Monday, June 13, 2016

A Journey with Friends

I love my friends. They are from every economic and educational background. They are old and young, homosexual and heterosexual, red, yellow, black and white. My friends are from various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Their politics vary and some of them make me crazy but they are my friends. Some love cats and others prefer dogs; while there are a few who are just not pet people. I have friends who love to camp and those who prefer the city. I have prissy, high-heel-wearing friends and sweats and tennis shoe friends. I have guy friends and girl friends. I have friends who are incredibly picky eaters and friends who are adventurous with food and many other things. In fact, the more different you are from me, the more I like you because I want to learn from you and seek out the common ground somewhere beneath our differences.

My friends and I met first on the street where my parents have lived in a quiet neighborhood in south St. Louis for 48 years. While my first friends were all fairly similar, I enjoyed their special quirks and unique qualities. Later we met at Francis Park and at swimming lessons at the YWCA on South Kingshighway and at the cabins on the shore beside Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks. Out in public, I sought out the kids who looked the least like me and desperately tried to become their friend. Then at home, I would beg my mom to "PLEASE USE ALL OF THE BARRETTES" because I wanted to have hair like the beautiful, brown-skinned girl I had met at the grocery store.

Eventually, my friends were my classmates. We discovered each other in class, in the parking lot which doubled as a playground, and playing sports in the evenings and weekends. My friends were short and tall and chubby and thin and some were only nice when we hung out on our own but were kind of mean when everyone else was around. But I liked them anyway.

My high school and college friends introduced me to diversity. Diversity of thoughts and ideas, diversity of beliefs, diversity in culture and upbringing... And I loved it. Most taught me about loyalty. Some taught me that I couldn't trust everyone. Others introduced me to heartbreak.

The workforce afforded me the opportunity to meet friends from all over the city, state and country. When I entered the workforce and the ages of my friends spanned from ten years younger than me to twenty years older.

My friends have been a tremendous part of my journey and my development as a person. I love my friends. I love their differences and their sameness. I love when we agree and I appreciate when we disagree. I cannot imagine living in a world that would not allow me to understand the human experience from as many perspectives as possible. I am grateful when things happen that exponentially increase the happiness of my friends. Even the friends who are vastly different than I. And I am profoundly saddened when tragedy hits, no matter who is affected.

The tragic event in Orlando, FL yesterday caused me to reflect on the similar senseless tragedies that have happened throughout history. From Wounded Knee to Black Wall Street to 9/11 to Orlando, no matter the numbers of those killed and wounded or the ethnic background of those affected, each event was carried out in hatred. Those events happened as a result of closed-mindedness and the inability to understand that different is not bad, it's just different.

Every time something like this happens, everyone wants to know what they can do. Well you can write your representatives about changing the gun laws. You can go donate blood. You can send money to somebody's Go Fund Me effort. OR you can just START WITH YOU. It is not too late to broaden your circle, to get to know someone who is drastically different than you. It's not too late to learn to love people because they bring something new and different to the table. It's not too late to learn to be ok with someone else's normal. Just be kind. To everyone. Especially the ones you just can't understand. And the world will be a better place.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

At a loss... Again

Prior to becoming a teacher, I had experience the death of a coworker only one time. I had never known a teenager who lost his or her life. The rate at which our children are dying is not only heartbreaking, it is practically paralyzingly. As a teacher of these young people, I am sick, I am scared, I am at a total loss for what can be or should be done. 

I wish we could make them stop growing up so fast. I wish we could teach them to be little longer. But... We rush them... Hurry up and walk because I can't carry you. Learn to dress yourself so I can get myself ready. Get yourself a snack. Let yourself in the house after school. And on and on...

I wish they'd just stay babies longer. There's supposed to be plenty of time for all that grown up stuff.. But we rush them.

I wish we could love them more and just spend time teaching them to daydream, to imagine and to pretend. I wish we could SHOW THEM how to WONDER. 

But we rush them. WORK HARD then play hard... If there's time to play. Clean up that kitchen. No you can't go outside--it's not safe. Quit playing! I just cleaned up the house. No you cannot be the tooth fairy when you grow up. You have to do something more practical. We can't afford for you to pursue your dreams so...

Then they hurry through the time that should be set aside for wonder and awe and there's nothing left to do but grown up stuff. And then we wonder why they are dying in the streets. 

I am sad for the family of my former student who died tonight, especially for his brilliantly clever 14-year-old brother who will have to figure out how to keep going. I am heartbroken for his friends and former classmates who have seen this too many times to fully comprehend. I am disheartened for our community that barely had time to breathe between incidents much less collect ourselves and come up with real ways to turn this around. 

But here's what propose, for now:

• Move forward in LOVE
• Embrace your family members. PHYSICALLY HUG THEM as often as you can.
• Let your children play and pretend and imagine and wonder. Take some time to do those things yourself too.
• Say hello and SMILE at strangers.
• Give compliments freely.
•  Be happy for others.
•  Instead of revenge, seek opportunities to spread joy to others in the name of evening the score.
• Say "Thank You."
• Say "I love you." It feels weird at first but the more you say it, the more you feel it and the more you feel it, the easier it becomes.

My suggestions may seem trite or might lack the intensity or passion that seems warranted after the death of a young man. But to continue on the same path without making some adjustments will just lead us to this place over and over again. So let's start small with manageable tasks that EVERYONE can fulfill. And when we are healthier and happier let's get back to changing to world in bigger ways. 

To my students who are sad and suffering tonight: It IS going to be ok. This world will get better. I know this to be true because YOU are in it. See you soon. I LOVE YOU.