Learned Hate.

Learned hate.

Ever since I can remember I have identified as a human being who was raised as a Jewish American.  The first time I can recall feeling ostracized was in late second grade at my class lunch table:  “Ew, what’s that???? Why are you eating crackers and meat for lunch, weirdo. Is that like a JEWISH thing?” I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I didn’t know how to respond, I felt ashamed, I felt confused, I just sat there and stared. I listened to the snickers and laughter around me. I wrapped up my food, threw it away, and went to the bathroom. Later in that same year my teacher announced that I could make a puzzle wreath and paint it blue for the Jewish Christmas. This was in response to when I had just told her, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, is there something else I could make for my parents?”

In high school my sister received a permanent marker swastika drawn on her locker. She felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. However, Debbie was blessed with the gift of a remarkable friend and it was her friend who informed teachers, and took it upon herself to back that fellow peer up to a locker and confront his foul decision herself. She is still a heroine in our family’s life today. The student who attacked my sister was given a specific amount of hours of course work, videos, and lesson work all completed at school on the Holocaust. He was provided with the opportunity to learn about the hatred he had been taught, and reflect upon it. 

Later in high school during, “American Studies,” history class work in 2000 I questioned my teacher about why our text book had no reference to the Holocaust. She promptly replied we could discuss that more later. When we moved past 1945 in our course work I asked her again, this time after class and she replied, “If you want to learn more about WWII or the Holocaust than you’re welcome to take the next history course after this required course, but we don’t cover that in depth. We discussed the dates, the events that transpired in American history, but we don’t go in depth about what happened to the Jews.”  I told her that I felt, personally, that it was shocking and greatly concerning that a part of world history was not being covered in a history class.

Indifference.

One of the most memorable teachable experiences I have had with a student was the following:

I used to pass out math designs as enrichment work after an assignment was completed. There were multiple options for students to work through, throughout the course of a math unit. I handed a child a decimal worksheet that was next in the unit and I moved along checking in with other students. The next morning, one of the tasks for morning work I had assigned was to pull out their math design and get started. This particular child refused, the table team members at this child’s desk started talking about the reason why, the child’s neighbor responded with, “Just pull it out and work on it, it’s not a big deal.” I respectfully asked them to focus on their task at hand. I knelt down next to the child and asked if they wanted to talk about it later. I received a nod.

One on one in discussion the child revealed the following, “My mom said that I’m never, EVER, allowed to like that symbol, it’s a bad symbol, that’s what is on the worksheet Mrs. B. That’s why I don’t want to do my work.” I said, “What symbol?” “The star, the Jews, or the Jewish people star, or whatever it’s called is bad!” I looked at the child and took a slow breath. “What do you mean it’s bad?” I inquired. “Well, in my religion, we don’t believe that the Jews should like, I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that I can see that symbol in that worksheet and I feel uncomfortable.” To which I replied with, “Ok, I hear what you’re saying, let’s have you put that worksheet aside for now and we’ll have you think about it. As for Jews being bad, can we talk about that?” “Yeah!” the child replied. She continued, “Well like my people, or my mom told me that they are not nice, they don’t like our religion, we don’t get along, and that it’s a bad group or something, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Now, I have to pause here, in my head, as Jewish person, I was extremely torn. I really wanted to respond with, “Did you know that you’re teacher is Jewish. Am I a bad person because I’m Jewish?” However, I stopped and I reflected that I did not want this to become a personal battle, I wanted instead for this to be an opportunity for learning and growth in perspective for this child.

Over the next few weeks, into months, the discussion continued. When the opportunity arose to tie in WWII, the Holocaust, and the President Roosevelt leveled reader book together into a literacy study, the opportunity for more teaching evolved. This child became intrigued by the idea that Jewish people had been persecuted. This child and their friend requested literature about WWII and children during the Holocaust. I provided more children’s literature to which they chose to read during independent time.

