“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” ~Mary Oliver
Living a Life
Valentine’s Day 2019: My heart aches as I listen to my favorite podcast, On Being. I am affected more than I realize by Krista Tippett’s conversation with Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and founder/director of The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Education, for my son, was really difficult. It sensitized me to the critical importance of bringing love and kindness into a classroom in a way that honored the differences and variations among us, which is so prevalent when we actually open our eyes and look. ~Richard Davidson
Education for my son was also really difficult. Memories of the nightmares we experienced with schools flood me. My curiosity arises as a small sliver of hope slides into my psyche. “Could Davidson’s research, if it had been available to his teachers, have made a difference for my son?”
And then reality sinks in. With Doug’s altered brain, he would never have been a productive member of society. My dreams for him could never have been realized.
My son was a difficult person, but still … how might his life … our lives … been different if his teachers had consistently shown him kindness. Only one teacher did during his thirteen years in school and Miss George made a huge difference.
Tuesday, February 19: My daughter, Nicole, and I drop off the checklist of items the State needs to verify that she is still eligible for healthcare through Medicaid expansion. They’ve asked for more information this year. A worry I carry always with me weighs me down. Will they cut off her benefits?
Later we stop to pick up prescriptions. We were told they would be ready in an hour. After more than an hour, they aren’t ready. In fact, the medicines just arrived in the pharmacy. I snap at the clerk.
That evening I attend a training about “How the State House Works.” I hear that by March 1, there may be a work requirement for recipients of Medicaid. My totally-disabled daughter is unable to work. How will she be affected? Anxiety rises. Exhaustion seeps into every pore.
During the next few days I feel down in the dumps and exhausted for no apparent reason that I can identify. My sleep is disrupted. My energy wanes. Little things irritated me.
Wednesday, February 20: I wonder, “Am I depressed? Can depression hit this fast? Is my lack of energy a part of the aging process? Do I need to exercise more? What’s wrong with me?”
Memories of “a Life” Surface
1950s: I struggle with algebra. My mother says, “You’re dumb in math, like me.”
EARLY 1970s: My mother discourages my desire to learn to knit. “It’s too hard. You’ll never be able to do it. Take up crocheting instead.” I am determined to prove her wrong. I knit a sweater.
1975: I enter seminary. At the same time, I begin to search for the reason behind my son’s puzzling behavior. That twenty-two year quest is chronicled in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. My personal life intensifies. I have no time or energy for knitting.
1976: I take a research class at United Theological Seminary. The instructor writes equations on the board and asks, “Are you getting this?” He doesn’t turn around for our answer.
I panic. I talk to myself. “Linda, you have to get this. Concentrate.” And to my amazement, I get it!!
EARLY 1980s: I take a statistics class at Wright State University. The awesome professor, Glenn Graham, shows us kindness by giving us two chances to get the best grade. With his teaching methods, I get an A … on the first try each time. I can hardly believe it!
2010: At our 50th reunion, I overhear former classmates talking about our high school math teacher. “She wasn’t a good teacher,” they proclaim. Memories of Miss Burke digging her fingers into our shoulders as we struggled with algebra surface. How might our lives have been different if she had encouraged us and treated us with kindness. Hearing these classmates who I always thought of as smarter than me, I begin to suspect that I’m not dumb in math after all.
January 9, 2019: I take up knitting again after purchasing a pattern and yarn some 5 years ago or so. Learning all over again, my start is slow.
Later on Valentine’s Day 2019: I knit several rows, make a mistake I don’t know how to correct. I call Diana, my friend and teacher. “Can I come over and have you take a look at it?” She is only five minutes away.
She takes a look and exclaims, “Look at how much progress you’re making! You’re doing great.”
She finds a mistake three rows down. I purled when I should have knitted. She tears out three rows, all the while continuing to praise me for my progress.
I say, “You’re a great teacher,” and squirm at my mistake.
Diana says, “That’s how you learn? You make mistakes and start over. You should see all the mistakes I make. You are doing great!”
I’m touched by Diana’s loving kindness. It is a rare experience and makes an impression. I think of the Krista Tippett/Richard Davidson podcast I listened to earlier in the day. I make a mental note to write a blog post about it.
Thursday, February 21: I begin writing this piece and suddenly my melancholy makes sense. That emotion-filled chasm between “what is” and my view of “what should have been” is triggered again. I am not depressed. I am experiencing the intense feelings of grief that are normal for parents of children with chronic health conditions. It is called chronic sorrow. As I write, the dark cloud hanging over me lifts.
Telling About It
And for me, writing … about something as simple and profound as love and kindness being shown as I am being taught to knit led to some surprising and healing realizations. This is what I love about contemplative writing … and writing a blog … it gives me an opportunity to tell about it.
Love, kindness, and education … I’ve not heard those words put together before. It’s refreshing … ~Richard Davidson