All in for the kids

In the interview
the candidate said
we don’t get credit
for all we’ve endured
on behalf of kids
in these past two years

and apologized
for the sudden tears

every one of which
surfaces from depths

immeasurable
a soul subjected
to intense pressure
yet having withstood
high temperatures
beyond describing

the weight of the world
in every teardrop

glittering brighter
and more costly than
the rarest diamond

for they’re evidence
of love resounding
courage rebounding
in five wondrous words:
“I still want to teach”

Eye Don’t Cry. corner of art. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Stillness

I find there is nothing that drives away dark thoughts as much as Sunday morning, especially when it follows a night of strange and troubled dreams after a week of increasing tensions at work in a school year that seems never-ending. As I wake, pondering the attrition of humanity in general with a hymn-line playing in my head, Change and decay in all around I see, unable to tell if I am feeling heartsick, soul-sick, or just plain sick, the Sunday stillness settles my spirit. My stomach, on the other hand, needs more time…not sure if I will make it to church or not. A riotous melody from the front porch works like a tonic: a finch fantasia. The mohawk-headed babies that hatched in my door wreath should have flown on by now. I am glad they linger. I need these bright notes. I wish I could interpret them and know exactly what the finches are saying to one another… if they were not here, the silence would be so loud. There is a time for silence and it is not now. It is not the same as stillness. Sunday brings stillness, the finch song brings stillness, the wall clock with whirring crystals brings stillness. I am craving prolonged stillness, I am so tired, but I make myself go.

And if I had not done so, I would have missed it.

Backing out of the garage, closing the door, turning down the driveway… there.

Across the street, lying on the grass in front of a tangled green thicket, a large white cat, so still it seemed an alabaster statue. It didn’t move as I approached. It gazed at me as if it belonged in that very spot (I have never seen it before).

Sphinx-like. Pristine. Regal. Otherworldly. Breathtaking. I think I whispered the word Amazing.

I could have stayed and stared, I think, forever.

But, without movement of any kind, the white cat reminded me that stillness isn’t an untroubling; it is, instead, a submerging, away from surface-level fear, a shaking off, a resting place, a deep abiding.

Which paradoxically involves moving on.

I feel certain it winked at me as I did so.

Curiosity drove me to look it up: Pure white cats are rare, 5% or less of the population.
It didn’t seem to mind my taking its picture.

*******

special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Abundance: Spiritual journey

May. Newness. Longer days, more sunlight. Blossom-laden trees perfume the air, geese with goslings glide across glassy ponds. Along the backroads and byways, the fields have been plowed; John Deere tractors roll over the naked earth, freshly dotted with neat rows of little green plants.

I think of sowing and the harvest to come.

My illustrious daily planner seems to be a cross between almanac and oracle these days. It offers this quote:

Small seeds of gratitude will produce a harvest of hope.

I love it for its own merit, emphasizing gratitude, which I know to be as transformative a force as love, forgiveness, and possibly awe. I envision tiny seeds of gratitude planted in the furrows of the heart, eventually producing a harvest of hope to be stacked and stored for when it is most needed in the future.

And I remember Joseph.

Unlike the chief cupbearer in Genesis 40, who “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him,” after Joseph interpreted his dream, correctly and prophetically. At the time they were in prison with the chief baker, who would be hanged by Pharaoh (yet another accurate dream interpretation by Joseph). To this point, Joseph had endured quite a bit. His mother died just after having his baby brother. His older brothers detested him for being their father’s favorite and for being “this dreamer” (37:19)… perhaps Joseph shouldn’t have told them of his dreams in which they, and their father, Jacob, all bowed to him. His brothers discussed killing him until Reuben, the oldest, intervened. They threw Joseph in a pit instead and sold him as a slave. Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh. Joseph serves Potiphar with great efficacy and integrity, so much so that Potiphar “left all he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate” (38:6). Until Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce him, that is, becoming so aggressive that Joseph wriggled out of his garment to get away from her… a garment she used to make the accusations which landed him in jail for thirteen years. (Note: This is the second garment that causes trouble for Joseph; the coat of many colors given to him long before by his father didn’t set so well with those brothers. Imagine their initial self-righteousness while tearing it, dipping it in goat’s blood, and presenting it to their father as evidence that Joseph was attacked and killed by wild animals…which, of course, they’d live to regret).

