(297) Darkness Speaks

This morning began in darkness. At 5:20 I awoke after over 9 hours of sleep and slipped out on to the lanai. There I was greeted by the brilliance of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars.

I thought about the surrounding darkness. My need for the woods. The poems I encountered this week that had to do with darkness and trees and finding our place in the world. And on being enough.

I thought of my ungrounded feeling and how much I longed to be like Sandra Bullock at the end of the movie Gravity when she finally gets to earth. How heavy her body must have felt. How utterly animalistic it must have felt to breathe in the musty dark soil.

I don’t feel tethered to the earth right now. I feel spacy and floating.

Then I remembered my study of When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. She says:

We long to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but we’ve tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us…We’re all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away….Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something…We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope and hope robs us of the present moment…Hopelessness is the basic ground…Begin the journey without hope of getting ground under your feet. Begin with hopelessness.  (pgs. 40-43)

The above describes me completely. In reading just a few short pages, I felt relief. I have been hoping for something different to happen. What I need is to give up that hope. What I need to do is stay in the present moment. Discern what is obvious. I can count several ways I have NOT done that the last few weeks in an effort to appease hope.

Once again, I say NO MORE.

Ye Tang Che.  Utter hopelessness. Complete exhaustion.

**

I did a lot more writing in my journal, with a clearer head and in an effort to discern my direction, given everything I know.  One of the questions I asked myself was What is my most believed thought?

Several answers came:

I believe in meeting students where they are.

I believe in project-based learning.

I believe in having language come alive — we need more of that.

I believe the social aspects need more emphasis in middle school — it is a constant battle to have the students act with any level of civility.

I believe in success for every student based on where they start, not on a pre-conceived measure for all.

This led me to spontaneously writing a vision for my classroom:

In this classroom we do not race to a finish line. We walk, trot, run together. We assist those who need it. We do not make others feel inadequate or unsafe. We form a team with the express purpose to learn together — not the same things exactly — but growing in knowledge based on our own minds. We can all create. We can all contribute. Every piece is needed and is valued.

This comes as a response to many conversations I have had with colleagues, and from things I’ve heard in meetings.  Over and over we hear about documenting progress on the standards and about the learning targets for each grade level. Yet, I mostly teach kids that are NOT at grade level. How do I suddenly measure them on middle grade level when they may only be an elementary level? This disconnect is happening in a very real ways with dire consequences. Kids are failing. Teachers feel pushed.

I step back now and share something from another profession that I think has parallels here. My friend LuAnn up in Ohio has been a nurse since 1978. She works in the OR at what is considered a high-level alternative healing center. She wrote this on Facebook yesterday:

I had the most amazing day. My open heart patient was an old St. Luke’s Hospital employee.  Just like me…that was my first job. I was hired at 19 & couldn’t wait to move to Cleveland and save the world in 1978. She and I had the same old, starchy, mean nursing supervisor (crisp uniform, cap, sensible shoes, stern face!…I was scared to DEATH of her.) We shared some great stories. She’s 82. So I started thinking. And doing the math. How could it be that we were employed there at the same time…still find it hard to fathom I have been a nurse 37 years. And by the time I retire, I could be in the nursing game 50 years. I’ll be 69. Considering I still think I am 30, 50 years as a nurse really appeals to me. I love my Calling. Why retire?

So enjoyed talking to her. I even pulled up a chair while her family listened and my boss cringed. And TALKED to this lady. We aren’t allowed to linger in the OR. Time is money, stay on schedule, ‘Why were you late to the room’? ‘What is your delay code?’ ‘Who made you late?’…”Be sure to document why you’re late.” Blah, blah, blah.

I am so sick and tired of the dehumanizing in medicine and the treadmill we are on that occasionally I am going to hold things up and TALK to the patient. Today was the day. A f–k it moment. And the conversation was priceless. The kid giving anesthesia (Yes, a KID!) said — “Wow! You’ve been doing this a long time!” Yes, I have, Kid. That’s why nothing makes me panic or freak out. And…as we were walking away from the family taking my patient to the OR…I heard a family member say, “I feel so much better now.”

Isn’t that what this is all about? People taking care of people! I WILL make it to 50 years as a nurse. As long as there are moments like this that serve to sustain. Me. And my patients.

As a teacher, I can relate to this in so many ways. The treadmill feeling. The micromanaging of every aspect of our classroom and our plans and our approach to teaching. The seeing of real live children as data points — numbers on a spreadsheet. “Bring your data” is a common directive for our meetings. It is only when we take a moment to actually look at the ones we teach that it all changes. It all becomes real. It is just sometimes hard to remember to do that.

This dehumanizing effect is everywhere. This week we learned another way that we could have the computer teach our students. It all sounds good at the time. Then I take a step back and think…how does this really build the teacher-student relationship?  How does this build a healthy classroom learning environment? I am not sold on taking kids that are below grade level and putting them on a program that will teach them at grade level.  Yes, this approach is good for some, no doubt. But I know my students. They aren’t ready to teach themselves.

It’s why my profession exists.

**

After my coffee and journal-writing and all the great reflection, I took a walk in the woods. I was cognizant of the moment I stepped into the darkness, the trees sending me oxygen so I could breathe more deeply. I took a journey off the paved path into the woods, as far as the trail would lead me. I stood there and prayed, the sun filtering through the trees. I continued the paved path and was equally cognizant of when I came out of the darkness. I noticed what I noticed — the hawk high on the branch of a dead tree. The teeny deep purple flowers, one per vine. The clickety song of the Northern Blue Jay here for the winter.

I walked and sat and walked some more. I came home to write this.

I have learned. I have opened my mind.

I have given up hope that anything will change except me.

I am paying attention. Fearlessly.

“I feel so much better now.”

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