Before I write about my chosen word today, let me say a sincere thank you for all those who reached out to me last week. I was deeply moved by the love and concern I felt after writing about my struggles with Logan and his homework. Since last Wednesday I have spoken with his teacher and we have come up with a few things that we are hoping will help Logan succeed. I will keep you posted on anything that we find to be successful in helping him learn and grow. Knowing we are not alone is a powerful force that unifies and encourages.
Some words are emotionally charged and bring to mind specific feelings and emotions. Learning these words can give voice to the emotions that swirl inside our despondent or elated minds. These are words like last week's disheartened, which is very different than depressed. Knowing the specific word gives the writer or speaker a certain power and, as I've said before, English is full of specific words. I may have been disheartened, but I would not resort to defenestration. Thankfully though, English also has words that are just beautiful and should be used for the sake of their beauty. Words like undulate or murmuration are just gorgeous and though you could live your whole life without needing to use them, using them makes your speech more vivid and alluring.
Today's Word: Ethereal
Four syllables. Pronounced [ih-theer-ee-uh l]. Adjective. Defined in the OAD as "extremely delicate and light" I've heard this word used to describe the fleeting beauty of youth or to describe the undefinable nature of something.
"Music is the ethereal connection between this world and the other." ~ Stella Benson
Read that quote aloud. Isn't that beautiful? Now tell the people who are giving you weird stares about the awesome blog you're reading and tell them that they're missing out. Although ethereal isn't one of the words listed in the thesaurus as a synonym for fog, it is the word that I think of when I see fog. The way fog rests over a particular area and can be viewed from far away reminds me of an other-worldly specter. Maybe it's because fog machines are used to evoke that feeling in a theater, but for whatever reason, every time I see something like the image below, the word ethereal comes to mind. And apt or not, I'm more in favor of ethereal than the other listed synonyms for fog like ground cloud, pea-soup, or visibility zero-zero. Let's try that out.
"On my way to work today, I saw an ethereal mist over the park."
"On my way to work today, I saw a ground cloud in the park."
Okay, let's be honest, if your co-workers are anything other than poets they would probably look at you as though you had lost your mind if you mentioned an "ethereal mist" but you could think it and appreciate its beauty. Sigh, this is how I get myself in trouble. I SAY it out-loud. I tell people about the ethereal mist and get the weird looks. I'm totally fine with people thinking I'm crazy. This is why I fit so well in preschool and middle school. They're crazy too. Now, after blurting out something odd, I say I'm a writer and they just smile and nod while I bask in the culturally granted permission to be eccentric that we give to writers and artists.
Whatever it is that you are up to today, I hope it is filled with wonder and fun. Find a way to get away from the must-dos and enjoy something for the sake of its own beauty. Say the words that make your heart sing and always stay curious!
Today's Word: Dishearten
Three syllables. Pronounced dis-hahr-tn. Defined in the OAD as make someone lose hope or confidence. Synonyms: discourage, frustrate, demoralize, depress, disappoint.
I love my son more than anything. He is my only child. I didn't intend to have an only child, but that is what we have and I love him with all my heart. We have great adventures together and things are usually good. Except for this thing called school. When he was in preschool, I was his teacher and he was one of my most troublesome students. I thought that was just because it is hard to teach your own kids. I tried to work with him, but he couldn't have cared less about the alphabet and things that I was trying to impress upon him. We worked together for hours through play, educational programming, books, workbooks, etc. You name it; I tried it. Despite all my best efforts, he remained solidly uninformed. Well-meaning friends would say stuff like, "Have you tried workbooks? My daughter loves to do them." I. Tried. Everything. Then I got a new student who only played video games and had a TV in his bedroom that he watched incessantly. Both he and his mom casually confirmed the inordinate amounts of screen time. Also, this kid could read. Like really read. Everything. I talked to his mom and she said, "Oh, yeah he just started reading one day. That's normal, right?"
As Logan grew I did all the things that experts say will make kids love reading. I have books around the house, I read aloud to him, we listen to books. Everything. Guess whose arm I have to twist (figuratively) to get him to read. Then I run into parents who do none of the things and yet their little darling has just finished reading a series of 10,000-page books.
