Paddling Perspective: Educate against hate

I push the paddle to the side and let my kayak float for a few moments to consider the real reasons why we want our schools to be the incubators of both free thought and inclusive practices. I ponder how we have expected education to get us to new places.

Bigger thoughts, new horizons, and innovative spirits, they all are the utopian goal of learning.

But here I sit in a little green boat and think why we keep pressing our educators to give our children and our aspiring minds what it seems adults absolve themselves from in mainstream society.

Do we always believe it is someone else’s responsibility to dismantle systemic woes or elevate people beyond any type of plight they may encounter? Are we all hands on deck for all learners all the time? Are we ready shift mindsets so that structural constraints can be dismantled?

Educators don’t shy away from these questions, but I wonder if society does. Perhaps we educate so a new generation carries the torch of love and life more boldly than we have.

Educators think about their work, their lesson plans, and their students so very often. We are always navigating the mine fields of untapped potential. We employ best practices so that student engagement overturns the temptation for disorder and resistance to learning.

We look in the eyes of 11 year olds and need to evidence our belief that all students can learn and succeed even if their surroundings or the stats might indicate otherwise.

We have to believe, not the unbelievable, but the unpopular.

We have to believe that relationships and nonverbals communicate as much as test scores and AP course enrollment numbers.

We need to not shy away from the data. We need to hold the student’s home life and action choices in class as just parts of the puzzle, doing our best to not let stereotypes dismiss the possibilities for the young girl in front of us.

We need to take the young man and show him worth and dignity in a land that shows up with hate and distaste to his race, national heritage, and ethnicity.

We are in the business of rewriting narratives so that divisiveness is not multiplied.

We get to believe that every minute, every tone chosen, every eye contact made is part of the pathway to our society’s freedom to hope, instead of despair.

I believe we get to educate against hate and it starts with the students in front of us. Teach on, teachers! Be ever encouraged, educators! Our work matters. Monday morning is near.

What We Don’t Know: The Love Strong Chronicles Part V

I didn’t know adopted parents would scan my words looking for glimpses of how to love their little ones or teenagers better.

I didn’t know adoptees would write of their fears and failures experienced through life and their climb for meaning in letters to me.

I didn’t know those struggling in faith and wondering of worth would slow down to take in my words and tell their stories too.

I didn’t know that so many hopefuls and those hurting would gather here on Friday and then send texts, emails, FB shares and comment in public.

But they have. They have read and reflected. They have traveled into my heart and then looked at their own.

They have.

You have.

I invited you and you have come along. You have passed along the links and said prayers on my behalf.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway

You have understood that this takes courage and you keep spurring me on to write more, wounds and all.

You and I, we are learning what loving strong looks like together.

And I rejoice.
Then want to stuff my words in the ground.

I am honored.
Then get the urge to delete or quit.

I feel the privilege of touching lives.
And then cower and lose the guts to stand by my determined hope.

The battle rages in my psyche and the peace settles into my soul in a torrent of unpredictable waves. The UNKNOWN is frightening.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

Frightening. But so is deadening to that which beats within me.

I believe that in telling my story, something sets free. I am convinced that asking you to look at your own has merit and momentum waiting to be tapped.

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photo by Marie Elzinga

The Nun, The Teacher (The story starts HERE, if you missed Parts I – IV.)

I didn’t know she was a teacher. I had always assumed she worked at the orphanage as one would who had taken on a full-time job.

But she was a teacher.

These Catholic Sisters spent time in Bangladesh as nurses and teachers. Lives devoted to service in a land far different from their childhood homes.

Life stretched out before these nuns to be caregivers and educators.

And they did it.

They didn’t know what was ahead of them when they took their vows and charged the world with their meek and mindful love.

They changed the world.

They recounted instances of their professions within their telling of lives lived well. They spoke with surety that their work and service left others better.

An educator, by training and by passion, I found myself beaming to be in conversation with other teachers. To hear of their students and the people the children grew up to become, I got it. I knew of this pride and expectant joy.

But my nun.
The one that held me. The one who loved when she didn’t have to and didn’t know what my future held. She was a teacher.

She was the teacher who walked a student home to talk to his mother.

She was the teacher who didn’t know what the home would reveal about the little boy who soaked up her lessons. She was the person who wanted more of the story, to learn of his life.

