Celebrating Lincoln’s Wise Words & Hanging a Placard to Hard Work Done by Children
With the spinning wheel of death comes an undeniable stumbling block, a stagnancy, a waiting for a turning to possibilities and solutions that exist, but can’t be easily seen. I think I am talking about the challenges of technology, or the consequences of sin. This second requires faith, works, help from others repentance, forgiveness, prayer. Sometimes the self inflicted punishments come with downturn eyes, with near cursings, with doubt, with tears, regret.
But I am learning other strategies in living longer. Submission, stillness, gratitude, teachableness, resignation to a bigger picture in which maybe I am not the main character. Today was exceptional in that it was not a tomb day. I am grateful for this beyond words. Not a Soldiers’ Cemetery. No seplechure. No Shakespeare tragedy. Today was Tuesday, not too unlike Monday, in that it is still another pivotal day in the scheme of days. A day on which a huge and heavy stone felt rolled away. This in part to resolving to feel good and better. This in deciding to do good, to do more, to build on the day before. This sounds a lot like any other day for me, but today was not any other day. Today was a day of choice choosing. Fortunate for me I was alert and aware enough of this thing, to play it out in continuation of Monday.
First of all Monday is sometimes tough in lonely longing. Coming back to more of the same disconnectedness. Administrative Exile. Requiring thoughts of stronger coffee cups. This is interesting for someone who does not drink coffee. And one who, if she did, would not be able to find a decent cup for fifteen miles if she were to sink to such temptation. A bit rough, in coming off a weekend furlough of life as a pretend writer who now craves orange comment bubbles.
Rough In returning doing my best to teach, but feeling I am seeing only shadow outcomes. In going back to spouting gentle orders with a smile. In drilling and inspiring to go the extra mile, while bringing up the rear. My soldiers the sweetest, sometimes unseasoned, greenhand privates. A lot like freshman first time swimmers that you can not cut from the team. They just keep coming back. Refuse to quit. Actively pull and kick their way out of active drowning in spite of failed and frustrated coaching. Defy the odds and show progress. Too bad this isn’t good enough.
These steel willed enlistees who are even willing to do pushups on my laughing command. Run in place for minutes. Sometimes I just don’t understand this magic. The seem to love me in spite of me. This is a miracle and a mystery.
We used to do pushups as a consequence of someone slipping in saying “I can’t.” This inspired by the swim team. I sold subscriptions to a favorite mantra, “You need to change your thinking.” I’ve built a readership. Some of them are even doing this thing, changing thinking. Jo Boaler would promote this thing.
Now days, we just randomly fall to the pleasure of pushups in needing a change, a movement, a metta physical learning stimulus. It is a familiar game, and we are better for it in blood pumping churn out higher levels of thinking, problem solving. What refreshing is to taxed computer memory, too many applications open, in internet searching: Exercise is to a long sit and longer lay over on a taxed learning concept. The pushups are welcome as a best friend forever, a broken-in ball mit, a game of no tackle football, and an early go, go , go to recess.
Monday I was not feeling all that well or prepared. I was coming back feeling exhausted, rather sleepless. I had not stayed late preparing on Friday. I had not gone back to prep on Saturday or Sunday as was my practice for many years. I came to call this neglect “Procrastination.” I tried a thing called “winging it,” only “winging it” implies not having a plan. I realized that sometimes No Plan is a plan for disaster. Now daze….I have become skillfully familiar with creating a mental lesson plan on paper and in visualizing its applications on the fly, regardless of place and time. Requires focus.
Focus is new to me. It is a recent acquisition in realizing that “distractions” were not bringing me or inspector 13 the intended outcomes most desired. I swore and sometimes still think that “Sometimes the best parts and most joyous moments are the distractions.” This not all that efficient, and certainly do not speak to a business model. Distraction was spontaneous and fun though. Playful….and play does have merrit. There was a place for it at times in creating commoradory, a sense of unity and oneness. More like funness. Free feeling in the falling. And while I wore that Devin Graham, flying fox suit I laughed, and loved a shortlived life of abandon and fulfillment. This too self serving though as I eventually discovered in crossing the line. Crashing fences. A dancing, rootless fence post.
