Gaining Clarity

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. There’s nothing like shocking news to draw you out of your own reverie, that beautiful, treacherous bubble.

I have a friend and colleague who found her beloved spouse of 34 years, in the middle of the night, outside, after a violent, fatal accident bush hogging their snowmobile trail on their land. I attended his service, and hugged my friend as she told me that she can’t close her eyes without replaying that horrible scene over and over again in her mind. There is nothing I can do but hug her tight, and listen.

My son has a friend, a young man we’ve known his whole life, whose mother died last week. It’s a club to which no one ever wants to belong, and here he is at age 17 facing life without her. It stuns the heart, and the mind, and that little voice in your head that tells you everything will be okay. I’ve noticed the silence where the voice usually singsongs away.

Everything is not okay.

There was the election, which didn’t go the way I’d hoped. It did go the way I thought it would, however; I wasn’t among the surprised. Horrified and terrified is more like it, and the decision our countrypeople made – at first – left me afraid of that thing I’ve always been afraid of: the unknown.

Until I realized an important distinction between Donald Trump and other things that keep me awake at night. Simply this: he is not the unknown. Mr. Trump has been crystal clear as to who he is, what he’s willing to say and do, and what he’s capable of. Which is to say he’s a man who will do whatever is necessary to win, to remain wealthy to the abject destruction of others, to hold power over anyone and everyone. I could go on, but any of you who hasn’t been living on a ship in the Antarctic knows details to support this statement.

Yes, other politicians are also capable of lying, cheating, manipulating – but never have I felt so shallow a chasm between the politician and the man or woman: his rhetoric IS his message. When he makes fun of a disabled reporter: that’s him putting up on a billboard that people who are other-abled are less than. (There are dozens of other examples and because this is a blog, not an essay, I won’t delve in.) But he hasn’t hidden who he is: he was elected on it.  I’m not afraid of what I don’t know. I’m afraid of what I do.

I’m a teacher. As such, I teach kindness, acceptance, problem-solving, respectful discord and honest conversation as ways to get along in the world. When I witness words or actions that threaten everyone’s right to exist in a safe space, it’s imperative I do something about it. When students don’t hold up their end of the bargain, they face consequences. We now have a president elect who has risen to his present position on the opposite tenets of everything I stand for as an educator (and as a parent, AND AS A HUMAN BEING for that matter.) And the consequence? He’s been elected to the highest office in the world.

What am I supposed to do with this?

We would survive a Republican in office, of course. I have voted for Republicans in the past. This is not about Republican vs. Democrat at this point. What we can’t survive is a person who sees every challenge to his way of thinking as an attack on his power. Who surrounds himself with people even more vehement in their desire to narrow the definition of “acceptable” for the rest of us. I do not, nor will I ever, stand on the side of an oppressor. But I’m afraid there will be people who can, and who will. This is how history shows us things go very, very wrong. When good people stand by and do nothing.

I listened intently when people, a year ago, were demanding change. I leaned in when they explained that the ways of Washington can’t fly – that our country wouldn’t survive much longer with an ever-growing debt, an ever-shrinking middle class, enormous favor given to the wealthy and to corporations who rape our resources. I heard them, and back then I truly hoped a contender for President would come forward who would be a game changer, someone who would shake things up and make them better for everyone. I would have voted for that person.

That guy is not Donald Trump.  How his empty words (literally: the man SAYS nothing) got him so far is confounding. He isn’t going to change anything meaningful that benefits us all. He’s going to change things that affect us all to benefit himself and those who think just like him. That’s what’s coming.

Like I said, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. This is the first time I’ve been able to put some words to the overwhelming emotion of being smacked upside the intellect several times in just a few short days.

What comes next? Still unclear.

 

This Just In

 

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TOKYO

I thought I’d write and let you know: I’m going to Tokyo and Aomori, Japan, in April 2017 – an amazing opportunity for me, and one for which I’m exceedingly grateful.  I’ll be co-chaperoning a trip from Camden Rockport Middle School with my friend and colleague Ian McKenzie, taking ten 8th graders on a most amazing adventure.

