The harsh sound reverberates through my chilly bedroom Saturday morning, pulling me out of a dream I desperately want to finish. I was rescuing dogs, finding more room for them at my home as a yellow lab and raggedy old poodle ran around the yard playing with Charlie-Bear. He likes them both. Such a glorious dream. Simple. Peaceful.
I sit up to see that Charlie-Bear is lying at the end of my bed, his ears popping up to the loud sound as well. Neither of us is moving, but we manage to glance at each other. I look at the clock to see that it is nearly 8:30 am. How did I sleep this long? I recall waking at five, lumbering to the bathroom, then going back to bed for a few more minutes of rest where I must have fallen back asleep.
I look out my bedroom window only to see a gray, overcast day that is not calling my name. The past week has been so long. My back and shoulders ache from spending too much time on the computer day after day. Life is a trudge right now. I collapse back on my pillows. Maybe I can fall back asleep one more time.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
"What the f*ck?" I curse as I throw off my winter duvet. I have to get up but cannot move. I hope the cold air on my body will shock my system into movement. My mind drifts to what exactly is happening at the other end of the house. What is that damned banging? Is it someone pounding at the door because there is an emergency? Are there firemen trying to enter the house? Are deformed creatures that live in the woods behind the house attacking us? Is Mom actually sleeping through all of this? Maybe I am dreaming. These thoughts keep racing through my mind as I look at Charlie-Bear. I relax and slide down my bed to play with him while forgetting about...
Enough of this ridiculously twisted adaptation of some Edgar Allan Poe tale that has become my Saturday morning. I am out of bed now. I toss on yesterday's West Lib t-shirt and the khakis I have worn every day this week. I forgo my slippers after putting on my glasses and begin my determined walk toward the origins of the sound.
It is so much louder now. I turn the corner to see Mom standing in the kitchen. The oven is beeping its readiness, a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper resting atop is on the counter, and Mom has her back to me, lifting an unopened tube of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls and smashing it on the edge of the counter.
I do not want to scare her. After all, it is Saturday morning, and she probably thinks I am still in bed sleeping. I reach out and touch her shoulder. "Mom? What in the world are you doing?"
She turns to me, holding that tube of cinnamon rolls in one hand and a butter knife in the other. There is a tiny portion of cinnamon-flecked dough emerging from a small crack she has made from her futile efforts repeatedly smashing the tube against the counter edge. Mom exchanges the butter knife with a metal magnifying glass and attempts to read the microscopic directions on the tube. We have all been there, haven't we? A life and death struggle with an impenetrable tube of cinnamon rolls on an early Saturday morning. This is the stuff 0f nightmares.
"Mom, let me give it a try. These things are impossible to open."
She graciously hands it over, conceding defeat to a cardboard tube filled with bread dough, sugar, cinnamon, and a tiny container of frosting. As the barely visible directions state, I pull back all of the paper that wraps the tube. Mom watches intently as she offers the butter knife which I flip around precariously to the handle jutting away from me. I pin the monster torturing us onto the counter. I swear that I hear it growl angrily and even squirm as I push the hard end of the butter knife into a thread-thin crevice in the cardboard.
Once I have cracked open its hard shell, Mom and I can both see the cinnamon rolls neatly lined atop one another. Mom laughs and shakes her head in disbelief. "Thank you, honey." She takes the delicate dough, carefully removes it from the remaining cardboard tubing, then spaces all of the pieces around the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
I head back to my room where I find Charlie-Bear fully lounging on my bed as if it were his. I push him over a little bit to crawl back into bed. I know I shouldn't do this. I have already been up, awakened from the dead by a dear, sweet mother who only wanted to surprise me with cinnamon rolls. I just want a little more sleep.
I think she knows it has been a challenging week. These are difficult times for so many people. When the world asks so much, and we search for a sense of normal, we may find it difficult to enjoy the small things which bring us joy. As we carefully remove the outer shells we use to protect our simple treasures, we can share what is inside with those we love.
Once the excitement left my body, I think I fell asleep again. I knew it would take a good thirty minutes for Mom to finish the cinnamon rolls and whip up some scrambled eggs and ham.
