Elan’s story and Hope

Elan, Son of Two Peoples

By: Heidi Smith Hyde

Illustrated by: Mikela Prevost

On new years day I got on a kick to visit my local library’s website and place on hold books about how the new year is celebrated across the globe. My intention was to bring these books into my classroom to read aloud during the first week back after winter break. I came across the usual books I assumed were out there, and then as I continued to scroll through the website lists I found some real gems.

One of these gems was the book, Elan, Son of Two Peoples.  Written by: Heidi Smith Hydeand illustrated by: Mikela Prevost. What struck me the most about this text was the fact that it melded two cultures Judaism and Pueblo Indian into one beautifully told story based on a real life experience.

Growing up I felt that I had one identity that I truly could understand and that was of being a Jewish girl raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I understood my culture, the religion that tied it together, and yet I also learned about the identity my father grew up with. I was raised in a home with two Jewish parents.  However, my father’s identity shifted in his adulthood after meeting my mother. He studied Judaism years into their marriage before deciding to commit to the religion, study with a rabbi, and accept a new identity for himself. When I grew up I never once felt that because my father converted to Judaism it might even mean for one moment that I was “half” anything. I was Jewish. I was the child of both of my parents. I learned to love and accept all of the family that both sides matriarchal and patriarchal brought with them.

When I was in sixth grade I started having discussions about my bat mitzvah. There was one girl who went to my elementary school (yes, sixth grade was still elementary school, in Anchorage that is), who also went to temple with me once a week.  It wasn’t until a conversation at the, lo and behold, lunch room table where I really had to stop in my tracks and consider what she said in response to a question posed during our meal. Someone said something about religion to her and bat mitzvahs, and then in response she replied, without batting an eyelash, “Well I mean, yeah I’m Jewish, I’ll probably have one, but I’m only half Jewish because my mom’s Catholic. We celebrate Christmas and stuff, but we go to temple. But I’m only half Jewish, ok?”

I just stared at her.

I didn’t know what to say.

It was as if a balloon had been popped and I was left with the pieces surrounding me. I could not fathom why she would think that it be necessary to identify as only half Jewish when we went to services together, Hebrew school on Sunday’s and sat and discussed the historical experiences of our ancestors together. Being a young twelve-year-old girl, I regretfully did not question her much on the issue. When I was asked, “Are you Jewish?” I said yes, yes I am. I felt no need to clarify my parent’s identities or backgrounds. I felt rooted in what I knew for sure, and I did it unapologetically.  Why share all of this background and story you might be wondering?

I first considered this story of Elan in relation to myself. Upon a deeper reflection I considered, what this story might mean for my students. I teach twenty-seven beautiful children each weekday in my classroom. I realized when reading Elan’s story that this was also the story of my students. Past and present children that walk a fine line with race, culture, and identity every day. Perhaps their story is patterned differently, yes, but the connectivity in which I found with their stories, my own, and Elan’s was where the pulse of the matter began.

We are all products of someone’s journey. People who came before us to struggle, find determination and grit enough to bring forth lives they could be proud of and share with their children. Honoring who you are and where you come from, while simultaneously cultivating your own pathway is a gift bestowed upon us daily. I realized that my friend from elementary school’s identify was different from mine. What she said on that day was her story, her life, and her way of carrying who she was in relation to her family, her friends, and her being. I did not have to agree, disagree, or even have an opinion of it. It was not my story to tell.

On this day of all days when, Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized, I found myself drawn towards writing about this book. It is because of Martin’s words and more importantly his actions, that made it possible for our nation to have light shed upon segregation, racism, and bigotry. His action and belief in hope, a hope for change, and a call to action changed our nation. I find myself leaning towards his words and the words of so many like-minded human’s who have had the bravery to stand up and fight for love, for freedom, and for equality. My heritage taught me to, “never forget the Holocaust and what our people have survived,” to question, to read, to give tzedakah, to act with tikkun-olam, and to believe in and have hope. That’s what I’m doing today, holding hope.

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A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

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Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.

