Majorities

As one who rarely avoids difficult or controversial subjects, I present this one as food for thought and perhaps opinions from my readers. It’s not life-changing or of global significance but I offer it to you anyway.

Earlier this week, my husband placed a plastic stand-up frame that had a decorated paper slid into the empty space. On it was a series of religious statements, including one to trust God and believe in Jesus. The message began with “Good Morning, This is God.” I looked carefully at the frame and asked how it got here.

It seems that a well-intentioned member of my community had created 500 of these and was distributing them to the people in the Rio Rancho, New Mexico area. Her religious dedication and hard work were obvious and I commend her for doing something such as this for the sake of distributing messages to those around her.

But I really don’t know how to react, due to the fact that I am Jewish and Jesus has absolutely no role in my life. That reality has nothing to do with her gesture but I am wondering if I should try to give it back or ask my husband (who is not Jewish) to put it among his possessions. What is the best response?

Giving it back would probably be difficult to achieve, in addition to the fact that it might generate some hard feelings about a heartfelt action. Does this person have the right and obligation to give these frames away, in consideration of the fact that not all of the people around her believe in Jesus? Clearly, she believes that the answer to this question is yes.

I am certain that she did not do this for the sake of encouraging people to join a specific church because there were no names or religious establishments included in the message. As a result, I have reached the conclusion that she did this purely out of her own religious devotion, with the hope that the message was positively received.

If you’re wondering, I won’t throw it away or give it to someone who will appreciate its message. Thanks to our wonderful country’s guarantee for our rights to worship as we choose, I will exercise that right. But I guess that I can’t help but remember that the Jewish population in this community is .4% or approximately 385 people out of 89,320. Statistically, our donor had a very good chance that she wouldn’t have bestowed her gift on someone like me. Shalom.

A thought

A book in my library, 642 things to write about by the San Francisco Writers Grotto, is one of the most provocative and evocative manuals I’ve ever encountered. There are quite a few prompts that I will never use, either because I don’t think that I want to approach that subject or because it may ultimately become a waste of my time.

I’m intrigued by the fact that I find myself beginning at the first page of the book each time that I look at it, either to see what I’ve already selected or in the event that something I previously rejected now looks attractive as a subject for this medium.

The one that I like today is titled, “What your desk thinks about at night.” It almost goes without saying that I have never attached human characteristics or abilities to my desk. This can also be said about all of the other non-living entities in my life, all of which are lacking the brain necessary to think at night or at any other time.

With all of that preface, I will adopt the persona of the desk and see where it goes.

Well, the sun is coming up to my right so I guess that She will be approaching me within the next hour or so. Because I don’t know one day from another, I can’t determine if She will be here for a long time or a short time. It really doesn’t matter at all. I have four strong legs and a sturdy surface that will define me, regardless of the time she spends here.

I’m not quite sure about all of the things that I am forced to support all day, every day. There is one plant, a cell phone, a pencil and pen container, a fan, a box of tissues and a picture frame that changes its face every few seconds. There is also a toy truck and two donkeys, as well as a lamp, a glass container with binder clips and a basket that contains things that She looks at now and then.

My scenery doesn’t change much. If She’s here, She’s sitting at the front of me, looking out the window behind me. If She’s not here, my front faces a window anyway, with the back window looking at the yard. If I could be happy, I guess that I would be happy that She is here more than She is in most other places, except for the bed and the recliner. I’m glad to be a critical part of Her office because I know that I help Her write books and other things. It’s good to be a desk. Shalom.

Wishes

I wish –

That every child born today, tomorrow, and the day after has all of the food, clothes, and education that he or she will ever need.

That our national and global issues would be resolved through good sense and reasoning, rather than politics and backstabbing.

That this horrible virus would run its course and stop taking the lives of all of us who are unable to achieve complete immunity.

That teachers stop telling their students to shut up or refer to them as monkeys.

That we have more examples of bravery and community service in the news than we have robberies and murders.

That those who influenced and supported me would know how much they have given to me.

That I could provide each of my students with all the tools that they need to learn and excel.

That I could have a minute with each person I have lost, to tell them what they meant to me.

That I could apologize to every person I have hurt or to whom I have said something that I shouldn’t have.

That I could enable some of my students to read and count when those simple processes are out of their grasps.

That my family believes in my boundless love for them.

And that my legacy will be one of honor and integrity.

Shalom.

Reasonable expectations

Sometimes I wonder if I hold people in my life liable for not performing certain actions that I feel that they could or should. This falls under the heading of expectations, some of which are probably reasonable but many of which really aren’t.

Here’s an example. A lady in the volunteer chorus with which I sing said something wholly unpleasant to me during our last sequence of rehearsals in the spring of last year. She didn’t apologize then for her rudeness and regrettably, I remember specifically what she said.