Thank you to everyone for your support for my new book Sunday Mornings with Coffee. It is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited. I am hoping to have some author's copies before Christmas in case someone would like to have a signed one for that special person in your life.
I will bet many people have a collection of songs, a collection that is the absolutely perfect mix for traveling down an Interstate Highway or an unknown country road. We all need at least one song, right? A song that embodies the escapist mentality in each of us.
I would have been about nine-years-old when I heard Jim Croce's "I Got a Name." I am positive that my younger self did not realize the tragic irony of this song released the day after Croce died in a plane crash on September 20th, 1973.
In the song, the speaker is traveling a "winding road," one that is not an easy journey by any means. It is his journey, though. He is "like the singing bird or the croaking toad," both of whom have sounds that the world may group together as the same song, not realizing both have "a name" or a voice that is distinctively theirs.
Croce's haunting voice echoes defiantly about living a dream, one which so many people have kept hidden. He is "moving on down the highway" despite his own personal doubt and the dubious naysayers around him. He realizes that life's journey waits for no one, and he is determined to follow his dream even if he does not ultimately achieve it. At the very least, he has lived his life under his own purpose.
Feeling like only yesterday, decades ago I packed my car and moved to North Carolina in search of my dream of becoming a teacher. Times were challenging then in West Virginia, but I was tired of waiting for an opportunity. I spent those decades discovering so much about myself, the country, and the world. Interstate 95 had opened my road to meeting many fascinating people and having incredible experiences.
When I returned to Wheeling, I felt another dream calling me. I have always wanted to write. Sure, I had written here and there occasionally, but I wanted to write on a regular basis. "Moving me down the highway," I wanted more. Life was too short to continue wondering if I could or I should. I decided I would.
First came the Time and Space blog, which is still going strong for five years now. Then, I wrote my first book My Corner of the World. I never thought I would have the intestinal fortitude to labor joyously over a project for over a year. When these roads converged, I created 500 MILE PRESS. I wanted a publishing name. Why not?
For over thirty years, I have journeyed "500 miles" from Wilson, North Carolina, to Wheeling, West Virginia, and back again numerous times a year. That is what 500 MILE PRESS is: my journey. I have a new part of my journey, and "I could share it if you want me to. If you're going my way."
I am happy to announce that my newest book Sunday Mornings with Coffee, Time and Space Retrospective will officially be released this Thursday, November 12th, 2020. You will be able to purchase the book and Kindle version exclusively on Amazon.
This is kind of quirky, but I have added MY CORNER STORE to the webpage. You can click here or go to the menu at the top. I hope that you take some time to browse the store. Maybe one or two items will appeal to you.
Bruce walked offstage, grabbing towel after towel to wipe the sweat from his face and arms following a torrid concert in Pittsburgh. Plenty of people surrounded Bruce, so I kept my distance as my friend made it safely to the bottom of the stage stairs where he stopped to talk to me.
"A.J., good to see you. Man, that was some crowd tonight, huh?"
The echoing chants for "Bruuuuce" ended the show but kept the feeling alive as the crowd begrudgingly left their seats for the exits. The roadies unhooked his microphone and earpieces, gave him another big bottle of water, and returned Bruce's legendary Fender Telecaster to its guitar case where it will rest before the next concert.
"Bruce, I swear I do not know what to say anymore. Always. I mean, always a classic."
Bruce smiled. Even though his body was still pumping with adrenaline, he knew I was sincere, but he wanted to know more. "Come on," he chuckled as he threw a wet towel at my face. "You gotta give me a little more than that!"
"What the hell, Bruce?" I quickly pulled the towel from my face and tossed it back at him where it fell to the ground for some errant backstage groupie to find it, stuff the towel in a plastic bag, then sell it on eBay.
Bruce and I walked down a hallway towards a more secluded reception area. We didn't need to say much, though. Silence can be uncomfortable for many people, but when you are with a friend, the silence reflects the depth of the relationship between two people, one which both have nurtured over time.
