Expectations

As a literacy coach and intervention team facilitator, I am tasked with communicating expectations of my administration and the district to my colleagues. It’s a tricky position (correction: these are tricky positions. Plural. Sometimes I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins, wearing 500 hats). At present, my fellow educators are, in the wake of COVID, undergoing state-mandated Science of Reading training while adjusting to new curriculum and new leadership. It all comes with new expectations.

Truth be told, however, many of these expectations aren’t new: Problem-solving as a professional community, finding what we need as educators to give the students what they need. Bridging gaps. Collaborative planning. Collective responsibility. None of these are new; they just feel new if they’ve not been done effectively before…the bottom line being the determination of this is what the kids really need; how do we make it happen?

It’s formidable challenge, in a time where there are many needs, and when educational philosophies, beliefs, and mindsets clash. I recently wrote about endurance (from a spiritual point of view). This new school year follows one of extreme exhaustion. We will not endure without leaning on one another. We will not build our strength in isolation. We will not succeed without stamina. Or vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Grappling with expectations is, well, expected. Everything, everything, everything rests on one of two beliefs: it can be done or it can’t.

I believe it can.

Yesterday my granddaughter visited. The hummingbird feeder rings I ordered for us had just arrived. Perfect timing. We took them out of the package, washed them, made a tiny batch of sugar water, and filled them. Off to the yard we trotted to stand with our arms resting on the fence near one of my two feeders where a handful of hummingbirds compete for their nectar throughout the day.

You can see for yourself, in the photo, my granddaughter thinking I don’t know about this…yet there’s a layer of hope and fear in her expression: Will the hummingbirds actually come drink from my ring? Will I be scared?

After a while: How long is this going to take?

The secret, my love, is patience and persistence. If it doesn’t work the first time, we will try again, and again. Hummingbirds have come to drink from the rings of other people in other places; they will eventually do so with us. Keep trying. Believe. I will stand with you until it does.

Oh, right.

I started off talking about teaching, didn’t I.

Expression of uncertain expectation. After she left, I went out again when the hummers were more active. A couple of them hovered nearby, considering me and my outstretched, ringed hand (hummingbirds are highly intelligent and curious). If they come to me…they will come to my granddaughter. I will see if can make it happen for her.

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

Filling the bucket

Bucket of Sunshine. gfpeck. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power.  – Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium

At my school this year, every staff member is writing notes of encouragement and gratitude for each other. We are calling this “filling each other’s bucket” – everyone has a colorful designated bag for receiving the written messages.

I couldn’t think of better symbolism than this bucket of dandelions. Or the quote.

All too often, we never realize the collective abundant strength and power we have.

It is in the giving that we begin to experience it.

Charged

The first gathering
before regular workdays
even begin
is a Leadership meeting
called by new admin
to set the vision
for the year ahead
where lingering clouds
so widespread
start dissipating.
The atmosphere is changed
from June, when we left
depleted and drained:
All my colleagues’ faces,
all their voices and words,
shaking off residual traces
of drenching despair
in this positive charge
electrifying the air.

It can be done.
We have begun.

Explosion of positive energy. Łukasz StrachanowskiCC BY-NC 2.0.

Path to peace

Every day
has its gifts.
Learn to recognize them.
Give thanks for them.
Watch a new road
materialize before you
under a sky
of infinite
possibility.
The antidote
to despair
is not hope
but gratitude.

Light reading

A friend who knows my affinity for the natural world gave me The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. It’s written as a conversation between Jane Goodall and her interviewer, Douglas Abrams. When I say it’s part of my current “light reading” I don’t mean easy (although it is) or frivolous (for it is not).

I mean light as in candleglow dancing on the walls of a dark room.

I’ve not gotten far yet but here are some lines that draw me in the first couple of chapters—flickerings of my own credo:

Hope is a survival trait.

The naturalist looks for the wonder of nature – she listens to the voice of nature and learns from it as she tries to understand it.

Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but is not stopped by them. There’s a lot of darkness, but our actions create the light.

And this from an Inuit elder, on confronting and healing our grief, which can manifest itself in the body as physical pain: Make space for grief…find awe and joy in every day.

—these, I believe. They are often the very reason why I write.

Recipe for Survival

Hold onto hope, and it will hold you
Open the ears, eyes, arms of your spirit
Perceive the call of awe, all around
Embrace it. Let the healing begin.

On this day

Nine months
since you entered the world
making mine
exponentially beautiful
every single day

Three years
since your Grandpa
had a massive heart attack
while driving
and the deputy sheriff
came to tell
your future dad, uncle,
and me (Franna)
that he’d run off the road
and was being taken
to the hospital
where we were told
he’d been resuscitated

they weren’t sure
he’d make it

he did

Grandpa lived
to see you
love you
and call you
“little angel”

I say
there must be
some mighty ones
all around

Micah, 9 months, looking up at her Grandpa

Of the ages

It is said that
the Information Age
is ending
giving way to
the Experience Age
loosely defined
as moving from
accumulation
(our digital output
is greater
than our capacity
to store it
anyway)
to immersion
in the story:
‘Live every moment
of your life
to the fullest,
with as much
sensory detail
as possible!’

