Lost in the Undergrowth

Last night, I killed a cockroach that was crawling out of the sink drain.  Maybe it was an omen of what was to come.

Nights have been harder than I expected.  My shoulders, neck, and jaw are constantly tense and I can’t get comfortable on the bed even though I brought my own fancy pillows.  Regardless of what time I drift off to sleep, my eyes open at 6 sharp every morning.  Exhausted mid day, I try to take a nap, but 10-15 minutes pass by before I roll onto my right side to try and loosen up my back muscles and shoulders, and I can’t so I get up and try to do something else.  My mind has a grip on my body and it’s holding on tighter than I expected.

The lady I rent from left a binder of places to go and things to do.  I decided on an early morning hike this morning 8 miles away from the cottage.  The directions she left seemed simple enough and I copied them down.  The hiking spot was along the French Broad River.  After my breakfast and a cup of coffee, I got dressed and put on my hiking shoes.  Lucy hopped in the car with me and off we went.  “Edgy” is a good word to describe how I was feeling when I saw the first yellow sign indicating the road had multiple curves.  My solar plexus and the area between my shoulder blades had an odd, fearful energy.  Everything was tensing up, vibrating, and humming internally at the same time.  I ignored the sensations and pushed on through.  “All part of the mountain experience,” I reminded myself.

Curve.  Fear.  Second curve.  Fear.  Ascent.  Fear.  Descent.  Fear.  Curve.  Curve.  Curve.  Fear.  My butt muscles clenched.  A ripple ran through my solar plexus down into my rib cage, seizing hold of my breath.  I exhaled when I came to a small post office. I pulled into the parking lot and yelled at Lucy for her whimpering and pacing in the far back seat, out of reach for me to pet her or pinch her neck.

FullSizeRenderOnce I got my bearings and was reassured by the young man behind the counter that I had the right directions, I got back onto the highway and found what I assumed was the hiking spot she wrote about (turns out her directions lack detail and description).  I was at Alexander River Park and there were parking spaces and two gravel roads, one to the left and one to the right, leading down to the river.  She recommended the left loop, so I took the left gravel road.  There I was met with heavy underbrush and a small trail about 1 foot in width.  Even though this is supposedly a populated dog walking area, no one was in sight.  Wild thoughts rushed through my mind as the current rushed over the boulders.  “Will I be raped or murdered?”  “Will the story of my disappearance by on 48 Hours or some other crime scene investigation show?”  Fear crept up my spine and cinched around my midsection.  My dog was a hot mess too, turning in circles and getting tripped up in the underbrush and in her leash.

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It took less than a minute to get down near the river.  True, the scenic view was gorgeous:  mist rising off the river and fog lifting off the gray-green mountains.    The scene was less than peaceful to the ear, however.  The river moved so quickly and ramped over boulders and folded over itself.  The sound was amplified by chittering birds, chirping insects, rushing cars on the highway right above me.  The overgrowth in some areas was as tall as me and it seemed like only a machete could clear it.  And even though I could see my car through the weeds, they seemed to crowd in on me and cut short my breath.

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Fear became replaced with anger as I walked towards the car.  Beer cans, trash bags, and other random junk were scattered around.  I watched Lucy try and negotiate through the jungle of weeds and my anger became directed at myself:  “What if she gets ticks all over her and dies of Lyme disease?”  “What if that small growth on her shoulder that I didn’t get checked out before we left is cancer and she dies before my time here is over?”  Tears pooled up at the edges of my eyes.  I stepped to a clearing and tried to breathe slow, deep, calming breaths and watch the current float by me.  The current was faster than my breath and I tried to force the beautiful but fierce scene into a serene and healing one.  It wasn’t working.  Obviously.