"So, Bruce. 'Land of Hope and Dreams' tonight." He stopped to listen to me as he always does. "You know, that is—hands down—my favorite song. It is just so crazy how that song never changes throughout the years."
Bruce began to talk but stopped himself. He just smiled at me, anticipating a conclusion to my thought.
"You are gonna make me finish this even though you know damn well what I am going to say." We both laughed. Over the years, Bruce's laugh has evolved into a grizzled grandpa chortle, one which emanates warm wisdom and understanding of life itself.
"Yeah, A.J., I am going to make you finish," Bruce bellowed. Then, as if someone snapped a finger, he instantly became serious. "Go on. You were saying that 'Hope and Dreams' never changes."
"OK. So every time I hear it, I am in a different place in my life, you know. Sometimes I am driving down the road somewhere, sunny day and all. I will roll down the windows and crank it up loud. I don't care if people hear me singing. Other times, I am tired from teaching all day. You know, I am doing my own thing like you do yours on stage, and I just keep hearing "this train, faith will be rewarded" in my head. I can even feel down and depressed about the state of the world, wondering how the hell we are ever going to turn things around. "Hope and Dreams" just tells me it is all part of this journey. And tonight..." I struggled to find those last words.
"I gotcha, buddy. I gotcha." Bruce slapped me on the shoulder as he left. "Look, I'm gonna head to the room back there. I have some other people I want to talk to." He looked me in the eyes and said, "Thanks again for coming. It really means a lot to me. I'll talk to you later, OK?"
I shook my head in feigned disappointment. "Yeah, yeah. The Boss is going to talk to me later!" We laughed again, as we have done so many times. I walked back down the hallway, out the doors of the arena, and into my world, confident that I would hear from my friend Bruce again.
Bruce and I have kept in touch over the years. Whenever I need to talk to him, he is as close as an old CD, an unexpected song on the radio, an Alexa request, or a conversation on E-Street Radio.
Bruce and I before a concert, circa 2017 😉
Thanks for your patience.
We have not been able to see each other in-person as much as we would like. You know, covid and everything. Still, Bruce is determined to stay in touch. I received a fantastic letter from him the other day.
"Things I found out through hard times and good
I wrote 'em all out in ink and blood
Dug deep in my soul and signed my name true
And sent it in my letter to you"
Cover Picture: JUST JARED, INC.
Video: Bruce Springsteen - Letter To You (Official Video)
Grandma always knew, even back then. Christopher was always cooking up something special.
As my nephew Christopher was growing up, Mom would watch him a couple of days a week while his mom and dad worked. Those moments became ones we all would eventually cherish.
I remember traveling back to West Virginia from my home in North Carolina to steal a little bit of time with my energetic nephew. Christopher's arrival brought excitement to the day because Mom always seemed to plan some kind of activity, usually centered around preparing food.
Mom let me have my time with him to watch Godzilla movies, play Power Rangers, and build forts. Eventually, I would collapse from trying to keep up with my nephew, so whatever Mom had planned for Christopher ended up providing a nice respite for me to recharge my batteries for the boy who never liked to nap.
Grandma and Christopher. Christopher and Grandma. In the kitchen. Making a mess full of memories.
I stayed out of their way, taking pictures of Christopher as he tore through the various ingredients Mom had neatly arranged on the counter. At that age, Christopher could care less about following directions and just wanted to cook with Grandma. Two generations together in a zone, measuring, mixing, and tasting, making more than just some cookies and pizza.
The pizza picture. I could not get it out of my mind one Saturday in mid-October as Chris was marrying Sami at a beautiful fall wedding on the steps of the Mansion at Oglebay Park. Even after the wedding, I continued to see Chris sitting on the kitchen chair, putting pepperoni on our pizza.
Weddings are celebrations beyond the union of two people. This year was an insanely hectic period for the Bucon households as both Chris and his sister Emily married within a span of fewer than three months. Over the past year, life for all of us became an emotional journey. Life rumbles on in this way. We watch the young ones grow older, we feel ourselves age as our bodies regularly ache, and we all become a little more sentimental.
