"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, September 29, 2013


One Year Ago
The forecast for Randle has not changed in the last several days, except to perhaps get gloomier. The chance of rain sits at 100%, the temperature below 60. Yesterday there was a flood watch through Monday. This morning there is a winter storm watch in place for Monday and Tuesday.

We leave this afternoon for outdoor school on the mountain where Randle is the closest town. It's bad enough that I lose this entire weekend to the preparation and departure, but the rain splatting outside my window taunts with the promise of what the next week holds: hours of being cold and damp, days of nothing but brown food (iceberg lettuce the only green food, and that only for one meal), no time off, homesick kids smelling like wet puppies.

It's so easy to be optimistic and spiritual when the sun shines. Even when life slides sideways, if the air is warm and golden, and I know I can come  home to dry clothes, a good meal, and the comfort of my own bed, hope always wins the day. I'm having a really difficult time being sunny about this coming week.

I've done what I can to prepare. New rain gear, including new boots with owls on them. Apples and healthy snacks. Extra bedding. Until the rain, I was even looking forward to this year's camp. Mostly because this will be the first one I'm not in pain, or sick. And for the chance to spend time in the woods with my class, with whom I fall more in love every day.

My sense of dread is as heavy as wet clothes. Walt's reassurances and offers to help only annoy. If there was any graceful way to not go, I would choose it.

But there's no way out that allows me to be the person I want to be. If I can somehow find of my sense of adventure, trust that I can not only endure but also enjoy, face each moment as it arrives rather than deciding (knowing, even) ahead how bad it will be—and there is the key. Not just to the coming week, but to everything.

I don't know what gifts the next few days are going to bring. I do know they're not going to be what I'd pictured, or wanted. I don't know where I'll find the grit to be cheerful and happy and to laugh at the misery that will surely try to dominate. There's even a chance I won't. And maybe that fear is the root of my dread.

A Pema Chodron quote is pinned to the bulletin board to my right: "You are the sky. Everything else—it's just the weather." I set out into this day, and into the week, claiming the sky beyond the weather, and choosing to be grateful for the opportunity to do just that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


In a class once an instructor showed a graph of the emotional year of teaching. It started on a high with all the promise of a fresh start, new kids, and the renewed energy from summer. Then it gradually declined as reality and exhaustion and obstacles slowly wore away at the optimism of September. There were other dips and upswings throughout the year, although none as high as the beginning.

Four weeks into the year and the decline has begun.

The good stuff is still there: Teaching writing to kids is as much fun as I thought it would be. As a group these kids are sweet and funny and so easy to love. And I like only having to plan for one subject to teach instead of four.

The challenges, however, pile on like logs on a spavined donkey. None of them unusual or even that big a deal on their own. It's the one-more-thing aspect that makes getting through the days so difficult. Upset parents who go straight to district office when an email or a conversation with the teacher would have solved concerns easily. Forms to create. Forms to fill out. Letters to write. Emails to answer. Power point presentations to do. Curriculum night. IEP meetings and 504 meetings and SIP meetings and PLC meetings and PAT meetings. Special ed, speech, ELL teachers to listen to and schedules to accommodate.  Test data to analyze. All done in the midst of construction next door (more than once we've thought earthquake) and a ventilation system that works inconsistently and part time.

The log that has the potential to drive the donkey to the ground? Fifth grade leaves for outdoor school a week from today—yes, on a Sunday. On a mountain with 175 kids (two elementary schools), few amenities, a good chance of rain, and no real off-duty time. We return late Thursday evening and the next Friday is a regular school day.

This is the life of a teacher. It's no different than it's ever been, except the demands grow each year with little taken away to make room for the new. More to the point, I get sucked in every single year. Trying to do and be everything to everyone. Believing somehow that this year I'm strong enough and healthy enough—enough period—to accomplish the impossible.

I was startled on Friday morning as Walt and I walked out of Starbucks into a brilliant red-sky dawn.  Even though I could really use that extra hour at my desk, our Friday breakfast date is sacred and one bit of balance I've managed to cling to. The gift this day gave was far greater than quality time with my best friend husband.

A harvest moon smiled gently through a soft haze from the western sky. A mango sun lit the eastern sky and infused the world with pink. Fall flavored the air I breathed deeply in a sense of awe and wonder. Standing there, I remembered. Remembered that while I can't control the system or anything outside myself really, I can control who I am no matter what's happening. Not with determination or will or white knuckles. But with acceptance and surrender and prayer.

I choose to rest in the balance of night and day. To hold what's important closer than what's urgent. It's a choice I'll need to make every day, something I knew going into this school year. I forgot for a moment, but I'm deeply grateful for the moon's reminder.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Sisters, one twelve, the other six or seven, went into foster care last week. Remarkable only because I know them and love the older sister (probably would love the younger, too, but I haven't spent time with her). Unfortunately, not an unusual event - one source I checked said there are more than 400,000 kids in out-of-home care in our country every day. Sadly, and maybe even inevitably, this move guarantees a rougher road ahead for both girls.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the paths we find ourselves on, some intentional, but many out of our control.

My own childhood could easily have ended with me in foster care, except it was the early 60s in rural Idaho and nothing showed on the outside.

I was a foster mom for a short stretch during my cult years—twelve kids in three years ranging in age from newborn to thirteen. I hated it. Loved the kids, but hated fostering. Mostly because I wanted a baby of my own and in my relative youth and religious judgment could not understand how giving the kids back to parents who lost them in the first place could possibly be good for them.

