Flying home within the last few days, I thought of and began to appreciate events that we have experienced on our paths. When we were younger (or much younger), the identities of “big events” were quite different from what they are now.
For example, I remember looking forward to the first big freeze so that I could try out my cousin’s hand-me-down ice skates. Having socks stuffed in the toes didn’t matter at all – being on ice was a special yearly ritual.
The same was true for snowmen, hopscotch, hula hoop contests and spelling bees. We eagerly anticipated new spiral notebooks for the school year, covering our textbooks with brown bags and waiting to see which of our friends were in our classes.
Right now, many of these sound pretty mundane. Big events consist of family reunions, planning for a month-long Europe journey in the far-off future and the steps involved in publishing a book. Somehow it seems rather sad that big events generally become costly, complicated and challenging.
Maybe I’ll buy a few spiral notebooks and a package of number two pencils. It may develop into an occasion to bake cupcakes, after which I can dust them with colored sprinkles.
Redefining happiness will most likely create more occasions for it to materialize. Let’s just call it going to the past in order to enlarge and enhance the present and future. Shalom.
Sometimes I wonder if our fascination with people and things relies on our inability to comprehend them. This wondering happens in a wide variety of circumstances. Happily, there are so many processes, things and venues that I don’t know, I am confident that my curiosity can never end.
With regard to people, you can make a case for love deepening and expanding over time. Do we love our children more as they grow older? That’s probably the subject for other, more extensive reflections. But for now, I would suggest that as our children become adults, we find more about them to love, admire, respect and appreciate.
On the other side, isn’t some of our fascination with celebrities associated with what we don’t (or can’t) know? Does Harrison Ford read poetry? Did Ingrid Bergman have suppressed desires to be a school teacher? Has Tom Hanks ever visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall? In this case, mystery is perpetual.
My fascination with specific inanimate objects relies entirely on my lack of understanding them. As someone who has never learned to play chess, I view it as elite, noble and somehow unavailable to the masses. Although I have a vague idea of the physics associated with helicopters, x-rays and microwaves, I remain in awe of their genius. Likewise, as much as I am annoyed by spam, I am always intrigued by the fact that it is persistent and all-pervasive.
For my part, it is preferable to remain mystified by as many of these entities as I choose. Rather than considering it an exercise in ignorance, I’ll just call it a parcel of mystery that I elect to hide away for eternity. Shalom.
Those of us who spend time with children, either our own or others, have encountered the desire for superpowers, often vested in carefully distributed wands. Ask a child what he or she would do with a magic wand and you’re likely to hear an interesting collection of tasks.
I would transport myself from here to somewhere like Disneyland. I would use it to make a new house for my mama. I would use it to stop criminals from hurting people.
But I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about what adults would do with similarly-equipped devices. What would we do with magic wands? Would we use them as judiciously as our younger counterparts?
If I were in the mood for a particular wine, I would use my happy tool to change my bottle from what I had to a favorite one. Or if I were in the mood for Thai food, I would use Wand to manufacture a gourmet meal.
Not all of my uses would be self-serving. When I see a student wearing the same sweatshirt for ten days, I would create a new one and surreptitiously place it on his desk. When my kids are hungry and the breakfasts we supply are gone, I would use my device to make more burritos or pizzas. And what if I could extend recess by 10 minutes on a sunny day?
My wand would need to work for long-range activities. Why not use it to clear snow at airports experiencing major delays? How about using it for finding cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s? Think how much fun it would be to wave it at someone on television who is spouting nonsense, immediately silencing that person’s noise.
As much as all of this sounds like fairy tale fantasizing, I prefer to consider it dreaming big. Why stop dreaming? Those who took the time to dream created many of our life-changing realities. Shalom.
On the occasions where I am speaking with new people or addressing a group, I mention that I have written two books and edited several others. These are facts of which I am proud but that only minimally define me. Very often, a conversation ensues that sounds like this:
Wow, I wish that I could write a book. I’ve always wanted to do that.
And what’s prevented you?
Mostly me. I’m not smart enough (diligent enough, focused enough, literate enough, etc.)
According to whom?
Do you have a journey to describe or information that you want to share?
Oh sure. I’ve got a bunch of things to write.
While the balance of the conversation depends on the time, location and circumstances, my answer is generally the same: If you have a story to tell, you really should tell it. It’s easier than you believe.
