They broke into my sea of problems rushing through my brain as I cleaned the house. There was a slow pounding to them as if sorrow was leaving the body and finding it’s own center.
I hadn’t heard any music, at least not from the piano for two months.
A half-smile split my thoughts apart.
My daughter finally played it.
Her piano teacher and mentor left for New York City a couple of months ago. She was the opposite of Daisy, my daughter. She smiled all the time and laughed a lot too. Most people who do this too much make me very nervous because I feel like they’re trying to cover something up.
But, Daisy who normally carries a serious demeanor found her teacher refreshing and inspiring. I did too. Then she left.
Since then, Daisy has avoided the piano, which she used to play every day. She abandoned it in a sort of mourning process because she really loved this teacher.
Even though her school has a piano teacher, we’d leave school at four and drive a half hour through heavy traffic to another school, a school where rich kids played tennis and housed a special piano teacher.
In a second-floor room, they sat and played. I took my shoes off and lay on the floor in a desperate attempt to fix my aching back. Between the hard floor and the therapeutic drop of each piano key, I was a new person at the end of each session.
More importantly, Daisy smiled and pushed back her shoulders that normally curled inward out of insecurity.
After two years of lessons, I realized, watching and listening to them together, that this very young woman wasn’t just her teacher. She was her mentor.
She was her mentor because she held Daisy to a standard above which desire met talent. She was an artist.
This mentor wasn’t just teaching piano. She was a pianist and a singer. So, the respect Daisy felt for her flourished on a level beyond teacher and student.
When she left, well, she took Daisy’s soul.
So, when the notes spilled into our house this last week, I smiled the smile of an artist who knows heartbreak.
Over every meal, during car conversations, or over coffee breaks, guns appear. No one seems able to turn away from them.
Guns are everywhere.
They killed the King of Civil Rights. They killed Hope over and over again.
They killed children, parents, and teachers.
But, we still love them—these guns we’re so proud of.
A recent conversation went like this:
“I think that no one here (in the U.S.) gets out of the car and fights anymore because we know that the other person might have a gun.”
I looked sideways at the person who said this. My heart beat faster. I told myself to calmly listen and do the same when I respond. I knew I would respond because, well, how could I not?
However, what made this an even more difficult situation was the fact that I respected this person and usually agreed with many of his views.
He said that in Australia people have been getting out of their cars and beating each other because of road rage. We happened to be driving when he said this. So, he continued with his theory that if only the Autralians had not banned guns….
“How can you say that?” I asked sharply.
I was answered with a slew of statistics about how many people in the United States have guns. But, I cared nothing about those statistics because all I could think about was those children and teachers being killed by a gun at Sandy Hook Elementary.
And, then, I spoke, loudly.
“You should be more careful about your opinions, especially because of what happened to those children and teachers. I realize people are the real killers. We do this. But, please, don’t tell me that giving people guns would stop the violence because of paranoia—the fear of being shot?”
He stopped. He realized how ridiculous he sounded.
As we talked more about guns and the people who use them, we also talked about why they use them. A gun in the hand of a hero might be a tool for protection either for himself or for another. A gun in the hand of a monster might be the end of any innocent life.
Then, we talked about what makes a hero and what makes a monster, and then, who’s responsible for making a hero and who’s responsible for creating a monster? I thought back to the last post here.
Could it be that simple?
Every adult reaches out to every child at one point or another. And, it’s not like the media doesn’t pick apart every angle of a killer’s life, a killer like that of Sandy Hook’s, Adam Lanza—lonely, withdrawn, anti-social. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget about the money. It seems he had way too much money.
So, what about the killers with no money?
I know a boy like many boys who plays an inordinate amount of violent video games, almost every one of them involves shooting people or zombies. I knew him before he did this all the time. And, yes, he was a brat sometimes, angry, happy, everything you’d image a smart kid growing up in the United States might be.
Now, at age 14, he’s withdrawn, angry, lonely, just like a lot of boys his age.
