Tag Archives: growing up

The Measure of a Place

Today, I walked into a gift shop and cried.

No, let me try that again:

Today, I walked into a gift shop and teared up.

The woman behind the counter cocked her head a bit in sympathy — she’d only asked if she could help me find anything. I’d spent a good ten minutes picking something up, putting it down, and picking it up again.

“I’m moving away,” I explained, blinking.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Where are you moving to?”

“It’s not even that far!” I laughed a little, swiped at my eyes. Ugh, internal eye-roll. “I’m just looking for something from Somerville, you know.”

“Sounds like you need something from over here.” She gestured to a box on the floor filled with artwork. I knelt down and thumbed through them. I was only sort of looking; I’m picky about art, and I don’t usually drop $35 on something unless it speaks to my soul.

But there it was, about eight or nine pictures in, a framed painting of Mike’s in Davis Square.

In it, two men in hats are sitting outside under an umbrella. A young man with his hands in his pockets saunters out (probably a Tufts student), and there is just enough hidden for me to imagine me and Sally sitting at a table over a beer and buffalo chicken calzone.

I have found this extremely hard to write about. It has something to do with the mixed emotions, the excitement, the sadness, the change. When Gabe talks about all the things he won’t miss about this place (and there are definitely some I’ll be saying sayonara to), I mostly think of things I love:

On my way to work, how the door opens to the world and I actually feel like the female lead in some romantic sitcom.

The way the light pours into my bedroom and wakes me up (sometimes against my will).

The sunset from my bedroom window, how it makes me want to write bad poetry.

The green couch on the porch surrounded by a string of globed lights, red wine, and long conversations that leave us lighter, happier, no matter how heavy the talk was.

The bike trail.

So many delicious restaurants.

Nathan Tufts park and the bench on the slope where I sat and read and talked to my mom on the phone.

Waving to the gas station owner as I walk by, his big smile. “We should respect teachers more,” he says in his Middle Eastern accent. “They are teaching our children how to be good citizens!”

Sitting at True Grounds, trying to write but mostly watching, sipping iced coffee, anonymous.

But mostly I think I am saying goodbye to the woman I was when I came here.

As I handed the woman my credit card, she asked: “How long have you lived in Somerville?”

“Two years,” I said. She looked surprised.

“But that’s enough,” she said. “I would never want to leave.”

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Sneaky Three-Year-Olds and Naptime

FullSizeRenderWhen I was little, my mother would send us up for a nap every afternoon. This didn’t last long, given our persuasive personalities and Mom’s fairly chill parenting style, but there were a few years there where I loathed what seemed like the three hours I’d be trapped in my bedroom. What was the point of “trying” to sleep if I wasn’t tired? Because I certainly wasn’t. I don’t care that I’m acting out, whining, slapping my sister, what-have-you. It isn’t because I’m tired, it’s just because I’m awful.

So there I would lie, my door closed, and it wasn’t long before I’d take a deep breath, scurry across the room, and grab the Barbie dolls. Or maybe the little notebook and pencil with which I would write extremely redundant letters to various family members (“Dear Daddy, I love you. God loves you, too. Love, Catherine”  — those were about all the words I could spell at three or four years old). I’d grab that dog-chewed, often-footless Barbie doll, write those letters, and sit up in bed with one ear to the doorway.

One ear to the doorway because there was a tell-tale sign that my mother was coming and I had to slip whatever toy I was playing with under the covers, close my eyes, and curl up facing the wall.

That sign was my mother’s creaky knees.

I still remember the thrill of hearing it – crack, crack, crack – coming up the stairs, shoving the Barbie doll under the comforter, breathing heavily because I was afraid I’d get caught.

Then the words of liberation, “You can get up now, honey,” and away with the toys and the bed and downstairs I’d bound, free from the minimal guilt I felt about disobeying.

And what would’ve happened had I been caught?

Nothing, most likely, but Mom never did catch me. Or, she never let on, anyway.

I teased Mom for years about her loud knees, her bad joints, and she took it like a champ.

“Thank God for those knees!” I’d say. “They kept me out of loads of trouble.”

