My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.

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There but for the Grace of God, Go I

December 24, 2016

Dear Readers,

The following has been reprinted with permission:

Attitude of Gratitude

by Sonny, 6th grade

“Even if I am only 12 years old, I know what it means to be grateful. I know that no matter how bad I have it, I can always be grateful for something. Here’s my story.

I lost my dad when I was about 3 years old. I guess I miss him,   I don’t really remember him. But I lost my mom last year to breast cancer, and I do remember her. I miss her so much, but not as much as I used to. I guess I’ve learned to be grateful.

When my mom died, I tried to be strong, but I couldn’t stop crying forever, it seemed. My mom died during the summer, so at least I didn’t have to go to school. It seemed that all I ever did was cry and feel sorry for myself. I lived with my nana and tata, my mom’s parents, so I knew I had people who loved me. But my mom and dad were both gone and all I could think about was, “Why me?” Then school started and I got even worse. I didn’t know that I was angry. I just knew that life was pretty unfair.

I was never really good at school. So, when I started getting ‘Ds’ and ‘Fs’, it didn’t bother me…much. To be honest, I hated my grades. But, I didn’t think I could do any better.   I was wrong.

I had a teacher last year that taught me about gratitude. I was sad I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet. My mom used to tell me that. I never understood what it meant.

One day at school I was crying because, well, life sucked for me! It had been less than a year since my mom died and Thanksgiving was coming up. All I heard at school that week was, “What are you thankful for?”

“Nothing! I’m thankful for nothing!” I yelled back at my teacher one day when I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I ran into the hall and waited for my teacher to run after me and tell me everything would be okay. I then would tell her how sad I am and she would say she was sorry and then I would tell her that life was unfair, and I would get to go to the bathroom and wash my face and I would be okay until the next time. At least that was how it had gone for the past four months. Not this time.

My teacher, I’ll call her Miss X, dismissed the class to reading and lunch and called me in from the hallway.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “if Miss X won’t feel sad for me, maybe Ms. J would.” Ms. J was our class aide and she was still in the classroom as me and Miss X sat down.

I don’t remember what I thought Miss X was going to say, but I know I wasn’t expecting what came next. Miss X let loose on me. Not in a yelling way, but in a disappointed way.

“Look, I can’t help you get over your sadness, Sonny. I’m not so good in that department. But, I can help you get over being selfish and ungrateful. Now, I’m real good in that department.”

I thought my face showed shocked and hurt, until Miss X smirked. Now, at the time I didn’t know the difference between the smirk and the smile. I saw a smile,. Smiles from adults when kids are sad and crying are a good thing, a warm thing. So, I relaxed and prepared to gets some hugs, maybe  a funsize bag of M&Ms that Miss X keeps in her desk drawer. But no, Miss X lets loose on me again! Only not in the disappointed way she started with, and not quite the yell, yet.

“Sonny, I am sorry that you’ve lost your mom.” Which, of course, I didn’t believe at first, because she was, well, not yelling, yelling. But, she was loud.

“And I’m sorry that life sucks for you right now.” This, this I believed because I pretended not to see that she was about to cry. Aaaand, she fooled me again., because, you see, those were not, sad tears. No, they were angry, frustrated tears; like she was hurt. But, I was listening.

“And I’m sorry that you found out at such a young age that life really, really sucks sometimes. But life can be really, really glorious, too. You don’t know this, yet, and you probably won’t believe me for a while, but yes, life has wonderful moments waiting for you. And even now you are missing them because you’re too wrapped up in poor me, poor Sonny.”

By this time, I figured she was on to something, so I just let her let loose on me. That, and I totally misread the smirk and the tears and I didn’t want to be surprised, again.

“What about poor Nana and Tata? Huh, what about them? I know they love you and would do anything for you, but have you ever stopped to think how hard this is on them? I mean, life must really suck for them right now! I mean, seriously. I know you think you are just so charming and fun to be around, but your nana and tata cannot exactly be thrilled to have a middle school kid running their lives.”