Grandma's Little Pizza Boy is grown now. Chris towers over Grandma, but he is not too tall for a big hug. Both are much older as time has made Chris and Mom examples of life's journey. That weekend, Grandma sat proudly on the front row at the wedding, enveloped in another remarkable moment in her life.
It is no secret to anyone that Chris still loves to cook, always whipping up a great meal for Sami and himself. He is actually pretty good at it from what Sami says. He still does not follow directions to the letter, and he makes a bit of a mess as he did with Grandma. Still, Chris is constantly tasting the food to make sure it is perfect, full of just the right amount of seasoning and plenty of love. Grandma always knew. Chris is always cooking up something special.
Congratulations to Chris and Sami as well as Emily and Michael on your weddings.
They were both wonderful and magical moments for everyone.
I have some exciting news to announce. I also need your help.
I have completed my second book entitled Sunday Mornings with Coffee: Time and Space Retrospective. The past year I have been working on a couple different projects, one of which is a collection of blogs I have written over the past four years. I have polished them for publication and created a thoughtful retrospective for each collection of years.
I am excited to release Sunday Mornings with Coffee this November (fingers crossed), but I want to include YOU in the book as well. Yes, many people who have read the blog have also been part of the posts I have written, but I have this cool idea for something else, something special to me and, hopefully, you.
I have received so much encouragement over the years about the blog. Through writing the retrospective, I realized how blessed I am to have family, friends, students, and peers who appreciate the messages I have included in my posts. Knowing that someone enjoys your creations is a joy to any artist.
I would love to include you directly in the book. If you would like to appear in a comment section of Sunday Mornings with Coffee, please consider writing a couple sentences about the Time and Space blog itself over the past four years. Maybe you would even share some thoughts about a specific blog that moved or inspired you. My goal is to include as many of these throughout the book as possible.
You can share them by commenting on this blog post directly.
You can even share your comment with the blog on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
If you know my phone number, you can even text me.
When do I need them?
I do have a deadline I desperately want to meet and will not add any comments after Monday, October 12th.
Many of you have welcomed me into your lives and shared your experiences with me. For that, I am eternally grateful. I hope you accept this as my way of saying "thank you" as well as inviting you to be a part of an important milestone in my life.
We stand precariously on unstable ground that may crumble beneath our feet at any given time. Sometimes we ask ourselves why we even plan, making a
vain attempt at control of a situation that seems to elude control.
We do stand, though, looking forward because that is our only option.
At times, a fall below the ground where we stand seems inevitable, but there is no hope in anticipating this fall. Hope is linked to the future; it does not exist out of fear for the present.
The first week of school has come and gone. I never dreamt that my
thirtieth year of teaching would commence with a regimen of sanitization,
plastic shielding, and colorful face masks. I could never have anticipated
that I would resign myself to planning for one week at a time for the
I greeted the Class of 2021 with a cautionary enthusiasm, wary of covid
transmission and tentative about beginning an in-class routine which may be
moot should we fall back into distance-learning. Still, I wanted to put a
smile on my face for my students, one that could shine behind a plastic
I began class by putting my figurative "cards on the table." I told all of my classes about the emotions coursing through my body that day. I was beyond excited to be back in school but was concerned that meeting in person may not last long. I shared my fears, explaining that my wearing scrubs allowed me to feel more comfortable going home to my elderly mother. I asked them to help me uphold our safety protocol for not only my sake but for others who were concerned about their health. I dug deeper into how I felt last spring when our worlds changed abruptly and that I am still dealing with the loss of what made teaching so special to me.
I looked at the masked faces sitting in front of me as I wondered whether anyone out there was feeling the same as I did. Did anyone understand? It is so hard to read expressions that are hidden behind multi-patterned masks and dark gaiters. And so we wrote.
I took my new students on a path that began in the here and now. In an impromptu essay entitled "The Road Back," I asked them to write about what they were feeling at this moment. Were their emotions the same as mine? I
turned on Carolina Story's "Wildflowers" for some background music then walked around the room as all of my students wrote. Five minutes later, we journeyed to last spring to examine how they felt not returning to finish their junior year in person. Were they angry? Lost? Happy? Ambivalent? I played Hayes
Carll's "Times Like These," and they wrote even more. We finished the reflection with a final paragraph about their hope for the future as a
really nice version of "Country Roads" by Whitney took us home.
