Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Next Stop: Fountain of Youth.

Today I learned that the 6th grade is not the place to go in order to boost one's ego. Actually, I learned this in 1990 as a 6th grader so technically I guess today I was just reminded of this fact. Last month I wrote about my experience with a 6th grade class. At the time I had no intention of a recap of my monthly meeting with them turning into a regular segment on this little blog o'mine. And by "regular", I mean "occurring more than once." ...just so we're clear on that.

This morning I asked the question "How old do you think the oldest student at the college I work at is?" A student from the back exclaims: "37!!" Awesome. [The real answer for those of you playing along at home is 84.] I don't really know what happened next, all I know is that suddenly, one student informed me that I was "middle-aged". Really? From the current outbreak happening on my face, I can see why someone might confuse me for a 16 year old boy, but middle-aged? I think not!

So at the end of my presentation, I once again opened up for the floor for questions about going to college or my job, etc. Big mistake. Huge. Because here's how that went down:

Question 1: "Are you married?"
Just Me...HP: "No."

Question 2: "Well, do you at least have any kids?"
Just Me...HP: "No." [In my mind I'm thinking "thank heavens" when I answer this one considering my answer to #1.]

Question 3: "Don't you get lonely?"
Just Me....HP: [as I'm wiping the tears from my eyes and curling up into the fetal position...oh, kidding!] "Nope, I've got plenty of time still for marriage and babies."
Little boy who earlier reported that one of his favorite activities is eating pork chops, collard greens, and cornbread: "Well, my mama, she 33 and I a whole lot older than yo' babies gonna be when you finally have 'em."

The whole thing is really quite hilarious. I don't feel a minute over oh let's say 24, but the truth is, I'm getting older. But here's a fun little fact: When I started the 6th grade, my mama was also 33, and I thought she was o-l-d. [Hi, mom! Love you!] It wasn't until she had a baby at the end of my freshman year of college at the age of 41 though that I actually point blank told her that she was old. What's that they say about karma?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The day after that day.

This morning when I woke up I wasn't exactly sure what day it was or even where I was for that matter. That, my pals, is a sure sign of either a wild night out or a good night's sleep. Considering I was in my jammies watching 20/20 by 9:00, you can use your good sense to figure out which one I experienced. Once I realized that it was in fact Monday, I rolled myself out of bed and began going through the motions of getting ready for the day just as all responsible working adults do on a daily basis. Soon my thoughts turned to the same thoughts that I have been having for about the last week or so leading up to the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. Honestly, I've said about all I can say about that specific day and my feelings regarding it here and here.

However, this year I have been thinking a great deal about the day (and all the other days) that followed. When I woke up on the morning of September 12, 2001, I was a little shell-shocked. Sure, I was safe. All the people that I loved were safe. But for the first time in my 22 years on this earth, I woke up with the understanding that there were no guarantees that this would always be the case. There was the possibility of a "next time". Not only that, there were still so many unknowns about "this time". For the families who were directly impacted, that Wednesday was simply a continuation of the seemingly unending nightmare that began on Tuesday. For the rest of us, it was our first "regular" day in a post-9/11 world. We rolled out of bed, we brushed our teeth, we fixed our breakfast, just as we did the day before and the one before that. I am so glad that we did. Sure, there was pain in our hearts and anger and confusion brewing just below the surface, but we got up and met our new day.

It has become my belief that our response to events in life define us even more so than the actual event itself. What would have happened if on that morning, we as a nation had simply pulled the covers back over our heads and stayed in bed because we were frozen with fear? What would have happened if that initial anger we all felt remained lodged within us? Would it have eventually evolved into sheer hatred that creates nothing but hardened hearts? Who would have those folks with missing and lost loved ones have looked to for strength had they not had our prayers or had we not rallied around them with compassion in their time of greatest need? Not only that, what if we had remained in our little silos of safety and solitude? What would we look like today as a nation? Some may argue that we are a dismal sight anyway given the economy and the this and the that, but when I read the "World" section from any news website or hear first-hand my international students talk about conditions and the way of life in their home countries, I am reminded that I am still going to sleep each night in the greatest place on this planet.

I am sorry that our world and way of life that we had always known changed so dramatically beginning with the day after that day. I am sorry that I have to say to my international students more often than not "well, since 9/11..." It is a standard phrase that I have always known in my entire working career. I am sorry that each time I get on an airplane I scan the faces of my fellow travelers. I do it almost subconsciously now, yet I still do it. More than anything, I am sorry that a handful of people made the decision to participate in a horrible plan that took away the freedom and lives of thousands of innocent people.

Yet the thing that alleviates my sorrow over all of those things is the pride that I have in knowing that on the day after that day, those of us who were able to, got up and met our new day.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

-Psalm 46

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm just glad Bob Ross will never see it.