Monday I drove in at the bell’s sounding. Not my usual early morning routine. But the drive had been beautiful with a softer haloed moon than I hadn’t seen for some time. The heavenly body looking more like a powdered sugar Mexican wedding cookie than a satelite of the Earth. The day filled quickly to spilling over cold milk which turned to snow and ice cream. Still in catching my frozen breath and listening to one freckled face child’s worries and story, I formed a simple rescue plan of Good Samaritan proportions. This felt good even for a Monday headache.
The child’s father had fallen suddenly unexplainably ill. Distressed in labored painful breathing, he went to the hospital and on to another higher level of care facility in the larger city. Diagnosis: blood clots. Not sure why. I may have missed that part in not listening well enough. The interuptions of many other children, honing in on teary eyes and expressions, and reading body language did not help my listening attempt. The child a soft spoken angel, unassuming, astute and gifted. She had committed to memorizing the Gettysburg Address nearly three weeks ago. Spent many playground strollings in the practicing until perfection.
As of Monday, we were here: the day before the 150 year anniversary of Lincoln’s wise words, and one of my prize students was telling me she might not be at school tomorrow because of a family emergency. Also, that she might not be able to attend the Recitation tomorrow night. Saddened by this news in knowing just how hard she had been working, I wondered how I could help. I understood after all…….that family comes first even at the cost of personal loss and disappointment. Even nine year olds get this…..sometimes better than I do.
I didn’t have to like this outcome. So, I called mom to offer assistance, support, and a ride for the child to the event. Mom would get back to me. In the mean time I lined up another adult rider to go with us, in keeping things on the up and up and safe. I invited another teacher friend along for two deep leadership. Everything was in place.
Then the next day, when my student was not at school I was sad. I waited eagerly, thinking her just tardy in an Aunt’s care. She did not show all day. So I resigned to “Okay…it’s not happening.” The day move on to WRITING. Reading a Scholastic Reader passage about the Gettysburg Address. Then followed with a written retell in Stoplight Writing form. This was the usual epitome of recent days. Sage writing practice, a flagstaff of our daily rigor most days now if not something Science. Also missed by my speecher was a live feed of the commemoration of the landmark anniversary of Lincoln’s famous address.
This was a momentous occasion. We were not to be left out. And so the turning wheel, for once was turning and time was on our side. Instead of disappointment in the view finder, a turning wheel display of curious, respectfull viewer after viewer after view, to the tune of hundreds of thousands apeared whirring at the bottom left hand side of the screen. Mesmerizing to a background of never ending speeches which we did not watch or listen to. These I did watch ancily from the corner of my eye… for the Lincoln look alike to stand in over six feet four or more inch stature poised to give a speech. We were to watch this at least. Never quite approached this as Lincoln did not rise in our time frame. And so it was on to reading groups and the rest of the day. Fortunately, I substituted another actor for Lincoln which we viewed a little later.
The day wore on most comfortably and soon was nearly gone to swimming and bookmobiling across icy sidewalks. In follow up, turns out mom went with plan B when she called to interupt my read aloud. She said she would be taking her daughter to the event. I thanked mom for this good news. And so it was also okay when the other teacher could not go at the last minute, because there was no longer a need for the other adult’s presence now. This would work out. I smiled.
I arrived at the Recital on time. Miraculous. Looked around. There she was beaming with mom. Don’t know who was the brighter halogen bulb. My girl was all dressed up, red hair curled and looking the confident part……the way I sometimes used to look. Wondered where the rest of the Pensylvanian convention was in this room of brotherly love that felt kind of like Independence Hall, Park City style. The library staff had set the scene as if expecting numbers. My mind flashed to opening scenes of Founding Fathers in the musical 1776, some four score and something years before Gettysburg. A scene of a discontent John Adams pushing Independency, and foes complaining and saying “Sit down John (Adams)…Why don’t you open up a window?!”
