Joy Is Not Made To Be A Crumb
The Great Heart of the World
I know what the cure is:
it is to give up,
to relinquish, to surrender,
so that our little hearts may
beat in unison with the
great heart of the world.
~ Henry Miller
Every morning for the last eight days I’ve walked into my classroom, taken a big breath, and remembered why I am there. I’ve tried to focus on the love I have for my students, my colleagues, my job and the buildings that help me engage students and build their confidence. As I plug in the twinkle lights that light up the walls and fill my diffuser with lavender, I’m purposefully sharing my love. I stand at the door and greet my students by name. We high five, hug, smile and chat to ease our way into building our little community. I scan their faces for highs and lows and try to notice something about each one. My simple rituals help remind me that school is a place of love for me – that school is where I see the great heart of the world every single day.
Where is our great heart of the world? There are so many ways we have been loved in our lives – so many ways we can SHOW love in our lives. It shouldn’t take tragedies and politics to remember the profound power to be found in love – think about what would happen if you spent five minutes today just writing a list of all the places, all the people and pets and experiences in your life RIGHT NOW where you see love…it would feel so good. It might even balance out all the negativity we see around us, help heal the pain and wrap our arms around those we don’t even know, but those who are collapsed in anguish.
I found this Henry Miller poem about the great heart of the world on the lovely blog, a First Sip – and it just felt like today was the right time to share it.
Sending you all great big love today, and every day. Be sure to share some of your own, too.
My heart is heavy as I watch the hate unfold in Charlottesville today. I try to distract and distance myself by puttering around in my garden, moving the sprinkler from one dry patch to another, hopefully coaxing a few more blooms into fall. I dodge the bees in the veggie garden and catch a glimpse of a red throated hummingbird as it delicately feeds on my front yard red salvia. My four legged pal naps on the shaded wicker couch as I move in circles, trying to avoid confronting the hatred and violence I know is consuming my news feeds.
I don’t usually write and publish on the spot like this. I’m more of a pensive writer, allowing thoughts to mull in my mind, forming connections and thinking deeply about how I share my voice in this vast Universe of creative people. I typically journal and notetake and combine what I read and hear and see into hopefully, some version of hope and gratitude for all that I am and all that I have to learn.
But as I watch the hate unfold in Charlottesville today I find myself heavy with sadness, climbing the stairs to my upstairs writing perch. My phone has been exploding with Twitter updates and live videos from the New York Times, and I find I can only watch and read the smallest amount without having to shut it down.
It’s part self-care, part bewilderment, part fear – combined with an enormous amount of guilty helplessness as I sit safely tucked away, in my white family in my suburban home in my liberal northern California town.
But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Those who stay safely tucked away in their beliefs, teetering on the edge of exploding and showing their real selves. I meant to be writing about my children today, about having seniors and about college and starting school years.
But I can’t. My heart is too heavy watching the hate unfold in Charlottesville today, and it simply feels selfish.
I know that racism exists. I know that there are those who believe in the ‘white right’ and above all else, feel victimized and as if they are somehow having their centuries old rights and ancestry stripped away by those who are different. From those who have darker skin, or religious differences, or who love people that they love even when being told that the Bible calls them sinners.
I know all that. I see it hiding in my community, occasionally creeping out in my classroom with greater frequency since last November. I understand the responsibility of raising a white male and think deeply about how I can use my life to make the world a better, kinder, more loving place.
I use my position as a teacher leader to teach compassion, to offer evidence from history about learning from the past, and employ my voice and my words to somehow attempt to do my part.
But today, my heart is heavy as I watch the hate unfold.
I want to blame 45, but I know he didn’t suddenly cause people to think this way. What he has done since November is offered validation for those shallow, spiteful, fearful souls to empower themselves and speak out, lash out, and spew their hateful words into our Universe.
