Kindergarten 8-7-13

Today was my first day in kindergarten for this school year. This makes my third year to tutor with this same teacher. Every year there is a new group of smiling faces and new things to learn.

Sure, the students are learning, but so am I. Sometimes you have to see life from the perspective of a kindergartner to really understand things. There is nothing more honest or unvarnished than a five year old.

This class is composed of children from all around the world, living right here in this little suburb of Nashville. That is part of what I like about my adopted home. People from all walks of life and all cultures and all faiths make this home. It is a welcoming place that in its own little way is a bit like what I think Heaven is like.

This class is just like the other two I have helped with. There is a mixture of language ability, with some native English speakers and some children who will only hear English in this classroom. There are kids from Uzbekistan, the Congo, and Mexico, as well as ones who were born and raised right here.

That is part of why I am here. I have a degree in English. I have tutored students with learning difficulties in college. I speak English clearly with no accent. I think being able to read and write is one of the most important things you can do.

The Mayor of Nashville has made it possible for Metro employees to volunteer in the schools during work time for an hour every week. There’s a little bit of schedule wrangling and a background check and you are in.

Plus, I wanted to make a difference. I don’t have children. I feel this is a way to help out my community.

Today was hard. Today was only the third full day. Kindergarten is a big deal if you’ve never been to day care or pre-k. This is also the earliest I’ve been there. Normally it takes a while to get all the paperwork done to get started.

Today they were working with foam blocks, learning about color and shapes and counting. One little girl’s creation got knocked over. I suspect that it was an accident. But for her it was the end of the world.

She wailed. She said she wanted her Mommy. She said she didn’t want to come back. She’s four, and four is a hard age. Four is a bit young to be in school.

I wasn’t sure what to do. You can’t talk reason into a four year old. You can’t talk it into anybody when they are in the middle of grief.

Because this is grief. This is being upset that things aren’t going the way you want or need. This is reality not meshing up with want. She might be an only child, and has never had anything taken from her, and has never suffered loss before.

She’s not been taught her how to self-soothe yet. Nobody has taught her how to deal with her feelings. Four or forty, grief is grief. And sometimes the only way to learn how to deal with it is to live through it.

She wailed and cried. She left her table and went to her spot on the rainbow rug. Each child has a square on the rainbow rug that she or he sits on when the teacher is instructing at the front of the class. I thought this was a good choice. It was away, but not running away. She could have chosen to leave the room, to escape by running down the hallway.

Being in school for the first time is a lot like being in a mental hospital.

All the rules are different. The people are acting weird. Nothing makes sense. You can’t do what you want to do.

And you can’t leave. Well, you can, but it is difficult.

I went to her. I sat next to her on the rug and patted her shoulder. I spoke calmly to her, that it was an accident, that she could make another one. She calmed down a little bit. I don’t think it was my words or my presence, so much as she had cried enough for right then.

She got up and went back to her table. She pushed the blocks around, away from her, quickly, forcefully. Her pitch was going up. She’d calmed down while away from the table, but being back reminded her of the reason for being upset.

Several of the other students came over to help her. One was a sweet girl I’d worked with last year who was repeating the class. She is from India and has a cleft palate. She just needs some extra work with language, but her kindness needed no words.

This is what we do, we humans. We come nearby, to help. But we can’t fix the problem, and we can’t take away the pain. We can try to clean up the mess. We can try to distract each other. But mostly we just bear witness to pain. Mostly we sit with each other in our suffering.

And that is enough.

They say that time heals all wounds. We can’t save each other from pain. We can’t insulate our children and our friends from the hurts of life. But we can be there. We can listen. Sometimes we can heal just by our presence.

It takes time to learn how to deal with hard emotions. I was having quite a few myself. What do I do? How do I help?

I prayed. I listened. I didn’t say “it’s going to be all right” because that is a total cop-out.

Just like with learning English, the students have to do the work. I just have to be there.

Together we are learning.

Identity thief

I have realized have a problem with people who use their military ID instead of their driver’s license when I ask for it at work. I have thought about this with my new technique of digging down to the root of the feeling and discovered something interesting.

I’d felt that people who were using their military ID were showing off. I’d felt that they wanted to point out that they had been in the military, like I should be impressed. This is a library. You don’t get a military discount. There is no advantage for using your military ID.

So I dug down. I rooted out the source of it. Where have I felt that someone was using a military ID to get something he wasn’t entitled to?

Then it came to me. My brother. My brother left home to join the Air Force. He tried to leave in the middle of the night but made sure to tell me. He was running away from home and his problems. But I’m not a priest. Confessions don’t stick with me when you are about to do something stupid.

I woke up our parents and they stopped him.

He was talked into waiting until the morning, and when he still wanted to go after a night’s sleep, they drove him to the bus station.

He lasted a year.

He got drug tested after Christmas leave and failed. He had only made it up one rank from when he’d enlisted by then. He was offered two choices. Be demoted back to the beginning, or leave.

He chose to leave.

Yet every Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day he posted a picture of himself on his Facebook page in his dress blues. He also had his Air Force training certificates hanging in his office. He was so proud.

He isn’t a veteran, not really. He didn’t serve his full term. He never was sent into combat. He made a mistake and left rather than making it right.

So that is where that resentment comes from.

Serve honorably, and you deserve honor.

Expect honor when you haven’t earned it? Busted.

Death sentence (or paragraph…)

You never know when you are going to die. Until you do. Then you start pulling yourself together. Then you start cleaning up and hunkering down. Then life develops a clarity it never had before.

But you always knew. You always knew that this day would come. This day, the day the doctor told you that you were going to die. How long do you have? Three months? Three weeks? Three years?

Perhaps your first clue that you were mortal came from when your parents died. You were young, just out of college. Or you were middle aged, with children of your own to manage. You didn’t have time then to deal with it, but you did. You somehow managed to work in the extra work that is involved in handling an estate. You just did it, because it had to be done.

Perhaps your second clue came when you found that spot – that spot that made you go to the doctor. You thought it might be cancer, and you started wondering what you were going to do, how you were going to manage. You found out it was something simple – for now. It could be cut out or burned off or you could take a course of medicine and you were done.

But now, now there is no turning back. Now it is for real. You’ve had your second opinion. You’ve had your third opinion. Now you can’t turn away from this because it is in your face and it is holding you hostage and you feel like you can’t breathe.

And all you want to do is live.

But that is all you have done. You’ve had your life to live, and you’ve wasted it. You’ve spent it up. You’ve decorated your house and gone to tea parties and read your books and that is it. What have you done that made a difference? What have you done that has made the world better? What change have you made? Who will remember you when you were gone? Whose life was made better because of you?

Have you spent your life for yourself, or for others? Have you been true to the person you were born to be? Have you really lived, I mean really?

Because there is a difference between being alive, and living.

You say you don’t have time, but that is all you have had. Too late now to cry about it. Too late now to feel cheated. The only person who has cheated you is yourself.

Wait. Here is a reprieve. They were wrong. For now. What will you do? Back to the same old habits?

Start, right where you are. Begin. Begin again. Renew. Revive. Reassess. Strip down everything to the bare bones. Look at now, and the future.

Where do you want to be? Start heading there.

Life is short. Death is coming. Be mindful. Be awake. Be alive, really alive. Live every day with intention and meaning. Leave nothing undone. Enjoy your food and your friendships. Work on that project you’ve been putting off. Make peace.

Because one day, there won’t be a tomorrow.

Instead of this filling you with fear, let it add savor to your life. Make it add meaning. Aim for your goals.