And in this, she was the one who saw a dirty rat run across the belly of his baby sister who laid on a dirt floor.

She cried a small cry as she told me.
The kind of cry that doesn’t let the tears fall or the chest heave. The kind that many miss because it is tempered with control. But it, like most small cries, was screaming with emotion.

She told me she didn’t know what she could do to change enough for the little boy and the rat infested house, but she knew that the unknown couldn’t stop her from trying.

So the teacher became a “home for women and children” dreamer.
So the teacher became a hostel founder.
So the teacher gave her time and her arms to holding babies whom others had discarded. So the teacher became the love of my infancy as my life intersected with hers decades ago.

So the teacher, with academics known and vows spoken, stayed in the story of a little boy and his baby sister. She didn’t know where it would bring her, but she has no regrets.

And as for me?

I don’t know what should be in the blog posts and what should stay in my journal. I don’t know why this is the time to uncover this story and why you keep reading.

But the nun.

She told me to come soon and in doing so, I heard of bravery..

I won’t be the same again.

I likely don’t know even the breadth of her swath of love, but I know she loved strong even when it was difficult.
So yes, I believe that in telling my story something gets set free.

I am convinced that in asking you to look at your own story that you will tap merit and momentum.

We don’t always know what, but like the nun, the unknown, it must not stop us.

We must be willing to try to love strong in the stories of our lives.

Be it clear, this is not easy.

I have grown weary and cold in moments directly after the hours I have told parts of my story .

I have distanced from people because my intensity is often uncorraled and I am tired of apologizing and explaining.

I have even set up a therapy appointment to tell someone with an outside perspective of life trauma and ask of childhood attachment wonders.

Doing what I don’t know is risky business, but it let’s me practice strong love.

I don’t get to keep the picture perfect life as my story gets told, rather I get to imperfectly finally live.

In all of this, the chronicles still stand. It’s a commitment to consistency even if my growing and learning paints the canvas with more shapes of dysfunction than shades of perfection, so be it.

I have hope.

I am learning to love me.
You get to learn to love you.

Stay in the story longer, both your own and the ones of those around you. This is what changes the world.

Love strong.

Then the art of our lives becomes a song and the notes that keep the melody are tuned to redemption.

Love strong.

Then even if the music that wraps around our chorus has strains of discord and human fragility, it tempos our songs, our stories, and make us human.

The notes of the last verse, oh how we might wish to erase, but they help us now shed the masks and reach for real. They curl in fragrance to worship and pull Heaven to earth when we can’t find our way. Heaven holds, guides, and surprises us.

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Stay here.
Stay in the love.
Get drenched in grace.
Even if you don’t know how thick the forest or the bends of the river.

Stay in your story.

You matter.

Learn of stories from the world over.

It is a big place.

Stay in the love; no length of winter and no vile rodent, nothing is too much for love. Hate, misfortune, injustice, mistakes, unbelief, death, abuse, fear, futures, and the unknown—love can out distance. Not all will be redeemed this side of Heaven, but we don’t know what will be, so love strong and live well.

For all that you enjoy and for that which you endure, stay, even if you don’t know, this is living, this is brave hope chasing.

nasreen

Gasping for Air: The Love Strong Chronicles Part II

Gasping for air.

There have been moments the past few months I have been gasping for air.

I had not run too far.
Smoke had not met my lungs.
The walls did not actually cave in.

But oxygen escaped rapidly.

When my lack of belonging and my questioned purpose lifted breath out of me and prevented it from returning to fill my chest, I felt lost.

A teacher without a classroom.
A writer without a book.
A speaker without a message.
A sojourner without a destination.

An orphan without a home.

But how dare I feel that.

How in the facts of being granted a family and chance at life in the States, with adoptive parents who sacrificed much and got a run for their money in my rebellion, could I say I was an orphan without a home?

Might I have any claim to be without destination when I have been blessed with two towns that have welcomed me and embraced what I had to offer? When I profess a faith that keeps its eyes not on this world alone, but in the promise of more?

And of the message, the hope chaser, the one who believes that in loving strong we truly become alive and when we do good work, activate in our potential, we can grow ourselves, communities and the world. Of this message, did it fall mute on my own ears when death stole from those I care for or did it lose strength when people stood on the fringes of faith?

