one son Chris. I had not seen Bob for a while but knew his wife Linda was having her own health issues. (Keeping these things under-wrap in a small community is challenging at best.) We talked for a long time, both of us putting aside our shopping lists amid the crowd that was building throughout the store. We talked about Chris and college, baseball, and the Diocesan troubles. But as we talked about his wife and my mom, we shared our hopes and the beliefs that our loved ones would persevere with grace and dignity through their challenges. At the end of our heart-to-heart talk near the Doritos display, Bob slipped me a wristband he, his family, and his friends are wearing to support his wife: No One FIGHTS Alone!  I placed the band around my wrist. Isn't that the truth?

Rain. We see it as both restorative as well as destructive, a relief as well as an inconvenience. The same rain that can assist the extinguishing of forest fires in California is the same rain which can cause the flooding of homes here in West Virginia. The same rain that can feed the crops we need for food can also wash away the seeds that the farmers have planted. The same rain which is a constant stress at our jobs is the same rain which directs us into the arms of those we love. The same rain which can be a disease a loved one is fighting can be the same rain which brings people together in support of one another. Rain. Regardless of how and when it appears, the effects on all of us truly are defined by how we perceive it, understanding that the blessings and trials which accompany it enable us to gain greater appreciation and wisdom regarding life itself.



I have already created four podcasts. This is a new venture for me, so I hope you can give them a listen. You will find the recent episodes in the upper right corner of this web page. I will be releasing a podcast about this particular post on Thursday. I want to give you some background and motivation for writing this as well as a personal reading of the post itself. I hope you can listen to it!


Picture Credits:
Google Images







Sunday, October 13, 2019

WHERE IN THE HELL AM I?




I am sitting atop a swiveling bar stool in a basement in Wheeling, WV, where I am surrounded by sound equipment, microphones, and the air of anticipation. Across the room an HD television mounted on the wall is showing the Virginia and Miami college football game which is kicking off a weekend of college football. The small gathering bounces between watching the game and conversations about snapchat and tik-tok, politics, and work. I take an occasional sip of my Blue Moon and slowly munch on a slice of DeFelice pizza, absorbing my surroundings with a comfortable, self-imposed isolation. I cannot avoid the one question I formulated earlier as I walked down the stairs to the basement with a white Pomsky answering to Hazel traipsing ahead of me: "Where in the hell am I?"

I am at a live recording of The Juicebox Podcast. As the late Stan Lee, long-time publisher and soul of Marvel Comics, would always say:  'nuff said.


Juice, Zar, and Punch, are The Juicebox Podcast regulars. Each will probably individually tell you that he is the "talent." Two brothers and their friend began the podcast months ago, learning by doing, succeeding by failing, and changing while remaining the same. It is all good though because they are on a journey to create something special for themselves with the hopes of giving their listeners a sampling of what life means from their viewpoint.

Once the intro music starts and the guys begin, I brace myself for the unexpected. You see, I have been listening to this podcast from the first episode and have graciously accepted their offer to email suggestions and questions. On  more than one occasion, I have asked if they really need to curse as much as they do, and I have expressed my eye-roll about the long drinking stories and sophomoric tendencies. The response has been "Sorry, Uncle A.J., we are going to keep on using those words." My suggestion simply emboldened them. But, I have to respect their decision to do their own thing despite my honest protestations.


I am here, still wondering why I was so enthusiastic about watching this podcast live this week that I had all of my papers graded before leaving school on Friday. I am sitting across from J.T. aka "Punch" as he leads the group into the beginning of the podcast. J.T. was one of my students back in 2012 when I came to CCHS as an English teacher. [Shameless plug: Read My Corner of the World.😁📖] J.T. and I have kept in touch throughout the years, but our paths have crossed more frequently as of late. J.T. told me about this podcast they were creating, and I was instantly intrigued; anything creative and original captures my attention in a heartbeat.

I am here, enduring the profanity, gross jokes, and crazy topics. I am here, taking another sip of my Blue Moon and laughing, initially hoping that no one notices. I have a certain reputation to uphold. Halfway through, I am caught up in the electricity of it all and no longer hold back my laughter. Behind all of the language are some pretty interesting discussions about Game of Thrones, Tom Cruise, and "Would you rather.." questions. Deeper than that are three friends finding their voices on this podcast.

