Archive for the ‘human relations’ Category

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Save A Hard Copy Of Everything That Might Be Important To You. This Does Not Mean You Should Keep Everything, But Some Day You’ll Be Glad You Did Some Selective, Creative Savery.

March 10, 2012

And bring me a hard copy of the Internet so I can do some serious surfing • Scott Adams, Dilbert

During the latter part of the twentieth century (golly, that sounds self-important!), I taught in a high school dropout prevention program. I often recorded my students’ words so I would remember them. Years later, I’ve forgotten most of those words, but I can revisit them because I have that written record. Now that I teach teachers, I’m especially glad I saved so many things that help me be first person present in my high school teaching past. I’m also glad that I have hard copies of my related reflections. I am both amused and saddened when students tell me that they have electronic copies of materials and don’t need hard copies, dismissing my pleas to print and file. Today’s computer is tomorrow’s obsolete, toxic landfiller. And all those electronic files you saved on your Apple IIe? G-O-N-E!

I’m especially happy that I saved what follows here. When teachers are frustrated by their students’ behavior, it’s easy to forget that what we want them to do may matter very little in the bigger picture of their lives. Sometimes acknowledging those realities is a first step toward helping students engage in the kinds of empowering educational experiences that really do change lives, or at least change perceptions about possibilities. In the quotation/reflection that follows, students’ comments are in italics, interspersed with my own reflective thoughts:

Always the Same • Always Different

So I sit and listen and again I am overwhelmed by all I cannot do, a thousand problems that I cannot solve, the pain I can’t prevent, the angry lives unfolding opening sharing revealing more than I want to know because I’m only one and I’m carrying this invisible sack of worry and troubles of my own, the one that’s hidden from them behind my sunny smiles, the smiles they crave like candy or even some kind of drug, smiles withheld so often in so many places that when they get one, they cannot get enough.

And so I sit and listen and begin to understand that this always comes first. This dreadful torrent that pools in front around among us—each story adding to the waters that swirl with blended colors of our private agony. We stir the waters, salty with our tears, seeing each other with eyes washed clean. Every year the same. Every year different. Games and names and sharing our shallowest safest memories until we cross this bridge over our waters into another world. A place that’s real. Circled round, lounging on floor and couches, waiting for someone else to trust. Open. I’ve seen this many times, but I always wonder if. If the time will come when ones together become us, when we see the sameness underneath the difference, when what matters less is overwhelmed by what matters more. And so it begins.

My stepdad says I can’t go nowhere in the house. Just stay in the garage he says and if I want to be there I got to pay rent.

He stops.

There’s a freezer out there, but they got a big ole lock on it so I can’t get in. The only bathroom I got is in this trailer my grandma left in the yard, but it don’t work so I go in the yard at night if I have to and just cover it up.

He stops again. We wait. He doesn’t sa anything else. No one says anything. He’s hanging out there. Naked. Me? I want to jump in and say something. Offer something. But it’s not my tie. Another voice, so quiet we can hardly hear begins.

We sold our Levis yesterday. We were holding on to those, my mom and me. We like them a lot, but they wouldn’t give us anything for our Wranglers. My mom is gonna get a job pretty soon. Waitin’ for a call. I wrote a poem about being homeless. Wanna hear?

She pulls a piece of paper from her backpack—her new backpack—we can still do that much around here—supplies and backpacks and winter coats and PE clothes and bread and peanut butter and Ramen noodles and sometimes milk and even juice. She reads her words about doing homework by the glow of a cigarette lighter and dreaming of the better life she’ll have if she can only graduate.

And I wonder. What the hell am I doing? What am I promising? Acting as if this place we sit ifs the gateway to some promised land that offers all the things they’ve never had and maybe never will. We sit surrounded by pictures of their dreams and homes and happiness, cars and children, freedom to be to do to have to dream and have it all come true. I lose sight of why I’m here. What I can do. It gets lost in the sea of what I can’t. But still I, still we, listen.

I’m pregnant. Again. You’re gonna know soon enough so I might as well tell you. This time, it’s twins.