Later the following transpired, “Mrs. B. I had no idea that the Jewish people had been killed during WWII. I ….did you know that there were 6 million people that were Jewish who were murdered??? Why would that happen?” Staring at me with wide eyes and astonishment, the child continued.  “It’s like in my religion, being a Muslim, I get really upset when people say that all Muslim’s are bad, because, I’m not a bad person! I love Islam.  My family are good people.” I nodded my head and replied, “So then, I guess there was a lesson to be learned, we can’t always judge someone based upon what religion they believe in or practice?” To which the child quietly looked down at the book and whispered, “Yeah,” followed by, “Did you see the books we got at the library?” This child and friend proceeded to pull out multiple books on WWII, the Holocaust and Anne Frank.

The purpose for me sharing these encounters is this:

Through education, through discussion, through reading, through dialogue, bridges can be built in our understanding of one another. Human beings can connect and unlearn the hatred they have been taught.

Hatred is taught.

Hatred is learned.

Hatred is not an innate ability.

Love is an intrinsic response.

Love is a natural desire.

Talk.

Discuss.

Question.

Listen.

Learn.

Love.

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Meeting a Hero

Meeting a hero this winter…

When I was a little girl I was blessed with the best possible momma, sister, and daddy. I thought that they all walked on air from the time I was old enough to understand until today.  What you don’t realize as a child are all the little details we fixate on as adults. These are the things that make or break relationships in today’s world, and yet, why must we concern ourselves with things that are mere trifles in the grand scheme of life and the world.

What I was blessed with the most was a house hold that valued reading.

I was read to from womb until I left the house at age eighteen.

My father told me stories of his childhood at bed time, he read to me from the chapter books I selected as a pre-teen and continually read every book I was reading into high school.

My mother fostered a love for literature from infancy. I loved being read to by both of my parents and my sister. Those were some of the most vivid memories I can still feel when I slip into my mind’s eye today. The feeling of swinging in my mother’s skirt while holding the pages of the book up so she could read to me about Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny.

While covered in chicken pox, facing another round of bronchitis at the age of six my sister waltzed into our folks bedroom and presented from behind her back, “Rescue Rangers,” the story of two brave little mice that save another fellow creature and jewel. I can still see he smile, tumbles of curls spilling over her shoulder while saying in a passing breath, “Here you can pass the time reading this with me, and you’ll soon look like this, once again,” as she passed my framed school photograph from the year before. Ha! Just what you want to be told when you feel like the creature from the blue lagoon.

Why share all of these strings of connectivity and literature?

Tonight I met a heroine of ours, my mom’s, my sister’s and mine. Patricia Palacco. Her book, “Mrs. Katz and Tush,” was a beloved favorite that I chose often at bedtime. I remember reading it to my nephew upon a sleep over occasion. We’ll have to revisit it sometime soon. Hearing her candid words about her youth, her learning disabilities, and her remarkable family, friends, and neighbors brought tears to my eyes this evening.

Happy tears.

Tears that made me smile, and nod, and spring forth a new well of emotions within me. Especially when she described her fourteenth year of life. The year that her deepest, darkest fear came to light, and a teacher reached out a hand to help guide her towards climbing a hurtle she had always felt was so formidable. The fear that she could not read.

She went on to describe Mr. Falker, who was really Mr. Felker in her junior high classroom in California.

I was brought back to my second grade year when my amazing mother said, “I’ve had enough of this not reading and not doing anything about it with your current school, we’re doing something now.” My mother researched, and read, and found a program at a private school that had major results for children with dyslexia.

I was the child in the classroom that had a keen ability to hear, see, and listen.  I memorized text. I repeated it, I evaded being called upon. I stumbled through the sounding out of words. I was being educated in the “whole language” classroom environment, and nothing clicked with phonics and phonemic awareness. I saw shapes, and negative space when told to sound out the word. It was not until the moment when with repeated practice, isolation of words into boxed in shape I could recognize these shapes as letters, then digraphs, and vowel combinations. Finally the sounds and the letters connected.

Patricia spoke of the moment when she finally made sense of the negative spaces that surrounded these “letters,” and the feeling of elation that followed. Realizing that a whole new world had opened up to her.