I know signs of hope and light will surface – the first to appear was John Pavlovitz’s “Yes, This is Racism” for which I am holding onto while my news feed screams “Charlottesville remains on edge ahead of “Unite The Right” rally”, the governor declares a state of emergency, and a car plows down protestors. Violent clashes erupt as people supporting Black Lives Matter join in counter-protest. 45 tweets “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”
All that we have done? Who are WE? It’s not me. It’s on you now, 45. All that YOU have done – and what are YOU doing to make it better? Get off your golf cart and step into reality.
Sitting in my writing room, gazing out at the green treetops and the sun dappled grass I feel so far removed, so helpless. I do not agree, I do not believe, I do not support. This isn’t MY America. This isn’t my view of how history should be formed. This isn’t what I want to teach.
This IS racism. This IS hate. This IS fear and vulnerability and small-mindedness.
This is NOT what I choose as the future for my son, my daughter, and the hundreds of children I’m about to share my heart with this school year.
I stand in unity with those using their bodies and voices and hearts against hate. I stand with the women and men and children to whom this is nothing new – just more visible.
I walked with women and men and children in January in hopes that my heart wouldn’t feel so heavy today; I write with hope for tomorrow.
THIS is how I fight back.
“Sometimes in the morning, while she waited for her brother to get out of the bathroom, Meredith Oliver would stand in front of her bureau mirror, lock eyes with her reflection, and say, “This is me. This is really me. Right now. This is me. This is my real life. This is me.”~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss
When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a novel nowhere near my real life.
I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss.
What it’s about:
Meredith Oliver is the youngest in her family; her parents, are both dentists and her brother Evan, is a high school junior. The novel starts off describing her typical teenage angst as she goes about her day, feeling overshadowed by her brother who has experienced life-changing trauma. The plot takes an uptick when on an ordinary day, in broad daylight, Meredith finds herself in the middle of a sandwich shop robbery, quivering in fear on the dirty floor next to the most popular girl in her eighth-grade class, Lisa Bellow. When the gunman chooses Lisa as his hostage, leaving Meredith behind, the plot expands to pull in their families, Meredith’s emotional struggle with being the survivor, and the ripple effects of trauma on the mothers of both girls.
Meredith’s mom, Claire, is uncomfortably pulled into the grief Lisa’s mom is experiencing, which forces Claire to desperately try to cling to her own daughter, the survivor. Claire’s character development weaves threads of maternal guilt, the anxiety of knowing if she’s doing the ‘right thing’, and the universal struggle between parent and child during adolescence. Evan, Meredith’s brother, appears first as a victim of his own traumatic accident and develops as an example of how one can rise and triumph. Mrs. Bellow, Lisa’s mom, portrays the gut-shattering grief experienced by parents experiencing the loss of their child, and the conflict of trying to live without her.
Why I liked it:
Aside from the fact that I am fascinated by the teenage mind and how humans seem to navigate into and out of its murkiness, I think what I connected with most in this novel was the battle experienced by Claire as she grappled with her maternal instincts versus the reality of her life as a mother, wife, and woman. I know firsthand, like so many mothers, what happens when our children are hurt, either mentally or physically. When my son experienced his ski racing injury and had to rehabilitate and adjust the trajectory of his life experience, I felt the anxiety of second guessing the enormity of his experience and wanting to trust my belief that ‘all will be well’. You can read my reflection on that experience here. Motherhood is no simple task, and add in marriage and career and mid-life disquietude I certainly connected with Susan Perabo’s character.
One of my favorite scenes came about half way through the novel. Claire, in desperate attempt to connect to her daughter’s experience, is consulting Meredith’s therapist. Frustrated at her inability to control the situation, Claire asks,
“How will I know when she’s ready?”
“You’ve been protecting her your whole life,” he said. “You’ll know.”