Period. We wait, but she just sits and glares. Folded arms and I know she’s just waiting for the word—any word—a wrong word—so she can up and bolt and leave this place and run to get the only piece of love that life has given her. Pick him up from daycare. Go to the park. Push him on the swing. Imagine that the life he’ll have is different form her own. Now this. And what’s it going to mean? We wait. Staring into space. Avoiding eye contact. Is it safe? Will it stay here? Will he be broken never to be fixed if we remove these masks, dismantle the facades, discover we are all in places we would never choose?

So I’m sleepy, you know. And you all poke me when I drift off and yell in my ear and I jump and you think it’s pretty funny, don’t you. Well, I’ll tell you this and you can see how funny you think it is. My dad left and he isn’t coming back and I’m working now ‘cause my mom’s two jobs just don’t cut it any more, not with five kids. I’m the oldest, man of the house now, my mom says. I work till four every morning and damn straight I’m tired. So leave me the hell alone, okay?

He slouches back and closes his eyes. We wait some more. And so it goes.

There are many spaces we inhabit that are filled with adolescent or adult angst and challenges, but often we don’t know our students or our friends or our colleagues or co-workers well enough to know what kinds of difficulties they may be grappling with. Sometimes we don’t even know these things about our families. As you go through your day, I hope you’ll take care of yourself, of course, but I also hope you’ll be charitable and kind, knowing that you don’t truly know what kind of burdens may be weighing down the others you encounter.

I also hope you’ll keep a hard copy of important information you may want to revisit some day!

What is it about today that you may want to remember tomorrow? How do you plan to do it?

I finished the paper, but the computer ate it. It’s gone. I have my notes, but nothing else. • Comments I’ve heard countless times during my teaching career, W-OZ

 

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I Am Motherwise; I Cannot Be Otherwise

May 8, 2011

There is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness. • Pearl S. Buck

It is Mother’s Day, my first Mother’s Day without a mother to call, to get a card for, to send something special that would tell her that I see her as a human being, know her as a person, hope to make her happy because I understand how impossible it is to feel that your work as a mother is ever enough. But she is gone and instead I celebrate the wisdom that permeates my being.

I was looking for examples of my educational philosophy to include with materials for Humanizing Instruction, a course I’ll be teaching this summer, and I came across a speech I gave several years ago for a local alternative school’s graduation. As I reread what I shared, I thought of the words of Pericles who wrote, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” My mother’s wisdom is woven into the fabric of my teaching life:

Congratulations. I am honored to be part of this celebration. I was also daunted when I tried to think of what to say to you. As most of you can imagine, no matter how many times you speak in front of an audience, it’s challenging. And on an important occasion like this it’s particularly challenging. What can I say that won’t sound like a bad Hallmark card or a particularly cheesy self-help book? What wisdom can I share that will be memorable in any way?

At first, I was going to speak about the importance of alternatives in education. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t know from our own lives how important it is for schools to value each human being for whom she or he is. But I can’t bring myself to talk about systems today, regardless of how meaningful they are. Instead, I hope to talk with you about things that matter as you continue on into the rest of your life.

I decided to ask other people what they would say if they were speaking here today. I asked my relatives, my students, other teachers, my son, my husband, and even a couple of people in the checkout line at Target. Some of them told me not to worry, that no one ever remembers what a speaker says anyway. Others offered me the kind of heartfelt sentiments I believe in, things that have been said so many times before to so many people celebrating important milestones that they sound like clichés. But there is truth in clichés, and Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that what is not spoken from the heart will not reach the heart of the listener. These words are from my heart, and I hope they will reach yours.

I’d like to share a story about my mother. She’s 85, and still working as a musician. She’s also filled with wisdom that comes from closely observing the world and thinking about what she sees, hears, and experiences. And that’s my first piece of wisdom. The world is vastly interesting for anyone who really sees it. Don’t be bored. Be interested.

But back to what my mother told me: One of her friends called her in tears, distraught because someone had stolen her purse and was using her driver’s license and her credit cards and even her Social Security number. This friend kept crying to my mother that her identity had been stolen, and this is where my mother shared something with me that I cannot forget.

