Life Goals: Happy vs. Contented

CND campfire

I have a confession. I hate the “Happy Song” by the dude in the ten gallon hat.

(I couldn’t find the only video of that song that I like, but I found this instead and it’s hysterical. And includes hats. You don’t have to know American Sign Lanuage (ASL) to see the humor. They are hearing brothers with deaf parents, and from what I can catch, they are just signing “flower, pain, love, all year – PAIN, horrible!” So funny.)

I love music, and I love the look of goofy hats, but I utterly HATE the happy song. As in, I have to stop myself from screaming “change it to NPR or else!” at my tween son when it come on the car radio.

Another confession.

I’m tired of the phrase “it’s all good.” I will say that the cartoons that go with those t-shirts and mugs of little stick people camping and enjoying flowers are awesome – takes me right back to being a residential camp counselor and to be honest, living a “happy song” kind of life. It was a blast…work hard doing fun things with goofy little kids, weekend parties, beach sunsets, card games and summer romance.

camp letter

BBC camp

A few decades later, I know now that what made those times so happy was that the middle-aged and beyond leadership was masterful at harnessing our insecurities, raging hormones, and gullible personalities by:

1:Making us work dawn to dusk. If we weren’t taking care of kids or getting activities ready we were expected to find someone who needed a hand or a poison ivy vine that needs to be hacked or a campfire skit to be planned.

and

2:Expecting that we should otherwise be

a) Doing something prayerful or reflective. Or,

b) Doing something outlandishly fun or crazy to burn off aforementioned                                                 insecurities, hormones and guile.

But, and…

please forgive me if you are a positive psychology research professional or a maker of affirmation posters….because

it’s not all good,

(attatched link is powerful and empowering – it is about domestic violence and is communicated in both American Sign Language and captions,)

and I’m sick of media and the world, particularly the American world, trying to cram the word “happy” into my face and life.

It’s exhausting.

I had a brief but great conversation with a friend about it this weekend. We were at a get together where some acquaintances, rather than hearing what we were saying about some very real and tough life realities, they replied with: “smile and the world smiles with you” and “oh, you can do it”, or

“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT”,

and: “if I can solve that same life problem, you can too, and here’s an App for you to tap!”

Having shared our frustration on the topic before, and because we both try to not blurt out the constant sarcastic flow of venom that we secretly share about the saying “been there done that” kind of mind-set, we had to pull ourselves aside from the conversation and debrief before saying or doing something regrettable.

I suggested that we go find some full-bodied Muppet type of costumes and come back to the party just to throw things off, but we decided to reapply our lipstick and enjoy how Ninja we feel in dangly earrings instead.

CND path

This is what we came up with – and it’s that the real reason, I now know with complete certainty, that I was so happy during those summers on the lake. The thing is, there wasn’t conversation or debate about what “happy” has to be at camp….for any of us. We weren’t trying our hardest to keep the campers constantly jovial – that was impossible. As a matter of fact my dearest memories are of consoling home sick children, of trying to point out to the popular kids that an awkward one was being left out. Of the chubby kids who were falling out of their clothes and the skinny ones who could barely keep them on. My favorite camper was a boy who was deaf and started the week out being very rough with the other boys because he know he was being picked on and made fun of without the single exchange of a word.

I am really attached to the memory of him slamming that wooden screen door on another kid when I was at the front of the line trying to get that stinky, mud covered, whining group of little guys out of the rain and into the cabin so that they could climb in their bunks and be homesick in peace.

Why? Because

it wasn’t all good. And I’m not afraid to remember that, or look at what sucks in life.

Agreed, I am a bit too drawn to the dark side of things, but that’s why God gave me a family who tells me to knock it off when I a become annoying and dogs who shame themselves if I ignore their request to fetch or go outside for a pee break.

This quote better says what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to say that what I’m shooting for is contentment, while, sometimes, the world seems to be all about happy:

“I want first of all… to be at peace with myself.

 

I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.

 

I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

 

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

Oh, and about the angry Deaf kid? He ended up having a great week. And he stopped punching and slamming.