~     ~     ~

The thing is: creaky knees seem to be genetic. I was walking up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, and I heard it — crack, crack, crack — only, instead of just one knee like my mother, it was BOTH. They were beacons of announcement: Catherine’s coming! She’s on her way! Any minute now! And I realized that my mother of the naptimes and sliced apples with peanut butter and tea with milk in the afternoon was a young woman of 28.

She wasn’t old or wrinkled or graying. She wasn’t wizened or aged like good wine. She was my age, and her knees cracked. She had long dark hair and perfect eye sight. She got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the kitchen floor. She had three babies under the age of four, and she sent us upstairs for naps not because we needed them, but because she did.

When I was in high school, I asked her what she did while we were up there. I pictured her reading a book, watching a television show, napping herself.

“I usually did laundry,” she said. “Or dishes.”

Age is a funny thing. It means less and less as I get older. I wonder if this lovely change is reversed at some point. If, at the ripe old age of 70, the years mean a whole lot more. If you wish all you had to complain about were creaky knees or a compulsory naptime.

A Hundred Years of Singing

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I remember discovering music as a little girl in the old brown church. Out the thin windows, I could see the pink hydrangea tree dipped down to the ground, bent from years of blooming. I couldn’t read yet, but I stood next to my father and followed him. I remember wondering How do I know where to put my voice next? and it was like the first time you think maybe there is more to be known than you will ever learn.

My grandfather used to sing “How Great Thou Art” under his breath while he hoed the garden, sorted the mail, wrote notes in his little breast-pocket notebook. He would hum and whistle, and ever since he’d lost some of his hearing, the tune hadn’t been quite right.

My Maine grandpa would sing fun ditties as he rocked us in his rocking chair. “How much is that doggie in the window?” and other silly songs that came from decades ago. It was when he took out his harmonica, though, that the music really started — his gnarled, hard-worked hands making music unlike any I had ever heard before.

And then there was singing in the car, belting along to Randy Travis and other 1990s country artists, wondering why I sounded different from the man singing. I hadn’t yet learned what octaves were.

I remember staying in the blue van while my family left because we’d gotten to my grandparents’ house, but it was in the middle of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and there was no way I was going to miss that key change, that high note at the end.

Standing in front of a large woman at church, in awe of her operatic voice but also afraid of it and confused by why she was always a little bit behind everyone else.

Getting a thrill whenever “Black Velvet” came on the radio. Alannah Miles’ sultry voice and lyrics of desire had me enthralled before I hit kindergarten.

My great-grandma played the piano by ear, sang through the open window while she washed dishes and hoped someone from Hollywood would walk by. She never did get her big break, but she sang for 105 years.

~     ~    ~

We start our lessons with stretching to the sky and then hanging loose like a rag doll. I tell her to take deep breaths, to feel her back expand with air. We do sirens to activate the different registers, we talk about our diaphragm and how it supports our breath, and we talk about opening our mouths as the notes get higher.

She loves to sing hymns. She has big hazel eyes that take in what I say with this look of hunger to learn it all. She asks to sing “Amazing Grace,” but she doesn’t want to sing it alone.

“Can we sing it together? You know, when you sing different things than I do?”

“You mean when I sing the alto line and you sing the soprano line?” I ask.

“Yes, yes! Can we?”

Who would say no? Besides, I love hearing her little-girl voice paired with my slightly-less-little-girl voice, a cappella in my practice room with the string of Christmas lights.

I’m not sure she’ll be able to hold the soprano line, and she falters a bit. Then her voice stops wavering. She sings with confidence. At the end, we smile at each other.

I tell her I love singing with her.

I don’t tell her that she’s been gathering music memories for eight years, that they will build on each other and come out at surprising times.

I don’t tell her that maybe she’ll remember singing “Amazing Grace” with her voice teacher, how the mismatch of their voices mimicked the mismatch of their time of life.

[Photo: geraldbrazell]

Change is Good

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Diana walks slowly across the grass, her hand brushing the porch post as she passes. She settles herself into the Adirondack chair and places the bowl of yogurt and granola in her lap. My friend looks six months pregnant, but no, she assures me, she’s due in January. I look at her belly again. Really? Five more months? The thought crosses my mind — twins — but I don’t say anything. What do I know about pregnancy?