(a shift
reminiscent of
the writing rule
‘show, don’t tell’
although in truth
it takes both
to bring a story
to life
and in thinking
of narratives
I pause to consider
this thing called
the unreliable narrator)

then, this week,
I stumbled across
this phrase:
We live in the age of rage

I contemplate the why of it
as my brain follows threads
inextricably, impossibly knotted
through a psychological tapestry
of distortion
information here
experience there
narrative everywhere
(as I once heard a father
tell his child:
It’s your lie.
Tell it like you want to.)

people do tell it
and sell it
and buy it
like they want to

often, it seems,
without an eye
turned toward the age
to come
being too blinded
by continual bombardment
in the now

the Experience Age
I wonder if it might be
more aptly called
the Age of Escape
fleeting as it is

these are the things
I think about
when I sit to write
in the stillness
of early morning
before the sunrise
before the stirring of the birds
nature’s continuity
offering sacred respite
from the Age of Rage
where the broken road
inevitably sends one
teetering on the edge
if not over into
the abyss
of despair

Hope. Martin Gommel. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Solitary existence: the hummingbirds

Hummingbirds lead a solitary existence.

I saw one hummingbird out back last week, darting about the pines. It turned in my direction, tiny pale-bellied fairy-creature suspended in midair, as if to acknowledge my presence across the yard before zipping away. I wondered if it was making some kind of request. The next day I bought a feeder and hung it outside my kitchen window; within moments, a tiny female landed to sip my homemade nectar.

The next day another female arrived. I watched the two of them competing for turns at the feeder. All day they chase each other away, each still managing to land and feed for the few seconds it takes to sate a creature so tiny. One tentative male finally showed up today, his ruby throat resplendent in the sunlight. I haven’t managed to get a photo of him yet. I hope he’ll return, despite these territorial females.

There’s a lot I didn’t know about hummingbirds. They’re curious. They watch me through the window as I’m watching them. I read that they’re highly intelligent; they learn to recognize the person who feeds them and may even remind this person if their sugar water is running low. They are not social, not flock birds. When they migrate to Mexico in the fall, they go it alone. Why does this pull so terribly on my heartstrings? I cannot shake the image in my mind of this tiniest of birds flying so far by itself.

They do not think of themselves as fragile. They are not lonesome.

It’s what they do. They lead a solitary existence.

With that, the hummingbird memory stirs.

Summer, long ago. Riding in Grandma’s rocket-red Ford Galaxie 500 along the dusty dirt road to her sister’s house. The Galaxie doesn’t have power steering or air-conditioning so the windows are down and Grandma has a Kleenex stuffed into her cleavage to catch the trickling sweat. Fortunately Aunt Elizabeth only lives about a mile away, in a little bungalow house with square tapered columns, off to itself by cornfields and groves of hardwoods. There’s a path in the grass of her yard where her old maroon car (I think it was maroon, either a Ford or a Chevy, I can’t recall exactly) is parked by the weathered outbuilding. Grandma and I park behind it and walk in the shade of the trees to Aunt Elizabeth’s back porch.

Everything is old. The porch floorboards, the screen door that squawks on opening and closing, the tiny, cramped kitchen, the worn linoleum revealing a slightly swayed floor, the living room with braided rugs…it’s a dark house, faintly musty. The smell of Time hangs in the air, unmoved even by the square electric floor fan humming on high speed. Aunt Elizabeth is pleased to see me. She opens her arms to give me a hug and kiss. Her pale cheek, faintly mottled with reddish freckles, is cool. She’s two years older than my grandmother. She asks how my Daddy is, says she sure does miss him, oh, she used to enjoy having him over to eat…

Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t have children. Not any that lived. When I first asked about it, Grandma told me of her sister’s two premature, stillborn babies. Tiny things, said Grandma; she was there when it happened. She held them, grieved for them. Aunt Elizabeth was married to Granddaddy’s youngest brother, who died before I was born. He suffered from some kind of condition doctors could never figure out. Without any warning, he’d lose consciousness and collapse. It happened numerous times until the day he had a spell and couldn’t be revived.

So my great-aunt, in her sixties, lives here alone, way out in the country where, in the 1970s, people still don’t have telephones; they drive to each others’ houses to visit and catch up on news. It is good that a few of her eight siblings live close by, that grown nieces and nephews make a point to come by to see her when they can. Aunt Elizabeth gardens, cans her vegetables and preserves in glass jars for storing on her kitchen shelves, drives to town, tends to herself, is completely independent, yet it seems a solitary existence to me. As she chats with Grandma I wonder if she’s lonesome, if she still misses her husband, gone for so long, and if she’s sad about having no children or grandchildren of her own. She hands some bubblegum out to me and I know she got it because she knew I was coming.

When our visit is over, we all walk out on the porch — that’s what you do, in the country. You walk out and wave until your visitor drives out of sight. Unwritten etiquette. Everyone does it. Same for throwing your hand up to any other car you pass on the road.

But Grandma and I don’t leave yet, because of the hummingbirds.

They’re everywhere.

Aunt Elizabeth has strung up several red and yellow plastic feeders around her porch. At every one is a horde of the tiny birds, dipping in and out. The air vibrates from the rapid fanning of their wings; I feel the circulation, a coolness against the heavy summer humidity.

I am awed. I have never seen anything so magical before. I can’t even count how many hummingbirds.

The sisters, in their delight, laugh like young children.

—It comes back to me, watching the few contentious hummingbirds outside my window almost half a century later. I didn’t know how rare a thing it was, then, the communal gathering of hummingbirds. I remember my great-aunt, not with pity. I hear the musical sound of her laughter and the humming of all those tiny wings there on her porch….knowing that in the long enduring of life’s losses and trials come moments of pure enchantment and abundant richness.

I shall need more feeders.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life story-writing invitation