So I cried instead.  Too bad I didn’t take the opportunity to scream like a banshee or wail like a lost soul, but I was still holding on to my fears and feeling self-conscious that I would be discovered by locals who thought I was a crazy woman.  Instead, I just let the tears stream down my face.  I crossed my arms over my chest and said quietly and repeatedly, “I’m so scared.  I’m so scared.  I just want to go home, but I don’t even have a real home to go to.”  As I cried more, Lucy sat there and looked up at me.  I collected myself before I “lost it” (although, I think I would have felt better had I unleashed my fear and anger).  We walked back to the car and I felt relief.  A little lighter.  A little more rational and sane.  I texted my sister again and told her briefly of my “crappy” experience and then just sat for a moment.

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The drive back to the cottage was uneventful.  The twisty curves were more manageable and smoother.  I was headed back to the cottage.  My “home base” so to speak.  I started thinking how people keep telling me I’m so brave for having set out on this adventure.  If they could see me now they may question their statements.  This rawness and vulnerability are strange and scary and to be truthful, I don’t really like this feeling or this experience all that much today.

Maybe being brave is about the recognition of fear within us as it’s happening?  Maybe being brave is about letting fear live alongside us but not allowing it to rule us?  Maybe being brave is about using fear as a tool to highlight the fragmented, shadow pieces of ourselves, giving us an opportunity to find that gap where the jagged piece goes in to the ever enlarging puzzle of ourselves?  As I type this, I can honestly tell you I don’t know.  I haven’t fully ridden out the wave of that fear that seized me this morning.  It keeps morphing from fear, to anger, to sadness, to loneliness, to confusion, to whatever else is lying awake inside of me, ready to strike.

All I know is that I am here and I will keep following the trails inside and outside of me until the path clears again.

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A Permission Slip

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I’ve been institutionalized now for 35 years.

It all started when I was sent to kindergarten at the sweet age of 4 1/2 (before the cutoff dates started).  And it has lasted up to this point as a 40 year old adult teaching English at a public high school.  Throughout these 35 years, I have felt at times like I was in a straight jacket – mostly because I chose to be the straight-laced kid who followed the rules, got good grades, did as my teachers and parents asked, and strived to be the best student in the whole entire school, or the state, the country, the world, nay, the universe.  And I put that burden on myself as a teacher, too.

Stirring inside of me, however, was (and still is) a rebellious, free-spirited, creative soul longing for self-expression and connection.  A longing to live sensually.  To touch, taste, smell, see, hear the bounties of the earth and then artistically share the experience with others.  To tap into emotions and open the heart and feel everything as deeply and fully and passionately as possibly and then release it to the universe with gratitude so as to keep experiencing the richness of the inner and outer world.  To tread lightly (and preferably barefoot) on moss covered earth.  To sink into the muddy earth on a hot summer day and let the mud squish and smear all over me.  Then to dip into a cool stream after the sun has baked me and feel the weight of the mud (the weight of the world) slip off of my skin as the water cleanses my body.  To dance like a wild gypsy.  To sing and play like a child.  To laugh like a cackling old crone who then tosses off her cloak to reveal a goddess.  To draw.  To write.  To create.  And to steal from my hero Henry David Thoreau: “. . . to live deep and suck out all the marrow in life.”

Yet, I chose to play it safe.  Forces within me and forces outside of me kept telling me “Not yet” or “You’re creativity and ideas are too much for others to handle.” “You’ll be laughed at.”  “You’ll be taken advantage of.”  “People in our part of the world don’t act or think or talk or dress or express themselves like that.  Hold it in and one day you can release it.”

These safety measures are no longer working for me.

I’m re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear.  The woman doesn’t mince words, and I’m grateful for that.  One of the chapters is titled “Permission” and she mentions how it is our God-given write as human beings to be creative and live in a way that best supports that creativity.  That is our permission slip.  No need for validation.  (By the way, creative living doesn’t only apply to self-proclaimed artists, writers, musicians.  It’s for anyone who wants to march to the beat of their own drum and do what lights them up and follow the threads of their own curiosity.)  She writes about creative entitlement in a positive light:  “Creative entitlement doesn’t mean behaving like a princess, or acting like the world owes you anything whatsoever.  No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that -merely by being here- you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”  Now that’s some powerful stuff.  I want in on that.  I’m taking the sentiment of her words as my metaphorical permission slip from the universe to get busy living a life I’ve always imagined.