In school, he does his work halfheartedly no matter how much I take away or ground him. I've always made him do his homework without interceding, other than quizzing him on his verse and spelling. I've never been one for micromanaging his progress and I've never required or expected all As. But now he's in 6th grade, the work is hard, and he is struggling in some classes, failing in others. We have tried so many different things -- more than I care to share at the moment, but I am feeling at my wit's end. I want to have a life. During the days, I'm working at a school as a substitute and in the evenings I want to write, clean, work out, and more. The LAST thing I want to do is sit and work on homework, but with him struggling I don't know what else to do. I want him to be independent and even require he make his own lunch and take care of himself, but he is fighting it. I don't want to check his every paper and be on him about studying and practicing, but if I'm not on him, he doesn't do it. We've tried rewards, punishments, and everything in between. The homework grades suffer unless I am sitting next to him doing nothing. If I begin to work on something else he is instantly distracted. When I try to teach him how to complete the worksheets he is struggling with, we have arguments like, "Mom, I don't have to copy answers out of the book. She doesn't care about that." My response is "Clearly, what you are doing isn't working because you got bad grades on all those other papers. Yes. Yes, your teacher wants you to write the answers out of the book." He gets mad and we continue the argument.
Just now, I am supposed to be leaving for Wednesday night church, but I was trying to write. Instead, I looked over his paragraph that he was supposed to re-write. 1.) He turned the first draft in late losing points he can't afford to lose. 2.) He didn't put any of the things he's been taught in the paper. I insisted on looking over it before he re-turned it in which he found to be necessary, but I found 4 run on sentences, 3 errors in dialogue, countless spelling errors, to name just a few of the issues. Now I'm running late and . . . now, a few hours later, we are back. On my timeline, I wanted this published much earlier, but couldn't because I was helping him. So what do I do? I've never believed in checking homework, but he's failing the classes and failing to understand why. I feel like I'm being crushed by the work and that everything I desire is going to have to wait until he is out of school. Six more years? Ugh.
So this is it. Now you know why we really love summer. There's no school. This is particularly hard to admit because I love school. It's what I do. It's who I am, but every school year is a nightmare that leaves me feeling broken and well, disheartened. It's hard working so hard to get very little results.
I'm sorry. I know my tone today is sarcastic and annoyed. I scrapped my previous planned word and went with disheartened because I had to be real and put our struggle out there. I'm sorry for being nasty about the mom and her brilliant kid who learned to read without help. I'm sorry for being sassy about the motivated kids who read 10,000-page multi-book series. I don't want to hear about medication, essential oil, the latest guru, etc., but that doesn't mean I'm putting my head in the sand either. I discuss the issue with our doctor who is fabulous as well as teachers and friends. I seek help. Tonight, I just need to know I'm not alone. Maybe next week I should write about catharsis.
God knows my struggle and is well acquainted with my pain. I know that no matter how disheartened I feel He will never leave me or forsake me. My son is a great kid. He is loving and kind and smart. He's been cross-referencing his books since he was a baby and can connect details like nobody's business. I am wowed by him in so many ways. If, as an adult, he loves God and cares for himself and his family, I will consider him a success disregarding his career choice be it street sweeper or chef. Thank you for the chance to feel real. I hope that by sharing this you can see deeper into my heart and know that I am never coming from a place of having it all together. Maybe that is the lesson God is teaching me here. Humility. I don't have all the answers, but I know Someone who does.
All the goofy looks. All the funny smiles. All the awkward stages. Always loved.
"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
This quote is burned into my memory. David McCullough reads it as the opening track on the Ken Burns Civil War soundtrack. (I know, deep nerd stuff here. I have soundtracks to documentaries. Yes. That should be plural.) Although I have heard this a considerable number of times, I never quite understood what Holmes meant until September 11, 20013.
It was my first time teaching middle school since the world had drastically changed in 2001. I was trying to talk to my middle school students about that day, but they didn't share my sorrow and passion as I remembered. They weren't disrespectful, just blank. They told me they didn't remember because most of them hadn't been alive that day or if they were they had been infants. Of course they knew about it in the way that I know about Pearl Harbor, but they didn't know. They didn't feel the loss. The fear. The uncertainty. The mysterious connection with strangers just because we were all experiencing something together. The incommunicable experience of war.
That day was awful. I remember times during the following days in which I experienced crushing sadness. I remember sitting in the break room of Eddie Bauer reading a paper with two horrific stories. The first told of day care workers having to deal with children who were never picked up by their parents that day because their parents were no more. The second told of parking lot owners dealing with cars that no one would be returning to claim. Both of these left me heartbroken, but when I try to communicate with those who were too young to remember, my feelings are . . . incommunicable.