And Joseph is forgotten in prison until Pharaoh has a troubling dream and the restored cupbearer finally remembers him.

Here’s the thing: It was God’s plan all along for Joseph to stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams of coming famine, that Pharaoh should be so impressed he’d set Joseph up as prime minister of Egypt, that Joseph should execute his proposed plan for planting and harvesting:

During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. -Genesis 41:47-49

It is this divine plan of action that eventually saves Joseph’s brothers when they come seeking food in Egypt.

Joseph weeps a lot through several chapters. When his brothers realize who he is, they bow before him (every dream having come true) in fear and trembling… and Joseph chooses reconciliation over retribution. His father is still alive; he brings the whole family to Egypt to survive the famine. The brothers again fear his wrath on the death of their father, but Joseph’s words ring with gratitude to God: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, that many people should be kept alive…” (50:20). And so the Twelve Tribes of Israel were preserved.

Seeds of gratitude, shall we say, protect against spiritual famine, yielding hope to be relied upon in times when faith is tested, as Joseph’s was. He never wavered; this is why I love him. He’s one of my favorite Biblical figures, exhibiting integrity and faith in abundance.

In the midst of our trials, God is at work. In times of bleakness, verdant lushness awaits.

Begin with seeds of gratitude… and expect a harvest of unimaginable abundance.

Joseph Storing Grain During the Seven Years of Plenty. Patrizio Cajés (1540-1612).

*******

with thanks to my Spiritual Journey friends who write on the first Thursday of each month, and to Susan Koehler for hosting today on a theme of “abundance.”

It’s all about the journey

Flipping through my planner today, scheduling even more things to be done before school is out in June, I discover this quote…

We go through things we never imagined but it may lead us to places we never dreamed.

For just a fraction, a breath, the brokenness of things diminishes…

I could write of this school year’s hardships on colleagues, with colleagues, on families, and on children most of all…

of COVID still rearing its tiny invisible head in the community…

of young and beautiful creatures that have died…

of incomprehensible suffering and loss…

but I will write instead of lush green moments, the “birdiest” spring I’ve ever known, an abundance of wings and chatter and song each day, so many things I’ve never seen before, like a pair of great blue herons flying low over the road from pond to brush…

my son arriving at home, placing his baby daughter in my arms, her tiny sweet hand reaching to pat my face as she drinks from her bottle…

a newness that is more than seasonal, invoking the eternal like shafts of sunlight in shadowed places…

for just a fraction, a breath, I have a sense of undoing, of forests, animals, people restored, rejoicing, the Earth itself laughing, the whole atmosphere charged with absolution, pure, deep, and complete…a bright glimmering, a pulled curtain quickly falling back into place.

It is enough.

I turn the pages and keep writing on my tomorrows.

Dear Little Blue Egg

I still do not know where your parents are at present.

I am just your surrogate human grandmother figure who lives behind the blue door where you lie resting in your beautiful downy nest in the magnolia wreath.

Quite alone since your Sunday debut.

Three days now.

You ought to have had at least couple of sibling eggs, but…

Here is what I have learned, since learning is the only thing I can do in this situation of waiting to see how Nature acts on your behalf:

  1. Sometimes a mother bird’s egg-laying gets interrupted. Your mother may resume. I haven’t known this to happen before with our house finch families, but let’s not dwell on that right now.
  2. Sometimes a mother finch lays just one egg. Again, I haven’t known this to happen before, but… maybe you’re all she has. Which means you are very precious, indeed.
  3. Sometimes a mother finch will lay eggs and wait for some time before returning to incubate them, as a means of diverting attention from the nest. It’s a ploy to keep you safe. I could have sworn I heard your parents chatting at the nest late yesterday afternoon. I so expected another egg…
  4. Because a mother may wait a rather long time to return, overly interested humans (ahem) should wait a month (a MONTH!) before assuming a nest and egg are abandoned. There is hope for you yet, Little Blue Egg…

Meanwhile, I’ve done all I can for my front porch bird sanctuary… or should I say egg sanctuary? As always, I put up a sign warning visitors of your nest with instructions to use another door. My family knows to leave the front door bolted (just in case, I put a reminder sign inside: STOP! -birds-).