What makes a hero and what makes a monster?
Someone could’ve ripped the video games out of Adam Lanza’s hands, kept him in school, helped him understand why he was different, befriend him, give him the kind of attention he really needed.
Maybe. Maybe that would’ve made a difference.
But, it was the gun in his hand that killed all those innocent children.
Walk in someone else’s shoes and you might see things very differently.
We play a lot. We play with thoughts, ideas, ideals.
Do we really think?
Or, is thinking the problem?
The last time I really thought about something, it felt like my mind was running ahead of my body. I had to stop it. But, first, I had to catch up with it. My body was so tired from chasing all these ideas, ideals, rules. I was busy thinking of the next line, the next rule, and the person who broke it, the person who dared to disagree with me. There was a seething sense of anger that broke from my pinching fingers and sprinted ahead of me. Though I needed to control it, I couldn’t.
I bounced backward out of exhaustion and a desire to see where I was going. That lasted about ten minutes until I could catch myself. I grabbed ahold of the thoughts and cinched them around my fingers, reeling them in. I didn’t even care what the thoughts were. I only knew they moved too quickly and the anger felt violent and full of rage.
I’ve spent a good, I’d say, 35 years observing people in general. I spent my first five years attempting to understand them. The next five, I drew them and then wrote about them. After that, I was schooled either by motivation or by a teacher in observations. But, always, I observed myself.
And, in doing so, I’ve found that I can be a horrible person who is capable of great moments. So, I learned to stop myself and look at the person looking at me. I’ve learned that the moment I judge someone else, I should also turn inward. When the camera lens points at another, it should also point at the one holding it.
Today, for instance, I punished my children for behaving badly. They deserved it. I didn’t even need their angry glares to remind me how much they needed to be grounded. But, I did that thing that many people find weak and stupid, I turned inward and glanced at myself. I hated what I saw. So when I looked back at them. I saw their anger differently and relinquished them of their punishment.
I held my arms out and told them I loved them. They broke too. They cried and we apologized to each other. None of us cared who had won the argument or the tiny battle within our tiny fight. We just ate ice cream and played.
We played, without ideas or ideals.
No one was right.
No one even cared.
Somewhere inside the gunman’s mind yesterday in Connecticut was a need to be right. There was an argument that he needed to win and couldn’t. Or, there was a wrong that needed to be fixed or covered up. Someone needed to win.
No one did.
We bleed. A heavy bruise weighs on our souls where we fight ourselves. To no end, we’ll continue to do this until we understand that we share our wounds.
Those children who died were our children. Those teachers were our teachers. And, that gunman was our neighbor, our child, our friend, our relative, and our monster. His mother was our mother.
Since Saturday, I’ve been upset and I didn’t want to write about it because I knew it would’ve been unfocused. I also don’t want this to be a place for readers to have to endure endless rants. So, I’ve been reading fellow writers’ posts while attempting to sedate the anger I still feel. But, as I was browsing the blogs I follow in my Reader, I came upon the Daily Prompt: Be the Change. It asks the question: What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?
After quelling my initial outrage over a long-awaited yet horribly disappointing Saturday, here’s my answer to this question.
This blog should change every reader’s perspective. What you once thought to be true or real should change because you read about a strange but inspiring moment. You should laugh like a mad man or a wild woman and do something spontaneous. You should find solace in it all because you feel comfortable being different and take pride in yourself even if others won’t ever see it.
In short, this blog should inspire resilience. Without it, you’re doomed.
I write this now, two days later, more clearly and focused, well, because of the prompt and because of the distance from Saturday.
On Saturday, November 10, I got up at 6 a.m. to drive across town to an Idea Expo for teachers. In a fog of fatigue after teaching all week, I told myself this was too important to miss. I did find inspiration in the Superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools Alberto Carvahlo’s well-delivered speech. It garnered a standing ovation from the audience of teachers.
But, that was it.