The reason for which you’re writing this book must be clear from the beginning. With about 200 million books released per year, you’ll want to be realistic about the likelihood of writing a best seller. But if you have a story that’s engaging, a process that will save others time or money, a talent for comedy or a variety of other inclinations, the need to proceed is compelling. You will likely be surprised at the number of readers who will be grateful.
Thanks to the vast alternatives available to writers, you won’t go through the traditional laborious steps of sending query letters, waiting for copious publishers to respond or submitting unedited copy. This is the best time that there has ever been to exercise your brain and your creative impulses. As I say to many would-be authors, if you have something to say, don’t make excuses for yourself. Now is the time to say it. Shalom.
The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up. Mark Twain
Wandering around on the Internet, I ran into this extremely provocative quote from my favorite purveyor of wisdom. Having read Mr. Twain’s autobiography, a formidable feat in itself, I never identified him as a charitable or benevolent man. This proves that I was inaccurate in my conclusions, assuming that he was faithful to this statement.
One of my more colorful habits is that of making others smile or laugh. It’s what I do in the classroom, in my home, with my clients and anywhere that I see an opportunity for levity. There’s something remarkably simple about smiles. You can’t display one while feeling depressed, disappointed or dejected. And while many folks want others to share their gloom, it’s much more beneficial to share a joke or secret than embark upon a journey of negativity.
Cheering others has a variety of consequences. It diverts attention from whatever difficulties created despondency. It’s contagious. When I walk through the hallways of a school, I always smile at the students (and educators) who cross my path. Today I asked an employee where to find an item in the store, adding that it was easier to ask him than spend the next six weeks of my life looking for what I wanted. Most of the time, others return my smile and I feel as if I have deposited a brand-new moment to their happiness banks.
It’s also cumulative. When I am able to make someone feel better, happier or amused, I equip both of us to proceed with a cheerier attitude. You can be certain that I don’t wander aimlessly through life, looking for those with sour facial expressions. That form of random humor would have little value.
But for those I know, many whom I encounter and all I cherish, my joy is to do whatever fits the moment. From my standpoint, there’s no chance of having too much humor or cheer. If I can put a smile or laugh in your spiritual satchel, I’m delighted to do it. Shalom.
This was the subject of my class’s writing narrative. As usual, I feel privileged and somehow specially gifted with twenty-six smart, engaged, affectionate and sweet young personalities.
If I knew the secret of inheriting this type of group as compared to those who present problems all day, I would be grateful. Sometimes it’s their (usual) teacher, sometimes the school, other times the demographics. This time, I’m guessing that it’s part chemistry and part magic.
They communicate an awareness of how I feel about them. Beyond that, I’ve had the revelation that they are aware of their ability to approach me about any subject.
My heart is full of conviction that I am where I can create the greatest amount of good. They look me in the eyes and I can tell them how wonderful they are. They seek and receive acknowledgement or approval on all positive actions. And they tell me that I am the best teacher that they have ever had.
But I really do know why they behave as they do. Unlike many of the teachers I observe, I make it possible for them to see and interact with me as a real person. During the course of the day, I grin and wink and hide and giggle and call them gerbils. We talk about my family, we discuss what they want to be when they are older and we analyze the high and low points of the day.
Most importantly, I suppose, I accept and cherish them exactly as they are. They give me much more than I can express but as they leave for the day, they do so with the words from me that they are special and uniquely terrific. How grateful I am for the favorite days that they provide. Shalom.
The teacher I was replacing was careful to deliver extensive instructions about one little girl with significant problems. She and her family had spent two years in a refugee camp, she spoke no English, had never attended school and had the habit of biting those who conflicted with her.
As I asked questions about the rest of the class, I assured the teacher that we would have everything under control and I anticipated no problems. She smiled, either at my confidence or at the expectation of what was to come.
The little girl, Irma, was easily identified. Her support system, a wonderful little girl whom I’ll call Iris, was holding her hand and issuing a stream of directions. For the first hour, Irma roamed the classroom, unable to communicate and determined to do whatever she wanted to do.
After a while, Iris began working on her netbook and Irma busied herself drawing on an easel chart. Without warning or my asking, two other little girls (these are all second graders) jumped up and began working with Irma. They were patient, encouraging and enabling with everything that Irma wanted to do. At least three other classmates participated in guiding Irma toward those activities that wouldn’t be harmful.
My primary role was observer. On several occasions, I quietly suggested to my two assistants that they refrain from saying “no” to Irma when possible. With her compromised verbal skills and complete alienation, I explained that Irma heard more “no” commands than any others, that she needed to learn behavior that would issue a “yes.”