I am here, experiencing and reveling in the genesis of imagination. The beginning of anything worth doing is never clean and neat. Messiness and improvisation are inherent parts of the creative process. The Juicebox Podcast reminds all of us, particularly an "old shit" like myself, that life can be fun and original as long we find an escape to dig deeper into who we are as individuals while knowing the best is yet to come.


This is a great recent episode because the guys welcomed Central grad and WVU basketball standout Chase Harler to be a guest. I want to give you a "Trigger Warning" regarding some content and language, but you are probably old enough to handle it.




Maybe one day...crossover, anyone?

Picture Credits: 
JT Nixon
Personal Photos


I will be dropping my podcast of this post later this week. I will offer some emotional backstory to this experience. You can always email me here or at the podcast email below if you have questions about this post or if you want me to discuss something about this topic on the podcast.









Sunday, October 6, 2019

PROOF OF SOMETHING

I have spent the better part of the last week and a half in a pensive rumbling over experiences whose meaning rested in the periphery of the moments I encountered them. I have repeatedly returned to these musings with the hope that I can exact some definite significance from them all.

Last weekend I was mulling over my life while aimlessly scrolling through social media and YouTube, a terrible habit that rarely results in finding any semblance of lasting contentment. An advertisement slipped into a stream of videos: The Peanut Butter Falcon "SWEETEST FILM OF THE DECADE." 


The quirkiness of the title was enough for me to give the synopsis a reading and the trailer numerous viewings. Zack, a young man with Down's Syndrome, escapes from his nursing home chasing a dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Zack encounters Tyler, a crab fisherman who has lost his direction in life after a family tragedy. The two grow closer on a quiet odyssey down the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I spent Sunday afternoon at Marquee Cinemas watching this wonderful film and the better part of two days dwelling on the message The Peanut Butter Falcon offered.

Monday morning several senior football moms posted this picture on Facebook, further stoking a small fire in my heart sparked by the movie on Monday. I cannot recall ever seeing a picture like this in all of my years of teaching. Please keep in mind that I currently teach all of these players, and some I have known four years. I can see the personalities of the players in each pairing, the open expression of love, the silliness of the situation, and the discomfort of this not being "cool." The picture speaks for itself on the surface: this is a group of mothers; ones who love and support their sons; ones who realize that senior year is a chapter closing quickly; and ones who want to savor this journey. 


The football mothers and sons picture triggered another recent memory, one which happened a short time before the movie and the football picture. Pieces started to connect for me as I searched the school's Facebook page for another picture I had seen. At a home game last week, the volleyball team surprised one of the player's mother who is battling cancer. She said on Facebook that she was so surprised when she walked into the game and "found the coaches and all of the players in Hope for Lisa Gruber shirts and green hair bows in their hair."  


Finally, one of my students asked me every single day if I would be going to the football game, anxious to know because he was going to start for the first time this season. So on a chilly Friday I drove to Beverly, Ohio, to watch our team lose 42-0 in a brutal game during which several players were injured. I sat beside one of the football moms who winced and looked away every time her son was tackled or knocked out of bounds. My student who is typically "bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm" looked tired and dejected during the game but played hard despite the outcome being decided shortly after halftime.


In The Peanut Butter Falcon, the relationship between the two central characters is defined by a quote uttered at the beginning of the movie, one which many have heard at least once: "Friends are the family we choose." The movie then tells the story of two strangers who develop the family connection both need for neither one has family of his own. I see a larger and different theme in the different contexts of my week.

In relationship to what we call "families," we can not conclusively claim each family is the same. We have traditional families and those that are nontraditional. Many are two parent families with varying numbers of children. Others are single parent families with one parent no longer present. We cannot look at a picture and see the ideal when the ideal may not truly exist. 

We can see that which rests in the periphery, the unseen in the pictures and movies we see and situations we experience. It is the brotherly connection of two characters in a movie, the difference in emotions among football mothers and their sons, the unwavering support of a volleyball team to a teammate's mother, the occasionally unexpected support to those who need it the most. Choices in life can center on how we freely and honestly love and care for those around us in a way in which we wish people would love and care for us. This holds true when we are at our best or our worst, when life is uneventful or challenging, and whether we are willing to admit we need someone's love and care at all. 


