Every morning, at the corner of the pond when I see the huddled heron it calls my hunkered heart to respond. Every morning, at the corner of the pond with a wave of nature’s reflective wand my muddled spirit is less bleak, less barren… every morning, at the corner of the pond when I see the huddled heron.
On my drive to work at the stop sign where the grassy green field borders the rail-fence pasture where two horses graze beside the goat pen where fat little brown-and-white goats rest atop their knees beside the still waters of the glassy pond with rising mist
I see a man walking his old, old dog (its body is black but its face as white as snow)
as I pass they walk and walk in the autumn-chill of another new day against a backdrop of brilliant red-orange-gold and moody sky
the dog’s amber eyes gleam as it it chugs along despite weary bones
somehow this continuity this reliability this faithfulness every morning is a tonic to my soul
a shot of goodness an understanding that in the far, quiet reaches something is right so right with the world
I started this blog in March of 2016 because I knew I needed to write more. At the time I was leading writing workshop training for elementary teachers and teaching writing lessons across grade levels; I would go on to co-design workshops for teachers as writers. Although I’ve loved the craft all my life, I wasn’t always an active writer; if I was going to encourage others to write, that needed to change. One must walk the walk… I came across the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge too late that year, but I’ve been participating every year thereafter. I didn’t stop writing with the daily March challenge. I kept going on SOLSC Tuesdays. I found other online groups and wrote with them, too… and I kept going when my district moved away from the writing workshop model and stopped providing opportunities for teacher-writers. I kept on going when life took sharp turns. I kept writing because memories started flowing and I didn’t want to turn them off. I kept writing as a means of choosing hope over despair and because I kept coming across interesting things to try. I began recording ideas and dreams in notebooks, all the time thinking about what I might write next…for there’s so much more to write. So many more stories to tell. I love every minute, even when the writing is hardest. I have learned that just beyond that concrete wall is a garden of plenty, if I can just find the hidden door…
I don’t think I would have kept going if I hadn’t been part of a writing community that uplifts, encourages, and inspires one another.
You are the key.
I owe a debt of gratitude to all at Two Writing Teachers.
Fellow Slicers… don’t quit now.
When you need a challenge write more When challenges are too much write more When you need silence write more When silence is too much write more When you need to know yourself write more When knowing yourself is too much write more When you need to remember write more When remembering is too much write more When your heart is full write more When your heart is empty write more When you are grateful write more for you cannot be too grateful When you are out of ideas write more and more ideas will come When endings come write more and find beginnings
My pencil pouch
Thus concludes the daily Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you for thirty-one days of joy.
Tomorrow is the first day of National Poetry Month; I’ll write more in VerseLove at Ethical ELA.
Where I live rolling fields of soybeans, tobacco, and occasionally cotton are the familiar. I imagine it all looks like a patchwork quilt of various textures and patterns, from the sky. Driving by the pastures where the pair of old mules lived and died, on my way back to school at summer’s end, I see something unexpected. Sunflowers. Tall and tangled, bordering a garden. Light-seeking sentinels with open faces and inner resources as myriad as seeds. At sight of these yellow-petaled suns my heart leaps a little. Is this what they’re mostly for, sunflowers? Beyond seed, oil, fiber, beyond cleansing the soil and waters of nuclear radiation, burning with their own silent, mysterious fire just to inspire? I realize as I drive backroads I’ve not driven in a while that they are everywhere. All around me. Whole fields of them where I’ve never seen them before. They buoy my spirit. Whatever task lies before me, I am up to it. I stop at a store to buy sunflower seeds for my workday lunch salads, as if channeling the power of the sun while remembering what Van Gogh said, as he painted: The sunflower is mine, in a way.
My first encounter with sunflowers was in childhood summers spent deep in the countryside. My grandmother’s brother, who suffered trauma at birth and who lived alone in the old homeplace with his siblings looking after him, planted sunflowers in his garden. I marveled at their towering height and how their faces always followed the sun. Fields of sunflowers have indeed been planted to remove toxins from the soil after nuclear radiation. They are cleansing, healing, and surprisingly buoyant: their stems were used as filler for the first life jackets.
