Big picture unclear? Focus on interactions.

1 Jan

When your career goals have become amorphous, clear pathways seem elusive. While my attempts to “pray the gray away” have been unsuccessful, I hope that ignoring it completely will make everything better. Instead of fixing what’s muddy, I will focus on my day-to-day interactions that mean something.

1. Your presence means more than you think.

I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, this past weekend for my grandfather-in-law’s funeral. I thought I was going for my husband, but when my mother-in-law hugged me with the same force my own mother would hug me in those circumstances, I knew I was really there for the whole family. While there I also learned that my sister-in-law (while living in Hawaii) made six trips in one year to the mainland–all the way east to Virginia. And for a couple of years with a small child. That shows her family is important to her. She showed up all the time, even when it meant three flights across the continental US. Even when everyone would have understood why she didn’t.

Does this mean we should make that 14-hour drive to Virginia more than we already do? Crap, it probably does.

Be there for the people who are important to you: it may be inconvenient, but you’ll never regret it. 

2. Traditions hold us together, even when we don’t understand them. 

Several years ago my friends had their wedding reception at a Masonic Temple behind their house. During the event, we all made jokes about this “secret society” and its mysterious traditions, but while in Pueblo I got new insight into the individuals that form this “cult.” My husband’s grandfather was not only a World War II veteran, but ascended to the 32nd level of the Masons as a Shriner. Until he got too sick to do so, he had coffee every Friday morning at the local lodge. Those same coffee buddies were pall bearers at the internment, and performed funeral rites over his coffin.

Earlier I had asked my husband casually and ignorantly, “why are they wearing aprons?”  My husband responded, “I don’t think we’re allowed to know.” We chuckled a bit.

Twenty minutes later I was watching the “worshipful master” drape that same apron over the coffin with such reverence that it moved me. He then handed a single rose to my mother-in-law and her twin sister, expressing his grief over their fallen brother. He looked them both in the eyes and I could see this was more than a ritual. A man easily in his 90’s grasped those roses the entire service, shaking every so slightly. He kept looking for his time to hand over the roses. He didn’t want to miss a beat. His patient and humble service reminded me of my own grandfather.

The brotherhood of the Masons, however mysterious, was a second family to my husband’s Papa. Sure, “worshipful master” as a title still creeps me out, but “worshipful master” the man meant it when he said, “please let us know if there’s ever anything we can do for you.”

Don’t be surprised to find inspiration in unsuspecting places. 

Note: After reading about the Masons, I am more confused than ever (I think that’s intentional), but I did learn that the apron symbolizes “honorable labor.” Take from that what you will.

3. You own your attitude. 

My biggest fear in staying in public education is that I will let the avalanche of bureaucracy and bad decisions affect my teaching. This is new territory for me: I’m usually hope’s annoying cheerleader. It just goes to show you that enough “trickle down” can bruise anyone’s face. But that’s no excuse for me to play the victim: I have to keep fighting my way out of it.

My school has over 3, 000 students; my county is the sixth largest in the country; my state is the fourth largest in the United States. No wonder I’ve struggled to adjust: it’s much more difficult to have human-to-human conversations in a system that large. It’s all policy spoken at us by robots masquerading as humans. And the “humans” are usually talking to us through video clips or emails written in red Comic Sans.

I can’t let that insanity change me in the end. “The only thing they can’t change is my attitude.” My husband’s friend (also in education) reminded me of that over the holidays, and it has stayed with me.

It’s small moments that remind me I’m not a total failure this year. One of my students has started withdrawing from class more than usual, and meeting me with attitude when I ask her to do the smallest thing like open her book. It would be easy to group her in with the faction of my class who is on academic strike, but something made me hold her after class to find out what was going on. Even though she didn’t reveal much, she almost smiled at the idea that I’d noticed. She even asked me what she could do to undo her falling grades. The next period, her friend (who saw me keep her after class) told me this girl had been having family problems. So maybe it helped both of them to see that I noticed and cared to ask. It was a good reminder for me that each child is different, and while I can’t save them all, if I focus on personal interactions, at the very least my students might emerge feeling less jaded with the system than before. And maybe I will too.

Your attitude can save your life. 


One Response to “Big picture unclear? Focus on interactions.”

  1. Gayle Price January 6, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Insightful, as always. Red comic sans, LMAO. The most convicting part, you own your own attitude. I get smarmy and bitchy and frustrated and cranky all the time. Like ALL the time. In front of Madeline. Not cool. Every little thing can’t get to me cause then what do I do when the big thing comes. Christmas is hard. It makes me crazy. It comes on the backs of mothers and makes them crazy. This is no excuse. That stupid school poster “attitudes are contagious, is yours worth catching?” is right. And so are you. And we miss you in VA, the 12th largest state. 😉

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