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For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:

 

May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.

 

Avinu Malkeinu, אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ

Avinu Malkeinu (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ‎‎; “Our Father, Our King”)

My reflection upon a year filled with the most up’s and down’s I have ever had in my life has transpired over the last ten days. This year has encompassed one tremendous mountain climb after another of learning, personal growth, and change. Ending tomorrow it begins anew at sundown. The essential part of religion for me as a human has always been the poetry of words and music woven together as one. It is where I started my love of singing and cemented my roots for who I am today.

Lyrics as follows to what brings me to my knees in song and prayer:

AVINU MALKEINU 
Avinu malkeinu sh’ma kolenu
Avinu malkeinu chatanu l’faneycha
Avinu malkeinu chamol aleynu
Ve’al olaleynu vetapeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Kaleh dever
vecherev vera’av mealeynu
Avinu malkeinu
kaleh chol tsar
Umastin mealeynu

Avinu malkeinu
Avinu malkeinu
Kat’veinu besefer chayim tovim
Avinu malkeinu chadesh aleynu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

Avinu malkeinu

Avinu malkeinu
Chadesh aleynu shanah tovah

Avinu malkeinu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu
Sh’ma kolenu

OUR FATHER, OUR KING 
Our father our king, hear our voice
Our father our king, we have sinned before you
Our father our king, Have compassion upon us
and upon our children

Our father our king
Bring an end to pestilence,
war, and famine around us
Our father our king,
Bring an end to all trouble
and oppression around us

Our father our king,
Our father our king,
Inscribe us in the book of (good) life
Our father our king, renew upon us
Renew upon us a good year

Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice

Our father our king,

Our father our king,
Renew upon us a good year

Our father our king,
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice
Hear our voice

Trees of growth

The phrase, “Hurt people, hurt other people,” rang ever so true for me today. There was once a time in my life when I would tolerate abuse, but I no longer allow that to become a part of my story. I have been the victim of one too many falsities in the last ten months. Today was the event that broke the camel’s back.

IF a person has an issue with something I have said or done, it is an expectation as a decent human being that they talk directly to the source, being me. With words spoken from truth, sincerity, and love, directly, and in person, I would be more than happy to have a mature conversation about the said concern. That, and only that is the way to speak in an honest, mature, and caring way.

I feel so disheartened that in our world today we accept as a norm that people are unable to actually allow themselves to feel and explain their thinking. Something I have learned in the last three years is that when you speak of your truths, your love, your pain; you are forced into “uncomfortable” territory. HOWEVER, once within that territory, staking claim of the feeling, acknowledging it and learning how to walk with it is possible. That, therein, is where growth begins to take root.

In my mind I grow a forest. In this said forest I see a vast array of trees that have grown in my thirty two years of life. Some of these trees are as tall as a sitka spruce found in the Denali National Forest, while others are mere seedlings beginning to thrive and seek the light from within. It is only when I open myself up to the possibility of healing, of love, of light, that my forest will receive nourishment. IF I were to allow another person’s attempt to steal my joy, or plant seeds of doubt, then the clouds roll in and the weeds sprout amongst my trees.

There was a rain storm before my drive this afternoon. I was filled with utter disappointment, and I allowed myself to look at a situation and become overwhelmed with sadness. Then after the rage and tears passed, the rain fizzled out, I turned a curve, and I looked up above the tree tops and I saw a rainbow. I saw it not once but twice. Once for me, and once for hope, for the future of what life can bring.

I no longer wish to be a part of a narrative in which the grounds are covered in weeds and seedlings never bloom and grow. When someone runs hither and thither and spews hatred and venom, plants angry seedlings, and waters their plants with passive aggressiveness and lies to oneself and their fellow humans the ground becomes broken, dry, brittle, a barren waste land of what could have been a thriving forest.

It takes time to grow these trees in your mind. It takes time to ALLOW healing to take place. When you suffocate thyself and never face truths or feelings, all that is being done is repeating cycle after cycle of bitter blame for these “reasonings” and or ego driven perspectives of unjust deeds. Truths are challenging. Your personal truths, the words you feed yourself, whether they be loving or not impact your mind’s conscious and unconscious functioning.