We became friends studying music in college, she a mezzo-soprano and I a soprano. I remember meeting her in Music Theory I and how her bubble bangs curled over her wire-rimmed glasses. Neither of us was quite ready for college, but we entered the practice rooms with conviction: we would learn how to sing if it killed us. It’s only since graduation that we’ve become close, writing letters back and forth. I enjoy the way letters force me to slow down, take note. It was one of these letters on pale green paper that told me Diana was expecting and asked me to visit before fall came.

It’s my first visit to Deer Isle in the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why Diana came home. Eating breakfast in front of the ocean, I see two small islands covered in pine trees across the way, a working lobster pound to my left. In the field is an American flag flapping, and beneath it, we sit in two yellow Adirondack chairs. Kiska, their American Eskimo puppy, dashes across the grass flashing her long white fur. She gets too excited, barking and jumping despite Diana’s admonitions.

It’s my last hurrah of the summer. I go back to teaching in a week, and I drove the nearly five hours to Deer Isle with the hopes of rest and sunshine. I didn’t know till I got there that they actually live on Sunshine, a small section of Deer Isle proper.

“Like a borough,” I say. “So you’re Manhattan.”

She laughs.

“Yeah, we’re Manhattan.”

It’s a Manhattan complete with one coffee shop, one year-round restaurant, and two or three seasonal eateries that may or may not be open when they say they’ll be. The coffee is delicious, and I think as I sip: Maybe I could actually live here if there’s good coffee.

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I’ve come for rest and sunshine and Diana’s voice recital. Four years ago we gave our respective senior recitals, and now, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Diana stands in front of a small group of people with her four-month-belly and a black floor-length dress. She’s shed the wire-rimmed glasses and grown out the bubble-bangs. I know the work it takes to learn this music and the nervousness Diana must have felt this morning. I know that a tiny part of her just wants this all to be over. She takes a deep breath. Her belly moves out as she inhales and then, as she begins the first notes of Ned Rorem’s “Absalom,” her belly tightens beneath her skirt.

I am aware of every movement, of the muscle strength it takes to breathe and support. Her voice fills the white room, and immediately I see how much she has grown. Not just her voice, not just her musicality. Her face. Her body. Her ease. Diana wasn’t the only stiff performer in college; we all moved with inhibition and a fear of risk. We struggled with too much pride and easily wounded egos. I remember how hard it was to change my focal point, just to lift my eyes from the exit sign at the back of the room up to the right where the sunshine was supposed to be. But here she is, this beautifully strong musician who moves with grace. The piece isn’t happy: her mezzo-soprano voice bemoans Absalom’s betrayal of his father, King David. For a moment, I am David weeping in the high chamber: my child and my betrayer.

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Diana ends the final note with an emphatic sadness. She is David for a second longer. Then she is Diana again, snapped back to the small hot room with her belly that may or may not contain twins. She sings through the program, taking on each character and making me forget I’m just an audience member sitting in a hard pew. We clap her back onstage and her encore — “Summertime”  — is a show-stopper. Later, the audience lines up to greet her. Too many people comment on the size of her belly, the possibility of twins. She laughs and says something like, “Yes, I’m getting a little scared,” but she doesn’t seem scared, with her dark hair perfectly smoothed back and her diamond necklace and earrings.

She doesn’t seem scared of this baby or spending her entire life on an island of three thousand people. She looks at her lobsterman husband with a gentle kindness. There’s a power in her, a new ease. Maybe a good word for this new Diana is calm; she moves slowly but with thoughtfulness I envy. I read once that “rushing is the sign of an amateur,” and I know this is me, always frantic to do that next thing, accomplish that goal, fill that hole in me or my life. I feel this no more strongly than right now, in this place of steadiness and home-grown families. I wonder what it takes to grow from rushing to rest, and why it takes some longer than others to settle into rhythms.

~     ~     ~

On my drive home to Massachusetts, I think about my next visit to the island. There will probably be a baby — maybe two — and our conversations will not be about pregnancy but sleeping habits and resemblance and how to teach voice lessons with an infant. I will probably knit a tiny sweater that will only fit Diana’s child for a few months, and she’ll marvel because she can never believe I find time to do things like that. She doesn’t understand that picking out blue and white yarn for a sweater with whales on it is how I participate in the changes. I might not be in the same place she finds herself, but I can sit on my couch in the fall and knit something that will keep her baby warm. I like to think I’ll be learning the habit of contentment as I slip stitches from one needle to the next.