She said, “Even while I comforted her and told her she would get past this, I couldn’t help thinking that we get very upset about this kind of identity theft, and yet every day we allow other people to steal our personal identity when we compromise who we are or what we want to do or be because of someone else’s expectations or because we’re afraid that they won’t like us or we’re worried that what we want to do will seem silly or impossible to accomplish.” My mother was speaking from her heart. It isn’t easy to grow old in our society, particularly if you are still active and still talented, and still want to share your talents with the world.

There are times when it seems that you are always too something: too young or too old or too inexperienced or too unrealistic about your hopes and dreams for your life. And here’s my second piece of wisdom: Life actually is tough sometimes if you aren’t independently wealthy and you have to pay everyday bills, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your vision of who you are and what you can be.

I am a poet and an artist and I don’t make money doing those things, but I love them, and they allow me to love my life and stay interested in my own possibilities even though I also have to work for a living. It’s actually not true that any of us can be anything we want to be—the NBA is unlikely to have wanted me no matter how much I wanted it—but each of us can be far more than we imagine if we accept that some of the things we choose to do will feed our souls, but not our pocketbooks. Despite the fact that Mark Twain said that be yourself is the worst advice you can give some people, that’s my third piece of wisdom: Be yourself. Be your best self. Believe in—and live—your possibilities.

Here is my fourth piece of wisdom. It is more challenging to live in personal truth than you might think. No matter how old you are, there are likely to be well-meaning people who think that they know better than you do what you ought to be doing with your life. The late undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau followed his dreams throughout his life, and often faced difficulties. He was asked why he persisted despite them, and he replied: “If we were logical, the future would be bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”

Here’s what I believe to be the true alternative message needed in every student’s education and it’s my final piece of wisdom: You matter. What you do matters. How you live your life matters. Your small acts of kindness and goodness and truth and beauty and hopefulness can change the world. These are all clichés. But they are all true.

If we have lived ordinary lives, it’s difficult to imagine that our passing will matter to anyone except those who knew and loved us, but you do not have to have known my mother to know who she was. Her wisdom lives in me and her influence lives on in every classroom I create. I am motherwise and I cannot be otherwise.

What is your wisdom?

There is a wisdom of the head, and…a wisdom of the heart. • Charles Dickens

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What Do You Say When You Can’t Say Anything And There’s Too Much Left To Say?

March 31, 2011


I want to say something important to you, but all I can think of is, “Arthur, take a piece of toast.” • Mother (Marsha Hunt) to son (Brandon De Wilde) as he takes off after his pregnant girlfriend in 1959’s Blue Denim, a movie I recently watched again. I never resonated with this line during previous viewings, but this time, I understood.

The last time I saw my mother, I knew her death was close. I knew that we would never again go anywhere together, not to Disneyland nor to a movie nor on the bus to downtown Los Angeles to visit Clifton’s, Olvera Street, and Union Station. I knew that we wouldn’t share another order of onion rings or split a combination plate—the cheese enchilada for her, the chile relleno for me. We weren’t going to sit companionably and watch an old movie. I wasn’t going to hear her play the piano or sing my favorite songs. I would never again get her phone calls wishing me happy birthday or happy anniversary or brightening my Saturday morning with her mother’s interest in my life.

As I knelt beside her bed the last time I saw her, countless never-agains swirled around me and I groped for meaningful words to hurl into the forever that would soon separate us. I couldn’t find them. They were hidden behind the façade of normalcy we’d complicitly erected in the months leading us to this moment.

My mother was hopeful throughout her illness. Her faith sustained her, and infused her life with a possibility that made it impossible to talk about the other what if, the unvoiced possibility of her death. This silence overshadowed our last good-bye as it had our conversations in the months preceding it. In those final months, hope seemed the least that I could give her, the most that we could share. I said good-bye the last time I saw her, of course, but it was little different from any other parting we’d had. I’d be back in a week, I said and I would see her again, I pretended, hiding my tears and smiling widely. And I hoped I was telling the truth. But I lied. She died while I was on the way back to see her, still hoping we’d have a chance to say those truly final words.