A good friend told me once that when you free yourself, you free others.  That may be true, but I honestly believe that when you free yourself, when you give yourself permission to be a creative force in the universe and to unearth hidden jewels buried deep inside of you, then your life becomes a playground, a treasure hunt, an epic quest filled with adventure, a life worth living.  If it inspires others, so be it.  But, I’m starting to learn you don’t have to live for other people’s sake.  You don’t truly need permission to tap into who you are at your very core.  You’ve been meant to discover that all along.  This post isn’t about asking for permission from others.  It isn’t even a way to reassure myself (or convince myself) that I am allowed to listen to my inner voice of strength, of intuition, of love. (Ok, maybe it is just a little bit.)  If this post inspires others to begin unlocking hidden doors within themselves and following their path of creative living, then I’m really lucky to have been a part of that.  And finally, this post isn’t about showing how I’m no more or less worthy than any other person.  It’s just my time that’s all.

It’s my time to breathe fully and release what is no longer serving the person I’ve transformed into.  My time to take off the tightly woven, itchy sweater of my life that is constraining and blocking my creative, sensual, earthy, talent-filled flow.  And that’s scary because what I’m saying to the universe is:  “Destroy so I can rebuild.”  The earth is already quaking under my feet and all those inner and outer doubting voices are getting louder in my mind and in my daily encounters.  But, so is the urge to destroy so I can rebuild.

I’ve decided to give myself permission to let it all crumble down, burn up, shape-shift, wash away, dissolve.  For, there really is nothing to be scared of.  (In theory.  In practice I’m still a scaredy-cat some of the time.  But that’s Ok.)  When we pull weeds or cut back old growth in our garden, new and glorious living things arise and flourish.  When we clean out our closets we open more space for new things to come in. When we toss things on the compost pile, organic material later nourishes our flower and vegetable beds.  When blossoms scatter to the winds, fruit ripens and glistens in the sun.

I want to glisten in the sun.

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Let It Burn

A few weeks ago during my break, I took a walk in the woods behind the school I teach at.  I was feeling a bit disconnected and despondent.  Questions filled my heart and mind:  What is my purpose?  What are my real hopes and dreams?  Will I ever receive my heart’s desire?  What really is my heart’s desire?  Heavy stuff to contemplate on a cold, dreary Thursday afternoon.

I bent down near the stream to listen to the trickling water.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  Out of nowhere, I heard what sounded like thunder and rain moving my way.  I looked up to the sky and above I saw a gaggle of geese flying low.  It was their wings and the wind making that noise.  As they flew towards and over me, I could hear the wind shift and their wings adjust.  The geese were silent, but the rushing air and the flapping wings filled up the sky and jarred me out of self-pity.  My heart swelled and wildness rushed through me and took my breath away.  Before I could name what happened to me, a passing cloud, in the shape of a heart rolled over my head.

A few days later, as I sat in meditation in the early morning before the sun was awake, I heard a voice deep inside of me echo:  “Let your dreams die.”  My hips and low back had been aching for about a week and I was suppressing all those questions that had been gnawing at me that day in the woods.  I told the voice to get silent so I could meditate and find peace and comfort.  But still I kept hearing it tell me to “Let your dreams die.”

I then visualized my vision board that I kept in my closet.  Written in precise words and on small, colorful notecards were all the things I have been wanting to manifest in my life such as career and writing options and nice things for my house.  I had even gone so far with my vision board to write down, in detail, the type of man I wanted for my romantic partner.  To add to this dream of the “perfect mate,” I had taken friends’ advice and cleaned out my closet and arranged my house and garage so he could one day “move in” because I had prepared room for him.  As I have spent the past few years watching friends either date, get married, and have children, I kept telling myself that one day, if I worked hard enough at manifesting and creating specific ideals on my vision board, this all too would happen for me.  True Love would come to me if I just paved the way for it.