I can recall the first library chapter book I read that felt, I liken to climbing Everest. I had the best parents in the world. The most patient, supportive, and loving humans. They provided me with the tools for knowledge and they put in the work that needed to be done with me in order for my goals to be achieved. Without that reading program, Mrs. Lau, and my parents, I would not be a teacher today. I am not quite sure where I would be. But I do know that I wrote to my third grade teacher every year of my public school education. Every few years I send her a letter, and I receive a card in reply. When I graduated with my masters degree in teaching, the first person I wrote to after my sister, was Mrs. Lau, my third grade teacher. The woman who taught me how to read, and helped me make sense of the puzzle pieces that I finally knew where to place.

Thank you Patricia Palocco for sharing your stories all these years. I met you once in 1997 at the Lusac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska. I can still see your face, your bun, and the back drop of the maroon curtains behind you in the basement hall. Life has a funny way of coming full circle. Tonight I showed you my book, signed by you in 1997, and I thanked you for doing what you do. Your stories have been read to every single class of mine every year. Each year before I read aloud her stories, especially in the winter months, I tell my students the following:

“I’m going to share with you one of my heroes. Now, this hero is an author. This author helped me feel like I was not alone. When I was a little girl I could not read, until third grade. Patricia Palocco’s words, her family, and her stories are one of my greatest joys to share in life, and now, I will introduce you to her work.”

You might wonder what the children think of her work? I’ll leave you with one word: riveted.

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Show me your numbers B.D.

What transpired in the last forty-eight hours is absolutely astounding, and yet, not surprising given the day in January when the government turned upside down. My lips drew into a firm line, and my left eye brow raised when I learned just whom was appointed to the highest position of education in our country. 

I would like to extend a round of disappointed applause to those in the Senate whom are absolutely tucked into the back pocket of a human being whom undoubtedly flaunts illiteracy, ignorance, and violent rhetoric about the very generation that will inherit the “thrown” said being sits upon today. I believe firmly in education, intellect, and action, however, I also believe in karmic retribution.  I believe that there will be a reckoning, and justice will prevail. The challenge is steep, the hill is vast, and yet I see glimmers of light still ahead.

One must persist.

When I sat and pondered upon the daunting decision I made in order to go into the field of education I came to a realization that it could be summed up into a matter of pure numbers, clear mathematics. 

I sat and thought more about my early days in this field of education and I asked myself, “How much time went into that year of graduate school and my first year of teaching?”  I decided to calculate rough facts, not calendar date by calendar date numbers, just to see for myself how much time actually went into my fundamental years of educational ground work.

It took me 1 year to decide upon, volunteer, pass exams, enter grad school, and 2nd year to work tirelessly seven days a week, graduate, apply to 200 jobs, interview in person for 10 jobs before I landed my first position in public education. Calculating my year of student teaching plus graduate studies work and my first year of teaching together roughly breaks down to: 24 months, roughly 720+ days, 17,280 hours, 1,036,800 minutes, and 62,208,000 seconds of teaching, planning, reading, grading, prepping, self higher educating course work, singing, collaborating, drawing, calculating, learning, sketching, growing, listening, loving, challenging, caring, counting, helping, band-aiding, smiling, cheering, underlining, circling, typing, standing, responding, hopping, skipping, whistling, herding, clapping, snapping, pointing, chanting, running, holding, IEP-ing, 504-ing, nurturing, embedding, and educating myself and students in the first two years of my education work. Multiply that times 8 years, as of now, and then I have the last decade of my life’s work in a nutshell calculated by time.

It took 1 week, 168 hours, 10,080 minutes and 604,800 seconds in order for a decision to be made that has the potential to derail the education system I have spent 10 years of master training work within.

I had continuous discussions with a mentor of mine about the current state of education as it stands today. I was continually told, “Hold on, hold out, the pendulum will swing back Rachel, I promise it will. I have seen it and I understand what you’re going through.”

I do not see a pendulum any longer.

I think it became stuck, far along the right hand side and cracked somehow. Much like the ticking hands of a clock stopped by someone’s gloved hand, as they pushed down upon the minute hand, our seconds flew by and yet we waited for the swing back or forward and it never came.

What the hell is going on? This is a common thought that goes through my brain when I pause to think about what has happened in three weeks time.