So much to research. So much to do. So much to keep my mind bustling at 3am when I should be sleeping. The excitement of traveling does that to me.  To be fair, everything does that to me these days, that awake at 3am thing, but this, THIS will be a real doozy of a mind-ogling thing to enjoy being awake for.

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AOMORI

First, we’ll spend two days in Tokyo.  Then, we’ll hop a train to Aomori, several hours north of the big city.  There, we’ll stay with host families, visit our sister school, and go on quieter adventures such as bowling, eating out and seeing local sites. The real adventure is the full immersion into the language, culture and heritage of this elegant country.  I can hardly wait.

The exchange itself (Japanese students from Aomori for American students from Camden) has been going on for a decade. That’s no small feat in this educational and financial climate. It’s a trip that this little seaside town prioritizes. I’m proud and honored to be a part of it.

Four months before we do our traveling, in January 2017, as we do every January, we’ll host Japanese students here.  We’ll keep them ridiculously busy, fitting in all the grandest, culturally rich experiences we can (along with reticent activities like ice skating, too) – and when we’re there they’ll do the same.  It’s a stunning show of global communication, education, acceptance and love. It’s one of my favorite things about my school.

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View of Aomori from Aomori Bay

Guy and Garrett went to Japan in 2012.  They went to Fukuoka and Hiroshima, in southern Japan – an entirely different focus and experience: the equivalent of visiting Texas and comparing it to Maine.

How about any of you?  Have you been to Tokyo and/or Aomori?  What can you tell me?

 

 

 

 

These ARE My Monkeys

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And this is a smiling cow.

I was in downtown Camden last week on a field trip with ten students who were taking photographs of their town for an upcoming project.  They were electric with energy for the work they were doing, namely, in this moment, capturing colorful and creative artful window displays.  I, too, was mesmerized by and consumed with what we were doing.

A gray-haired woman stopped me on the sidewalk in front of The Smiling Cow by touching my forearm with her fingers and leaning in for some serious eye contact. “You’re a teacher,” she stated, a southern drawl playing on her tongue.  I nodded an affirmation and, with tilted head smiled a tad.  Before I could speak: “Oh, I’m so glad I’m not you,” she said loudly.  “I taught for thirty years, and I just said to my husband, I said, Thomas, I am just so glad I’m not her.”

“She did,” a man standing behind me said. I hadn’t noticed him. I hadn’t noticed her, for that matter, until she’d grabbed my arm.  I looked from him, to her, confusion rising up in the lines of my forehead – the ones deepening every year.

“Well,” I offered without condescension, “you’re good. You’re not me.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Yes, indeed,” she said, enunciating words.  “I just said to Thomas, THOMAS THIS IS NOT MY CIRCUS AND THOSE ARE NOT MY MONKEYS.” She let go of my arm, reached around me, took Thomas’ wrist, and pulled him around me to stand with her.  The bright sun shone in my face.  “Were you a teacher?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Yes, ma’am, I was,” she said.  “I taught the fifth grade for thirty years.  Same classroom!  Same desk! And when I retired, I said to myself, I will never do this again, not for a single day!”  To my silent half-smile, she continued, “And I haven’t!”

“Okay,” I said.  I glanced at my students, who meandered away from this couple, still at work, paying no attention to this stranger hell bent on convincing me of the righteousness of her retirement, I guess. I wished her a good day.  But she wasn’t quite finished.  She took my forearm again, and on the opposite side of me from where Thomas stood, she leaned in for an intimate whisper:  “I only say that for Thomas’ sake!” she breathed, “but I’ve missed teaching every day the past two years. Thomas thinks I don’t like spending all this time with him, but I do.  But I miss my kids something awful!” And then, as she stood straight again, she winked at me, then nodded at my students, put her arm around Thomas’ waist, and walked the opposite direction down the sidewalk.

And every day since, I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I love fall – the start of my work with a whole new class, 79 students this year – and all their delightful teenagerness.  Sigh.  How lucky I am to do what I do, where I do, and for all the reasons I do.  Life is good today.