If someone no longer wishes to be a part of my truths and help sow seeds of honesty and hope, I release my hold and relinquish the desire to be tethered.

The chord has been cut.

The wound from the stab of someone else’s hurt has been acknowledged, I see it, I have felt it many, many times, I released it. I pulled out the dagger and turned it into a seed. I have chosen to plant it as one of my greatest lessons to learn from. I will watch as it grows into something more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

Beauty comes in the most unexpected ways.

Be honest with yourself, face your truths, and listen to your inner monologue. Consider the source and root of all your perceptions you hold. For, you see they are you, these are the direct reflections of your very inner core, your heartwood.  Are you growing a forest or a desert in which to dwell?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Add some vinegar to it…

One of the best gifts my sister bestowed upon me was her knowledge.

Knowledge for life.

Knowledge as a mentor teacher.

Knowledge about being a human.

Knowledge as a mother.

Knowledge as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a woman, a human, you name it.

Most of all, it was the knowledge that she learned about self-care in her last three years of life that enlightened our relationship. It was through our discussions, her advice, and pearls of wisdom that I truly grew as a person.

I knew what self-care meant as a concept, but I did not always act upon it.

She taught me that it was not selfish to put yourself first.

It was not selfish to eat healthy, take time to create and cultivate, to exercise, to love and cherish my body regardless of the pain that I went through from time to time.

She taught me that boundaries are healthy and that kindness is a choice that you can always act upon.

One beautiful gift she shared with me along the lines of self-care was acupuncture. This act of sharing an amazing healing arts center revolutionized my health. Acupuncture has been a key ingredient in my recipe for survival and loving myself through my life journey in the last year.

I often have joked that the acupuncture specialist I see is also my therapist. She is an advisor, a healer, and a listener. She helps me feel more balanced, and allows me to feel safe enough to strip away the outer coating I shield myself with. This provdes me with the opportunity to expose my truths and reveal myself openly to my connect my mind, body, and spirit.

There is something to be said about allowing yourself to be vulnerable with a health care advisor whom you trust and recognize has wisdom to share, when they truly listen to you.

She asked me recently, “How are you feeling…” and I said, “I’m getting there, working on feeling better, not there yet…” She said, “You need a little embellishment, a little bit of balsamic vinegar to take the recipe to that next level… to get it there, here we go…”

Small prick one, small prick two, “What about now? (Pulse check) Yes, that’s it.”

Who knew that the girl who feared shots and begged for them to be over as a small child would regularly seek the counsel of a Chinese medicine specialist. This same girl looks forward to the tiny pricks that provide balance with miniscule needles.

Sprinkle some vinegar into your routine and see what comes of it. You just might surprise yourself.dsc_7048

Photo credit: K. Sciuto

~9 months of passing times~

During my morning drive the waves of feelings emerged as the sun streamed through my window pane. Today is the 21st.  Today is the day that nine months ago my heart broke as my nephew had said to a friend. My heart broke and felt like it dropped out of my chest and numbed with stillness. Over the last nine months my heart continues to thaw. Sometimes it bursts with happiness. Sometimes I catch myself and my breath in one go as it all comes whirling back in my mind.  A loss is difficult to explain. All to easily  or simply put when asked simple questions throughout a day.  I am always holding the threads together and forever weaving and unraveling all in the same motion. Yet it is the act of continuing that I stride with.

Pursuing.

Remembering.

Sharing and reflecting, this is what helps ease the process of grieving.

Life was never meant to be tread easily.

It is with each step of action that I take, I consider my blessings, and multitudes of gratitude that I can meditate on to help lift me up.

Today is a day that I have an opportunity to build upon with my future. How wondrous it is to be a given the very gift of life. I am here. Hineni. הִנֵּֽנִי

She is with me still. Two hearts became one in spirit. Love you to the moon and back Debbie, always and forever.

We Remember Them

By Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer
At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.

