Sunday, September 25, 2011

Finding the balance

The last two weeks have flown by and I am sad that I didn't make the time to blog in the whirlwind of being back to school, visiting with family and friends, and just looking to find a balance in the midst of it all.  Getting adjusted to the school schedule and being 'on' in classes all day has taken a toll on me, but I've also been energized by some great conversations and enthusiasm in the new classes I am teaching this year.  One of the biggest mantras I am holding on to is to focus on the positive, to celebrate what is right, and to let go of frustrations, anxiety or uncertainty.  In the continual process of strategic planning at school, I participated in a summit gathering of various 'stakeholders' connected with our school last weekend.  As a starting point for our gathering, we watched the 'Celebrating What's Right with the World' video that I've been obsessed with for the last few weeks.  It was interesting to hear parents, alum and board members react to this approach and attitude.  It's contagious really, and seems to direct us towards happiness and fulfillment.  I am so grateful to be in a place where contemplation and honesty are valued.  My students have helped to create a board in my classroom, composed of various pictures and quotes, that celebrates what is right in their worlds.  Every opportunity I get to glance at the images, I am instantly transported to a place of gratitude and joy, and can't help but have a huge smile on my face.
At the event last weekend, I shared with some more people about my desire to develop a faith sharing gathering for faculty/staff/administration at school, and the idea was meet with enthusiasm, encouragement and excitement.  At least I was feeling excited.  So I bit the bullet and on Wednesday morning, I wrote an email (after several drafts adjusted and clarified by my bsb-best school bud) to everyone at school, explaining what I had in mind, and inviting people to come to a planning session this Tuesday (to share ideas, plan times/dates, etc.).  I am willing to plan/prep the first few gatherings but would hope it becomes more collaborative (not just because I don't want the added responsibility, but because I am curious how other people encounter the divine).  So I took a risk, and as soon as I clicked 'send', my heart raced.  I ran across the hall to tell my fellow theology teachers that the email had been sent.  Why was I suddenly so nervous?  I guess I felt vulnerable, and for some reason, worried that people might make fun of me or think I am strange.  Well, let's be honest, I know I am strange.  But I didn't realize I was so afraid of being mocked.  It was a very eye-opening moment for me.  And so I try to find the balance, to maintain focus on what I believe is really most important, despite my own fears or short-comings.  Maybe I need to spend some time with this whole 'fear'.  We'll see what that's all about...
A Sister of Saint Joseph passed away two weeks ago, and she was described by many as a spiritual base for the community.  She gave a retreat to our faculty a couple of years ago, and invited us to each take a heart at the end of the day, each inscribed with different words.  My heart says balance.  I still have it, and still need to focus on it (obviously).  Her life, her spiritual gifts, continue to be far-reaching.  Balance.  My heart doesn't just say balance, my heart yearns for it.  Balance.

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. -Thomas Merton

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Autumn in all its glory!

The end of the summer is a bittersweet moment for me as a teacher.  I dread the idea of waking up before the sun has come up, and the endless stacks of papers that will inevitably get backlogged and need to be graded... and yet I love the newness of the school year, a clean slate to try new things and meet new students.  This year especially brings new opportunities and experiences, as I am teaching some new classes, taking on the responsibility of department chair, and as a school we are undergoing a process of accreditation that I've been talking about a lot lately. 
But beyond the 'back to school' stuff of autumn, there are many other things I love about this time of year.  Today is the first NFL Sunday football day, and I look forward to the coming weeks of crockpot chili, apple cider and pumpkin pasta.  Ryan is getting ready to brew pumpkin beer for the first time in a couple of weeks, and I can't wait to taste it!  I just found a pumpkin cookie recipe that might require a ride to the store right now to get some pumpkin....  And I can't wait to make butternut squash and ginger soup!  Okay, so obviously the majority of things I love about this time of year involve food and beer... but that's no big surprise, really!
This time of year has taken on a special meaning for our country in the last ten years as we remember and commemorate all that 'September eleventh' means for us.  The media has covered a variety of stories over the last few weeks, articles about the children of those who died, recalling stories of where people were when they heard, and the touching memorials and concerts on television.  It is something all Americans share in common.  Yesterday we went to the local blues festival with our friends Liz and Chris.  In the middle of the concert, they paused for a minute of silence... at school on Friday we paused throughout the day for silence when the first plane, the second plane, the third plane, the fourth plane hit...  These moments, memories, and shared sorrow will always be a part of 9/11.  And yet, it is also a powerful, tangible way for us to be united, to share in common the pain and sorrow.  Sitting in the middle of a park with hundreds of people I've never met, knowing we all were sharing this moment together, sent chills up my spine.  It's not the ideal way to build community and unity, and yet it is so powerful nonetheless.  And I have to say, it is in those moments, when I am most proud to be an American.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Storms brewing...