We spoke again last week and I expected not only that she would remember that conversation, but also that she would express her regrets for having said what she did. Of course, I didn’t remind her and we spoke on a completely normal and friendly basis. Does she not remember? Is she embarrassed at what she said? I guess it doesn’t matter. The only fault here is mine for not forgetting the remarks.

And so I suggest that many of us create conversations or actions that we expect others to carry out, almost as if we had responsibility for what they do or say. Maybe it’s a matter of different generations or upbringing. When I publish a new book, I fully expect that I will receive congratulations and/or purchases from those who know and appreciate my work. But it’s definitely setting myself up for disappointment.

Is the alternative to expect nothing from others, thereby eliminating the possibility of feeling bad? That’s difficult to say. Maybe it’s another take on the golden rule to which I often allude. If someone close to me achieves or accomplishes something, I feel privileged to share that milestone by extending congratulations. But expecting any or all of those people to reciprocate falls under the heading of expectations, reasonable or otherwise.

It’s probably a little late in my life to change that part of my outlook. But I can be definite about not expressing my regret that was based on (unreasonable) expectations. We’ll just go from there. Shalom.

Growing older, not old

A recent stop at one of New Mexico’s numerous produce stands provided me with a great reminder about the difference between growing older and growing old. Not to grow older is an end to life, something that very few of us want.

There were two brief examples of my refusal to grow old or grow up. One was encountering a jar of something called “kickles.” I had never seen these before and they were simply pickles that had been kicked up with some famous New Mexican green chiles. The name was so cute and I am such a fan of hot food that I had to have them.

The second involved a little chile ristra. If you’re not familiar with the term, I have attached a picture. Ristras are simply red and green chiles that are strung for the purposes of decoration and later use. The one we purchased was about 6” tall and I was kidding with one of the produce stand’s employees that if I bought it now, it would grow to be very long by spring. She looked at me with a blank expression, suggesting that either she thought I was crazy or she didn’t speak English.

In either case, I am determined to have as much fun, childish or otherwise, that I can have while I am still fortunate enough to remain on this planet. I reserve the right to swing on a playground swing and ride as many attractions as possible in a theme park. While I may not have the physical agility or stamina that I had when I first played with swings, I remember the technology.

Why get old and stuffy when you can still think young and/or playful? Very often, I play games with my students, some of which are mental and some physical. What I don’t want is ever to say, “I’m too old to do that,” which in my world will mean, “I’m too lazy” or “I lost the ability to enjoy life.” Shalom.

Laziness

This morning, I had the misfortune of listening to someone discussing the merits and disadvantages of a new phone. Within the three or four minutes of his video, he used the expression, “At the end of the day” six times. Never mind the fact that I detest this particular cliché. My question is, why are we so lazy that we have to rely on clichés to fill air space?

The first alternative is to say nothing and proceed with your sentence. Another choice is to use less hackneyed expressions such as, “therefore,” “also,” “additionally,” or “finally.” I can think of several reasons why this travesty occurred. He felt a void that he could easily fill with “At the end of the day.” He was nervous and figured that this expression would be universally understandable and acceptable. Or maybe he didn’t think at all.

As a writer and educator, I am probably more than a little conscious of the words that people use. If that is offensive to some, I have no serious defense. But just think of all of those clichés that we are forced to hear in any particular day. Bottom line. If you know what I mean. That’s what I’m talking about. And of course, there is the unfortunate use of the word “tons” that includes any item that we refuse to describe as many, quite a few, considerable, numerous, or any other adjective.

If you’re thinking that I should ignore many of the expressions that I dislike so intensely, you’re probably right. By no means do I suggest that my speech is free of disagreeable expressions – by no means? You can be certain, however, that as much as I have influence over my speech and that of the students whom I teach, I encourage more creative and less trite language. That’s why they let me teach. And no-one ever gave me permission to write – it’s simply something that I do. Shalom.

Nice

If you grew up in the decades when I did, the 50s and 60s, you often heard one or both of your parents entreating you to “Be nice.” Here we are, quite a few decades later, and I find myself issuing the same request to my students. But this time, I am beginning to wonder exactly what that means and whether or not we have the need to deliver a more precise statement.

The meaning of nice is not universal. What I mean as far as nice is probably not the same as what you mean. But I think that if we talk more about some old values that we must teach our kids in school, doing so is ultimately much more productive than entreating them to be nice, to the teacher or to each other.

For example, it’s very common to see one child nudging, punching, or simply touching another student. When I see that, my immediate response is likely to be, “Be nice – you don’t need to touch each other.” That’s just not enough.

As vigorously as we teach our children to allow personal space and respect the rights of one another, we must also speak of the golden rule, whether we mention it by name or not. In other words, how about we treat other people the way we want to be treated. You wouldn’t like it if someone started punching or tickling you, so why would you think that it was okay to do it to someone else?