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Ninth Year

Think of a time when you felt safe, felt grounded, and felt happy.

Imagine that place.

Can you bring your olfactory sense back to the location? Can you see what it looks like before you? Perhaps you see it and walk within that realm when you dream. Or maybe it reappears every now and then when something strikes a memory chord in your brain.

I can still smell and feel parts of the interior walls of my elementary school. The smell of glue, the wet pavement outside on the playground, and the crisp air after snow has fallen and stillness unfolds.  These smells and the combined shine of the tile in the main hallway are emblazoned upon my memory. I can almost feel the painted brick wall on the outside of the gymnasium. If I close my eyes I can see the hallowed entryway of the leaded windows in the circular library with slivers of light darting across the gray carpeted floor. That smell of the books, dust, and a sense of comfort intertwined with one another can bring me back in an instant.

Walking into my school building four days ago, for the beginning of a new school year, I felt a rise of positive anticipation bubble up within me. There is something magical about watching all of the hopeful children of varying ages walk towards their next school year with fervent glee and nerves.

The twenty six individuals that entered our classroom on Tuesday all carried with them a sense of expectation, a sense of wonder, and an overwhelming sense of jitters.

Their day started off with a gift bag that was stapled together and laid upon their desks, with what they did not know was a plethora of supplies buried within each bag. A mentor colleague of mine taught me about this, “mystery bag,” game as a welcoming first day activity. Each year I have carried on the tradition with a new class.

As the day progressed the student’s nerves eased and my heart melted. I love watching students begin to unfold, ever so slowly they uncurl a tiny layer of themselves, their level of trust builds as they explore the beginning of friendship and community. The sense of innocence in their questioning and steadfast belief in, “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” is truly everything that adults strive to go back towards in time.

As an educator it is part of my job to teach about compassion, kindness, patience, and above all: love.  There is no curriculum that can encompass masterful lessons for these essential skills we need in life. It is merely a lesson in every interaction I have with a child, every question I answer, and the laughs that we share. I focus on sharing these ideals through the stories I select for students. They experience, read, and listen to these works of art every day. Children intrinsically desire to show kindness towards one another and I build upon this instinct to create a unique structure every year with a new community of people.

Going into this ninth year I felt a shift in myself as an educator. I realized my level of gratitude had been raised in the last few months. I felt grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for literature and life long learning every day with a new bundle of children. I felt hopeful about what my role could bring to the table in this year of growth for these students. I also felt a rise for my love of humanity, in which I dwell within as I walked through the doors, and down the halls, on the beginning of my ninth year.

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Introducing: The Incredible Kimmy the Wonder Pup…

In mid-July my husband and I expanded our family and adopted a pup named Kimmy. Little did we know that she was facing a life-threatening illness after we brought her home from the shelter. Within the first 48 hours of her life with us she faced parvo, an upper respiratory infection, and a deteriorating immune system. With supportive and knowledgeable vets, loving parents, and determination she survived.

Today she is thriving, chewing, playing, licking, cuddling, talking, and loving life. Sometimes the best things in life occur when you least expect them to do so.  Today she received shots and the knowledge that she is now 29 pounds, a great improvement from the mere 12 pounds a little over a month ago.

The Incredible Kimmy the dog is a Plott Hound, Retriever Lab mix with… maybe a little Great Dane, or Pitbull, who knows?! But this we do know: she has become a part of our hearts and we are eternally grateful for this new life. ❤

 

Kill ’em with kindness

“Kill ’em with kindness dear.” These were the words that my father always said to me growing up when I would complain about a situation at school with a friend. “Be proud of the choices you make every day.” I later learned and taught myself: You always have a choice that no one else can take away from you: the power of your choice to respond right now.

Respond with love or respond with the ego and use anger?  Why be so defensive any how about any choice made in life?  Shun the negativity or consider it as a lesson to learn from? Which one do you want to choose? This is what I ask myself.