There could hardly be a more encouraging motif as the new school year gets underway.
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the space and invitation to share these noticings in the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge.
As it’s February, the word heart came to mind when I prepared to write for Spiritual Journey Thursday (the first Thursday of each month).
No doubt Valentine’s Day conjured the word. Still feels a bit early for that, although I saw grocery shelves being stocked for it back before Christmas.
I began thinking more along the lines of taking heart. As in courage, which derives from Latin cor, meaning heart, and encourage, from Old French encoragier, to make strong, or to hearten.
One of my favorite images of courage and being encouraged is a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, young Prince Caspian’s ship has sailed into a mysterious, enchanted darkness where nightmares come true. Lucy prays to Aslan, the Narnian lion-god: “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us, send us help now.” The darkness doesn’t change but Lucy senses an inner change. She sees a speck of white materializing above. It comes closer and closer. An albatross, which whispers in her ear as it sweeps past: “Courage, Dear Heart.” And it leads the vessel through the infernal, terrifying darkness to the light just ahead.
We are nearing the year mark of nightmarish things come true. The COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Numbers are still high. New and more virulent strains are developing before vaccines can be obtained. Schools closed last spring and are still in various stages of reopening. There’s been turbulence in the streets, at the Capitol, a heavy toll taken on people’s lives, livelihoods, psyches, and souls…a long, long darkness.
Yet there is faith. And prayer.
Even when it seems eternal Night cannot last forever. Courage, dear hearts One guides you onward Until the morning comes. Remember you are never Alone. God Himself walks alongside you Every step of the way.
While the darkness may not have lifted, we can always sense the light.
There are, after all, the children.
They are unique encouragers. At the end of some of my remote learning sessions, students have signed off by holding up “heart hands.” My own heart lightens as I give heart hands back. While our church was closed, kids mailed handmade cards covered with crayoned hearts to my husband and me: “Pastor Bill and Miss Fran, we miss you!” Years ago, long before I entered the education profession, my oldest son, around the age of five, spent his own money to buy me a little piece of artwork bearing this quote on encouragement: A teacher in wisdom and kindness helps children learn to do exactly what they thought could not be done.
That is true. For it is exactly what the Teacher did for His students, otherwise known as the disciples, just before the the darkest days they’d ever experience. They could hardly have imagined the light ahead. Nor, I imagine, can we. But the heart, it senses. And clings to that hope.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. —John 16:33
Years ago, as I was lamenting things I wish I’d done differently as a literacy coach, my mentor leaned over and put her hand on my arm. Shaking her head, she uttered this unforgettable phrase:
“Don’t should on yourself.”
I wrote it on the cover of my coaching notebook. I would tell it to teachers. We laughed and something was released. The work would still be work, endless and immense, but one felt a bit lighter approaching it.
There are some foundational, common-sense shoulds. One should bathe regularly. One should wear clothes in public. But many shoulds serve as self-imposed bars to remind us we aren’t measuring up, somehow. That we are less. I always loved to write but was trapped for years by the exhortation: “A writer must set a regular writing schedule.” Period. Oh, I’d think, that’s what I should do. That’s what real writers do. If I don’t, I’m not really a writer. Except that my life isn’t ever arranged in such neat compartments of time. Schedules have to change too much. Then: “Writers write every day.” —I should do that! I want to do that! When I didn’t, a niggling sense of failure tugged at my spirit. Cobwebs of despair wound round my heart. The inner critic gloated: “Toldja. You don’t have what it takes.” Scraping should off myself took a long, long time—it likes to fossilize, layer by layer. Its armor is self-guilt. Its color, regret. Should doesn’t need the sharp spear of fear; it is the deadweight of an anvil, iron forming in the soul, shard by shard.