I was a child of the ’90’s. A product of public education. I experienced the push in of my peers who benefitted from I.D.E.A. I attended a public university for my bachelor and masters degrees. I am a public school teacher today. I have taught in Title 1, federally funded school programs for the last ten years. I cannot even count how many children, families, colleagues, and community members I have worked with any longer. It would make my head spin to think about all the beautiful, challenging, amazing, and ultimately human individuals I have crossed paths with.

But I can tell you one thing… not once have I had a public government official in my classroom. Not once.

Until this next month.

I invited the mayor to meet my students and read aloud a Dr. Seuss book on Theodore Gisselle’s birthday.

Chutzpah? I’ve got it. Right here. Right now.  Who are we going to befriend? Our own public official. I figured he might want to get to know some of his nine and ten-year old constituents. So why not now? Why not celebrate, and learn from his point of view, and he from ours.  I cannot wait to meet the leader of the town I live and work within alongside my 27 amazing students. He will surely be amazed by their intellect, humor, and courageous hearts. I know I am every day!

Children are our future.

As the witch said during the second act of, Into the Woods,

“Children will listen, and learn, and grow…”

Children are the generation who will inherit this great land and nation. Children are the essential component whom the country should focus upon. You know what is not essential?  Someone else’s money.  As well as someone else’s inability to understand the very fundamental vocabulary of the field upon which they will now be the head of. 

Perhaps I could send her a vocabulary list for homework? I think I will include the definitions because she’s going to need them. The first ten words will include a variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that one should familiarize themselves with prior to their first meeting with appraised individuals in education, and then the list for the following week will be a laminated definition sheet of ready to know acronyms used daily in the sphere of public education.

First up on her specialized non-IEP approved vocabulary list:

maieutics

Followed by:

benighted

Society, which do you truly value: education or money?

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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.

 

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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Mind shifts day 9.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was gloriously happy. She would sing, she would dance, she would play in her world of imagination. She saw possibility in the impossible. She said unabashedly what she wanted to without fear. She questioned, and she believed in miracles.

She was disillusioned by the world when she began to see the shadows of doubt become life forms around her. Fear became an embodiment that soon became a practice of thinking. 

Self doubt set in and the voice of love dissipated  from within.

Further down the line, the voice of love re-emerged when the sense of independence became possible. Clear air circled, perspective shifted, and education of communication, relationships, and the journey of adulthood began to take fruition. Through personal commitment to growth, shifts began to transform her perspective. The sea of voices became drowned out. Surfaces of light flickered, but never formally ignited.

In the hallows of the last year, the shifts have become more pronounced and ever changing.

You see, when you face your ego which drives the fear mindset, you become able to release it.  The constant self doubt, negative self talk, and pervasiveness that once embodied my desire for love evolved into a light that was once submerged.

The tiny girl, the happy dancing, gleeful child is re-surfacing. She does not give in to the harried surroundings or burbling thoughts of negativity any longer. She reflects, she chooses a mind shift, a perspective of positivity, possibility, and a power from within. 

What would happen if we all reconnected to the ~ing that we started with in life? What would he or she have to say about who and what we are today? What would they think about ourselves and our perspectives of this life that we lead?

Do yourself a favor and consider Gabrielle Bernstein’s work.

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M.T. to end M.S. Benefit Concert

MT to end MS poster

On July 8th, 2016, at Portland State University, we will be presenting a benefit concert titled, MT to end MS. This is a concert that has been six years in the making. One that my husband, our friends, and family have helped us to bring to fruition. We will be joined by four friends to present a musical theatre concert filled with humor, hope, and harmony. If  you feel so inclined to join us, or purchase tickets for other people to attend, if you live far away, please visit this website for ticket information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2554413

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M.S. 

This is an acronym that stands for multiple sclerosis. 

What does that even mean? To me it means my husband has a disease that we have minimal control over. It means that six years ago his health changed, our life together changed, and we face it together to this day. M.S. means that with research, with funding, and with clinical trials there may be a cure in our lifetimes.