In our last minutes together, I told her I loved her, that she was a good mother, that I knew she did her best, that I was sorry for all the things I did or didn’t do that might have given her pain. I told her I delighted in all the fun we had. I told her that I’d stored up hundreds of sweet memories. But I wanted more. More said. More heard. She was too tired to talk by then—perhaps too tired to mother me through the emotional labor of her impending death. She labored to bring me into the world and I felt compelled to ease her exit from it more than I wanted something more.

And still, this failure haunts me. But how can you speak when love stills your tongue?

What failures haunt your life? What might help ease their pain?

Odd how much it hurts when a friend moves away—and leaves behind only silence. • Pam Brown

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All I Want For Christmas* Is A Smile. No Need To Wrap It. Just Give It To Me. Actually, I’ll Be Delighted To Get It Any Time Of The Year. P.S. I’ll Be At The Airport And At Target This Afternoon. Maybe Taco Bell Too** And I’ll Be Looking For My Gift.

December 23, 2010

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
• Mother Teresa

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), First Earl of Beaconsfield, British prime minister, and novelist, once groused, “It destroys one’s nerves to be amiable all day.” Goodness knows I understand what the Earl was griping about. It is difficult to be cheerful when you’re tired, grumpy, out of sorts, busy, angry, worried, upset, cranky, hungry, disappointed, sad, impatient, frustrated, irritable, or annoyed.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
• Thich Nhat Hanh

When all of your energy is focused on getting through the day, a smile can seem like frosting on the cake of your presence. Nice, but not necessary. After all, isn’t it enough to give us cake? You’re there. You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re taking money, serving a Happy Meal®, wrapping presents, preparing an eggnog latte, giving us a fistful of stocking-stuffer-singles for a twenty, unlocking the dressing room, dishing up, checking out, waiting on, listening to, and doing it all while wishing you were somewhere else since you’re running out of time to do whatever it is you’d rather be doing. I get it.

Attempt to be cheerful. Who knows, it might work.
• Ann B. Davis (1994), “Alice’s Unspoken Rules,” Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook

I get it, but I am disappointed when I don’t get a smile with my service. Perhaps I am expecting too much, but if you’re wondering what you can give someone that doesn’t cost anything except a bit of muscular and emotional effort, give a smile. And to everyone who’s generously distributed smiles this season, including those directed my way, many thanks. I’ve tried to pass them along.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
• Leo Buscaglia

Smiles matter. I am aware that this sounds like the very best of the worst kind of mindless happytalk. It’s a cliché, and there are plenty of people out there with good reason not to smile. I know. But whether I’m in a restaurant or a grocery store or a gas station or an office building—or teaching a class—the attitude of the people I encounter matters.

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. They are trifles, to be sure; but, scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.
• Joseph Addision

If I’m feeling grumpy myself, a smile reminds me to mind my manners and return it. If I’m disheartened or sad or overwhelmed, a smile reminds me that these feelings will pass and my own smiles will return. If I’m eating a meal, a smile makes the food taste better. If I’m encountering bureaucratic intransigence, a smile increases my patience. If the person in front of me is holding up the line while hunting frantically through purse or pockets or wallet for whatever it is s/he needs to finish checking out, a smile boosts my tolerance. Smiles matter.

There is not a soul who does not have to beg alms of another, either a smile, a handshake, or a fond eye.
• John Dalberg-Acton, (1834-1902), First Lord Acton, author, historian, politician

If you’re wondering what you can give others at any time of the year, give them your smile. Think of it as community service, a volunteer activity you become part of by joining a club with no meetings and no dues whose sole mission is to spread a bit of cheer and good will. Be a grin philanthropist and give freely.

If someone is too tired to give a you a smile, leave one of your own, because no one needs a smile as much as those who have none to give.
• Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

* This season there are many who tentatively wish me a “Merry Christmas,” recognizing that there are those who celebrate other—or even no—festivities. My title, however, references a holiday song written by Don Gardner (1946), “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” a tune that’s been parodied many times, including in the 1960s when Dora Bryan sang “All I Want For Christmas Is The Beatles.” Now, thanks to iTunes, she can have them.

** The return of the bean tostada makes me smile. It was my favorite high school off-campus lunch. Add a bean burrito and I was ready to embarrass myself in the afternoon. I am quite fond of the musical fruit.

