Communicate and Overflow

I’m reading All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day. Dorothy, founder of the Catholic Worker, was a writer in all senses of the word. She said:

The reason we write is to communicate ideas … We must overflow in writing about all the things we have been talking about and living … Writing is an act of community. It is a letter, it is comforting, consoling, helping, advising on our part, as well as asking it on yours. It is a part of our human association with each other. It is an expression of our love and concern for each other. *

Is that not fantabulous? It encourages me to, again, let my life overflow into my writing.

It’s been a week filled with emotion and anxiousness, but also prayer and blessings. Wednesday was my 12 year anniversary of being diagnosed with cancer.

It’s a beautiful anniversary, because without it, I would no longer be on the planet. But, it’s also a difficult anniversary. It was such an unexpected, glaring indication of my mortality. And, boy oh boy, a cancer diagnosis isn’t just dipping your toes into all of that. You are thrown into the deep end of the pool. The shock of hitting the water takes your breath away. You submerge. But then, face out of the water, you float, and slowly learn to swim.

This year I had a CAT scan scheduled for my anniversary. How’s that for good planning? (laughing) I didn’t choose the date, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen it had I been the scheduler. Still, in many ways it turned out to be the perfect date for the test.

Dorothy quotes Catherine of Sienna, “All the way to Heaven is heaven, because He said ‘I am the Way.’ “ Then she offers her wish — may heaven be in your heart today. *

The CAT scan, on my anniversary, heightened my fear and worry about the unknown. Out of necessity, I worked harder, surrendered more deeply, and prayed with greater fervor for heaven to be in my heart as I went about my day.

I was patient with the receptionist who seemed to be struggling with her own tiredness. I smiled under my mask and chuckled at my goofy comment to her. I chose to be peaceful as I waited — eyes closed, breathing with purpose and prayer. Then Miriam called me and walked with me to the CAT scan room. Miriam is a funny, talented nurse/tech — who knew what my brown scapular was. She laughed, talked, listened, and brought a bit of heaven to me, and boy oh boy am I grateful! Now I wait with hope.

I came home and crawled into bed for a much needed nap. I awoke to snow. I love snow! It’s beautiful and altogether magical. I fell asleep later that night to the delicate pings of the snowy mix against my windows.

The next morning, I bundled up and headed out to shovel. I remain easily fatigued, and not feeling totally well, but, how could I not go out into that cold, bright, beautiful, snow-filled day? Shovel in hand, I considered ignoring my fatigue and overall feelings of malaise. Thankfully my wiser self prevailed. I did slow, steady work, capturing ridiculously tiny amounts of snow in my shovel. And, I rested — a lot.

My work and rest routine turned out to be a great gift! The white of the snow was a perfect foil to the texture, shapes, and color of the grasses, berries, seed pods, branches, and flowers that surrounded me as I rested against the end of shovel. The seed pods and flowers provided pockets and pedestals for the ice to take shape. My stillness in the quiet enabled my ears to the hear the sounds of the bird’s flapping wings and chirping songs.

I gleefully snapped shots during each of my rests — sometimes resting more just to photograph. I purposefully chose brilliantly white snow-filled backgrounds with little extraneous visual noise.

When I finished, I sipped hot cocoa and crafted a poem. Hoping to encourage the feeling of soft peaceful silence, I used only lowercase letters. It was funnily jarring to change the uppercase I to lowercase. But, on my second or third read, I settled into it, appreciating the sense it gave that I am very small in this magnificent expanse of life, and snow.

_____________________

brilliant white snow
piercingly cold air
beautiful soft silence
broken only
by the birds’ wings
and sweet songs

shovel, rest, breathe

my breath deepens
my eyes
squinting in the light
see more
my ears
hear more

shovel, rest, breathe, look and listen

i notice a plethora of details
texture and structure
subtle changes in hue and tone
color where I thought there was none
always present
not always perceived

shovel, rest, breathe, look and listen, notice

i am in awe 
of the details
the beauty
and the gifts
of God and nature

shovel, rest, breathe, look and listen, notice, marvel

i try
to capture them 
with my
heart 
mind and 
camera

shovel, rest, breathe, look and listen, notice, marvel, photograph

i imagine and feel
sparkles of joy
with each gift
noticed with wonder
captured with gratitude

shovel, rest, breathe, look and listen, notice, marvel, photograph, be grateful

_____________________

It is incredibly important to fill my days with rest, breath, noticing, wonder, awe, and gratitude.

It is absolutely necessary to acknowledge my awesomeness and strength, as well as my tiredness.

It is essential to be kind and merciful to myself, and others.

As a human, sister, daughter, teacher, learner, writer, creative, artist, coach, and every other thing I am, and way I interact in this world, there is incredible value in silence, brilliant light, kindness, having heaven in my heart, and bringing it closer to others.

I join Dorothy in her wish for the world — May we all have heaven in our heart.

*Both quotes are from All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day by Robert Ellsberg

Steinways and Snow

My first Kindergartners are now 10th graders. Hard to believe, but true.

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of them participate in the NJ Poetry Out Loud finals. She recited three poems. Each was filled with pauses, inflection, breath, emotion, and gestures, which drew me more deeply into the words and meaning of the poems.

My favorite was Undivided Attention by Taylor Mali. It’s a fun, and thought-provoking poem for an educator. An added sweetness was that  I was introduced to it by my alumna!

If you’re unfamiliar with the poem, take a moment to go read it now. Especially if you’re an educator, read it — right now.

I’ll wait.

The whole thing is glorious. But, if you ask me, the most striking part is:

So please.

Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.

Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

(Mali. Taylor. “Undivided Attention.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Fabulous! Right?!?

As I listened to my alumna recite the poem, I imagined the educator asking permission of her administrators, coordinators, and colleagues to allow her teach in this fashion. As I listened, I heard her imploring others to share her vision.

Later that day I read the poem to myself, and then aloud to others. I heard it differently. I’m not completely sure why.

Perhaps I heard it differently because  it was my own voice that spoke the words. Or, perhaps it was because Mali’s words had been floating in my brain since the morning, somehow becoming my own.

“Let me teach like the Steinway …so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly dangling … let me teach like the new snow, falling.”

The word I heard, with soft, encouraging, invitation was me. It felt like a quiet manifesto.

Much like the piano movers I need to move my personal Steinways. My Steinways are lessons, ideas, inspiration, motivation, classroom culture, design experiences, creativity, and much more. Similar to the movers in the poem, occasionally, my eye-popping, jaw-dropping, risky, awesomeness has to hang out the window. Scary, but also a huge blessing, because, hanging out the window, others can see it, engage with it, and be excited by it.

First snow, falling, is nothing new, and yet each time it falls it feels new. The snow beckons all who notice it to come and look with long interested looks. It reworks the view out the window. It offers the opportunity for play, and the necessity of work. And, when examined closely, it reveals the marvels of each unique flake. That is a profound way to teach.

Yes. Let me teach like that Steinway — big, brave, bold, and fantabulous. Let me teach like snow falling — offering play and work, changing views, and surprisingly breathtaking wonders.

Let me

Let us.