But he was wrong. Protecting her? …She could not protect her daughter. She could not protect her from the stomach flu. She could not protect her from cancer or AIDS or the common cold. She could not protect her from the mean girls. She could not protect her from her friends. She could not protect her from her own thoughts…She could vaccinate them and make them wear seatbelts and batting helmets. She could give them cell phones with emergency numbers on speed dial. She could give them straight-talk books and scared straight DVDs and a solid, honest, pitch-perfect piece of advice every single morning on their way out the door. But in the end, there was no intervention.
There was only awareness”
~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow, page 165
How many parents have felt this urge to protect, to intervene, to try to anticipate every hurt and shield our children from the pain of real life? This novel reminded me so much of the book If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie with a somewhat reverse plot line. I wrote a post inspired by If I Fall, If I Die called “Please Don’t Go Outside” in which I explored the paradox of wanting your children to grow and love and become their own person and the fear of letting them go where you can’t see. You can read it here.
I also enjoyed the narrative structure of the story; told in alternating points of view, the novel bubbled with tension and kept me connecting with both Meredith and Claire as the plot unfolded. Additionally, there were points in the storytelling where I found myself pausing and thinking about why the writer chose a sort of ‘flashback’ technique that made me wonder if I was really understanding the point of view at all. This beautiful writing, combined with authentic characters and suspenseful plot lines, kept me pushing to finish my end of the year grading so I could reward myself with just a few more chapters of this lovely book.
Who should read it?
As I paged through the story, I questioned if this was a young-adult novel or simply a story for parents struggling with watching their children grow. At the end, I decided it was both. I’m going to share this book in my 8th-grade classroom, and watch who gravitates towards it. I think teens will certainly connect with Meredith’s character and conflict, and I know moms and parents will align with Claire and Mrs. Bellow’s challenges.
Overall, I think The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a must read, and I sure hope you’ll come back here and let me know what your thoughts are.
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is published by Simon & Schuster, who provided me with a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.
~ Barbara Brown Taylor
If you’ve been reading my blog over the last 5+ years, it probably won’t surprise you why I loved this quote. I write about paying attention to the small moments of life on a regular basis. I frequently use the hashtags #lookup and #payattention on my Instagram and Twitter posts and am fond of catching images that are far above my head or down at my feet.
I love paying attention.
Being an introvert has always given me the gift of watching. I’d much rather hang to the side of a party, or sit on the edge of a group and just watch what is going on. I notice body language, gestures, and simple movements. I watch how people catch each other’s eyes when they want to make an impression, and how the touch of a hand on a shoulder, an aggressive hug or a tensed smile can reveal so much.
I pay attention to my students when we speak, often crouching down to get to their desk/eye level – or standing on my tippy toes to reach the really tall ones! I absolutely love when kids get lost in their conversations and forget I’m in the room – that’s really the time when I learn so much about what’s important to them.
And to my own children, I strive to pay attention to not only what they do when they’re at home, but also when they’re away and standing on their own. Part of my greatest joy as a parent has come in watching my kids ‘adulting’ – making their own decisions, both large and complicated and small and somewhat insignificant. I love watching how they react to situations, like problems with a roommate or frustration with a teacher. I honestly believe that the best parenting I can do really involves just being a ‘body’ willing to notice what is going on in their lives.
When I’m walking, paying attention requires no equipment. I’ve got my face forward, feet sturdy beneath me, and my dog to my side. I’ve sometimes got the sun on my face, or the mist on my jacket as I walk my favorite trail, past the same corners and ponds, not even in particularly good shape but willing, so willing, to notice the curve of a tree branch, the rustle of bird wings, or the delicateness of a cloud. I look up, I gaze down, I trust that my consistency in paying attention to the extraordinary in the ordinary world around me will make all the difference.
Today, just for a moment, try to pause. Look up. What do you see? Can you feel a breeze on your skin? Breathe in deeply. Pause, and listen to the sounds that surround you. Be present. Be here, now.
I’d love it if you’d share your observations in the comments – just a few words, a snapshot of where you are. It’s the small moments that count the most, really.