Returning back to my meditation, my hips ached more and my jaw clenched as I kept hearing the phrase “Let your dreams die.”  Finally, I got brave and asked my body, “What is it you are trying to tell me?  I will listen.  I am tired of this sadness, grief, and pain.  What do you really want me to do?”  Again, the voice repeated, “Let your dreams die.”  I opened up to the words and felt a melting in my hips and a release in my back.  I knew that was the truth.  I peeked into the cave of my heart and saw that these dreams were constricting me.  I may never have a life that looks like what my friends and family and other women around me have.  I may never fit in and conform to what I think is a woman’s role:  to get married and be a mother.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  There’s not.  It’s a very beautiful way to live.  I totally admire it so much to the point that I long for it.  But, it hasn’t happened for me, and in that moment of my meditation I realized that it may never happen for me.  I had to let my dreams die to find out what else is inside of me and being attracted to me.  Grief poured over me.  Some way, some how, I would have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I will never have the love and support of a strong man or the tenderness and beauty of a small child to hold in my arms.

I folded over in supplication.  I begged God to help me understand this grief.  I also felt a sense of relief wash over me.  A sense of wildness and freedom burst through my heart similar to that moment the geese flew over me a few days before.  Love welled up inside of me and then it passed.  I came out of meditation bewildered and in awe.

Later that afternoon, I met a good friend, Robyn, for coffee.  I shared with her my story and she smiled.  She has been telling me for awhile now how creative, romantic, and spiritual I really am and she said that she senses I’ve only shown about 20% of that to others.  I agreed whole-heartedly with her on that.  I’ve been holding a lot of what is inside of me back in fear that I would look like a hippie, fruitcake to others and be rejected.  Going against the grain is something I have always been called towards, but for whatever reasons (too many to list here), I alone have held myself back.  I’ve made society’s dreams for me my dreams and have had comparative financial and social success in my life because of that.  I think part of my grief is that I’m realizing the life I’ve built is beautiful and comfortable, but it’s not enough.  It’s containing and restraining me.

Robyn put a different spin on my “Let your dreams die” experience.  She told me to release my beautiful weirdness into the world.  To turn on the light in my heart bright enough for everyone to see.  She said, “Burn that damn list.  Burn it.  Take back your closet.  Your garage.  Your house.  Fill up your life with you.  You’re enough.”  She suggested that maybe the dreams I’ve written for myself are too small as well.  She counseled that once I let my “freak flag fly” and become vulnerable, love, in all its many forms, will find me.  Not the other way around.

The next morning, after meditation, my intuition told me to “Let it burn.”  Without questioning my actions, I built a fire in my fireplace, and placed a few leaves of sage in there as well.  I placed my vision board in front of the fire screen.  I played Dave Stringer’s kirtan song of “Shiva Namah Om.”  As the rhythmic, tribal chant began, I started to dance like lord Shiva (the destroyer) himself.  I moved sensually, rhythmically, and twirled and shook.  I let out my grief, anger, and confusion and transformed into a Gypsy woman filled with sensuality and passion.  I danced to the fire’s embers.  My hips undulated with the drums.  My arms snaked with the percussive shakers and flutes.  My feet began to stamp out all of the things in my life that weren’t serving me.  Without thinking I got down to my knees and began to metaphorically pull on the fire’s power of destruction and purification.  My body told the fire:  Burn me like the phoenix.  Burn my dreams and take my pain away.  Burn everything that is not serving me.  Let it all burn.