Should isn’t battled with mere acceptance. That’s dangerous ground. I did have to accept that I couldn’t write on the same schedule, every day, but I couldn’t stop there or I would never write. The secret weapon, for me anyway, was reimagining. What do I really want to accomplish? What does success look like for me, within the pattern of my days? I wanted to write more and to write better. I had stories to tell. Eventually they led to this blog. The blog led to wanting to uplift others—there’s already plenty in the world pulling us down. I found myself uplifted in the process. I write several times a week, some weeks more than others. I write whenever I can carve out the precious pockets of time…and for the record, thinking about writing is writing, which I do in the background of my mind all day, every day. A hasty note capturing a fragile new idea before it sprouts wings and flies away is writing. On a Post-It, in the margins of my planner, in notes on my phone, eventually transferring to a notebook… whenever the idea appears, I stop for a second to see it, translucent, barely formed, and catch it. To me that’s the most important thing a writer does. One cannot spin without a thread of silk. And so I had to reimagine what writing looks like, what it really is. I shook off should and carried on with far more productivity on my own terms—without feeling guilty for stopping to rest whenever I need to.
When Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog encouraged writing as a way to “shed your shoulds,” I was reminded, once again, that should is too often an unnecessary, subconscious burden…
Shed your shoulds like leaves in woods Trees shorn of fragility preserve their ability to survive.
Hear should rustling: ‘Don’t forget’ like leaves curling with regret Spiraling, sigh by sigh piling inside, dead and dry cluttering today.
Beware should’sfalse measure robbing Now of its pleasure Shed those shoulds like autumn woods composting for tomorrow.
The moral of the story, Friends: Don’t should on yourself.
Scrape that mess off and use it for fertilizer.
I’ve joined an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join, too.
Heard today that a friend and former colleague passed away.
We worked together for a few short years as paraprofessionals, until I switched schools to complete student teaching, the final step in my university degree. It was an unexpected door that opened later in life for me.
My colleague encouraged me. She was an interesting, eclectic person who celebrated individuality and embraced life even as she absorbed some of its severest blows. I remember one sunny conversation we had about the word “eviscerated” — the gleam in her steely blue eyes never dimmed, whether burning with impassioned convictions or shining with compassionate discernment. She loved to laugh, to comfort, to speak of spiritual things.
One day she surprised me with a handmade card bearing a mysterious drawing on the front: “This is my prayer for you,” she said with a smile and those unwavering, bright eyes.
I kept it all these years, long after we lost touch. Long after I heard that her compromised, declining health rendered her unable to work.
I found the card again this week during my incessant pandemic purge. With the TV in the background broadcasting the rise of coronavirus deaths at a local nursing home, I reread the card, marveled anew at its artistry and sentiment, thought of her, wondered what became of her.
Today I learned she’s numbered among those dead.
—How many messages do we miss in life, because we aren’t “still” enough to receive them. How many moments do we miss because we don’t make time. How many gifts go unacknowledged because we can’t see them while looking through the lens of unfairness.
My friend didn’t miss. She understood. Far better than most.
She reminded me once, long ago.
She reminds me, still.
It’s a choice.
Just now, seize the day Offer your own gifts in return You’ll find joy for the taking
Last night a concert by tenor Andrea Bocelli was televised. He wanted to offer a message of hope to the world; his own country has been ravaged by COVID-19. And so he was recorded with only an organist on Easter Sunday in the Duomo di Milan, resplendent and empty … when he walked outside, alone, to sing “Amazing Grace” on the cathedral porch, the screen displayed the empty streets of major cities around the world.
Listening, watching, I thought this is one of the most abiding images of our time.
A golden shovel today, in honor of Bocelli, his gift, the wounded world-in-waiting, the healing power of music, prayer, and hope:
How amazing this lone figure of grace standing on the church steps singing of how prayer and hope turn bitter times sweet while in the deserted streets his angel-voice is the only sound.
Today concludes the thirty-one-day Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. Today I cross the finish line with many fellow Slicers, having written a post each day.
But the writing doesn’t end here.
Nor does the challenge …
That’s the thing. Now, more than ever before in our lives, is a time to write.
The photo above is of a pocket notebook a friend and mentor gave as a parting gift to all who attended her retirement celebration years ago. Her love of writing and advocacy for teachers as writers inspires me to this day. She also passed the torch of facilitating district writing workshop training to me … until this year, when it is no longer offered. But I carry the notebook with me everywhere I go, just to remind me …
Teachers, students, families, friends, citizens of the world, all … today I offer the same to you, in the ongoing composition of life: Write bravely.