Why? Because the other camp counselors and I listened to him first, and distracted him next. We signed in American Sign Language that “angry” happens, and that other boys being mean is not “fine.” And, we tried, in no uncertain terms, to tell him that slamming and hitting was not going to lead to friendship.

My other favorite memory from that week? (I can’t believe I can still pull this out of my brain. It was like, 30 years ago.) We were trooping through the summer heat and itchy fields after one of those scuffles. There had of course been a  “shape up boys!” talk with both kiddos and my rough and tumble little friend fell to the end of the line for a good old-fashioned sulk.

I doubt that I had to fake my exhaustion or frustration about the whole thing as I trudged them toward the pool.

He then suddenly broke protocol and was of course tattled on: “He’s out of line! Why is he allowed to get off the path! No cutting!”

For which, and this makes me tear up every time I think of it, I was delivered a huge bouquet of weeds with a couple of wild flowers and a most beautiful and thankful smile. Guess he found a way to be at peace with himself, even if for a while.

The thing is…if we hadn’t squared up to the rain and the slammed door there wouldn’t have been any flowers for him to pick. Know what I mean? Jelly bean?

 

 

More on Thorton Wilder and Self Appointed Sins

imageI know nothing,

except what everyone knows –

if there when Grace dances,

I should dance. ~ W.H. Auden

(image above from This Quiet Lady by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrations by Anita Lobel)

Spoiler alert #1: This post is initially about sad stuff.
Spoiler alert #2: Life is being particularly good to me right now, so I’m not sitting down in order to write a “dark night of the soul” blog post.

So, here it is.

I have a friend who is dying of brain cancer.

She is a college friend with whom I’ve kept up only a little bit over the years. Originally, our acquaintance was that we shared a best friend and became housemates at the busiest (and best!) part of my favorite. four years. ever.

Without searching messages, I have to guess that it was a year (or less) ago that this common best friend had to notify me that a grim diagnosis had been given to our former housemate. The news really came out of the blue. Her story is similar to others who have been touched by this shocking form of cancer. Our friend had a headache one day, and a few short months later she is now home saying her last goodbyes to her children and adored husband.

So, when I sat down to write last week, and was imagining K.’s children spending their summer break watching her pass on, Thorton Wilder quotes were a kind of obvious (to me anyway) place of comfort and wisdom for me.

It’s safe to assume that if you are an American following or stopping by my little blog you have seen Thorton’s play Our Town. It is a favorite of High School and Community theaters for a reason.

It has the best theater lines, ever.

I mean – ever.

I am biased and my reasons are of course personal, but I mean it.

I would offer to turn this post into a place of debate or discussion, but I hate debate and my opinion is not up for ransom or reason. I’m not a jerk though, so feel free to leave comments as I am on summer break (wiggles in her seat) and have time for lively discussion.

So.

The conversations between Emily and The Stage Manager (the lead characters of the show) contain the safest and best theater words for me because they remind me of the enchanted parts of my childhood.  My father was an actor, director and teacher and I was his shadow. Literally. As in, Dad couldn’t shake me from his side until my brother broke the rules and taught me how to cross the street alone. At this point I started wandering the streets of our little city and making friends my own age.

So, lucky I am indeed to have shared the stage with my father on the weekend that he retired from his favorite stage. Mind you, these are floorboards that he spent the most time on as a student, theatre professional, husband, and father. He turned 80 this year, so I would guess that time span to be something like 50 or 60 years, give or take a summer season elsewhere here and there.

We were part of a medley of theater scenes during a reunion show, and part of our daughter/father “I love you” ‘s were exchanged in the form of my playing Emily and he the Stage Manager in Wilder’s tender “Good-bye Scene.”

But still – had I been raised by a biologist and my best skill set turned out to be bee-keeping, I would still believe that (with due respect to the Shakespeare) Emily’s good-bye is the most relatable “to be or not to be” string of words out there.

All good theater is good because the script is about life, death, love and hate. Most likely, the writer created an entertaining time travel to all four corners of human experience and wrapped the story up with a bow at the end.

Even good existential shows wrap up at the end – it’s just a tricky “un-bow” kind of curtain call.