Two weeks ago, as the east coast braced itself for the arrival of hurricane Irene, I headed to yoga.  As the skies darkened the night before the arrival of the storm, the heat radiated in the yoga studio (literally, she turned off the air conditioning and it was naaasty.)  In one of the positions, the instructor shared an insight that has stayed with me as a mantra every day:  No matter what storm is brewing, real or imagined, we have the ability to remain centered.  Now, this was perhaps a commentary on the hysteria of over-buying peanut butter, water and batteries that took hold over our area in preparation of the incoming storm.  But I think it had even greater insight into how we react to the world around us.  Oftentimes it is true that the anticipated storm in my life is really just a figment of my imagination, and I might (just maybe) blow things out of proportion once in awhile.  Then again, sometimes the storms are real, and have the ability to knock us off our feet and lose power.  But in the midst of both of these types of storms, and those that fall somewhere in between, we do have the ability, the power, and the choice to stay centered... to focus on what is really most important, and not be knocked into hysteria or panic.  As the school year begins, this mantra has been especially pertinent.  The newness of the school year and the crazed pace of getting everything started and set up can easily lead to unnecessary hysteria or panic.  But the ability to stay centered remains.
My mom passed along the news that a classmate from high school passed away after a courageous fight with breast cancer.  I knew she had been sick because we used to be connected via Facebook (but as part of my 'cutting back' this spring, I deleted the majority of my 'friends', and she fell victim to my scaling back), but it was my understanding that she was well, working and living her life.  As it turns out, the pictures on facebook and the postings about Phish concerts and 5K's didn't tell the full story of what was going on in her life...  it seems like she was somehow able to stay centered despite the storm raging in her body.  If you're looking to be inspired, and maybe a little weepy, check out her blog. 
Megan's Pink Blog
What an amazing woman....  Rest in peace, Megan!  You are such an inspiration! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Focusing on what's right in the world

This week has brought a whirlwind of conversations around the future of the school where I teach.  An all-girls, Catholic, independent academy, the school has a rich tradition that spans back 153 years.  As we face a changing population of students, a challenging economic climate, global reality, etc. etc there are questions swelling about the future and how we can remain competitive and true to our mission.  Part of our principal's introduction to the school year focused around a short video put together by Dewitt Jones, a photographer for National Geographic, emphasizing our ability to celebrate what is right in the world instead of focusing on what isn't working.  Essentially, to choose to be positive and see the goodness in each 'frame' or experience in our midst.  At our school, we are adapting this approach in our accreditation process but ultimately we are taking this approach in our lives.  In the moments of starting a new school year, there is much to celebrate that is right in the world.  It is helpful to be reminded that we have the ability to choose what we focus on and celebrate, and I am trying to bring this perspective to my classroom throughout the year.  I made a little bulletin board yesterday with the tag line 'Celebrate what's right in the world', and I am going to have my seniors bring in a picture of something, somewhere, or someone that embodies what they see as right in the world- to help keep them grounded in what is right and beautiful in the world when the stress of the college process and uncertain futures weigh them down. 

In the midst of the hurricane this past weekend, there were many moments to celebrate.  I was moved to tears when a fellow teacher from school called me Saturday night to see if Ryan and I needed to evacuate, and welcomed us to stay at her home.  Our old neighborhood in Philadelphia is prone to flooding, and some of the people right on the river were encouraged to evacuate, but fortunately we weren't affected in our new neighborhood.  Her thoughtfulness and generosity really overwhelmed me... would I have done that?  As I start the new year and might feel a bit daunted by the new responsibilities and courses I am teaching, I certainly need to celebrate what is right at my work- the amazing people who have become my family, and who go out of their way to love and care for one another.
One final thought on what is right in my world... as the new year started and I found myself in the new position of department chair, we had our first departmental meeting this week.  I was feeling nervous and excited to tell my colleagues in the theology department about the idea of starting a faith sharing group for faculty.  When I tell you they were enthusiastic, I am understating their reaction...  Not only did they want to participate and help develop it, but they helped me to trust this is a need in our school and creating the space for authentic community to flourish will be valuable.  Even if three of us gather, they pointed out that it is worth it and will be blessed.  They emphasized we should do it twice a month, don't wait until the middle of the year to start, etc. etc... the passion was palpable and contagious.  What a gift to be surrounded by such supportive and amazing people! 
Celebrating what is right in this world....
Loving life in Newport, RI