The technical explanation goes something like this: M.S. or multiple sclerosis can be a disabling disease that affects the central nervous system in a human’s body. The central nervous system controls everything you do as a human. Consider this, when you lift your hand or arm, you use your nervous system.  If you have to turn a certain direction and move your head, or perhaps you want to articulate the protocols for a specific procedure at work; your recall of thought comes from… you got it… the central nervous system. The central nervous system in turn controls the ability to follow through with your desire and your independent function in life.

The fascinating and frightening thing about M.S. is that something signals the immune system in our body to attack the brain and spinal cord. After these attacks take place there are lesions or ‘spots’ left on the brain that indicate with MRI that the person has MS.  We were told once to think about it like this:

Do you own a vacuum?

Does that vacuum have a thick cord that plugs into the wall?

Yes?  That cord, if cut open has a thick outer layer protecting all the complex wires beneath the cord.  That cord is similar to your spinal cord, and all the nerve fibers coursing through your brain. Except that in your brain these are covered with what is called myelin.  This myelin is similar to the vacuum cord’s plastic covering.  The outer layer that protects your nerve fibers and spinal cord is a vacuum cord essentially.

The immune system will suddenly attack the myelin all the way to the core which will then interrupt signals that are sent to the brain and leave lesions or spots from the damage. Therein causing unpredictable symptoms such as numbness, tingling, blindness, mood changes, memory problems, inability to walk, the inability to move your appendages, paralysis, this list could carry on and on, it depends on each individual. 

For my husband it was numbness in his hand, arm, and later optical neuritis that signaled to us that something was going on with his body. Something serious. Something that took months and months to diagnose. At the end of a six month journey we had a diagnosis, we had met with many medical physicians, and finally we had found an amazing neurologist that gave us options for RRMS, remitting and relapsing MS. The unknown can seem daunting, however with knowledge, with questions, and with the ability to focus on the can do’s and not the can not’s you can move forward with your life.

Raising awareness for this cause is crucial, not just in a personal way for my husband and friends living with M.S., but for future generations to hopefully not live with or experience this disease.  For more information please visit the National M.S. Society’s webpage at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS

All proceeds from our event will be put directly into the bike MS fund for my husband’s 2016 team.  All funds received go directly to the National MS society for further research to find a cure.  Thank you for reading this friends. Have a sparkling day.

Note: I first wrote of my husband’s journey years ago before his first Ironman Competition. It was titled, “Footprints Along The Way,” and can be found in my blog archive list for July 2014.

Stop. Just breathe.

Stop.

It’s a four letter word that has power. It holds the opportunity to communicate a clear, yet simple message.

So why is it so hard to say?

It is the one word I use when a student is being inappropriate, a boundary violator, or seeking my advice as to what to say when someone bothers them.

Say, “Stop.”

What is it about all this noise around us today? It seems to be a spinning vortex of information, misinformation, communication and miscommunication. It is nestled into every moment of every day.

Stop.

Are you listening?

Do you listen when someone speaks, or do you wait to respond? Sometimes I do both. It’s a work in progress.

Do you ever find yourself oversharing or emotionally vomiting with words?

Stop. Just say, “STOP self.” And do just that, stop.

No one needs to be the bearer of your misinformation, your quandaries about another, or the oversharing bulldozer of what is unnecessary data.

Hanging in my classroom is the following poster below that has the word THINK written vertically. It was made into an acronym for a few concepts.  I saw the idea online a long time ago, and I made my own poster. Consider the following before you speak, share, or “share” through social media…

T-is it TRUE?

H-is it HELPFUL?

I-is it INSPIRING?

N-is it NECESSARY?

K-is it KIND?

All too often we are not provided or providing the possibility for communication that is quality, confidential, and kind. Listening to my friends, my loved ones, my colleagues, my acquaintances, often times I see my reflective behavior in them. My energy level shifts, my mood can fluctuate, and can be a barometer at times unless I truly concentrate on what the person is saying, before I allow my emotions to come forth.

I have practiced something with my students this year called, “problem solving mediation.” Now, it might sound simplified and silly, but it is the same elemental principles in having a crucial conversation as an adult. It can be challenging, but with continued practice, it can work.