On Saying “I Love You”

IMG_1638“I love — ” he shouts from behind me, his voice stopping just short of “you.”

I turn around and see the surprised, embarrassed look on his face. I make a split-second decision.

“I love you,” I say with conviction, because if you don’t say “I love you” and mean it, you shouldn’t be saying it at all.

I smile big so he knows I don’t feel uncomfortable. I leave these three children I’ve been babysitting in the kitchen as I head down to my car. Saying goodbye at the end of the summer is never easy.

He stops short of saying “I love you” for a few reasons. First, he’s a thirteen-year-old boy, and everyone knows we teach our children (boys, in particular) that expressing love or affection is not cool. He desperately wants to be cool. He wouldn’t let me post a picture of us sipping iced tea because he was afraid of what his friends would think, so I didn’t. I understand ego, even if I have a slightly different perspective. Second, I’m his babysitter. I am not his mom or his aunt or his grandma. If our young boys do express affection and care, it is almost always in the context of family, and I am not that. I can imagine his struggle as he tried to figure out what was going on: Do I love her? How can I? She’s 26 and not related to me. But what is it, then? It’s definitely not a crush. Because that is reason number three: he didn’t want to be misunderstood and have his care confused into something it wasn’t.

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[My face most of the summer. They loved stealing my phone and leaving me photographic surprises.]

It’s the last day of summer, and I know deep down it’s my last summer with them. There’s a time and place for a babysitter who takes you to the Museum of Science, the beach, mini golfing, the Museum of Fine Arts, even to Funtown Splashtown, USA. But then you start to feel itchy, like it doesn’t quite fit anymore, and both you and your mom and even your babysitter realize it’s time for a change. You don’t really want it – you do love her, in some strange, mysterious way – and when you hug her, you don’t let go right away because you’re not sure when (or if) you’ll see her again. Will you ever ride the train to Boston again? Or try new things like bubble tea or yoga or hiking Mount Pawtuckaway? You’re excited for eighth grade and high school, but you’re missing your best friend who moved across the ocean, and your grandparents who moved to Florida, and even though you know it’s time, you’re wondering what next summer will look like without this strange loud singing buddy you’ve had for so long.

At least, this is what I imagine is going through his head. I know it’s probably not nearly as spelled out as this, or as worry-filled (because these tendencies come later in life), but I can’t help thinking about his voice in the hallway. How the words flew out of his mouth and he had to stop himself. How many times I’ve done that myself — felt an overflow of emotion that had to be expressed, but my words got strangled in my throat because of fear. We don’t have enough words to express what we feel. No wonder he feels strange saying he loves me; it doesn’t fit our paradigms of love, but there is no other word. And so I say it back to him because it is true, but also to show him that it’s okay to say.

I wonder what he thinks as the screen door closes behind me. I wonder if I embarrassed him. I hope he is able to get past that initial feeling of discomfort because someday, I hope he doesn’t stop short of saying it. I want him to be able to hug people and not let go too soon. I want him to be able to say “I love you,” and to receive that same love back. I want him to be free from coolness and uncoolness, debilitating fear and self-preservation, because when you’re able to let go of these things, love comes a whole lot easier. I wish I could be there to watch him grow into this, but just like my students who graduate every spring, he has to go this one on his own. All I can do is help him see that caring for someone is good and telling them is important. Maybe someday I’ll run into him, all tall and grown. I hope he isn’t afraid to give me a hug.

Six at Heart

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When I was five years old, my father told me I had until I was six to move out. I think we were in the kitchen, and my mother must not have been there because she never would have let me believe that. As it was, though, I spent the next few months awaiting January 11th, a date which used to mean joy and pancakes and a few gifts at dinner. Now it was the first day of living on my own.

I don’t remember being very afraid. A little, probably, because I couldn’t drive, but what I remember most was the planning. If I had to be on my own, I’d do it in style.  I emptied my ballerina bank on my bedroom floor and counted the coins and few dollar bills, somewhere around nineteen dollars. Okay, that should get me pretty far. I had my journey all laid out: first, I would walk down the street to the Calabros’ house. They were kind and would understand. After resting up there for the night, I’d walk a few towns over to where my mom’s friend lived. She lived alone and surely she’d take me in for a little while. From there, I would use the phone to call my grandfather, and I had no doubt he would rescue me from my wandering. I’m not sure why I didn’t call him from the neighbors’ house. Part of me thinks my five-year-old self wanted at least a bite-sized adventure.