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Significance And Insignificance, Hope And Despair, Enthusiasm And Burnout, Caring And Cynicism, And Other Realities Of The Teaching Life

December 12, 2010

The most important function of education at any level is to develop the personality of the individual and the significance of his [or her] life to himself [or herself] and to others.
• Grayson Kirk*

Enthusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do.
• Norman Vincent Peale

When I was writing a daily blog last academic year, I seldom worried about whether my words were significant. I had to write something every day and so I did. Now that I have become an occasional poster who continues to wonder how I found the time to write every day, I am struck by how many posts I begin and never finish. They don’t seem weighty enough and they drift away like smoke. Perhaps I will revisit them and infuse them with meaning, but because I don’t have to, I don’t.

Sometimes, though, thoughts come together and what was smoke becomes a fire. While these connections may seem tenuous to an outsider, it seems worthwhile to try to give them substance. The word significant has been on my mind this week. I recently had several conversations with other teachers and much of our talk circled around the impossibility of ever feeling as though we are doing a good enough job.

Instead, our failures torment us in ways difficult for others—even some of our colleagues—to understand. “You care too much.” “Don’t take it personally.” “Forget about it and move on.” These and many other pieces of well-meaning advice echo in our conversations as we share our frustrations. We do care, we do take things personally, and we cannot forget about things and move on. We want to understand. We want to continue to give of ourselves while taking care of ourselves as well. We don’t want to become hardened to a world that needs the softness of our spirits. We want to provide hope and enthusiasm and caring. We want our actions to be significant in the lives of the learners with whom we work.

The significance of a man [or woman] is not in what s/he attains, but rather what s/he longs to attain.
• Kahlil Gibran

Some years ago, during a time when my colleagues and I who worked in a high school dropout prevention program were trying to justify—and provide significance for—the value of our program, one of my students brought in this excerpt from a speech, “Citizenship in a Republic,” that Theodore Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910:

 
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.


I kept a copy of Roosevelt’s words on the wall next to my desk to remind me that it can be easy for those who are not doing the work—whatever it is—to criticize those who are. It can also be easy for those who are not doing the work to take for granted the efforts of those who are, to minimize the cost of sustaining enthusiasm for whatever it is that requires the commitment of the doer. Sustaining enthusiasm requires caring and personal involvement regardless of the task. Systems and institutions succeed because there are individuals committed to insuring that success.

 
I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.
• Pablo Casals

I don’t have any answers regarding ways to maintain personal enthusiasm for your work without losing yourself in the tasks. I only know that I cannot give all of myself to my work. I must be an artist. I must be a poet. These things are not separate from my life as an educator; instead, they are crucial elements of creating a wholeness of being that feeds my enthusiasm and my caring. I am significant to myself whether or not anything I do matters to anyone else.

Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into flowers of discovery. Even if you lose, or are defeated by things, your triumph will always be exemplary. And if no one knows it, then there are places that do. People like you enrich the dreams of the worlds, and it is dreams that create history. People like you are unknowing transformers of things, protected by your own fairytale, by love.
• Ben Okri, Nigerian author

What is it that you do that imbues your life with significance? What do you—can you—do to maintain your hopefulness, enthusiasm, and caring whether or not the world seems to recognize their value?

If, after all, men [or women] cannot always make history have meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have one.
• Albert Camus

Every memorable act in the history of the world is a triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it because it gives any challenge or any occupation, no matter how frightening or difficult, a new meaning. Without enthusiasm, you are doomed to a life of mediocrity, but with it you can accomplish miracles.
• Og Mandino

* I must rant briefly. I am well aware of the claim that writers once-upon-a-time used “he” to refer to everyone. I have, however, read enough history to know that many of them did not mean any such kind of inclusiveness and considered the ladies an unnecessary appendage when it came to matters of import, not to be considered in the world of manwork (keep cooking and cleaning and childbearing, and don’t worry your pretty little head about all the rest).

I remember quite clearly feeling disincluded/unincluded (yes, I realize that the opposite of included is excluded, but that doesn’t really say what I want and as I search for the other two words, I find that they’ve been used by others—just you wait and see—they shall some day be legitimized!) as a child when “he” was pronounous universalis. There are people who still argue for him, whining about awkwardness and such. Get over it. Or substitute she/her/women/etc. and see how you feel. “All women are created equal” doesn’t really make the guys feel included, now does it?