Write on and remember it as such. No book defines the writer, rather words scribbled on paper or across the heart, splattered on the computer screen or spoken into the open. This inflicting thought reared false too. Surely the ink has dried to reality.

But the teacher. The teacher without a classroom is perhaps the most absurd. Are we not all teachers? And one of curriculum and academics, desks and pupils, shall not the lessons ring evermore in new venues and mediums if the passion and training did not exit?

Why then did my chest concave?

Was this fear?
Was this hurt?
Was this hunger?

I chased air.

I needed answers.

I chased.
I needed.
I craved just enough to get in a car with a dear friend and meet the unknown with urgency unqualified and my momentum uncategorized.

Yes, two weeks ago I talked to a nun who held my abandoned, rejected self and who had set out to care until I was gifted a future. The phone had been pressed to my ear and my beating heart nearly muffling the song her voice was to me.

My lungs burned to expand again.

I heard her words.

My husband and boys gave me space and I listened. I listened to the nun.

She told me to come soon. (Read Part I HERE)

And I did.

The next day.

Her words fought against my buckling from suffocation and landed me in South Bend, Indiana.

This, the visit to the Sisters of the Holy Cross to see the nun, who with others, would finish out the days of her vows at the Mother House. Each with decades spent abroad serving with their nursing and teaching skills, with their hands of love, I went to visit.

There we sat.
Holding hands like we had loved for a lifetime.

The nun held my hand with a quiet strength.

Her eyes bounced around her memory and then shifted to take me in.

I was one of her babies.

Warmth found my chilled skin.

Belonging danced with acceptance in my soul.

The chairs around me filled with angels as if the great cloud of witnesses came to affirm this aging nun that she had done good work.

The unfaltering smile on her face hastened me to believe that the trip to the convent was well-placed.

The demons of my insecurities would not find welcome here. Peace drew close and wonders piled in, but with calm, they filled the couch space to my left.

My mouth parted open but nothing met sound. It turned to a nervous smile and the nun swiftly let her other hand reach to tap my face.

A hush little baby lullaby floated through my head and the slam of a creaky door outside the room brought the finale to my minds’ wander.

The tap tap, as if a secret handshake between her years gone by and my cheek.

My body leaned in.

Had I felt this before?
Her gentle constant.
Had she really never stopped loving me?

The final tap lingered and turned to one of the purest strokes my being has been witness in.

Gasping for air. Again. Here.
This was not fear.
This was not hurt.
This was not hunger.

This was being overwhelmed in the gift of time. The eight hour drive exclaimed confirmation of time well spent.

I was nearly not able to bend to grab the scrapbook that sat near my feet. She thought I was leaving and she clutched tightly until I spoke of pictures I had brought. Pictures sent with letters during the long wait for my arrival 30 years ago.

She took in the pictures.

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She told me of laundry.
She remembered the hostel she founded.
She recounted the hours she spent after teaching to help babies eat and be safe.
She spoke with fervor as she spilled details about the group of 19 Precious Jewels she brought to America.

And then she said it.


I can hardly breathe.


One of my babies is here!
You came all this way, I sure hope I’m worth it.

The nun.
The one who told me to come soon.
She gasped for air, too.

She wrestled worth just as I do.

And then she stopped.

Swept back to the joy, she began to soften her shoulders and moved back towards me.

She stretched her heart and life’s work out like the table in front of us. The years had smoothed out the mountains and valleys and her spirit had peace.

I soaked her in.

I listened as she continued recalling snippets of a life I had once been a part of.

I vaulted it. The hurt of my story was certainly going to arrive, but not there in the visitor’s house lounge.

Not then.

Hours later it would, but in that moment, I belonged. I had a right to teach others of their belonging even if I question mine.

She, the nun who ascribed worth to little dejected children, she questioned her own and then stopped…

….to start breathing again.

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There is more.
But this Friday bids us pause.

Tell me of you.

Feel the air with me.
With her.

We are allowed to breathe.

Best of all is it to preserve everything in a pure, still heart, and let there be for every pulse a thanksgiving, and for every breath a song. ~Konrad von Gesner, scientist, theologian, writer

For all that you enjoy and for that which you endure, chase hope, breathe deep, and when you gasp, remember you belong.

nasreen