I don’t remember the night before my birthday, but the next morning is engraved in my memory. I got up, got dressed, and packed my backpack with my favorite outfits and my toothbrush. I tucked the nineteen-ish dollars in the front pocket and headed down the stairs. I said goodbye to my parents and I walked down the street.

My dad came after me, laughing.

“Catherine! Catherine, come back!” he said, catching up to me right before I reached the Calabros’.

I was confused – hadn’t he been saying I had to leave? It was January 11th, I was sure, and I’d made all these plans…

It’s a story my parents still like to tell, my mother with a little more embarrassment than my father, but with a good laugh, anyway.

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Twenty years later, and I’m in those same few months, awaiting a big move. My Dad learned his lesson pretty well that first time, and he’s never even tried to kick me out since. He’ll tease occasionally – “How can I miss you if you never leave?” is one of his favorites – but I know that moments around the dinner table and evenings of Jeopardy are times he would never trade for twenty long years of empty-nesting.

But I’m twenty-six, and the time has come to be out on my own. I won’t lie that it’s a bit later than I expected, that it’s taken longer for me to get my feet under me. The strange thing is, though, that I sometimes feel as shocked as that little girl.

What? I need to move out? Are you sure?

I mean, I’m pretty little.

I am getting better at holding two emotions in tandem, and this is one time where that skill is vital. There are times when my mom is talking to me, and I have no idea what she’s saying because I’m so preoccupied with September first. With renting a U-Haul and getting the day off and finding a gym membership. I am so excited for this move that I daydream while driving about not driving and being able to walk to a coffee shop or to get a good beer. I imagine having friends over for wine and cheese and crusty bread, and there are times when I can’t wait.

And then, there is the morning I woke up and the birds were singing. I took my coffee out to the herb garden and sat by the pond and thought this is what I’ll be missing – this morning sun and the sound of the breeze through the birch tree. What am I thinking, leaving?

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I wrote an essay my senior year of college about graduating. I wrote about how I didn’t know where I would live: would I move to Cambridge as Kayla and I dreamed? Or would I go home to my parents, pay back my student loans, settle in? I desperately wanted to move away, but the truth was I knew if I went home, I’d never want to leave. I knew the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to pack that car and say goodbye.

That was four years ago. Year after year, things have not lined up, people have not shown up, and I’ve chosen home. But this year, suddenly, my eyes lit up with talk of an apartment. Was it possible that I might get to live with two of my favorite people? I held my breath while decisions were made, and then they were made. Then we found a place. Then we signed the lease. Then, it was real, I wrote the check, and we started talking about couches and parking permits and laundry.

I have 25 days until I load the U-Haul and head forty-five minutes south and a world away. That’s 25 mornings to brew coffee and drink it while honeybees pollinate tall purple flowers and a hummingbird dips its beak into hollyhocks. And 25 nights to lie in my girlhood bedroom and remember all the dreams I’ve had. I’ll get to sort through them, sift out the ones I want to keep, and push the rest off on a flaming dory into the dark sea.

On September first, I’ll wake early and start loading the car. I’ll probably be manic because change can make me that way, I’ll forget to eat, and I’ll drink too much coffee. We’ll move quickly past each other, joke as much as possible, and begin to imagine a different life.

I’ll head for the car, take out my keys, and look behind me, a little part of me hoping to see my Dad running after me.

Things I’ll Miss

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I spent the last three months in a house with wind chimes. I woke up in the middle of the night to the music of them in the breeze, and there was an eeriness to it. I had to grow accustomed to its sound.

But I did grow accustomed, and soon I will miss the music of wind in glass.

I have never awaited summer with less anticipation.

[She hugs me, tucking her head in like a child, and her face is red. “It’s just hitting me now,” she sobs into my shoulder, “everyone is leaving.” I take her hand and say, “I know this is hard, I know. But you’re going to have a wonderful summer, and next year, the first day of school will be just as exciting and fun as every other first day of school. It’s just hard right now.” And I try to get her to act – to put on the performing persona she does so well in homeroom – but the pictures are proof that hiding pain only works for so long.]