Instead of saying, “YOU this, you that, you are, you did that….stop and think.” What impacted you as an individual? The, “I, me, my, mine of the issue.” Start with an I statement, breathe, and proceed providing adequate time for the other to share and communicate when they are done.

Now, it does not always solve every issue, but I do feel that learning the basic techniques of communicating your personal perception, emotion, concern or question is essential for little and older people alike. Start with the I, use THINK, and then communicate. It is better to attempt to work it out, then ruminate on a negative vibe or feeling that festers with time.

If I have learned anything from my losses this year it is this…

Life is too short. Don’t waste it with, “I’m going to….you should’s, or he that’s…” speak up, enjoy it, work on it, make progress with the simple steps you take every day.

If you need to take some steps backwards for grounding then do so.

Quit apologizing.

Stop agonizing.

Get up, get moving, and start doing.

Do for you, do for Debbie, live and enjoy what you are offered today, and simply be grateful for the opportunities that are presented.

As challenging, as uncomfortable, or as difficult as they may seem.

Face it. Live it. Love it.

Breathe.

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From one concerned citizen to another…

When you take any position in the world of education it is because you are passionate. You are passionate about life, about the future generations to come, and you aspire to provide them with the tools and knowledge that will help them create a spark for seeking out the world around them.

A friend of mine has been attacked. She is one of those humans who you are lucky to meet in your lifetime. She has inspired hundreds of students at Lewis and Clark College and beyond. I am deeply saddened that she will not be able to work directly with high school students in Portland because of two words: prejudice and fear.

The year is now 2015. Why then I wonder do we still accept the fact that organizations, schools, and public officials openly oppose the very essence of someone else’s ability to love. Who is to say what someone should or should not do with their life?  Why is it that it is acceptable for public or private organizations to oppose and secretly pay off people to not share the hateful doctrine from which they build their work upon?  It is not acceptable. Nor is it morally founded no matter how it is spun. Have we learned nothing from previous generations who toiled, fought, and sought justice to speak freely, educate, and empower human beings? This situation is a problem, it is not ethical, it is appalling.

Please do not tell me that St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon is not opposing her life choices, because they are. They would rather pay off this woman with money and benefits than have her be honest, open, and outstanding in her job position at their school.  This is another tried and true event based in the fundamentals of fear.

Fear as defined by Webster’s dictionary states: : to be afraid of (something or someone); to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant); to be afraid and worried.

My friend is none of these things. There is nothing bad or unpleasant about someone merely asking a clarifying question regarding a statement that was presented to her in an email. Why is it that people are so afraid of another person’s happiness?

Did not Pope Francis say, “This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”   Why is it considered moral or good to let a hired faculty member go and then, when they refuse to sign paperwork agreeing to such, go so far as to pay off someone for their silence about a topic which embeds and is their life?  Is it really good when someone is dismissed without the consideration of their moral character, their work history, and job qualifications?

Pope Francis also stated that, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  Lauren went to the interview, was offered the job, provided valid and glowing references, recommended to apply for a higher administration position, stated that she was wondering IF it would be alright to bring her girlfriend to social gatherings for faculty members at the school, was she then asked to leave quietly without even beginning her work?  One word again my friends: fear, not religion, not morality of the doctrine founded in Catholicism, it is fear.

I believe in the power of change, in the power of love, and the power of free speech. My friend is standing up for what is right and this practice will never ‘get old.’ She is taking a stand and living her life honestly and openly.  She is a beautiful example of what too many men and women have had to hide for decades.  We should not be judged or discriminated against based upon how we love or whom we love in this life.  Her human character is outstanding, her belief in the hopes to inspire a future generation of students to stand up for what they believe in and in equal rights is well founded. I hope that her stance will help let the young LGBTQ generation and organization flourish.  You have my full support Lauren Brown.

If you would also like to show your support for this woman, please share, and stand up for what you believe in. Thank you Lauren for being a brave and wonderful human!

Links below in connection:

http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-25286-vow-of-silence.html

http://www.kgw.com/story/news/2015/08/26/catholic-school-rejects-hire-due–same-sex-marriage-view/32381067/

Sky photo