When I stop and recognize that I have to, “delve a little deeper,” and figure out what is bothering me within then I can free myself from seeking the approval of another. There is no way to make someone else happy or feel better about who they are deep inside their being. The only way for someone to truly be happy is to make peace within, find the miracles in the day to day life that they’re blessed to lead, and use the “F” word as Gabrielle Bernstein writes and speaks of, forgiveness. Forgiveness of self, of others (for doing the best they can), and for the experiences that we encounter and choose to respond to.

The following song embodies the concept of kindness and forgiveness through the manifestation of a song sung by Selena Gomez.

Life is far too short for perceptions of a distorted reality, victim mode truths, and anger. I would much rather get real with myself about life’s most important opportunities: love, life, humanity, nature, and caring for myself. Sometimes it is scary for people to see your reflection of love and not responding with anger when provoked. I had never really liked the phrase, “Hurt people hurt other people,” or at least they try to. No one can truly steal your joy, your truth, or love unless you allow them to walk around in your brain and consciousness. Putting myself, my health, my happiness, and love first allows me to be happier human. My experiences do not define me, it is how you choose to respond to them that can transpire into something far greater as a reflection upon yourself and your soul.

Action vs. Mirrored Silence.

Do you want to know a secret? 

All human beings are made of the same matter.

We are all the same beings on this planet we call Earth.

Yes we may have varying degrees of desires, perceptions, experiences, memories, and emotions.  BUT, we are all the same.  We come in this world the same, and we go out the same way.

I normally write about my experiences in life while focusing on the themes of love, raw emotion, and my truths. Here it is plain and simple: taking another human’s life is never ever, “ok.”

Having watched someone so close to me die this past year I felt the intense urge to NEVER have anyone else go through the same gut wrenching pain that I felt. EVER. I know that this feeling was irrational, but it was how I felt at the time.

Watching, reading, and considering the events as of late that have transpired in the United States of America in the last few years, let’s not mention the last couple centuries, I felt at a loss. I wanted to hug all of the family members who had lost the lives of their dear ones, and sit and listen to their stories.

I am referring to the list of black men, women, and children who have been gunned down at the hands of racist, despicable human beings in positions of both authority, and regular citizenry. When I stop and think of the faces of these beautiful humans walking down the street, sitting in church, driving their car, walking in a stairwell, I can imagine myself in that position. I know that white privilege exists. I have seen it unfold in schools. I have seen it transpire in grocery stores. I have seen it acted out upon my friends, my students, and my community members. THIS is not, nor has it ever been ok. Racism is a problem, and it always has been. One of the reasons I became a teacher was to empower youth to learn, to learn from one another, to inspire each other with experience, value culture, empathize through their struggles and work in the classroom, and above all, learn to love one another. Through education and our voices may we spread the idea that we are all valuable humans. No one human is better than another ever. Human life is what it is: life. #blacklivesmatter

I am referring to the young children, teachers, and administrators murdered in Sandy Hook. I am a teacher. The moment I heard this over the radio my thought process went immediately to, “How would I protect all of my students if I was in that situation?”

I am referring to the beautiful people dancing and enjoying themselves at a Pride Celebration. No one should ever feel so entitled as to march their way in and despicably take the lives of human beings whose only crime was love and joy. I cannot imagine any of my friends in a dance club being gunned down by a hateful person.

It is abhorring to see what has unfolded at the hands of human beings.

ACTION: I did a little research that took me exactly thirty seconds to find out the following:  I searched for a state legislative address by, googling the state representative for my city of residence, and there popped up all the information I needed. I am currently working on a draft of a letter that I will send every day for as long as it takes to stop the madness of gun violence. 

I challenge my fellow bloggers, friends, and humans to do the same. You want action? Write an email, write a letter, and send it daily. Flood the boxes, in-boxes, voice mail boxes of your state representative until your voice is heard. Posting on social media is one form of activity. I challenge you to take it to the next level.

Life is a precious gift.

Every day you wake up.

You breathe in, you breathe out, and you have a choice to do something with your life.

If you value this gift, than act upon it and speak up.

Life should never be cut short because of the ignorant whim of another human being.

 

life