Good evening, my name is Catherine Hawkins, and I am an Upper School Latin teacher.

I hand out awards one after the other. I try to speak slowly because I rush when I want to be done. I pass out two Perfect Scores on the National Latin Exam; I clap for a row of students so long it has to loop around the stage.

I jump into a class photograph – right in the middle – but I do not tear up once the entire evening.

Someone has to hold it together.

And we all know Jim wouldn’t be able to [cough, cough, no-emotion-man].

I have never awaited summer with less anticipation.

[“Magistra, I will spit out my gum every morning at my new school in honor of you.”]

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I packed up my room. It is hideous and you would never imagine such learning and fun and difficult conversations happened here.

I am not even leaving forever – I’ll be back in September – but there is something about this year that was precious to me. Too dear, maybe, in a way that could not be sustained.

Good thing I have a good memory. Good thing they have left me better than the way they found me.

~     ~     ~

The past few months, I have questioned my work in a way I have never done before.

Is it valuable?
Is it challenging enough?
Is it the easy way out?
Is it glorifying to God?

This past week, tear-stained cheeks, awkward middle school goodbyes, and a gift I will proudly hang on my wall prove that this is valuable work I do.

[“Catherine, he’s been working all day to make you something special.”]

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I grew accustomed to saying the same few names over and over in class: Refocus. You need your textbook, not your workbook. Sit down. That’s hilarious, but NEVER DO IT AGAIN.

I grew accustomed to these faces, these voices, these antics that – on my more tired days – were not quite as endearing as they’d hoped.

I grew accustomed to being their Magistra, but now, as many of them move on, I will forever be their Swagistra.

[Photo: Rie H]

The Commencement Address I Didn’t Give

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Today as I sat at my students’ high school graduation, I thought: I hope I never have to give a commencement address.

It doesn’t matter how engaging the speaker, how moving his or her message. Really, what we want to see is that student’s name called, watch her walk across the stage, get the diploma, move her tassel to the left, and throw her cap in the air.

We want to witness that smile that can’t be stopped because the work is done. Finally.

Only so much wisdom can be digested in moments of anticipation.

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This was the fifth graduation I’ve been a part of – whether as a student or as a faculty member – and I remembered my own high school graduation. Eight years ago.

I remember singing a song that was entirely inappropriate for a graduation because I’d been asked to sing and I didn’t have a lot of repertoire.

No one wants to hear “Pur di cesti, o bocca bella” when their children receive their diplomas.

And I have yet to see a flattering mid-singing photograph.

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I remember the strangest things about that day. I remember being so happy, driving my bug with the top down. I remember crunching a row of baby turtles on my way to school and crying because I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless.

I remember hardly believing high school was over and I remember being terrified of what September would bring.

I remember eating a celebratory lunch at Striper’s restaurant and overlooking the river.

But mostly, I remember feeling very grown up.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think I will ever be asked to give a commencement address. I’m more of the pep-talk teacher, the one who encourages in one-on-one conversations.

But if I did give one?

If I did try in ten minutes to bestow some sort of wisdom on young minds which couldn’t bear to handle one more ounce of wisdom?

I’d probably say the following:

Chill out. Please.

I know you think you are grown up. And you are, sort of. But not really. And by the way, I haven’t met many people who feel it and are.

I know you feel sexy in those five-inch heels, but trust me, you look far more elegant in flats and confidence.

People tell you “don’t have any regrets.” I tried that – I tried living in a place of denial, in a place that said, “I did everything right and I wouldn’t change a moment.” This place does not really exist. You will have regrets. It’s about what you do with that regret that matters.

You are full of ideas and dreams and expectations. (I still am – I hope I always am.) But wait. You might study music and never sing at the MET. You might get your dream job and loathe your existence. It might end up that college isn’t the road you should take. Don’t be embarrassed that you were wrong. Embrace the second chance.

Do not be surprised when you learn the same lesson twice. Or three times. Do not think you are dumb or naive. Sometimes it takes more than one experience to hammer in a new idea, a fresh lesson in growth. Let yourself be imperfect, but don’t let yourself stay exactly the same imperfect.