They understood immediately and remained at her side until we left the classroom for another activity. For the rest of the day, Irma was elsewhere and my two girls proceeded with their days. Because they weren’t asked to help, they sought no thanks. But I reflected that most our educational guidelines were superseded by a dose of love, attention and unselfish kindness. Shalom.
When you love words as I do, metaphors are inevitable. Today I imagine that words are flowers, to be assembled, appreciated and inhaled for their unique fragrances.
Other languages are replete with words that have their own beauty. In French, I have always loved the word, “parapluie” or umbrella (a word that doesn’t sound nearly as pretty). Likewise, I have treasured and enjoyed such words as “enfant,” “dansant,” and “entre nous” (infant, dancing and between us).
We have our share of beautiful English words, all of which have a unique fragrance. The magic occurs when they are joined together in poetry or prose, whether it be in straight language or the alliteration of Edgar Allan Poe.
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.” The Raven
Whether you understand “The Raven” from an analytic standpoint or you listen to the words on a literal basis, the beauty of language is that of a fragrant bouquet. Flower names such as gardenia, lilac, hyacinth and bougainvillea sound as pretty as their scents.
Yes, I admit to a romance with words that enables such metaphors and images. My work as a writer confirms that the art of assembling words is one that many appreciate in the way that a skilled florist can display the best arrangements according to size, shape, color and fragrance.
But I offer no apologies for my bouquets of words. Beauty is an advantage wherever and whenever it may be found. How better to combat dissension and tension than with beauty? Shalom.
Yesterday morning I sat in front of a class of kindergartners, discussing a grade-suitable book that they had read the day before. It wasn’t fascinating subject matter but it had a moral that students could identify. One young man, for the second or third time that day, finessed a seat immediately in front of me. Had I attempted to leave my chair, it would have required him to move or a nearly gymnastic effort on my part.
As we worked through the book, my escort found it necessary and appropriate to examine each of my accessories that he could reach without being conspicuous. He did it quietly and attracted attention from only one neighbor.
First it was my badge. He admired the bat that a previous student had stuck to it. Then it was my bracelet, then my scarf. His touches were gentle and unobtrusive so I allowed him to continue his exploration of my rings and watch.
It never occurred to me to interrupt his discovery process. At one point, I realized that at age 5 or 6, he had limited means with which to connect to me but urgently wanted to do so. And because my interaction with students is always individualized and often unusual, I realized that this was his method for delivering affection.
Sometimes I get love letters and sometimes it’s drawings. On other occasions it’s hugs or declarations of love. Last week I received a treasured plastic football ring. This display was no different – checking his eyes, he confirmed that we had a special bond. As we were leaving, I asked the class if I should make a return appearance. His “Yes!” was the loudest.
If I convinced one student that he was extraordinary and accepted, I had a joyous day. In the event that his day was equally memorable, my joy is boundless. Shalom.
During the last few days in the classroom, I was witness to some remarkable results with respect to children with special or extra needs. The teachers for whom I was working had left notes in each case that included expectations of my having challenges with these children.
Yesterday was the most striking of my realizations. My student whom I’ll call Brandon was labeled as “severely autistic” and likely to demonstrate behavior that would be a distraction. Brandon entered the room with his classmates and quietly sat down at his desk to color.
This was one of those classes that had an inability to sit still, remain quiet or follow instructions without thirty or more repetitions. Add to that some physical bullying, copious tears and the ubiquitous tattle-tales. (Do we have a more contemporary title for that phenomenon? Could it be peer data reporting?)
Throughout all of this unrest, Brandon stayed completely to himself, at times rolling back and forth on the floor. Eventually he approached my desk and asked if he could join me. Smiling, I welcomed him and continued to speak to him in a very soft voice.
Compared to the teacher in the next room whom I heard all day, bellowing as if in a crowded amphitheater or rodeo, I remained soft-spoken, particularly with Brandon. The students may not have remained in the straight line demanded by my colleague, but listened when necessary, hugged me at the end of the day and generally displayed their hopes to see me again.
Brandon was the least of my concerns, maybe because I pulled him into my field of trust instead of pushing him into any specific behavior. While I experience my share of difficult and troubling classroom management events, I couldn’t help but believe that pulling worked much better than pushing. Maybe our world’s anger issues might also be handled with these strategies. Shalom.