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As the song faded away, I began to weep.  Calm and exhausted, I felt a great sense of openness in my heart and release in my body.  I moved the fire screen away, and slowly began to take off each notecard on the vision board and toss it into the fire, watching my dreams burn.  When I got to my detailed list of my true love, I cried.   This was the moment.  The crossing of the threshold.  Once I let it burn, I would be admitting to the Universe that I realized no longer did I have imaginary control over who or what is to come my way.

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The paper curled and changed to an ash gray in the fire.  It was over.  I was free.

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The rest of the day I cleaned out my closet, took up my space, took back my house.  I found a treasure I had bought a long time ago when I lived in Mexico for a summer.  It is a hand-crafted terra cotta clay sun painted with bright colors.  At the top of the sun’s forehead, is the sun and moon in an embrace.  I smiled, knowing that my sun, my radiant heart, my desires, and my emotions all were in balance.

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This story is my beautiful weirdness.  My heart light is on.  I am open.  I am shining as brightly as I know how.  I am enough.

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Where Do They Go?

A colleague and I talked this afternoon at lunch about recycling, composting, gardening, walking barefoot at work on our breaks, and our love for avocados and that sweet, short time they are ripe enough to eat.  As she was deliberating what in our office could get recycled, she shared with me the fact that maybe 30% of plastics get recycled, although we who recycle believe it all goes to the magical recycling factory nearby and gets put to good use as someone’s new water bottle, birdhouse, or even fancy, light-weight tennis shoes.  That bummed me out, but she said there’s hope.  There are scientists and inventors out there thinking outside of the box trying to figure out our waste and consumption problem and what to create out of recycled materials such as hard plastics.

After seeing the documentary, Dirt, about our use and abuse of this green earth, I have been trying hard to become a little more conscientious of my daily treatment of mother Gaia.  I started a compost pile (that is now too hard for me to turn and I better invest in a pitchfork or a fancy rolling bin), kept up my recycling, and started picking up trash in my neighborhood as I walk my dog.  And there’s always stuff to pick up and recycle, throw away, or compost:  milk jugs, McDonald’s containers, rubber bands, soda cans, cereal boxes, cardboard egg cartons, rotting apples, peach pits, plastic bags, and tampons with dispensers (I admit, I left that one in the street for about 3 days before I finally got brave and picked it up with paper towels and a leftover sandwich bag I found on the ground).

It’s very easy, and quite understandable, to ignore the little things we see around us because we’re so focused on running here and there and doing this and that.  And I put myself in the category of doing the ecologically sound thing out of convenience and cost for me.  We say to ourselves:  My life seems fairly clean and orderly enough.  How can the world be in such a mess and in pain when my home, my car, my job, my neighborhood are functioning fairly decently, minus a few bits of trash, bills, annoyances and mini-dramas along the way?  The problems are out there in other parts of the world.  Nothing has changed too much here, and though that either comforts me, frustrates me, or confuses me, at least my life has some consistency and order.  But, I can no longer fully go back into that hazy state of thinking.  And here’s why:  I have been feeling disconnected to others and my surroundings lately.  That worries me because there’s nothing more that I long for than a sense of feeling connected, grounded, and a part of this world.

I walk my dog in the evening and I try to listen to the breeze blowing through the whispering pines and instead I hear the sirens of police cars, fire trucks or ambulances.  I look up into the sky to admire the moon and stars and get fixated on the numerous planes that fly over my neighborhood to and from the airport or the Air Force base nearby.  I try to look at the wild geese that have gathered on the frozen lake and my view is blocked by 2 story houses with three car garages that have wooden fences surrounding them.  I tear up when I see the carcasses of raccoons, squirrels, and the occasional deer scattered and smashed on the busy streets as we drive over or around them.  My heart gets heavy when I see deer foraging in the muddied farmer’s field that is soon to be stripped away by yet another QuikTrip or Circle K gas station to compete with the BP or MotoMart gas station across the street.  Where do all the wild things go as we quickly and aggressively encroach on their land to build more Walgreens, Targets, Ikeas, bike shops, hiking shops, restaurants, bars and wine stores and more new stuff to divert us from simply being?