I felt good talking with my students about how our past experiences greatly influence the current state of our hearts and minds. Yes, it is perfectly fine to have all of these different emotions, and, more importantly, it is vital to give them your consideration. The wonderful aspect of this moment was learning that behind their masks many students feel the same as I do about this world right now, and I honestly believe we found some hope for the future together.
This is the YouTube "The Road Back" playlist.
If you have Amazon Prime, this is "The Road Back" playlist.
Check out this episode of What's Up, Buddy? with CCHS senior Spencer Helms.
It is on numerous platforms: Anchor, Spotify, Apply, and Google.
In early April of this year, I wanted to jump-start my yardwork for the summer. Normally I would wait until school was over for the summer, but this year, with Covid-19 and distance learning shutting down my daily physical journey to school, I decided to take a different approach.
My "spring break" had arrived rather unceremoniously. I was already not in school even though I continued to teach the best I could through a collection of programs, videos, and classroom chats on Google Meet. My heart and mind were ready to venture outside for some new scenery, something not emanating from a computer screen.
I hired one of my seniors who was working to make money for college to spread mulch for me. This would save me time for other things I had wanted to do. His father came with him to supervise and lend him a hand, and we began talking about an underdeveloped area beside my porch.
Beneath a nearby pine tree, Mom had this old, decrepit park bench that would break into pieces if a person were to sit on it. I told the father that I was thinking of throwing that piece of junk away as it served no real use. He told me that nothing is junk to him and that I could find a good place for it.
With minimal hesitation, I carefully moved the old bench beside the porch where it rested in the recently spread mulch. I stepped back for a long look into the future then said to the father, "You know, you are right. I can see cleaning the sludge off and putting flowers on here. That would be really nice."
So as spring slowly moved to summer, I would occasionally add more plants there, moving them around until I found just the right amount of sun for each one. I planted marigolds in the barrel planter, nestled pots of impatiens and coleuses around the bench, and repotted discount flowers left for dead at Lowe's.
I watered them all each morning in an effort to keep as many of these plants thriving as long as possible. I continued to clip and replant. I fertilized. Then, like everything in my life, I lost interest. I would forget to water regularly, I worked on my writing, I went on vacation, and I was just not as exuberant midsummer as I was in April.
This weekend, the one before I head back to school, I took a closer, more reflective, look at the state of our little garden by the porch. It was still going strong. The decrepit park bench I nearly threw away was now a backdrop to a beautiful growth of flowers. The entire stretch flourished in the arid August sun beneath the shade of the pine trees. Even though I have seen more expansive displays of flowers throughout the summer, none of them brings me as much joy as this.
At times, we are strangers to events that force us to transition from one stage of our lives to the next. Unfortunately, we tend to be uneasy with these transitions. Moments of exhilaration disappear into those shadowed in mediocrity and despair. Times of uncertainty fade away, revealing those glimmering in hope and promise.
By repurposing old ways with new outlooks, we become our own catalysts for the change we want and need during times when the future may be uncertain. And as the sun sets down the road, we can always take a closer look at our efforts in order to appreciate the choices we have made.
"Jodi, I don't want to freak you out or anything, but water is all over the kitchen floor and running down the hallway!"
On a Monday evening my best friend Jodi and I were sitting on a breezy balcony overlooking the shimmering beach at Hilton Head. We had both finished our first celebratory drink since my arrival to South Carolina earlier that morning. I was closest to the door, and Jodi was too comfortable to replenish our drinks, so I offered to slip back inside for the both of us.
In order to protect the nesting sea turtles at night, visitors are reminded to draw the blinds to prevent light from disrupting the movement of the new hatchlings, sending them inland rather than out to sea. Jodi and I were being overly cautious by turning out all of the lights in addition to closing the blinds. We are both vigilant people who stress over the care of innocent creatures of this world.