Those of us who remember that day shared some thing horrible, but also uniting. We felt the passion of life and the fire in our hearts. I wish one generation could easily share their experiences with the next, but unfortunately that is just impossible, not for lack of trying, but because that is not how experience works. The sadness of loss, the terror of uncertainty, and the pride we felt for our heroes is simply incommunicable.
Incommunicable . . . If you remember September 11, 2001, and you get the chance to share your story with young people around you, remember that word. Do your best to tell a compelling story, but don't get frustrated when they don't get it. It's not their generation or a character flaw. It's the nature of experience. If you don't remember that day, please respect those who wish to talk about it and commemorate it. You will inevitably experience things that others will not. Remember that try as you might, some experiences are just incommunicable.
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
This quote is commonly found on teacher appreciation cards and signs, but no matter how many times I read it, the words both terrify and exhilarate me.
Every day you change the world. Your smile brightens someone’s day. Your frown makes someone react negatively toward others. Your behavior has an impact. Christians might say, "God is working," in an attempt to alleviate them from responsibility for their behavior, but we are to be kind to one another, forgiving, loving, patient, and so on. Does this always match up with your actions? Don't think back to a time when you are placidly sitting in church. No, look back to a day when you are running late and the cashier messed up your order. Or you were stuck in traffic behind someone who is a REALLY bad driver. Or someone spills something on you. Did you react in a way that reflected the fruit of the Spirit? Did you influence someone to do the right thing? This doesn't mean you let people push you over and treat you poorly. I have lodged complaints with restaurant owners or managers. I've also called back and given positive reports when I see improvement. Living your life as though you are an island then talking about God working is very hypocritical.
I've talked to several people who work in restaurants who complain that some of their worst customers are the Sunday after church crowd. This group is notorious for being impatient, needy, messy, and leaving poor tips. Sometimes after leaving a huge mess and little to no tip, they leave a gospel tract. Really?!? What about their behavior influenced the server to want what they had? I don't doubt the staff was influenced, but it wasn't in a way that pointed them to Christ.
One time I went out with a prickly person and they lamented, “People are just not nice anymore. Everyone is mean and grumpy.” As we checked out of the store they continued to talk to me rather than the salesperson helping them. They grimaced and complained when the store’s computer was slow, then took their bag without so much as a, “thank you,” to the clerk. Really? Um . . . people are usually nice to me because I’m nice to them. I ask them how their day was or compliment their name. Our conversations are rarely deep and most often that is the last time I will see that person. My hope is that I could bring some sunshine to their day and that the love of God would shine through me.
This is why being intentional about our influence is so important. Yes, God is working, but we have a chance to be part of His plan. In Esther, Mordicai tells Esther that God will save the Jews, but perhaps she was placed on the throne, "for such a time as this." If Esther hadn't been Queen, God would have saved the Jews. Esther wasn't their savior, but because she was willing to serve she was allowed the joy of being part of the bigger redemption story. Yes, God will work, and his mission will go forth, but to be part of that mission . . . oh, joy eternal.
What will your impact on the world be? Since my earliest days teaching I have loved the story of the starfish. It has been adapted from, The Star Thrower by Lorne Eiseley, but this is the version I first read as an exhausted, overworked, and underpaid preschool teacher with 10 kids that no one else wanted to be around. Every time I think of it I am deeply moved.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
There are so many kids out there that I would like to reach. I want to tell them all the things. I want to love them as God loves me. I want them to hear the gospel. But I am only one. I am weak, broken, and unable to do it all. Not all my former students remember me fondly, but some do. When I see a student years later and they tell me that I influenced their life, I usually tear up, praise God, and say, “It made a difference to that one.”
Who will you influence? You don’t have to run for president or even be super outgoing to influence others. Smile. Say thank you. Make eye contact. Use your life to send a message about who God is. Be friendly and kind. Use your social media as a beacon of light instead of a void of hopelessness or frivolity. We tend to over complicate things. Maybe we just need to embrace this simple truth: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31 NIV) You never know how someone's life will be effected, but don't ever doubt that you will influence others.
Being a super nerd, I look for answers in books. A great book to spark a discussion about how others should be treated is Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. It's silly and thought provoking at the same time which is a wonderful combination.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."