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Where do the birds go when the oaks, the maples, the pines, the hickories, the sycamores, the walnuts, and all the brushes and vines are torn down to make way for the new chiropractic office, the Center for Fecal Incontinence or the Kidney Dialysis of Southern Illinois take their place?  We think we are ill because there’s more stress in this world, but we are stressing ourselves out because there is less of the natural world out there to help us connect to the natural world inside ourselves.

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Where do the worms, the daddy-long legs, the garden spiders, the fish, the frogs, the butterflies, and the bees go when we rip up the ground and dig up native grasses and plants to put in field upon field of annual wheats and corns that strip the land of nutrients, are sprayed with chemicals that get into our water system, and lead to soil erosion?  We eat our processed food from a package and forget that food actually comes from the land.  We stop tasting and keep consuming in hopes that we will one day be full enough and happy enough and unstressed enough to enjoy a moment of sunshine on our faces or a bite of a juicy peach.

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In the meantime, our very guides and teachers of the natural world who can lead us to that mysterious and elusive point of soul within us are leaving us as quickly as we are leaving them.

What, then, can we do to help ourselves reconnect to our very essence that is natural and soulful?  I think the answer lies in going outside to get inside ourselves.  Be in nature and really start listening, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching all that is around us.  Go past the strip malls and search for a beautiful clearing of the meadow and woodlands that are still there and are lit up by the setting sun.  Listen deeper to the whispering pine and the playful breeze as they have a conversation above the competing sirens and mufflers.  Buy a piece of fruit or vegetable from the farmer’s stand or grocery store and eat it with great attention and reverence.  While you’re at the stoplight, watch as a hawk swiftly and gracefully dives from a telephone pole and circles the nearby field in search of prey.

And if we’re really bold and brave, we will wake up from our dream (or is it a nightmare?) and stay awake long enough to do the small things that can help the world.  Build the community garden you’ve been talking about.  Enroll in a local gardening club or nature course.  Save your money and buy that big churning compost bin off of Amazon.  Continue to pick up trash around your neighborhood.  Feed the birds in your backyard and keep the native trees and shrubs and perennials around your perimeter instead of opting for a fancy fence.  Buy more food that is locally sourced.  Contact your local government and find out information on city ordinances on using prairie grass in your yard’s landscape.  For if we all do small things to take care of our wild nature (both within and without ourselves), we will start building up enough consciousness, mindfulness, self-healing and love to build a less disconnected community of bored and emotionally unfulfilled people to a more heart-centered, unique and creative collective of individuals who feel more like a family that is willing to take care of our ailing Mother Earth.

 

Love Is Tough

Witnessing someone in pain is difficult.

You aren’t sure what to do.  What to say.  Exactly how to act.

You provide a moment of safe space for that person to simply vent his frustration.  You think you are just being there for him, but then you walk away realizing his funk has now become yours.  Or his anger is stuck on you.  Your hips ache.  Your shoulders are tight.  It feels like some type of green slime has been smeared over your body and you feel sticky and stuck.

What do you do?  You’re now in pain.  Someone’s suffering has become your suffering.

Offer him tough love.  Or love yourself enough to get tough and shield yourself from the green goo of misplaced emotions that is starting to ooze in your direction.images

What does that look like?  It all depends, I guess.  I watched a friend give some tough love to his students today.  He was so angry with a group of freshmen students who made fun of someone’s “weirdness” yesterday.  They mocked him.  Teased him for his differences.  And my friend spent 2 hours of his work time counseling this student, getting him some help, watching this student rage, curse, and cry his way to a physical, mental, and emotional breakdown.

