I am 51 years of age on the calendar. Stuff has happened to me, like it has to all of us. I could tell you a story about the creepy security guard at the apartment complex outside my neighborhood, the one who drove the little red car, who lured seven-year-old me and my brother into his apartment with butterscotch candies. I don’t remember anything, but my brother remembers watching cartoons by himself. But this is not the story I am telling today. I could tell you about the time in college, where as a reckless senior, I survived a run-in with a live electrical wire – yes, true story... and one I never told my parents! But this is not the story I am telling today. I could tell you a tragic story about my mother’s horrible, drawn-out death in an ICU, a life event that took me to my absolutely bottom, and I could share inspiring stories about what I learned about myself and humanity over the slow climb back up from that bottom. Or I could make you sad by telling you about the agonizing death of our beloved family dog, ZuZu, five years ago – an $8,000 attempt to desperately save her beautiful life – yes, that’s how much we wanted her alive and needed her to remain the glue of our family – she, too, agonized in an ICU in Annapolis. Did you know there were ICUs for pets?
I could tell you about the two or three years I practiced bulimia as an older teen, trying so hard to control something, until that one day when I looked at myself in the mirror after purging, saw the black watery trails of mascara streaking my face, my running nose, my red eyes, and cried ---- realizing this is not who I was meant to be. So I stopped.
I could tell you about terrifying incidents as a young girl, like the man who pulled up in his little brown car at a corner as I walked home from school, his parts exposed, his words sending me running. Or the creepy, greasy, sweaty man with the dark hair who tried to get me off my bicycle and into his car. My pre-teen legs have never biked as hard or fast, getting me to a place of hiding.
I could tell you a fascinating story about my wonderful, beautiful soul of a mother, who had what I now suspect was bi-polar disorder, the mother who freaked out at me without any warning, the mother who literally trashed my five-year-old self’s sweet bedroom in a fit of so much I didn’t understand, the mother who loved me as best as she could, and truly taught me so much good. I could tell you about my father, a navigator in the Air National Guard, who would just disappear on trips, some lasting weeks, some lasting months, and little girl me would ask my mom, “When is Daddy going to be home?” and she would always say, “When he walks through the door...” in a kind of snotty, buck-up Beth kind of way.
I could tell you about being paralyzed. Yep! Last year at this time, my immune system had decided to attack me – overnight I became a quadriplegic, completely paralyzed from the neck down. Guillane Barre Syndrome, the specialist called it. Two months out of school, my poor students wondering what the hoo-hah had happened to me. Obviously, I survived. But even THAT, as GREAT of a story as it is, is not the story I’m going to tell.
I’m going to tell you about a moment in time. A tale of fifty little minutes out of one school day in this high school teacher’s frenetic life. But first, I have to explain something.
I am gifted with a blob of 100+ human beings that I get each August by luck of the draw, and a little grade level planning, but trust me, a whole lotta fate. I have the enormous responsibility and the enormous privilege of teaching these human beings – these young people in the making, who enter the school year with all their doubts and hopes and energies. I am so very lucky to be with them for 180 DAYS!! Think about that! – 180 days of one of their years! BUT... I’m not just lucky, I’m honored, and I have many days where I feel chosen – that this path I’m on is out of my control. If you think about the other “story ideas” I mentioned earlier, there’s a common thread that runs through them – lack of control and struggling to get it. After many decades of being a control freak, and needing to be in control in some way, to know that wow – the path I’m on – by its very nature - is out of my control?
I love it.
I am finally free.
But... with the weight of this amazing responsibility called “teaching”, I am sometimes scared. And at the end of some days, I ask myself, “what the hell am I even teaching them?!?” because something about my lesson fell flat... something didn’t work, whether it was my bad, or a student wrecking the karma because he or she was having a crapper of day due to myriad – and valid! - teenage reasons...
Here’s that theme again – although it’s really a motif, sorry, I’m an English teacher! I have no control over the life dynamics that cross through the door of my sweet little classroom every single day. Every single day brings different WHATEVERS to each and every class period I teach. That’s five periods a day, a hundred-some personalities, times five days a week. EVERY SINGLE DAY is a different beauty, or beast.
Thursday, April 6th, 2017
What a beauty.
And this is the story I’d like to tell.
Nineteen students, relaxing around the room, lying on the floor, curled up in corners.
Struggling to brainstorm their important story for this unit.
Pencils scratching across paper, with more urgency if he or she was on a roll.
Breathing. Theirs, and mine.
The sound of notebook pages turning.
Palpable energy coursing through the room – steadily, peacefully.
Relaxing deep exhales.
Fan blades spinning – lulling us with their comforting song and welcome breeze – Pppp-Pppp-Pppp-Pppp-Pppp-Pppp-Pppp.
Looking around from my perch on my stool and realizing.
Goosebumps on my arms. A little misty eyed.
Realizing that my beautiful first period had been given the rare gift - they were given space to just “be”. Between the bossy bells that command their moves all day, and life coming at them in fast bytes that disappear once viewed, deadlines, busses, practices, morning alarms that go off WAY too early, Canvas barking at them 24/7, notification after notification after notification... go go go do do do now now now!!!
Realizing the beauty of this moment, watching. Soaking up the collective energy of these 19 vibrant minds, “working” in the space of just “being”. Free to settle their frazzled minds and truly think. Free to explore their amazing thoughts. To create. Free to express something that is important to them. No cell phone distractions, no drama, no bodies bopping to the music in their ears, no out-of-boredom trips to the bathroom, no Snapchat filter giggles... Just peace, and pencils, and space, and time.
Fifty sublime minutes.
Not being controlled.
We were ALL free.