Fifteen minutes later, I sat in a boxed room with a teacher sharing a lesson on Dracula, one of my favorite classics, which she purportedly teaches to middle-school students. I thought, okay, I’m gonna like her because that’s daring.
But, I didn’t like her.
I wanted to bite her.
Instead, I bit my lip and left for the day. She would be the next speaker for the next presentation, and I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut for that long.
Here’s why. She showed us a sample of the lesson she prepared for her students. She showed us a prompt about horror, which we had to answer. Fair enough, I thought. It was when she asked us what controversy meant that I flinched for the first time. She told us she was modeling the lesson for us. Okay, fine, I’d heard that before. I didn’t like it but okay. Then, she asked for responses, which we gave. After that, she said, if her own students couldn’t answer the prompt, she would let them copy off the student next to them.
I flinched again. I few curse words flew through my mind.
Then, she showed us her list of vocabulary words and said that she didn’t believe in letting students struggle with words because sometimes they mispronounce them. Fine, fair enough. Again, I just needed to give this a chance, give her a chance. She’s a teacher. She deserves my respect.
As she reviewed the list of words, she said, “Aqueese.” Just like that. Aqueese.
I jerked my arm and stabbed my paper with my pen. I shut my packet.
The word was acquiesce.
I make a lot of mistakes. I encourage my students to correct me if I misspell something on the board. I’m a writer, so I know how misspellings happen. But, if I’m teaching pronunciation then I’d better get it right. If I’m teaching spelling and I suck at it, I’d better study those words or admit my weakness.
It was too much to bear. I grew up loving literature so much that I passed my days in the library. I skipped science class, not to go to the beach, but because I snuck into the library to read. I lived inside these books, and she had proceeded to mutilate what I loved.
So, I left.
I walked to Starbucks and listened to Billie Holiday belt out her piping-hot tunes. I pretended none of this just happened and settled into the sounds around me.
But, the anger lingered.
The fumes gathered and swirled.
I looked at my own children and myself as a child. So many teachers had disappointed me the way this woman did that day. So many teachers have handed my children misinformation on a silver platter and lauded themselves while doing it.
I could and can only think: Resilience. Laugh out loud, relentless resilience.
The only regret I have is that I didn’t speak my mind. In an effort to be polite, to tame the fire in my belly, I bit my tongue.
A fellow blogger nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger award recently, but I don’t feel beautiful at all. I did realize that there was another nomination I needed to accept before this one: the Reality Blog award. I’ve been searching for the all-elusive time to do this. However, blogging here has been relegated to the bottom of my list of To Do’s mainly because of my kids.
My son hates school. As a dedicated teacher, I do too. I really can’t argue with him. I’ve told him the value of education until I’ve listened to my words fall letter by letter to the floor. The last straw was when I told him he would behave or never see his Legos again. It was an age-old battle that I needed to win. I needed him to see education the way I used to see it.
But, I underestimated him. He’s smarter than I am. He looked at me, resigned himself to my belief system, and got sick, literally.
He’s been throwing up and now has a fever. Call it coincidence, call it flu season, or call it the sadness of his spirit. I believe it’s his spirit slumping into the sad world of my reality. At the end of the day, he simply looked at me, said his stomach was sick, went to bed then woke up puking.
That’s when everything turned upside down for me. I rewound and slowed the speed forward. I unzipped my skin and took a look around.
A wild second grader danced before me, asking questions, some really smart-ass ones. He laughed at them and sometimes me. He found math interesting when he was allowed to measure things around the classroom but hated sitting still to take a test. He needed to be up discovering the world, finding out why the lizards don’t fall from the ceiling.
A tired mother/teacher walked to her classroom, feeling guilty for leaving her son who she just yelled at. Why couldn’t she just say, “To hell with all of you,” and leave, grab her son and go? All her own students, much older than her son, complained to her, and hated school themselves. She also tried to show them the value of it but was beginning to find it a futile argument. In their eyes, she saw the truth.