What makes the pleading questions that Emily asks of the Stage Manager so perfect is that the joy and pain that she describes can’t be contained by cultural and historical context. Of course her character works well for me because I am a white girl having been raised by a mid-western father, so a white picket fence story is what I know and the life I cherish.

But, context aside, in Our Town, when the character Emily is looking at her life, and struggling with having passed on as a very young woman, her self-doubt and guilt is not about whether or not she raised good children or was a faithful wife.

And. Her anger at the Stage Manager is not that she died young.

She is upset because she missed out. She failed to acknowledge grace as often as she could.

 

And, with the help of the Stage Manager, her self-appointed sins are absolved as he explains that:

she did what she could, with what she had, in the time that she had to do it.395895_10150596300328810_837678809_8894478_1239777666_n

 

All of which to say, I am VERY thankful for an open window this morning, time to reflect and am reminded to not try so hard.

Found a quote about Fortitude

asl love hands

(artist and source on the internet unknown. Please leave a comment with information if you know who did this awesome work.)

I just came back from breakfast with a new friend.

I am so thankful to be settling in even further into our new community.

We mostly talked about trying to get into shape so that we can enjoy our respective jobs for as long as possible. Somehow the topic of forgiveness came up though, and I just now found this quote that I had jotted in my “get healthy” journal:

“You will always be
the bread
and

the knife,

not to mention the crystal

and-

somehow-

the wine.”

(by poet Billy Collins.

I made the line breaks up myself – something that is a big no, no in the world of poetry…but in the interest of time…there you go.

p.s. I think when I did research on the poem a while ago I found out that he wrote it either because of a painful divorce, or to make fun of sappy break up poetry that is not good literature. I can’t remember which and my son is currently banging a basketball against the wall, so I’d better not dilly dally at the keyboard.

Why Mr. Collins wrote it and what it meant to him at the time does matter… but I like it today because it reminds me of communion and Catholic prayers about the Communion of the Saints.

And I like cheese, and I like wine.)

How I Tried to Teach a tiny Kid to Shake Hands like a Man

“Look at that moon. Potato weather for sure.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

A grace potato moon

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about redemption the past few weeks.

No, really.

These are the kinds of topics that keep me awake at night and interfere with my ability to remember that my husband sent me to the store for milk and not a new dishwasher. When I say I’ve been thinking a lot about redemption- I mean, like, well,

                                                           pretty darn frequently.

I am thankful for some time to relax, because it has been several weeks now since some tricky things happened on the playground at work. They weren’t funny happenings, and they got my attention. Funny things happened as well, don’t get me wrong! Yet. Now that I am on break and am responsible for hardly any brain work, my mind can wander and contemplate all it wants.

So, for now, redemptive cogitation and the family rodeo it is…

My school and job for 2012-2014 was a most wonderful and wearysome one. I was a para educator in a school located in our downtown. There were several things going on last year that made it a very tough building to go into every day. I’ll just mention a couple. Maybe you can relate.

One thing that was happening was that tragedy had struck the previous spring and impacted the school community as a whole. A shocking accuasation had been made against the previous principal and the legal and practical fall out was ugly. It was a situation that didn’t impact just one child or family or school staff member, it involved everyone. Who was hurt the most by it? I’m still not sure. There were some paces that the students had to go through that I’d be willing to bet was boring, frustrating and annoying to them in their spring 2013 year. I’m guessing that the kids were rewarded with some extra recess time and other than the impact of parents not keeping adult conversation among themselves, the Mighty Mustangs had a fine summer break last year anyway.

So, what made the job difficult? Was it just because I was newcomer amongst some really plucky and fun little kids? Not so much.

In the very beginning it was a very angry, sad and tense work environment. The students were fine! But, with a new principal to deal with, the local media still buzzing with legal proceedings, and a vast amount of educational outcomes to catch up on – the joint was jumping when I was hired a few weeks into the school year. Overall, my coworkers were welcoming and friendly and amazingly resilient. The teachers were top notch professionals and the students were excited for new routines and comforted by old traditions.

Either wasted energy on catty banter was not common place or I was deaf to whatever was going on behind the scenes in the parent parking lot or elsewhere.