As I walked through the dark to the kitchen, I noticed a glistening of light on a one-inch expanding puddle of water across the floor. I paused. "This can't be water," I said to myself as I splashed toward the washing machine where I opened the lid to find Jodi's new cotton throw floating atop a broken washing machine drum overflowing with cold water. I quickly ran back to tell Jodi about my unfortunate discovery.
"What?!?" Jodi gasped as she rushed through the balcony doors, past the living room, and into the kitchen where she braced herself as she assessed the catastrophe unwinding in front of us.
"Why does this always happen to me?" Jodi asked as she pulled hair behind her head. "Can't I get one minute of peace."
I echoed her sentiment with my own. "I wish I could get one moment of peace, too. I swear, let's just do this. This is the last ride this year, Jodi. I am not coming back to visit again."
"Oh, shut up, A.J," she laughed dismissively as she turned off the washing machine. "We need to clean this up."
And, with that, nearly fifty years of friendship sprung into action. Jodi dragged the entry rug and welcome mat away from the front door as I searched the closets for a broom and dustpan. Jodi jumped onto the phone to call the office and security for help while I slushed water with the broom in a vain attempt to encourage the growing pool of water out the front door. Separately, we held the status quo against the water.
An hour later, we found it more advantageous to work together. I grabbed the dustpan to squeegee the water toward Jodi who labored to sweep the waves out the front door. A maintenance man appeared with a bundle of towels, looked around the area, and noted that the two of us had "made real headway." Drenched in sweat, we looked at each other, laughed at him, then grabbed the towels. We threw them around the floor to sop up the remaining spots of water until we finished and collapsed on the couch.
The next day Jodi's son David said he had told his father Vic about the disaster, finding him rather calm about the entire incident. "And what did we learn from this episode?" Vic had asked him.
Jodi chuckled and scoffed, "Well, what did you say in response to that?"
David shrugged. "What are you saying, father? That they should stand in front of the washing machine and watch it?"
Jodi and I laughed about Vic's and David's conversation for the next day or so, even taking pictures of ourselves sitting in front of the washing machine as we watched it intently.
Vic is not incorrect. Of course, he did not mean that we should sit in front of the washing machine or even be in the same room. That is not realistic in a hectic daily life. Perhaps all of us should be aware of life's working parts that grind on endlessly while we sit on our balconies.
If we know anything about the times in which we live, storms are always in front of us or behind us. We can watch as storms approach, preparing ourselves as we brace for impact. We can rally around one another when the storms arrive and help to clean up once they leave. We do not have to sit on our balconies oblivious to the notion that they may arrive, but we do not need to worry incessantly over a storm that has yet to arrive and may very well not at all.
Moments we see hurtling our direction fill our lives, and we are unable to avoid them regardless of our emotional preparation or bastions of security. There are numerous events we sense developing over long periods which we never address with any urgency, for we always believe we have time, plenty of time. There are also those incidents in our lives that strike us from our blind side, those that leave us wondering why we never considered anything like this could ever happen.
We know all of this yet seem surprised when any one of these situations occurs. While many people complain and fret over how our world has changed, others become more reflective, often searching for some meaning in whatever pain, suffering, or inconvenience which has attached itself to our lives. Once full of beating rhythms, a constant shuffle of steps, and a breathing list of anticipated milestones, life now spins to a stop as we long for a return to normalcy. In our minds, we know that normal is farther away than we can imagine.
I felt Friday, March 13th, coming. I was not surprised when this day arrived, but I could not believe how it just slid right into our lives, turning our world sideways. Meeting as a faculty for two hours that morning to discuss whatever preparations we could make for a possible school closure because of the coronavirus pandemic did little to prepare me for the moment when the principal would make the closing announcement later that morning. I was even less prepared for my juniors and seniors who came to class throughout the day. Each brought a challenging gamut of emotions, a unique set of individual concerns, and a definitive degree of uncertainty regarding the shift in whatever routine or normalcy they had in their lives.