The truth is school kills creativity. For all our convoluted words and serious sarcasm, we amount to a bloated, gassy large intestine.
In sixth and seventh grade, I teach about 75 kids just like my son. The rest are sparkly perfect students not unlike my daughter, but they too find it difficult to endure school. When the day nears the end, they’re ready to fly out of their seats and some literally do.
Over the years, my tolerance for shaking pens and pencils, twirling IDs, and random jumps from seats has grown so much that I find myself doing the same thing.
But, when I see my son, like many of my students, get sick over the depressing reality of school, I question my own profession because it feeds the beast. That large, bloated one.
So, I’ll try to blog and read all of your beautiful blogs, but I’ve got to fix a little boy’s view of reality. He’s sleeping right now with a wet cloth mending his fever. We might end up at the doctor’s office first thing in the morning. But, once he’s better physically, I’ll be reminding him that the lizard on the ceiling is his reality and now it’s mine too.
Here are some great blogs to check out while I’m busy mopping up my mess:
Purple seems a state of grace. Cloaked in it, the world around you bleeds with creativity and honor. A smile isn’t just a smile, it’s a perspective. I see myself as someone I am. A struggle becomes a path, an enemy, a friend.
Then I see red.
Nothing in between.
My goal has always been to remain within purple. But, over the last few years, it’s become very clear to me that red must intrude, must kick purple to the curb and salute a raw instinct to fight.
Mothers know this. They may not feel purple, perhaps they walk with blue or yellow. But, in a swift second, they fill with red when their children are threatened, teased, or hurt.
I know. I’m a mother and a teacher. The inconsistencies shock some and are vulgar to others. I’ve been yelled at by many mothers, and I’ve done a lot of yelling myself. However gentle I try to be, especially with teachers, my manners disintegrate when confronted with problems affecting my children.
Knowing this has changed me even more so when dealing with parents. My purple turns to deep red for the mothers who yell at me. I usually sympathize more than they know.
The angrier the mom, the more I can take a good beating from her, even if she’s completely wrong. The last mother who yelled at me never should have. She was wrong, but I didn’t get mad. I looked her in the eyes and told her to understand that when I spoke to her, I wanted to help her. It didn’t take much. I didn’t even have to tell her I had children too. She simply saw it in my eyes.
By seeing red, by understanding it, I can live in red more comfortably now. I know what it’s there for. It’s a call to action, a desire to protect, a need to be heard.
Pain and laughter often go together. Almost simultaneously after a terrible argument, people laugh. If they don’t, they either continue with more pain or separate from each other, sometimes for good.
I had a friend who, when confronted with difficult situations, laughed hysterically. I always hated it because she did it too much. She never wanted to face the problems that we all must confront. Her laughter actually divided us. But, that’s not the laughter I’m talking about. I’m talking about the laughter that brings people together despite their differences.
Laughter means walking in someone else’s shoes for a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.
We are all heroes in our own right. But, we face enormous obstacles when communicating our ideals to people who don’t agree with us. We fall, hard, and need a helping hand. More often than not, that helping hand will come from the person who doesn’t believe what you believe. All you have to do is remember an argument you had with your parents or siblings, any family members. That person might be angry with you at that moment but would take a bullet for you the next.
Recently, my husband shared a video with me when I was telling him about some of my students arguing with each other over being Democrat or Republican. I’m sharing this video with you because I couldn’t stop laughing, because I love Sean Penn and now I kinda like Kid Rock too.
After a few weeks of overcoming some major disappointments, I’m adding a new tab to BraveSmartBold called Laughter. It’s just necessary.
Many of you may have already watched “Americans,” a short, public service film starring Sean Penn and Kid Rock, directed by Jameson Stafford. If you haven’t, then you must.
You will laugh and through that laughter realize how important it is to keep talking to each other, to keep teaching each other. Mostly, I hope you remember how important it is to listen, face your fears, and look your enemy in the eyes. Then, remember, that person could be the one who takes the bullet for you.