Well, I did fall into one cat fight in the making right after starting my position, but skeedadled out of the situation it quickly with just a teeny scratch.

“Yes, now you know. Now you know!

That’s what it was to be alive.

To move about in a cloud of ignorance;

to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you.

To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.

To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know — that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to.

Ignorance and blindness.”
Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Thankfully, with the impossibly generous support of the new administration and a minute or two of fun banter while meeting various teachers as I helped them corral the Mustangs into their seats, it wasn’t long before I was having a great time indeed. What made leaving my comfy home and cute dogs every morning difficult was the heartbreaking realities of the majority of the families that attend our school.

I’m not a talented enough writer to try and describe some of what was going on for these children and families. I can’t do it without breaking confidentiality. To tell the story of one kid, or one family, I would want to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The truth of MY experience of trying to distract a kid who is struggling to read away from hunger, or anger, or frustration, or the shame that had been piled on him or her in a short few years. I really would like to post a photo of this one little, long and grouchy face. Or YouTube a voice recording of his ear piercing tantrums when life built up and he felt picked on or didn’t want to cooperate with carpet time rules.

20131014-061632.jpg

I’d like to describe in detail how incredibly guilty I felt the morning that I found out he had been waiting in the hallway to say good morning to me and practice “How to Have a Firm Handshake Like Mr. Cooper and His his Sons.” He had to get to class because the last morning bell rang. Rules are rules.

The whole story on that day isn’t just about a cute kid or moment.

Since the very short time since I moved from Ohio to Iowa, school work (public, private and home school) has changed drastically.

That missed chance for a handshake was one event of many that added to my already bigger than it should be sense of guilt. I was becoming grouchier as a coworker and educator by the day because of the ending school year. As a staff we were trying to do our best to do what the boss ordered which was to keep them reading and in routine until the final bell of the year.

Thankfully boxes of coffee and trays of fruit and home baked goodies kept popping up in the teacher lounge as the final 2013-2014 count down continued for everyone.

For many of the little kiddos I met at this school, routines and structure at home are frequently lost to the fight to put food on the table and a safe roof overhead.

This creates an interesting, challenging and resilient atmosphere.

480201_10151552955388810_1938698632_n

I can’t tell you my affection for the kid that I mentioned above about without telling you his whole story, and trust me, I know very, very little. My few classes in counseling not only taught me that it is not wise to ask too many questions, but it’s usually against the law. I just know that there were days that he hung on my promise that developing a firm handshake like a man could help him rule the world. I explained to this tiny person that Mr. C wears a suit and has a very important job, at a very big school. I confided to him that that sometimes grown men want to cry and scream at school too, but they aren’t allowed to either. (My husband is a college administrator). I tried to encourage that with some hard work he and Mr. Cooper could handle their job to learn and teach just a few hours longer until it was time to go home and play.

“We all know that something is eternal.

And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . .

everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.

All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it.

There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

-Stage manager, in the play OUR TOWN”

If anyone has any additional cool ideas on how to get a kid, or a teacher or an administrator through a school year on ANY educational campus since the events of Sandy Hook (I added an interesting link that maps some of the recent trends that administrators are working to prepare us for), do tell me.

All I’ve got in my tool kit at this point is to take a knee and let the funny things crack me up.

Thank God funny seemed to happen all of the time last year, and I trust that future years will offer the same. I hope that those who are getting a bit of summer break are getting some rest, or at least enjoying the view.

peace, Kate

 

Graduation Angst? Find a “Thin Place”

We are in the process of helping our second born transition on to his next adventure, which happens to be college.

My Facebook status feed (an online spot where people write a sentence or two about how and what they are doing) is filled to the brim with various versions of: “Where has the time gone!?”

During the first few years of grieving my mother’s lost battle with colon cancer, the one thing I learned was that I couldn’t predict what or when emotional floods would come.

I don’t miss those moments.

But, I AM thankful that when I was flooded with sadness last fall that our son would be moving away soon, I didn’t worry at all about if I was grieving correctly or on time. And now, I don’t feel bad that his graduation and the beautiful graduation photos I’m seeing of students and babies from time gone are just making me smile.

