Tag: New York City

The Edges of Life and Death and David Bowie

Posted on January 18, 2016 by

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”

David Bowie

David Bowie, dead? It can’t be possible.

I remember when I was young, kids would wonder who would come to their own funeral. It was a way of sussing out our place in the world, of trying to see beyond the exterior veneer and posturing so popular with young people. It was a way of finding our relevance before most of us had actually done anything relevant except to just be a living human.

This self-centered sort of reflection seems to dissipate as we age – many of us, as we become parents and watch decades of life pass by, begin to reflect on just more than how other people would react to our passing – we instead study the intricate balance between where we belong, where we are, and where we want/need/would like to be in this vast Universe.

Death has a way of forcing such reflection front and center, doesn’t it?

I spend so much of my time living up inside my head, thinking deeply and with my reading and writing attempting the unsurmountable task of deciphering where we are in the world – where I am in this vast universe. I watch the beginnings and endings of my lifetime with a mix of apprehension and dismay, knowing that it at the edges of life when I often feel the most deeply, yet find the most discomfort. I crave the middle, the solid surface beneath my feet, the sure path towards…well, joy, I guess.

This month has overwhelmed me with endings, sadness, introspection. I’ve felt as if with the turn of 2016, the Universe has collected in its arms the souls it needs, and I’m just waiting…

First there was Bowie; so long the soundtrack of my youth, his presence in our world will be missed. Of course, I didn’t know him, but through his music and his art, I felt connected, as if his contribution to the Universe was perpetual, something solid, steadfast, unchangeable.

On my first trip to New York City last July, I took an open-air sightseeing bus – one of those complete tourist attractions that allow newbies like me to get a glimpse of NYC all at once. I was overwhelmed, to say the least.

One moment that sticks with me amidst the swirls and scents of the vibrancy of the city is when the tour guide gestured towards a huge building and announced that was Bowie’s home. I felt surprised that he both knew where it was and would share it with us – it felt intrusive and presumptuous and wrong to be so public with something so private.

Our homes are our safe sanctuaries, after all.

I didn’t pursue a glimpse of the man I’ve admired since childhood – didn’t even think to snap a photo of it, instead choosing to slip into the maze of Central Park to carve out solitude.

Since Bowie’s death, I’ve been intrigued to find out how simply he, despite his superstar status, was able to live so unpretentiously. How does a man of his notoriety become invisible?

Purposefully, I imagine.

Bowie lived the balance. Knowing he was not indestructible, that the sureness of death was to come, he carved out where he wanted to be on his own terms. He, with all his fame and recognition, dug deep inside and birthed a gift to the Universe as he was dying. What an act of courage, of selflessness, of living. Of relevance.

I was shocked to find out he was 69, but not surprised at all when I heard his latest album. And his lyrics- what a gift to those of us searching for ways to gather together the edges of life and death, to think deeply of our existence and seam together the beginnings and endings with grace and courage.

The man who fell to earth wasn’t afraid of us watching his descent – no, not Bowie. He just wasn’t willing to let us watch.

I find it beautiful to think that in his last moments, he was where he belonged, with the people who needed to be there. He left his legacy to us with his last production, Blackstar, sewing together his life and death with threaded with certainty and stitched into a seamless, endless whole.

How long? And what do we do with the time we’ve got left?

May we all be as victorious in the end.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Soledad O’Brien, You Made A Difference To One Starfish Last Week

Posted on July 27, 2015 by

I’m not much of a ‘joiner’. Sometimes ‘going big’ is harder than ‘going home’ for me; I’d much rather watch the news go by from the quiet of my home than have to walk up and say ‘hi’.

I’ve always been introverted like that.

It used to be painful – physically and emotionally tormenting – for me to initiate contact with another human being.

I’m slightly better at it now, but it’s taken nearly a half-century to be able to breathe, thrust out  my hand, smile and introduce myself. And to be honest, I avoid these situations as much as I possibly can. For me, being an introvert and living in an extroverted world is absolutely exhausting.

I immediately realized that was exactly the situation I faced in New York City as I walked into the hotel for the BlogHer15 conference last week. I seriously questioned my decision to spend hours on a red eye flying across the country, lug my suitcases for blocks through the streets of Manhattan (did you know in NYC no one pays attention to the traffic signals? Pedestrians just step into the street, avoiding eye contact with drivers, and make their way across!), and share a room with three complete strangers. Would it really make a difference in my little teaching, parenting and writing world?

at BlogHer15 in NYC

My blurry entry to BlogHer15

The synchronicity started upon hearing Melinda Gates personally answer my question  on the power of harnessing the stories of our children, and how as a teacher I can encourage them to speak – and be heard.  Imagine my shock at my question being the only one selected for her to answer: here’s a short clip of her answer – I was so surprised it took me a minute to regroup and get the camera rolling!


After that, I started thinking about the power of women’s voices, and how I might use my own life and experiences to share stories of what I think is important – a perfect frame of mind to hear Friday’s keynote speaker, Soledad O’Brien. I’m sure you recognize her name – she’s an award-winning journalist affiliated with HBO, CNN, Al Jazeera America and Latina Magazine, and is the originator of the “Black in America” and “Latino in America” documentary franchises. She was named one of Newsweek Magazines “10 People who Make America Great”. And she’s almost exactly my age. Most impressive to me, though, is that she’s a wife and a mom and after Hurricane Katrina, she started the Starfish Foundation as a way to mentor young women and help them attend/afford college. 

You’ve heard the Starfish story by Loren Eisley, right?

starfish story

This isn’t a new story for most educators – it encapsulates so much of how we keep trudging on every day in our overloaded classes. After teaching middle school for decades, I know that I may not reach every child in my class, despite my endless attempts to show them how much I care. At this point in my teaching journey, I hope that every year I make a difference to at least one, even if I’ll never directly know it.


Soledad took a different spin on the story with her Starfish Foundation. In her words, she believes that “mentoring isn’t hard. You give time, emotional support and connection. You don’t need a lot of money – it’s about finding out how you can help. It’s time served.”

I leaned forward in my chair. Here’s a most accomplished woman, a person spending her Thursday afternoon speaking to me -to so many women like me, who write and tell stories and share their hopes and dreams and vision for the future. Who, maybe like me, is living her life in search of ways to connect and make the world just a little kinder and fairer for kids?

My brain was spinning. This woman, this storyteller, was speaking my language. On behalf of kids and women and education. Her words fascinated me, sending me deep in thought – one of the best qualities of being an introvert. Am I really doing what I’m meant to? Am I using my ‘platform’ to connect with kids and become someone who can make a difference? What stories can I share about teens and education and the world that will have an impact?

All the noise of NYC disappeared as I wrapped myself in her ideas and the simplicity with which she embodied her message. The crowd cheered as she walked off the stage, and as I clapped along with them, I realized this is why I was there – to stretch, to push myself and my thoughts into action.

To think deeply about myself as a woman and a mom and an educator.

To live life as an extrovert for a weekend, and then go back and teach audaciously and make a difference.

Thanks, Soledad. You made a difference to this starfish, even if you’ll never know it.

Soledad O'Brien, You Made A Difference To One Starfish Last Week

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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