My friend was drained and needed to eat lunch so I agreed to spend the first part of my lunch hour in his room so he could eat.  I walked in the room and he started his class with a powerful, passionate, articulate speech about the treatment of a person who is going through a difficult time.  He reminded his students that it is his job to protect and take care of his students, and that means not just each of them individually, but students at this school collectively.  I can’t even begin to capture his words he so eloquently said to them, but by the end students’ heads were hanging in shame and you could feel how their emotions shifted from animosity to embarrassment to love – love for the individual who was mocked and love for their teacher who cared enough to be so bold and straightforward with them while revealing his authentic emotions in the moment.  It was beautiful.  And it was tough love in its fiercest and purest form.

I left his classroom later that hour with an open heart and a desire to be authentic.

I also knew that if my heart was open, I needed to carry an imaginary shield to fend of the emotional goo of others.  I didn’t want to get sucked into a deep, dark hole of someone else’s suffering, fear, rage, or sadness.  There’s enough of my own pain that I must tend to on occasion anyway.

I didn’t want to do battle, but I didn’t want to be in an open field during hunting season either.

How can openness and protection go hand in hand?

I guess it comes with acknowledging the other person, first and foremost.

After subbing for my friend’s class, I ate a quick lunch and joined another teacher for hall duty.  We stand out in front of the cafeteria during a lunch period and keep the herd from going out to pasture before the bell rings.

One student needed to go to his locker.  He was of Middle-Eastern origin and was wearing a black sweatshirt that read “Palestine vs. The World.”  He was not in dress code, so I asked him to remove his sweatshirt.  He was visibly angry, but decided not to test us, so he removed it.  I told him I would escort him to his locker (kids aren’t allowed to leave the area without a pass from another teacher).  He tried to antagonize me verbally.  I put up my shield and smiled genuinely at him.  He didn’t really know how to react to that.

He asked about my sweatshirt I was wearing.  It has our school’s diversity club logo on it.  Our club is called “Harambee” which means “Let’s all pull together” in Swahili.  I mentioned it to him and that I am one of the sponsors of the club.  He asked a bit about it and I told him some of the fun activities we do and our annual show we put on for the school and the public.  I then asked him about his sweatshirt.  He got embarrassed and said he wasn’t really sure what it meant, but that his older brother wears it and his brother is angry all the time and very political.

We talked about the possible connotations of the sweatshirt and how others may view it as well.  He said, “I really didn’t know what it could mean.  I guess it seems a little aggressive, doesn’t it?”  I said, “Probably at this time in the world’s trials, yes, but it is also a statement of pain and misunderstanding.”  He just shook his head in contemplation.  We started our walk back to the cafeteria after he grabbed what he needed from his locker and put his sweatshirt away.  I asked him if he had family from Palestine, and he told me he was born there and goes back every year to celebrate Ramadan with his grandparents and aunts and uncles.

He got so excited to share about his culture and was even more excited that I knew what Ramadan is and some of the customs that go along with it.  I asked him if he spoke Arabic (his English was flawless with no trace of an accent).  He smiled really big and said, “Yes.”  I told him I knew a few words, and he asked me what I knew.  I smiled and said, “Asalam alaikum” (which loosely translated means “Allah’s (or God’s) peace to you”).  He grabbed my hand in true Arabic fashion, pressed his other hand on top of mine and said, “Alaikum asalam” (“Peace be unto you as well”).

Before I sound too emotionally gooey here, know that after that a butthead freshman came along and tested my limits.  He was rude, crude, and obnoxious, and I wasn’t so open and understanding with him.  I got tough and let him get himself in trouble.  I wrote him up and realized that I couldn’t get through to him because he didn’t want to reach out to me.  Not my problem.  I chose love of myself for this one and put on my Wonder Woman bracelets and became a brick wall that he could only bounce off of.  The job of “getting through to him” would come later, from someone else.  Until then, he could go sit with his anger and animosity in the office, away from me and other kids who don’t have the skill to shake off his negative vibes.imgres

And the day kept rolling on like that:  open my heart, smile, use my words, protect with shield, or deflect with Wonder Woman bracelets.  Each student’s energy determining what form of love I would show to them, and to myself.imgres-1