“That’s not fair! I don’t run their lives!” At least I didn’t think I did. Although, I was happy to hear that it was at least a possibility.

“Did I say you were ‘running their lives?’” Miss X said. “I thought I said ‘ruining their lives!’ Ha, ha, ha I’m kidding, of course Sonny.”

Yeah, she was kidding. She used her fake, ha-ha-ha laugh that she uses when she tells a ‘cor-ky’ joke, you know, a corny, dorky joke is a cor-ky…nevermind. I knew she was kidding.

“I know you don’t see it, Sonny, but you are so wrapped up in what you don’t have to be thankful for, that you can’t see the things you should be grateful for.”

And that’s when she said it, “I was sad I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

I really, really, really didn’t want to cry right then. I didn’t want Miss X to think I was feeling sorry for myself, because I wasn’t. It was just that when Miss X said the same thing my mom used to say to me and I didn’t know if I was happy because I finally understood what it meant, or I was sad because I couldn’t tell my mom I finally understood what it meant. So I cried.

Today, I am grateful for things I never thought I would be grateful for. Like, clean drinking water, because there are kids in our country who have only poisonous water coming out of their water faucets. And I’m grateful that I have a nana and a tata who love me and take care of me, because a kid from my old school just lost his mom, too and he had no other family to take care of him so he had to go into foster care. And I’m grateful for…well, you get the picture.

There’s always something to be grateful for. At least that’s what my mom, and now Miss X say. And I’m going to hang on to that. Seriously, if my mom could find something to be grateful for when she knew she was dying, and Miss X can find something to be grateful for even though she has to put up with middle school kids all day, then heck, I’m sure I can always find something to be grateful for. And guess what? The more aware I became, the more grateful I became. And, the more grateful I became, the less sucky life became.

It’s amazing what having an attitude of gratitude can do for a person. Take it easy. Until next time.”

Yeah, what he said. Peace, ~v.


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Thoughts and Musings


July 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here’s the truth of it.  I had an occasion to look back through my writing journals today and I liked what I saw.  In fact, I liked it so much that it is now the subject of today’s blog post.  So dear Readers, without further ado, I give you some of my past thoughts and  musings.

…on who I am

“I am a realist hiding in a cynic’s body, trying to be an eternal optimist. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t.”

“No one gets to be my age without some scars. Some scars blend and fade over time; I have those. Some scars only become deeper with age; I have those as well. And some scars never heal, they remain jagged to the touch and even “bleed” when touched; I definitely have those.”

“I am unable to pinpoint just where I began slipping away from reality. Heck, I can’t even tell you the month or the year the darkness began to take over. And that has been my savior and my demon.”

“I have done the hard work to get myself back to the land of the living. No more having to relive the past and no more worrying about the what-ifs of the future. I am finally living in the present and it feels good, it feels right.”

“It is simply amazing that one year ago I was in the depths of solitude and now I am reaching new heights.”

…on motherhood

“I’m not your friend, I’m not your buddy, I’m not your pal, I’m your mother, and you will respect me.”

“I came to realize that a mother only has a few precious years in which to mold and shape her children. I was determined to do the best I could by you. I can look back now with pride that I had such good kids to work with! You all made it so easy for me to be the best I could be. You helped me understand when I was way too much, way too close, way too everything. And for that, I thank you.”

…on being a teacher

“I do not teach, I TEACH!”

“I don’t want to change the world.  I want to teach the students who want to change the world.”

“Teachers are overworked, underpaid and undervalued.  And I wouldn’t have any other job.  I have always, ever wanted to be a teacher.”

…on food

“Me and food, we’re tight, we’re good friends.  One look at my voluptuous figure bears this out.”

“Food is the common ground we human beings, share. It is what keeps us well, alive.  We bake bread, eat bread, receive the bread and even break bread. It is one of our common denominators.”

…on my writing

“I have been told that my writing is quirky and inspiring, refreshing and heart-warming.  I’d like to think that it is just you and me, dear Readers, sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee on a crisp early morning as the sun rises over the horizon.  Or perhaps it’s just you and me sitting in the backyard on a lazy summer evening, drinking a beer and watching the sun melt into the distance.  Either way dear Readers, it’s just you and me, talking, laughing, crying, connecting like two, long lost friends should.”