And this one might be the most important:

Choose without knowing the future. Take action without waiting for lightning. Make the best possible decision with the knowledge you have, and when you look back, give yourself grace. Do not chastise your past self for making the best possible choice with limited sight. This will paralyze you.

~     ~     ~

In May of 2016, I will walk across the stage and receive my Master’s diploma. There will be a commencement address. I will try to listen. I will strain forward or sit back with the ease of taking it in.

But my mind will be filled with life – my past, my future – and most likely, I will be feeling exactly the way my seniors did today: excited, a little afraid, but mostly hopeful.

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2015 Revelations Thus Far

DSC_0104 2I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.

I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.

I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in – this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.

So there were two things I wanted to do and not really enough time to do either of them.

I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.

~     ~     ~

Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista – the same man who took my order all last year – smiles at me and asks,

“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”

I look quizzically at first.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say.

And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.

“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.

Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.

“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine – she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”

He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.

How could you think I had a baby?!

Oh, wait.

And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.

It would not shock the social structures.

Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.

My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.

Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.

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A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).

I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.

Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes

If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…

…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,

Live life near the bone.

If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.

If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.

[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]

~     ~     ~

2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.

And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.

Be your joy.

Wherever you are.

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Who Am I?

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We play this game in class with the last few minutes on Fridays. I call it “Who Am I?” but really it’s just “20 Questions,” and only sometimes do I make them choose Greek and Roman mythological characters. One student leaves the room while the rest of us decide which person he or she is.

They love making boys goddesses and girls gods.

And so we’ll choose a character and call the exile in. He or she will commence asking yes-or-no questions until eventually it becomes clear who he or she is supposed to embody.

The thing I keep noticing is this response from the rest of the students.

Let’s say it’s a girl, and she only knows that she’s from mythology, she’s male, and she’s not a god. Her next question might be:

“Did I defeat a lion?”

Every time, the rest of the class guffaws in disbelief.

How could you ask that question?

OBVIOUSLY NOT.

Oh my gosh…!

I didn’t quite understand what was happening until this week.

While one student stands ignorant in front of her classmates, the rest of them can only function with their knowledge. They’ve forgotten (in the span of about .65 minutes) that not everyone has the same information they have. This student asks “Did I defeat a lion?” with less knowledge than they have, but with enough to wonder, hmmmm…maybe I’m Hercules…

Student: “Did I get punished by the gods?”

Chorus: “HAHAHAHA!”

Student: “Did I become an animal?”

Chorus: “WHAT?!”

After a few rounds of this teeheeing and finger-pointing, finally I stood up.

“Listen, guys,” I said, “you have to remember that she doesn’t know what you know. Her questions make complete sense because she doesn’t know already that she’s Theseus. The question only sounds crazy to you because you already know.”

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I have this vision of something big and grand that would open high schooler’s eyes to the great wonderful world. I have this idea that our faith is too small, too cultural, and that to get these kids out where Christianity looks different but transforms just the same is part of my job.

I look at my students, and I want to dump every ounce of experience and wisdom I’ve gained through trial and error into their beings so that they don’t have to do it themselves.

I wonder how parents do it. How do you watch these little half-yous-but-not-at-all-yous walk the earth and not suffocate them? How do you let them function in their ignorance? And it isn’t ignorance in the negative way, so much as it is a stage.

You can’t force experience.

RIght, you can’t, but what is experience if not created?

How do you not expect your children, your students, to be in the same place you are?

I am constantly reminding myself that I function at a different level than these young minds and souls I teach.

They don’t know who they are.

They walk into the room, and they don’t know who they are, so their questions, the way they interact, might seem strange to me, the one who has just a bit more knowledge.

The one who progressed smoothly (and not so smoothly) through the stages of growth to arrive at a non-arrival where things are still being worked-out.

Even people all the same age are not in the same place. Whether it be actually (some are married, some are single, some have children, some travel the world) or just internally (some feel confident, some love their jobs, some long for more, some have faith that pumps life), we are all spinning on different trajectories.

And that’s okay.

I will never have the calmness of my high school friend, who, when I asked her, “What do we have to look forward to?”, said:

“Well, I’m a pretty content person. So I don’t know what to say.”

That will never be me.

We’re spinning different stories, but we’re both playing our own games of “Who Am I?”.