In reality we were not in a venue of such import. No Ben Franklin suffering gout taking clever pot shots. Just a few readers and facilitators. Actually there were only eight in all, and of these only one performer…my student. And so she began. In introductions, watched a short Ken Burns history clip of the time of the Gettysburg Address. This set the scene most exellently. Then it was on to the main event in my student’s recitation.
She was stunning. Calm. Composed. Exact. I could not have done it any better. Kind of ashamed I did not try. It was okay though. It was my students day to shine. And yet I did see another child, a third grade boy on KSL television’s 6:00 news do the same. I watched him too in awe with quiet smiles, careful not to make eye contact, careful not to distract, or break the rhythm and flow of concentrated caddence. Clapping and hooting extra loud in my mind and heart at the end in the “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” and “(Freedom) Shall not perish from the Earth.” Clapping and hooting outloud as well as freedom is one of my favorite things next to “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.”
In the end, I felt I too was laying wreaths at the graves of soldiers in the Soldiers Cemetary, and accolades to my student, with or without a construction paper cutout beard, bow tie, and top hat. I posed for pictures with my golden girl in front of a special photo opportunity Lincoln Memorial, and big boy himself sitting commandingly in front of His name sake looking gaunter than ever.
In the end, my student left with much more than a prize basket. She left with the satisfaction of having done something difficult, and of having done it well. She also left with an awareness, a lesson of what it is to feel grateful and blessed, in spite of worrying about a dear father in the hospital on a clot busting coctail drip. A welcome celebration and distraction from what was worrisome and likely fearful: Life.
In this moment, and sometimes others strung across my almost seven years of teaching, I feel I have done my job at last. Not in receiving pay. No. Not in collecting years of service, and climbing pay scale steps and ladders. No. Not in achieving most improved, or highest standardized test scores. No. Not in making life long friends, or in being unforgettable. NO. I have done my job in simply having played a small part in “Big Picture Living” as Pastor Scott Fine would say.
I know that in doing small things, GREAT things can and do come to pass. And I know that God can make weak things strong if we listen to whisperings and put people and heart things first in proper form. In putting most important things ahead of ourselves. This is what “of the people, for the people, and by the people” means I think. This is what would/will bring “One Nation under God, indivisible,” I think.
Suddenly, the most important words for me in Lincoln’s speech are:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” UNFINISHED WORK. The unfinished work for me is the work of doing good works in teaching children, and in being genuinely compassionate, empathetic, and human. Somehow the Golden Rule fills every atom and every penetrable innerstitial space in the Universe. It is the most important law there is. It is a natural law of energy and must follow the rules. By any other name it is known as the Law of Love, or the Law of Attraction. I know this thing. I want to feel it in the largest sense again. To feel passion for Christ and compassion toward people. I think I can change in humbling, and in turning more and more to the examples of courageous children such as Malala, and my brave student orator. Somehow I get a glimpse of what it is to be brave in cheering for another on the sidelines. Sometimes I get a glimpse in getting postcards of children teaching teachers. Sometimes among all my blunders and sinful tendencies, I get it right.
I ponder on the words of a Presidential couple on an evening carriage ride to the Ford Theater, before that final stage production together. They talk of hope, and how they think they should now “pursue happier times.” I marvel at this resolve, and faithful fortitude in coming through a horrific civil war storm. I wonder where they find the wherewithall to go on among the loss of a dear child, decline in popularity among privileged circles, the surrounding building malcontent of former slave owners, lurking demons of war. I turn my face to tomorrow’s warming sunlight as Lincoln takes a bullet to the head.
Sometimes I think the sting of death is hard. Sometimes I think the sting of living is much harder. But, from the dark of night I step ahead anyway and forward to what will surely bring good. I leave the past and death behind, replaced by celebration of a nine year old accomplishment of Presidential proportions. And life is good again. 🙂