The golden rule is not exclusive to the classroom. Why would you cut someone off on the road if you don’t like it being done to you? Why tailgate if you don’t like to be tailgated? Why block an aisle in a grocery store if you become annoyed when someone prevents you from getting through an aisle?

It’s crucial that we remember to instill these values in those who might not otherwise hear about the golden rule. Being nice is simply doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No age is too early or too late for that lesson. Maybe we all need an occasional reminder. Shalom.

Those who can, do

There is at least one truth that I have recognized after nearly twenty years (on and off) of substitute teaching. The students that I teach are generally direct and clear reflections of their full-time teachers, good or bad.

It’s quite rare that there are exceptions to this statement. Every now and then, I’ll encounter a child who is a terror but has an entirely remarkable teacher. This is usually a child who has an absent parent or parents, abuse, homelessness, or a similar situation. While I seldom see this type of student, he or she will demand and receive special love and attention from me.

In most other cases, when I see undisciplined students, the full-time teacher is either apathetic or inept and I see it in the attitudes of their class. Yesterday was a perfect example.

Most days I have one class per day or half day. Because of teacher meetings yesterday, I had a total of six classes and going from one to the next was the experience of going from a cyclone to a warm spring day. In the first case, the teacher’s classroom was messy and disorganized. Her notes to me were scant and not very helpful. Accordingly, many students in the class were rude, disrespectful, and unpleasant.

From there, I went to a class led by a gentleman who is kind, focused, and thorough. And the class was polite, fun, respectful, and eager to engage in conversation.

Somewhere and somehow, this must be an accurate representation of life outside the classroom. Of course, there are some messy teachers who are kind and dedicated. There are also some who are well-organized tyrants.

Many work environments, most likely, fall into the same types of patterns as my classrooms. Good managers generally have dedicated and happy employees while the despots are often going to have the employees who are sour and unappreciated.  It’s a good possibility that parenting has similar patterns. And so it goes, when I am fortunate enough to meet the parents of a special child, they are usually just as special. Shalom.

Hard work

Exactly what is it that causes a day of hard work to result in immediate and deep sleep? Tuesday was an excellent example. My morning consisted of teaching a collection of very active kindergarteners while the afternoon included about thirteen third graders. By the time I hit the pillow, I was asleep.

My thought is that working to the point of exhaustion eliminates the possibility of thinking about anything other than falling asleep. On days when I don’t teach and I am not quite as tired, I find myself mulling over my books past and present, my next teaching assignment, and my upcoming travel. So that’s one level of promoting beneficial rest.

But I think that the more important truth is that it simply feels good to complete a day of hard work and dedication. If you encounter a teacher who says that he or she is not tired after teaching all day, it’s a good bet that they are either not engaged or they put their kids in front of laptops for the whole day.

And so, to the many millions of people who give their all to their work, whatever that may be, I salute you. We see evidence of this everywhere we look. There are the health care workers who work many twelve- and fourteen-hour days in a row. We see police officers and fire fighters who put their lives on the line to serve and protect us. And there are many millions of others who approach their occupations with dedication, enthusiasm, and pride who are never acknowledged.

As I have previously stated, I am privileged to have the opportunities to see students ranging in age from five to fourteen on a daily basis. It is my serious responsibility to educate, support, and encourage them in whatever ways possible. When I sleep well at night, it’s because I am faithful to this responsibility. And if you experience the same form of commitment to serving others, I salute you. Shalom.

What would you be doing?

One of the very provocative statements included in a book of writing prompts that my son gave to me was the following: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? The prompt was only that and no specific connotation or context was provided. In other words, the question is not necessarily related to profession, hobby, personal time, or any other activity that we do.

While I have very few things that I would be doing if I weren’t doing what I am, it’s something I would submit to be a good lesson in bucket lists or what will I do when I grow up? If we are adults who are not doing what we want to do, why is that the case? If I weren’t teaching and writing, I am not very certain that I would be enjoying my life as much as I do.

The question that follows this one is why aren’t you doing something other than what you are? If it’s a question of finance, that makes sense. If you are so busy working that you haven’t had a chance to do as much traveling as you would like, that also seems reasonable.

But if you are at all like me, you don’t want to live most of your life being unhappy or frustrated that you didn’t do what you wanted to do rather than what you are doing. It’s always gratifying to hear stories about people who wanted to be nurses, doctors, teachers, fire fighters, or lawyers from the time that they had first had reason to think about future professions. That means that these are people who lived out their destinies as they chose.


If you’re unhappy at what you’re doing, maybe it’s time to think about alternatives. Having spent the first half of my career in sales, it was only the second half of my working life that I became an educator, a profession that I cherish. The possibility exists that I needed those years in sales in order to be effective in the classroom. I just might not have been ready. We only get one shot at life, making it imperative that we use that trip doing what makes us happy and fulfilled. Listen to your heart and if it’s telling you to do something new that will bring you greater joy, it’s probably time to make that change. Shalom.