Trying something new. I will keep you posted. 😎

Photo Credits:
Roadside Attractions
Joyce Bibey
CCHS Facebook Page
Personal Picture





Sunday, August 18, 2019

FOR SAFETY, SECURITY, AND LOVE



Few people doubt that pets are family. The brevity and richness of their lives with us offer an insightful glimpse into who we are as individuals. Oftentimes they reflect the dynamic and personal connections among our family and friends, creating mirrors of our personal experiences throughout the seasons of our lives.


Two days after Christmas last year I took Mom down to the DMV in Moundsville to renew a driver's license that either did not need renewing or could have been done by mail. Life can blur together sometimes. While we were down there, I asked her if she would mind taking a short ride up to the Marshall County Animal Shelter to see this adorable lab-mix named Charlie.

My constant companion of fifteen years, Ranger, had died two summers ago, and while I still miss his being at my side, I felt a calling to rescue another dog. No puppies for me though. This dog needed to be a bit removed from the puppy stage and clearly have four paws planted in adulthood. 

Two hours later Mom and I were headed back to Wheeling with a brown, skinny, cauliflower-eared dog frantically panting with excitement. By the time we arrived home, Charlie had crawled out of the rear section of the Explorer and into the back seat, his new blue leash still attaching him to the metal hoop in the rear. Much like a young child, Charlie wanted to be near us, but he could only move so close before the leash pulled tight.

I made sure that his leash stayed attached when we arrived home. I had so little confidence in my ability at my age to chase after a dog who could very well scamper into the woods if I were to turn my head for a moment. Charlie yanked me around the yard as he sniffed and marked his territory. 

I spent the remainder of the winter and better part of spring attempting to teach Charlie to walk on a leash. His exuberance for walking was wearing me out though. He always wanted to sprint from one bush to another, pulling me along with him and unfortunately choking himself when I could not keep up. I had to find a way to walk him safely and securely for both of us to make it down the road and back in one piece. I watched many YouTube videos about how to teach an older dog to walk on a training lead, a longer fifteen foot leash. I could not worry about how Charlie and I appeared while walking down the street, stopping and starting, abruptly turning left and right, reversing direction at a moment's notice, and dropping the leash to the ground to call him back to me. What a humorous video that would have made with some chaotic carnival music playing in the background! 

I was on my second dog harness when eventually I gave up on the idea of having Charlie walking directly by my side a la Cesar Milan. I had to free myself of this perfect picture that Charlie simply had to walk beside me as Ranger had done. I began to find more and more dog trainers who claimed that as long as a leash hangs with a controlled slackness, it was not that big of a deal if Charlie strayed a little or walked in front of me. I continued to use the fifteen foot training lead on walks so that Charlie could safely explore bushes and yards with freedom while I remained secure on the sidewalk. We found a compromise, and our walks are wonderful now.

The beginning of August had arrived, and I started dreading going back to school. I was enjoying my traditional respite from the daily grind of the high school classroom. I would visit Twitter and Facebook frequently, finding many of my former students preparing to go to college as freshmen or returning as sophomores, juniors, seniors, or grad students. I also found the parents of these students posting about the emotional challenges of this entire process as they watch their children depart for school. Despite the excitement of packing the car or SUV to head to campus, a melancholic tension develops in that connection among all of them. Anytime we leave the ones we love we worry about whether or not they are going to be OK, we wonder how long it will be before we see them again, and we hope and pray that they will miss us as much as we miss them.

I began to think about how these types of life moments are akin to my efforts over the past half a year with Charlie. Initially he was that child I wanted to keep close, to teach how to walk, how to behave, and how to love. No matter how much I wanted him to walk by my side, Charlie had an inner desire to search and to journey beyond the path I may have wanted to travel. As the months passed, he became that young adult, the one who may be entering his or her junior or senior year in high school or attending college hours away from home. Charlie's harness and fifteen foot training lead allowed him that security to venture out on his own, comfortably knowing that I was always there. These young adults in our lives enter the world on their own wearing a harness constructed of values, love, and life skills, hopefully aware we are nearby, holding onto an invisible leash of unconditional love and connection.