Meanwhile, with temperatures dipping into the twenties overnight, I cannot help thinking about your cold blue lonesomeness. I am making myself take heart that there can be a pretty good span of time before incubation begins…that you still have a window for survival…

Meanwhile, there are PLENTY of other things with which to concern myself. In the whole of the universe, you are but one little blue egg; yet your tiny solitary presence affects me. Maybe it has something to do with all the work your parents put into creating this beautiful nest and the expense of egg production is to your mother. Very costly, that. Should you, her current one and only, not hatch…it seems, in the scheme of things, a grievous loss.

Granted, grievous losses happen in the world every single day, and my species is not the best (by far) at fathoming (or preventing) them.

For the record: I love birds. Something about you gives wings to something in my soul. House finch songs are particularly joyful; indeed, you’re a bona fide omen of joy (I looked it up long ago). Early in the morning, doxology of joy; in the blue hour, evensong of joy.

This present silence, dear Little Blue Egg, feels immense.

Know that I am pulling for you while watching from a distance.

Your hopeful resident human-guardian-grandmother,
Franna

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March

The feather

on the second anniversary of school shutdowns due to COVID-19

Bleak days. A long, rain-spattered, windswept season, gray as ashes, as stones, just as hard, cold, and immovable. Day to day to day the green promise of spring seems like a dream barely remembered; naked tree branches twist skyward as if beseeching the heavens for renewal…

We go through the motions, automatons numbed by a pandemic not quite past and the ripple effect of unprovoked war on the world stage, as if we’ve somehow fallen through a wormhole to eight decades ago… what year IS this?

I am tired, my colleagues at school tell one another. So tired. Some don’t know if they’re coming back next year. Some don’t know if they’re going to stay in education at all. Our principal is leaving in four weeks.

The children have seemed shell-shocked most of this year. Maybe I seem the same way to them, especially now that masks are optional and I find myself not recognizing some of them; I’ve never seen them without masks before. I don’t know their faces below their eyes.

As I walked the hallways last week, I had a sense of dragging myself over a finish line, except that there is no finish line. Not now, not yet…

But even in the bleakest, rain-spattered, windswept season, when gray goes grayer still, bits of brightness are always swirling. Maybe as tiny as a feather, a soft semiplume shed from a creature with the gift of flight. It might appear to be half one thing and half another… it might have the appearance of dark, wispy, wayward hair as well as a tapered tip dipped in fiery red, altogether like an artist’s brush with which we might, we just might, begin to dispel despair by painting our moments as we will…

So much symbolism in a feather. In the bird that releases it.

It is said that when cardinals appear, angels are near.

I don’t know about that.

I just know a cardinal feather is a symbol of life, hope, and restoration. And courage. And love. And sacrifice…

Falling from the grayest sky
Ethereal, riding the wind
Alluding to nearness of angels
Tiny trace of a nearby cardinal that
Has lost a bit of his insulation
Ephemeral, perhaps, to him
Restorative tincture, to me

Semiplume cardinal feather photographed by my friend,
E. Johnson, 3/11/2022.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Sunday song