Being a tearless mom and aunt and educator during the Spring of 2014 doesn’t mean a thing.

It’s just how the tides are flowing.

I just found an evening meditation from a Pastor named James Martin. He has lots of good writings on line and can be found under “Fr. James Martin, S.J.” His prayers often appeal to all faiths.

It explains the concept of working to find what I now know is called a “Thin Place.” Simply put, a memory of a physical spot in one’s past where a person could rest and feel safe from evil, whatever evil may be.

Here’s the meditation:

Evening meditation

Do you ever find it hard to pray?

Sometimes when I find prayer hard or feel unsettled, it helps to imagine myself in a place where prayer was easy, in what is sometimes called a “thin place,” where the veil between you and God was thin.

Tonight why not imagine yourself in one of your favorite “thin places” and let God encounter you.

Summer Break is Near. Thank God.

me

Dear Hours that I used to Have to Blog,

It’s been a good, but busy few months. I miss you, and apologize for ignoring you.

Here’s the thing – I’ve been trying to balance an increasing work schedule and am now going back to college.

None the less, it is You (Hours that I used to Have to Blog), my darling, and you alone who was responsible for being able to still my spinning head and heart after our big move to the banks of the Mississippi. Fear not – I remember. And, just like my mom did, I’m saving my favorite other thing for the summers now that my school years are locked and loaded. Her favorite other thing was her garden. Art of course was her favorite thing.

8

Now that the moving truck dust has settled, I am clear that learning is my favorite thing.

grad

And, like my father – solitude is what keeps me sane. So – I’d like to R.S.V.P. a date with you for approximately whenever school is out and before we start our summer of many travels….

It will only be a few weeks for us to enjoy the silence and stillness, but I promise to do my best to listen to you and make the right call.

Rosie Red card

 

Sincerely,

Your friend,

Kate

I Have a Lenten Plan…..

image
(image from This Quiet Lady by Anita Loebel

In a flurry of trying to call in sick to work and the college class I’m taking, two of the texts I got back said:

1: Yikes!

and the other:

2: Feel better.

I’ve decide that these three words are going to somehow become my theme for this year’s Lenten observance. I’m not sure what will come of these thoughts. But, one of the good things about having bursts of unthinkable busyness is that it gives something to reflect on when those calendar pages are done and turned.

If life were different I would challenge myself to blog along the way to this Easter.

My intuition tells me to stay focused on the marathon spring ahead for our family, and enjoy that circus until school’s end.

A teaching mentor and dear friend who held me on his shoulders when I was a wee lass sets those boundaries to prevent total exhaustion. Creative juices go wild in the summer. This was my mother’s creative calendar too now that I think of it…

In any case. I miss the solitude of connecting with others and the spirit while writing and posting, yet am so thankful for the way life has fallen together for me and interrupted my blogging journal tool.

Quotes about Windows

Aside

The “photo of the week” word is windows. Saturday chores start in just a few minutes and I look forward to working on that project.

I do most of my good thinking while staring outside.

In the meantime, I found some interesting quotes.

Poor Tennessee…always a scardy cat:

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call;

no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down

with us trapped, locked in it.”  

―     Tennessee Williams,     The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

A “Come to Jesus” perspective that I prefer:

“Bare heights of loneliness…

a wilderness whose burning winds sweep over glowing sands, what are they to HIM?

Even there He can refresh us,

even there He can renew us.”  

―     Amy Carmichael

This quote brings images to mind that remind me of the hours and hours of BBC dramas that I watched over the long winter school break:

“Every face, every shop, bedroom window, public-house, and dark square is a picture feverishly turned–in search of what? It is the same with books. What do we seek through millions of pages?”

―     Virginia Woolf,     Jacob’s Room

399290_10150673771793810_837678809_9134183_1877237150_n

I like this quote the best. Windows are about feeling safe, eh? :

“It is not real,” he whispered.

“This place is only a thought that has grabbed hold of you.

It cannot harm you.

You are not of this place, and it has no power over you.

You do not need it, nor do you owe it your allegiance.”

I nodded,

listening only to his words and not to the rattling of the windows,

which had begun as soon as we stepped inside.”

―     Rita Murphy,     Bird