…on my faith

“I forgive and I love.  I forgive because I have much in which I must be forgiven.  And love?  Well, when God calls me home, I want to go knowing that the people I love know that I loved them.”

“What a kind and merciful God we have. I am blessed and divinely favored. I praise God each and every day that I am where I am today.  God is good and I intend on living my life in praise of Him. To whom much is given, much is expected.”

…on teenage girls

“Teenage girls chatter, they gossip, they seek to belong and they seek to be individuals. They love pop music, pop stars and popcorn. And they all have dreams; dreams they will strive to achieve, dreams they will hold close, dreams to leave this world a better place. And sadly, dreams they will never realize.”

“Sadly, most of them have accepted their lot in life.  Well, I have not accepted this fact! I refuse to accept it for me and I refuse to accept it for these girls. I will continue to bang my head against the proverbial wall. I will continue to demand the respect I, as an authority figure, deserve. It is an uphill battle to be sure. However, perhaps someday they will look back on their brief encounter with me and remember that as an authority figure, I was valid. And perhaps they will begin to realize that they, and all women, are valid as authority figures.”

“I stand here before you today to tell you that you are no different from the girls I taught back home. Yes, as a group we are different. However, individually, we are the same; we live the same, we learn the same, we love the same. We hurt the same, we cry the same and we die the same. We are the same.”

…on war and peace

“When you are stronger than somebody, you have power over them.  And when you have power over them, you can “rape” them.  And when you can “rape” them, you can brutalize them.  And when you can brutalize them, they will fear you.  And when they fear you, you can control them. And when you can control them, you do.”

“When we, as human beings begin to realize that we are all the same, we will have no more hatred, we will have justice.  We will have no more war, we will have peace.  I want to live in that world and I know you do to.  So go out there and make a difference, change the world or change your mind; one is just as dificult to do as the other.  And then begin to make this world a better place.  I want to be proud of you and I want to tell the world that I taught the girls who taught the world how to be a better place.”

Enough said, dear Readers.  Peace, ~v.


But For the Grace of God

July 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am feeling quite humbled today.  Yesterday, I briefly allowed myself to wallow in my grief.  Today, I am thanking God that I have so little troubles.

Yesterday my students began writing personal narrative essays, today I began reading them.  I do not know why I am surprised at the content of the essays, but I am.  With the exception of the short time I taught in the Middle East, I have worked at diverse, predominantly lower income schools, including two boys’ prisons.  And the personal stories I read about are the most heart wrenching stories I have ever come across.  Today was no exception.

I am not going to write specifically about my current students.  However, I will give you some idea of what I have run  across.  I have taught students whose parents have abandon them, turned them into drug dealers, and turned them out (prostitution).  I have taught students whose parents have initiated them into gangs, and I have taught students whose parents were the ones to beat them out of the gangs.

I have taught students whose parents have allowed their “friends” to have their way with them (sexually speaking), and students whose parents themselves have had their way with them.

I have taught students whose parents have been arrested, imprisoned, shot at, and shot up in front of them.  I’ve had shoeless students and I’ve had homeless students.  I’ve had them all, dear Readers.  It breaks my heart.

I have taught students who have lost siblings, mothers, fathers, and yes, even pets.   They write about it all.  Most of them have also lost their innocence.  So as I was reading my students’ essays today, I came to a realization, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I am blessed.  I was fortunate enough to have been given a strong foundation through the guidance of my family.  I have been given the will and the strength to have survived not even half of the things I have read about in my students’ essays over the past 15 years.  Okay, so I’ve suffered a loss, a big loss.  But I can do this, I will get through this.  If some of my students can live through the things they have had to live through, well so can I.

I have taught students who have lost just about all they have to lose.  But the one thing, the one thing I can honestly say about my students, past and present, they have never lost their spirit.   A girl could learn a thing or two from that.  Peace, ~v.