Early Sunday morning, on my way to church, the sky’s overcast but sun rays are peeking through, all set to teach the lesson on what constitutes a “hero” and while the best-known characteristic may be courage (which is not the absence of fear but acting bravely in spite of it), not to mention self-sacrifice, then perhaps the least recognized is humility, throwing off the mantle of leadership to be a servant, it’s all a matter of the spirit, service… and as I drive past barns, fields, pastures, the green, green grass hints of imminent spring, making my heart rejoice, as do the horses tossing their manes when I pass, surely shaking off sleep and the night, greeting the day as if to say Good morning, good morning, not to mention that I have just enough time to make choir practice before I teach, for we are finally singing as a choir again after two long years, and look at all these robins flocking by the roadside, taking flight as I round the bend, maybe straightening a curve or two, until I remember something my childhood preacher said: Don’t have a Jesus bumper sticker on your car if you drive like the devil… good thing I have no such sticker, but I’ll slow down a bit just the same…in my bag is a list of prayer requests and petitions to make, knowing the Lord already knows, for He knows all, sees all, is over all, and while there is so much I cannot understand, I am learning, I am always learning, and although words are forever scrolling through my brain, today, my heart needs no words; it just sings, like the birds.

A photo from last summer. In recent weeks a little Carolina wren has been perching on the tip of the cross of one of our two “bird churches,” singing its heart out to the sky. I haven’t been successful in recording this glorious solo… yet.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

In the time of broken hearts

Heard on the news this week: Broken heart syndrome is a real thing.

It happens after significant stressors. Too much adrenaline. The heart is weakened. It hurts.

There’s a scientific name for it: takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It derives from the Japanese word for “octopus trap,” after the shape of the left ventricle of the heart in this condition.

It is temporary. The broken heart can heal in a short time, maybe days or weeks.

It can sometimes lead to complications. Rarely death, though.

It seems to affect mostly women 50 and older.

But I wonder.

I wonder, as I regularly step in for teachers who are out.

I wonder, as I absorb laments and frustration and anger about the depth of student struggles.

I wonder, as I listen to students reading poems about tasting the salt of their tears.

I wonder, when I wake up so tired on workdays, when I have so little left to give when I get home.

And I am usually one to see the glass half full, to find the awe in each day, like…

the blue heron standing a glassy pond on the drive to work

the whorls of white smoke floating up from the chimney of a little house in the countryside, struck by the rising sun and transformed into clouds of peach-colored light

the newest photo of my three-month-old granddaughter who’s beginning to smile more and more

hearing my boy play old hymns on the baby grand piano at church with such a multitude of notes and joyful liveliness that surely, surely the angels dance

the one little bird (a cardinal?) singing for all it is worth, from the treetops

-these things strengthen my heart.

And keep it, I think, from breaking.

It is a long season, this pandemic, with its deep layers of residue.

On this day of celebrating love and hearts…I wish you healing peace for the pieces.

Photo: Broken Heart Chalk 2Retta Stephenson.CC BY 2.0

Collaborative Spirit

I will call it
as I see it
from the ever-shifting sands
at the shoreline
looking out
over the vast and raging sea
called School
nowadays

so much debris
in those rolling waves
flotsam and jetsam
of curriculum
of standards
a wreckage of data
certainly broken systems
and even “learning decay”
-phew-
how’s that
for positivity

it is not
that I don’t have faith

I do

I believe in kids

I believe in teachers

I believe in overcoming

I also believe
everyone doesn’t believe

and I know
as I hear the crashing waves
and the gnashing teeth
that the current
will drown us all
if we pull
apart

if only
if only
I could build a sturdy ship
I’d name it
Collaborative Spirit

and
if I could just get everyone
on board

we’d sail
over
and through
and beyond
what we can even
imagine

together

it’s just that
one person
can’t build a ship
(or relation-ship)
alone

no

building the
Collaborative Spirit
takes all hands
on deck

that’s how I call it
that’s how I see it
from the ever-shifting sands
at the shoreline
looking out
over the vast and raging sea
called School
nowadays

Wooden ship on the Rupsa River (Bangladesh). joiseyshowaa. CC BY-SA 2.0

Benchmark haiku

If you’re a teacher
you’re probably assessing
current student growth

since the beginning
of this COVID-tainted year
hoping, despairing

—don’t forget caring
should also include yourself.
Numbers can’t measure

your value and worth.
You’re one of the mightiest
forces on this Earth.

A timely caption in my daily planner