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The Spirits That Visit Me In The Night Are The Reminders Of Work Undone, The Lists Of Tasks Yet To Be Completed, And The Host Of Possibilities Of Things I Could Accomplish If Only I Were Less Human

December 1, 2010

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch. • Parker Palmer (2000), Let Your Life Speak

 
I’m currently teaching a course called Human(e) Relations, the “e” added by me as a reminder to all of us that in our dealings with others, it is important to be humane because we are all human and thus fallible and likely to disappoint even as we also deliver joy and delight. It is inevitable that few of us will be as practically perfect as Mary Poppins claimed to be.

It is three o’clock in the morning and I cannot sleep. Too many things that need my attention are lined up, waiting their turn. They are patient, but they do not go away. They wait. And I feel their weight. I close my eyes and hope that sleep will take me away for a few more hours, but soon I stare into the darkness, knowing that it will not, and I succumb to temptation, turn on the light, pick up my pen, and write my way into the day.

It’s the end of a quarter. Next week is finals week. Assessment tasks loom as does the necessity of preparing for a new quarter even as I finish with this one. My lists have lists and all my good intentions mock me, a chorus of inky voices reminding me of the undone, half-completed, unfinished realities of my life. No matter how much I do accomplish, it is never enough.

The life of an educator embodies the realities of “never enough.” No matter how much we do or how much we give of ourselves, it is never enough. There is always more that we could, should, truly believe we ought to do to enhance our students’ learning experiences. There is further research to be done. There are new technologies to embrace and integrate. There are additional effective methodologies to employ and additional worthwhile activities to design. There are always always always more connections to be made—real world and individual and interdisciplinary—that will help students engage with whatever it is that we are teaching. There is always more.

We do what we can.

We do more than we have energy for.

We plan to do better—and more—next time.

We hope.

As I watch the clock tick out the minutes before I must get ready for the morning’s work, I create a new list of things I hope to accomplish at quarter’s end: a book proposal to finish, articles to write, conference presentations to prepare, dusting and other mundane chores that get neglected because there is always something more interesting or pressing that I need to do, books to read, research to delve into, artmaking I’ve put off, cookies I’d like to bake just because I seldom do, friends I’d like to see, and I realize that although these things are all worthwhile and some of them are even likely to be relaxing, there is no place on my list to simply stop my headlong rush into life and relax.

I must relax. I must renew. I must remember to reconnect with myself and revive my spirit if I am to continue the work that is my vocation. So must we all.

Regardless of how or whether you celebrate any holiday at this time of the year, I hope you’ll give your self the gift of time. Your life is your gift to the world and it deserves some loving care. You do not have to be an educator to need–or heed–this advice.

No one has time; we have to make time. • James Rohn

For the sake of making a living we forget to live. • Margaret Fuller

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The Kindnesses of Strangers

June 12, 2010

What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.• Cleveland Amory

I long for home. I do not like to travel as much as I like being surrounded by the comfortable familiars of The House of Stuff. Unfamiliar sights and sounds are fascinating, but my brain is easily capable of overstimulating itself. All alone in a room, I have more than enough to think about. In a city, I am sometimes overwhelmed by cacophonous input.

I’ll soon be boarding the train for Oregon. The thing that’s struck me most about this visit to Washington, D.C., besides the wonder of seeing George Washington’s uniform, Julia Child’s kitchen, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers, is how kind and helpful everyone has been. This has filled the days with grace as my questions about where to catch this bus or that Metro train have been cheerfully answered by strangers.

It’s easy to be too busy to help someone, even if you’re being paid to do so. It’s easy to ignore those who need a moment of your time. It’s easy to be uncivil, and yet even brief civility lingers long after the encounter, adding a pleasurable glow to the day. I have always known that this matters, but this trip cross-country reminds me how important small kindnesses can be.

I’ve mentioned the kindness challenge before, but it’s worth revisiting: Today and tomorrow and the rest of the week ahead, be kind to those you encounter whenever possible.

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. • Lillian Smith