A personal surprise happened on the Saturday before school begins for me. I left the house around noon, telling my mother that I was leaving Charlie outside on his tie-out lead. He loved his summer on the porch and the freedom to move between the sun and the shade. Mom said he would be fine and would bring him inside if he barked or if she wanted to take a nap. Two hours later when I returned, Mom told me that she had gone to sit on the porch only to find that Charlie's tie-out lead was wrapped in a pile by the door and that Charlie was basking confidently untethered in the sunny side yard just panting and looking at her. Charlie was not going anywhere. He knows where home is, just as all of the people do in our lives despite how much we long to pull them close to us, despite how much we struggle with letting them go to travel a road of their own choosing.



Best wishes to all the students and their families 
as they begin a new chapter in their lives this year.
Enjoy every moment of the journey.


My Corner of the World is still available 
at Amazon and other book sellers.
If you are interested in a personal copy, please contact me
through my website or at school.



Sunday, June 16, 2019

TITLES


Life tends to become a quest for titles, an accumulation of representations of a person's occupation, social status, or accomplishments. Within each individual there may be a conscious effort to attain these titles, or this could simply be a by-product of a person living life to the fullest. 

We all begin some form of this quest when we are young. We may have been a letterman or a team captain, a 4-H president or an Eagle Scout, a homeroom representative or a prom queen. Dig into your memory box to find the titles you held. Eventually we identify by professional titles like doctor, teacher, chef, mother, father, accountant, or sales clerk. Many people receive accolades an organization or a person bestows in form of titles: MVP, medal winner, Coach of the Year, Employee of the Month, Nobel Prize Recipient. Unfortunately at times society sees each of us as the embodiment of a résumé, a list of who we are, what we have accomplished, and the time it has taken us to achieve all of the titles on the list.

In William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet states, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” She speaks of Romeo, a young man with whom she has fallen in love, a young man who also happens to be the son of her family's enemies. Juliet makes the point that despite Romeo's name, the title by which he is recognized, his importance to her is not changed. Juliet loves him for what he means to her, for the positive impact Romeo has on her life.


"What's in a name?" Juliet asks. In today's world we are also asking a similar question of individuals who hold titles. Sadly we are being forced to ask ourselves if the standards and expectations for those titles are being reflected in the words and actions of those who lay claim to the titles.

Fear, passion, hateful rhetoric, confusion, and hopelessness have permeated the fabric of society in recent years. Many people struggle with watching the news, reading the paper, or checking social media for fear of discovering the next disappointment.

Political news inundates our lives constantly. If you set aside your own political views for a moment, can anyone truly say that you feel confident in the members of our government? Perhaps you feel the president does not demonstrate the behavior and leadership we expect from someone who holds this title. Or maybe our congress and senate do not represent their constituents as well as they do their lobbyists? How can you not relate to the absolute passion and frustration in the voice of Jon Stewart as he chastises the House Judicial Subcommittee for not continuing the funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund? I am unsettled about all of this as I simply want to believe in the people who bear the titles of leaders of this country, but my disillusionment bars this from happening.


Members of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston have been experiencing a loss of faith in the leaders of the Catholic Church for well over a year. The events in this state mirror a continued international frustration with the sexual abuse scandals, financial improprieties, and disconnect between church leaders and their congregations. Michael Bransfield held the title of bishop in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for thirteen years. In my heart and mind I know that the role of anyone carrying the title of bishop is to oversee the nurturing of faith within the numerous congregations, to guide the resources of the church to grow the church, to lend assistance to the poor, and, most importantly, to lead by example, to be the person who embodies our faith in the public eye. 

Bransfield has fallen drastically short of these expectations, eroding the confidence of the people in the pews with scandals of sexual harassment, nepotism, financial abuse, and self-serving adulation. He is gone now, leaving the flock once in his charge grasping for answers, picking up the remains, and wandering amid the chaotic confusion. Even at a recent church service I attended, the priest conceded that he was not sure where to go from here. 


So what does a person do in a climate where we continually lose our faith and trust in those who have been identified to lead us? 

I like Mr. Roger's quotation which reminds us about titles: "It's not the honors and not the titles and not the power that is of ultimate importance. It's what resides inside." Many of us were taught to give deference to people who are our leaders, to respect the title, the position, or the office. We may need to concede that we are no longer able to be as trusting anymore. Perhaps this is part of growing up, gaining wisdom, and battling cynicism. I guess we need to look closer at what "resides inside" the people in leadership positions, those with the titles. 