Of course it's not that simple. And it's only been recently that I've come to really understand that even kids raised by loving, intentional, child-centered parents can find themselves on rutted and rocky roads. That perhaps every life path veers and winds and reverses and even seems to diminish into nothing from time to time. I believed for the longest time that my own path was too broken to take me anywhere  but shadowlands of scrub and second-best.

I can't say why one person's journey, no matter the twists and turns, takes them into the light, while another's seems only to draw them further and further into darkness. For myself, now, the path is golden with light. Light that beckons from without and warms from within. A gift of light. Grace. Not something earned for sure.

Although I know things will be hard, maybe even horrendous, for a while, I'm optimistic for those two girls. As long as there's enough light for them to see a path, as long as they travel in the protected guidance of guardian adults who love them, as long as there's time, their journeys can be abundant with all the best life has to offer. No matter the path, they can become who they came here to be. The gift of light available to us all illuminates their possibilities, hopefully enough to keep their eyes and hearts open to their own best destinations.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Well into September and the days continue to be sunny. Last week's thunder storm brought much needed rain, so now we have sunshine and air that's moist and plump and soothing to both skin and soul. Perfect spider webs bejeweled with the night's moisture adorn random corners. Even flowers that were beginning to fade seem to have found new vibrancy.

The day after the storm in the small community where I teach, two teenaged boys, both new seniors, were in a terrible accident. The driver walked away. The passenger died. The trajectory of two families forever altered, and to a smaller degree that of most of the people in the town.

For those in deep grief, the early autumn beauty around them is unseeable and inaccessible. For those two families I expect bright skies and vivid flowers and dew-sparkled webs feel like an assault and are anathema. Winter has already started for them and will be the season of their lives for a very long time to come. I know. I remember.

For those of us only peripherally touched by that particular tragedy, as we are touched every day by so many losses that we have no power to prevent or end or ease, the question is how do we honor those who are suffering.

There are the traditions of course: food, prayers, memorial sites. The day after the accident, all the parents I came into contact with had spent extra time hugging their own children. And for most of us whose lives have been touched by this tragedy but not torn asunder, the darkness serves to make the light in our lives seem even brighter. Those of us who have been members of that terrible club for several seasons know that light will eventually return to homes where darkness now consumes everything. It will not be as bright for a while, and it will never look the same.

But one day, something will happen, a random magical thing, and they'll realize joy as vivid and brilliant as summer flowers after a rainstorm.

Two weeks ago, second day of school, while standing outside at the end of the day helping kids get where they needed to be, I noticed a mom and her two kids walk toward me. The boy probably third grade, the girl a kindergartner. Because I was focused on the mom, who was going the wrong way, it took a minute for me to see the girl standing directly in front of me. "You are beautiful!" she said. And walked away with her mom and brother as though nothing extraordinary had happened.

God's words and voice coming through the tiny body of a five-year-old girl. Received directly into the heart of a woman who at one time was certain her heart could no longer hold such joy.

Kathleen has been gone for almost three years. The sense of loss never diminishes. But life does indeed go on. And a heart can heal enough to make room for both the deep darkness of the unimaginable and the luminosity of pure seeing and love.

While these families are wrapped in raven wings of grieving, I will hold the promise of bright skies for them. And offer prayers for safe passage through this perilous time.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


In the later days of August, as we sat on the patio absorbing the heat and ease of summer, we were often visited by juncoes just fledged and finding their way in the world for the first time. The newest fledglings were nearly unrecognizable as juncoes with their gray and brown tufts—more sparrow-looking than anything. I was only ever certain it was a junco I was seeing when it flew, because even from the beginning the white tail laterals were present.

Last week on Tuesday I welcomed twenty-three fledglings of the human variety into my room and my heart. Then on Thursday by the end of the day, seventy-eight more had landed in my classroom as awkwardly and exuberantly as any baby bird just out of the nest. We're doing rotations this year, which means I'm teaching writing and only writing to the entire fifth grade.

One hundred or so ten-year-olds. Not quite the people they came here to be. Still holding the roundness and fluff of babyhood, but with wings that work. Like mother juncoes knowing their fledglings need help finding food, the adults in these kids' lives still provide varying degrees of support as they move out into the world. Like beings everywhere with a newly discovered ability to fly, the kids flap and flutter with varying degrees of effectiveness.

When I watch a baby junco peck around in the grass or hit the jackpot with a fuschia berry, all the wonders of childhood are present in those new discoveries. And everything that he will ever be is present in that tiny body.

That's the thing I love the most about being a teacher. The deepest privilege of my profession. Each child comes to me only partially formed, and I get to see all of the potential of what they might be. Just as I know that adult juncoes are beautifully, crisply uniform with gray-black heads, buff underparts and darker backs, I see in each child the possibility of a best, pure, completely expressed person.

So many already have obstacles that threaten to ground them before they've even cleared the trees, let alone finding the whole width of the sky. Labels and life circumstances that have the potential to prevent the full expression of their being: ADHD, ODD, BD, IEP, 504; parents in jail, siblings lost to suicide, poverty, severe allergies, days that start with shame and beatings and no clean clothes to wear.

Before I ever meet the kids I see paperwork, hear stories, occasionally see pictures. None of those things come close to matching the people I meet. And while it's helpful to have the other information, to know what might be hindering flight so I can work around those obstacles, what matters more to me is the vision I get of who that child could be.

I know from my own life that childhood circumstance isn't the final word on how much potential can be fulfilled. And so I believe in the possibility of complete dream fulfillment for each of those not-quite-formed people who will be writing with me this year. Even knowing that not all of them will soar into the world on strong wings, for this one year I can give them a space where all things are possible and offer tools they can use to build lives where they have access to the whole wide sky.