In elementary school I hated arts and craft time. I cringed each year during VBS when I had to create some sort of popsicle stick masterpiece and my stomach still hurts a little bit when I think back to that terrible ornament constructed during my stint as a Brownie Girl Scout from fabric scraps and one of those foam ball things found in craft sections of Wal-Mart all across the land that hung on my mama's Christmas tree for at least a decade. Why did I hate such activities? Because I suck at them, that's why. I decided at a pretty young age that it was best for me to stick with the things that I'm good at and forget the stuff that I'm less than mediocre at doing. Practice makes perfect? Bah! There's no amount of practice in the world that could hone my art skills beyond that of an average 6 year-old.

So. Now that you all know this about me, I will continue with today's post.

A couple of weeks ago, some pals and I went to one of those places that are the current trendy rage. You know what I'm talking about...you go with your favorite gal pals with a bottle or two of wine in tow in order to drink and paint the night away. In theory, each artist is supposed to walk away with her very own canvas creation that closely mirrors that of the instructor's. Rarely do theory and reality ever mirror each other though. But it wasn't about the actual artwork...it was about the fun and good memories to be made with my people. When the day o' fun arrived, I called one of those two pals in the afternoon prior to meeting. This particular friend is a bit Type A. And she loves a good set of clear instructions. Plus, she likes to be really good at the things she does. [Sometimes I wonder why we are even friends...it's like we cannot relate to each other at all.] In our conversation I confessed my heightened anxiety level over having to paint something in front of complete and total strangers who would for sure be comparing their work to my own work. I knew immediately that I had made a wise choice in calling her because instead of talking me down from my unnecessary ledge, she too confessed that she had created a mantra of "it's just circles, it's just circles, how hard can it be?" in order to prepare for the evening. After a couple of minutes, we checked ourselves before we wrecked ourselves and decided that
of course we could do this because after all, according to the picture on the calendar we were just going to be painting circles so it really couldn't possibly be that hard.

Have you any idea how difficult it is to paint circles?!?!

Look at me ruining the end of the story. However, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me even a little bit that I struggled with painting a bunch of circles. Especially after I tell you all that no where in the place was a finished version of the creation we were supposed to paint. This means that I could see no further than the canvas right in front of me. Sure, the instructor was painting at the same time we were, but I like to see the ultimate goal of what I am trying to get to and then work backwards in a sense to try to get there.

So over the course of a couple of hours on that particular evening, I had the opportunity to ruin a perfectly good blank canvas. But not really. Now that I have an advanced degree in adult learning theory, I'm always looking for the meaning in my experiences. What I lack in painting ability I make up for in analytical prowess.

The truth is that painting a canvas full of undefined circles is one of the best exercises that I could have participated in. Why? Because I have an aversion to the abstract. I love symmetry. I love clearly defined lines. They are even. They are clean without jagged edges. Clean, symmetrical lines look even better on a black and white canvas. Oh, how I love things to be black and white. Why do color printers even have a "gray scale" option? Who needs gray? Not this girl.

I know what some of you may be thinking because I've thought it multiple times in the last 2.5 years:
How in the world did this poor girl ever make it this far in life? [Answer: Grace. Not my own, by the way.] Painting a picture of circles without having any circles to look at and go by took me completely out of my comfort zone. I mean...I didn't have a protractor so my circles were not perfect circles. And then I got all sorts of caught up in trying to make the circles within the circles even and the same width. Don't even get me started on color selection. Yes, as a matter of fact I should have drank more than one glass of wine because I would have been much less concerned with symmetry and circle width and color selection.

Nope, this is not some big epiphany that I experienced for the first time in my 32 years. It's yet another reminder of what I've known for quite some time: Life is not black and white. It is not symmetrical with clearly defined lines. There really can be no finished product and pattern to work from because we are all unique individuals. Even when we model our behavior and make decisions based on the influence of others, it looks a little bit different than it would look if another person behaved the same exact way and made the same exact decisions. We never really know what the final product is going to look like until it's done.

When I really think about it, as much as I love lines, they just create a box. Boxes are constraining. Once full, there is no room for anything else in it. Because I'm human, I'm ultimately going to want more than what there is room for in a box. And regardless of whether I want it or not, I'm given things on a daily basis that I would have never even have thought about making room for in my little limited-vision box in the first place.

Remember that reference to grace earlier? For me, it's one of the most abstract things in the world. Just as I am incapable of painting perfect circles, I am incapable of understanding God's perfect grace. But just like the paint filled my ugly, broken and uneven circles and eventually made them whole, his grace fills our ugly, broken, and uneven lives and eventually makes us whole.