Cup your hands under a running faucet of warm water. Do your best to keep your hands and fingers closed tightly together while letting the water flow over the top into the sink below. Move your cupped hands slowly from the faucet while maintaining the tightness in your hands to prevent any water from slipping through the crevices. The water you try desperately to keep dribbles out of the cracks only to spiral down the drain. That is how I felt that day, how my seniors felt.
My seniors tossed many questions my way, but I could only offer uncomfortable hope and reassurance despite having no answers to allay their fears. Second-semester senior year and the usual rites of passage afforded generations of seniors before them seemed to be slowly seeping through the seniors' tightly clenched hands. The dreams and expectations of their transition from high school into the real world appear to be disappearing ever since the real world landed hard on their doorstep.
When we have lost something, we worry. Initially, we write personal narratives about life being unfair and never going the way we want it to go. On that Friday, I selfishly wondered about how inconvenienced my life was going to be. I worried about the changes I would have to make to my plans and teaching style to convert to "distance learning." Anxiety bubbled over while I contemplated a loss of freedom to come and go as I pleased. Eventually, emotion gives way to reason through an understanding of the severity of the situation.
In the grand scope of a pandemic, my worries are inconsequential to the lives of people who have contracted the virus or whose family members who have fallen ill and perhaps even died. My problems are negligible to the concerns of doctors and nurses who care for the sick and business owners the government has identified as non-essential and closed. We all have the ability to check ourselves, replacing fear, anger, and frustration with perspective, reasoning, and empathy.
Reality settled uncomfortably in my life over the next few weeks. I attempted to strike a balance watching news alerts and press conferences on the pandemic, continually checking in on social media, and completing my long-distance teaching work. One aspect of my life I pushed aside was my spiritual well-being; I chose to busy myself with the other three in the hope that any sadness, regret, or anxiety would eventually fade. My heart kept revisiting my classes, particularly my seniors who continued to complete their assignments in Classcraft Quest or Google Classroom. I missed them.
I began to revisit moments throughout the year that remained in my heart. I remembered the newness of the classroom at the beginning of the year and the eager faces of students I greeted at the door. I heard the applause of students who eagerly anticipated the next Random Event in Classcraft and the complaints of students who are not particularly "artsy" whenever we would do scrapfolios. I shrugged off the embarrassment I felt when the students yelled my name at games but treasured the time one of my students left a CCHS cowbell on my desk to ring during the next football game. I shared the pride of completing a research paper or a long book as well as the loss, the confusion, and the anxiety they felt March 13th and the days following. I relived my year-long experiences with the hard workers, the jokers, the quiet ones, the confused, the texting-under-the-desk ones, the sleepy ones, the kind ones, and the lunch crew. All of them. That is my life as a teacher: meeting my students where they are to the best of my ability, finding common ground to create a learning community, and establishing a safe place for all to discover potential and feel a connection. Yeah, I miss them.
I have been asking myself what I hope to gain from stranding myself in the past while being constantly worried about what I am missing or what the next day will bring. Quite honestly, I am struggling to put this all together in one convenient thought or perspective. I know that at times I have not been as grateful or invested in those ordinary moments, forgetting that they disappear with the click of the second hand on a clock. I know that at times I vainly struggle with controlling my path to the future, believing that if I work hard, follow the rules, and live right that the future will be as I desire. I know that there is a vast world outside of mine with people whose problems are much more severe than mine are to me.
I stand in front of the faucet as the water falls into my cupped hands. I need to recognize the reality that this water is never going to remain in my hands. I can appreciate it while it is there, feeling the warmth of the water on my skin or raising it to my lips to drink. Once it is gone, I can always return my hands beneath the faucet to replenish that which I once had. Ultimately the most significant part of all of this is how I choose to live life. I can continue to be angry, bitter, and afraid, or I can remind myself that there are parts of our lives that are never guaranteed. The noblest choices are to remain optimistic despite all odds and to cherish that which experience has afforded us. We should pray and be kind to one another, continuing to do the best we can with the understanding that the world is not always going to be as we wish it could be.
This is my first promo for a blog. I am proud that it captures some of the feelings I have been experiencing these past few weeks.
I am going follow this post with a What's Up, Buddy? podcast on Monday, March 30th. I hope you can listen.