Actually I think most people do look closer though. We see beyond the titles, we see past the superficial facades in front of us, and we will continue to look closely for evidence of that which we know to be right and true. We will await a reflection of our beliefs and expectations in those who surround us and those who lead us. 

In the meantime, we can continue to be humble, faithful, loving, hard-working, generous, kind, respectful, and noble. We can live our lives while striving to develop these qualities and so many more, for these character traits are the ones we value and expect to see in others, particularly in those who lead us.


Photos Top to Bottom
Axios.com
The Jerusalem Post
Publicdomainpictures.net
QuoteFancy



Monday, May 27, 2019

AS THE DUST SETTLES


Have you ever worked hard to build something? Created something from the materials on hand, adding your own effort, sweat, and inspiration? Have you ever felt as if this project were endless, leaving an uncertainty about just what the final product would be upon its completion? Have you ever wondered whether or not the changes and decisions you made throughout the duration of this construction were the right ones? Did you feel as if at some point that you had all the time in the world only to learn that time would not always be available for those fine touches you wanted to add at the very end? What do you see and feel as the dust settles?

One of the more rewarding aspects of being a high school teacher is the challenging task of  developing some lasting intangible within my students. Having taught for 28 years, I know I have mastered the pacing of a class. I can navigate the crazy world of high school, taking my students through AP exam preparation and research papers with only mild anxiety. I am still a work in progress but have learned to begrudgingly accept the hectic nature of an activity-filled high school. By the end of the year, I believe my students have developed something which extends beyond classroom activities.


We are not always on the same path throughout this journey. Along the way I experience dramatic outbursts and everlasting silence from students, oddly suspect lost papers and note cards, flatulence followed by a hearty laugh of an apology, the occasional slip of profanity with a clasped hand across the mouth arriving a split second too late, stressful parent conferences and emails, and lunchtime detentions turned gab sessions. Throughout our construction of something better, I also have witnessed these same students helping one another, those random days when the students I feel I have lost rise up and become engaged in the class, and students working independently who at the beginning of the year needed constant reassurance. I have my bumps, bruises, and lack of energy at the end of the year when the year's work concludes. I do not possess the same drive as I did at the beginning of the year.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, the dust began to settle for me and for the projects on which we had all labored. We finished senior year with Commencement Presentations, a capstone project which allows the students to focus on the highlights of their senior research project as well as the memorable moments of high school and growing up. I always see my students differently at this time. At the beginning of the school year, many exhibit a "smallness" in my eyes; they are young people on the precipice of a huge moment in their lives. During the fall the students are not quite ready for this final transition despite their protestations of being "grown." They are ready now though. I see the confidence, the maturity, the wisdom of a senior year, the aging of a personality over ten months.

Friday night was Senior Baccalaureate Mass followed by Graduation a mere fifteen hours later on Saturday morning. Graduation was in a different place this year. Inclement weather, as it sometimes does, caused us to change our plans. The Central gym was transformed into a place unexpected. A maroon tarp covered the floor with the chairs angled to allow for an intimacy not experienced at the amphitheater at Oglebay Park. It was a final school meeting, a final reflection with all of the participants front and center amid the banners and slogans of the school. There was a crispness and clarity to this scene that allowed these young people to be viewed as the adults they are becoming, no longer the high school students they were. 


I am sure the parents, the grandparents, and the friends see these graduates differently now, too. What they have built together is even more significant than what we have built in the classroom. As a teacher, I am just a part of their larger effort. Years of growing up is slowly fading as this new person emerges from the remnants of the past. Without a doubt the past is filled with moments of frustration and joy, angst and elation, doubt and confidence, disappointment and pride. The future is full of the unknown, yet the graduate now awaits the challenges.


So here we all are, witnessing as someone whose life we had a hand in building through hard work, guidance, encouragement, and nurturing stands for all of the world to see. We cannot worry about not having enough time to add the final touches to make sure he or she is just right. We cannot continue to fret about decisions we have made during our time together, wondering if our choices were the best ones, the right ones.


We all can prepare for the future by continuing to build with the ones we love yet again. Laboring, supporting, and loving through the next stages of life as we wonder what we will have built when, in the future, the dust settles once again.