Nothing really surprises me anymore as a teacher. I tell my high school students that I have heard about every "story" or "reason" for homework not being completed, for projects remaining incomplete weeks removed from a due date. Nothing surprises me. I have learned to roll with the explanations students offer me as they hope that something will stick.
"Having said that," I explain to those empty-handed teenagers in front of me, "I would still like to see this finished. How much more time do you need? How can I help you?" Inevitably, that which is incomplete is completed; those that are lost find their way.
The past month has been different in my English IV classes. I have been incredibly surprised, and I am at loss for words. That's a new one for me. Nothing bad is happening in Room 304; life is actually the opposite for this teacher and his students.
I met Sam Hill over Christmas break this year. My Kindle offered his story as a free download for a short time, and I wanted a good read over break. I needed a book to take me somewhere beyond the daily grind of reading analysis papers and poorly written vocabulary sentences. I needed a book destined to remind me that despite the precarious nature of life, I can still experience something extraordinary if my vision is clear.
Robert Dugoni's novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is the story of Sam Hill, a man who was born with ocular albinism, a condition that affects the pigment of the eyes. Imagine going through school in the 1960's with red eyes and having classmates rename you as "Sam Hell." Throughout his novel Dugoni transports the reader from the present day to the past and back again as Sam relives life experiences in order to understand the person he has become. Sam's life is at times a spiritual struggle as he explores his purpose in life. Robert Dugoni has created a thoughtful novel which at times is a reflection on morality, kindness, faith, and God.
Over several weeks after Christmas break I nonchalantly showed individual seniors in my English IV class the paperback copy of the book, all 428 glorious pages of it, until everyone in my classes had a chance to read the compelling back cover then leaf through the book.
"Oh, yeah. I think this will be good."
"It is awfully long, but this sounds like it will be interesting."
"It's huge. How are we going to read all of this?"
"That cover is so cool. Is his name really Sam Hell?"
"Is there a movie about this?
As I said earlier, I have heard just about everything in my thirty years of teaching, so none of this surprised me at all. I was hesitant to even begin ordering The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell out of fear that my students would absolutely hate it, and I would be shackled with tediously dragging a bunch of teenagers through 428 pages of the book. This could become a nightmare for all of us.
However, I had faith that my students would find the character of Sam Hill and his friends Mickie and Ernie as compelling as I did. I had faith that Sam's story, as full of eye-opening reality as a teacher can take in a classroom, would connect with young people who may have experienced the same issues of acceptance, relationships, isolation, bullying, faith, and death as Sam does throughout this novel. I had faith that they would understand the messages that Dugoni is expressing through the lives of his characters.
A month later the teacher in me has been experiencing truly "extraordinary" moments as I have attempted to pace the reading of the book as I normally do every other novel I have ever "taught." I have always enjoyed reading to students in class to help them become acclimated to the novel, the characters, the plot, themes, and the author's writing style; I did so throughout the first two parts of the book, but then I began encountering these types of excuses:
"Mr. Bucon, I hope you aren't mad, but I have been reading ahead."
"Sorry but I read the next three chapters. Am I in trouble?"
"Quiet, Mr. Bucon. It is Sustained Silent Reading!"
"I have finished Part Three already. I cannot put this down."
"This may be my favorite book ever."
"Are you sure there isn't a movie about this?"
We just finished a "test" of sorts on Friday about Part Five of the book and only have two parts remaining this week. As a teacher, the experience of a class becoming so enraptured by a novel like this is one which I will not soon forget. They are a wonderful group enjoying a truly wonderful novel.
At the girls basketball game last Friday night, JB and Michael, two students in my eighth period, ventured over to sit beside me at halftime and never left. Guess what. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell came up. "So, Mr. Bucon," JB began, "What is going to happen with Sam and David Bateman?"
"Do you really want me to tell you? I don't mind."
"No. No. Don't tell me. I want to be surprised. Is it good though?"
I smiled, shrugged my shoulders, then looked at Michael who sat silently beside JB and me. He is probably one of those kids who read ahead and does not want to tell me. He doesn't like to get into trouble.