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Last month, I was contacted by the Huffington Post about being a contributor after reading one of my previous blogs. Here’s my second post on the HuffPost.
Thirteen years ago,”Pomp and Circumstance” played as my son wore a red cap and gown to accept his diploma.
Because his class was extremely small, the formal ceremony was short. As the post-graduation celebration began, my son led his friends in a unique rendition of the “Chicken Dance.”
Throughout the afternoon, there were several other moments when he grabbed, or attempted to grab, the limelight. At one point, his teacher pulled me aside and whispered “All the world is a stage for Shepherd. Just enjoy it.”
But I couldn’t.
The next 13 years, starting in kindergarten, weren’t easy.
I worried obsessively about my son.
Even though my son was very smart and very funny, I worried that he didn’t have the same interests as his peers.
I worried that he was awkward and uncoordinated and would never find the place where he belonged.
I worried that he often seemed oblivious to what others automatically understood.
I even worried that he didn’t care that I was worried.
But somewhere between kindergarten and twelfth grade, my son taught me more than algebra and English literature classes ever could.
He taught me that going out on a limb will always be more interesting than standing on the ground hugging the trunk.
He taught me that winning a dance contest doesn’t necessarily require the best moves. It simply requires the most guts.
He taught me that more people appreciate the sheep who wonders off to explore new pastures than the ones who stay with the herd.
And he taught me that grabbing a mic and singing in front of the entire student body can never be embarrassing if you get everyone to sing with you.
On Monday, I will listen to “Pomp and Circumstance” while my son wears a red cap and gown to accept his diploma.
I wish I could guarantee he won’t lead his entire graduating class in a rendition of “The Chicken Dance,” but I can’t. Neither can I guarantee he won’t pull off one final, ridiculous high school stunt.
But here’s what I can guarantee: I won’t be worried.
Because I know that my unique, gifted, funny, ridiculous, smart, sarcastic son already has plenty of experience in finding his way in the often rocky terrain of life.
I also know, that his preschool teacher wasn’t entirely right. All the world is not just a stage for my Shepherd. Instead, all the world is HIS stage.
And I can’t wait to see his upcoming performances.
I felt a bit like a cat with nine lives as I glanced at my watch on Friday night.
I hadn’t recently escaped a serious accident or overcome a life-threatening illness.
I was just sitting in a high school auditorium watching my son and his friends turn what was intended to be a serious ceremony into something that more resembled a comedy routine. He and his fellow senior marching band members were supposed to be “jacketing” the freshman, which involved putting them into their uniforms for the first time.
As the antics on stage wrapped up, the band director made a short speech. He told the newly inducted band members that they now have a ready-made family as they start their high school journey.
At that point, I could feel my eyes begin to water and my chest tighten. What seemed like only yesterday, my son had been one of those freshmen. Now, in a few short months, he will be graduating from high school.
As I sat in that auditorium, I promised myself I would do all I can to treasure the next few months and the memories that have yet to be made.
That’s when I glanced at my watch and realized that more than 300 miles away, my 30 year high school reunion had just started.
As my son was animatedly and comically stepping into his last year of public education, my classmates from three decades earlier were reminiscing and remembering that time in our lives.
I had absolutely no regrets about choosing to celebrate my current life rather than a previous one.
At the same time, the poignant reminder of the quick passage of time is what made me feel a bit catlike.
My high school years are part of a past life.
I long ago left behind the girl I was in high school.
She existed in my life before college – a time when I learned to form my own opinions instead of parroting the most popular ones.
She existed in a life before I stumbled and failed at numerous adult relationships.
She existed before I learned to keep my mouth shut in order to survive horrible jobs with mean-spirited bosses because I needed a paycheck more than I needed to be happy.
And she existed before I became a wife, a mother and a person who strives to live a life of joy rather than one of fear, to speak out for compassion instead of accepting misunderstanding and to take risks rather than live with regrets.
I’ve only arrived here after surviving several lives during which I let fear win, silence overpower truth and safety override risks.
But I’m here now, and I’m sure my present-life friends and colleagues wouldn’t recognize or even believe whom I was in my life as an 18 year-old.
I can only hope the same for my own children. Although I love them dearly as they are today, I don’t want them to live the same life forever.
Last Friday, as I watched my incredibly goofy son on stage, I also knew that boy won’t always exist.
Life isn’t supposed to be static.
It’s about adapting to change. It’s about seeking out and enjoying as many experiences as possible. It’s about developing new relationships. Most of all, it’s about embracing the inevitable fact that, while nothing stays the same, each moment and life stage should be appreciated for what it can provide.
I wish I could give that advice to the me I used to be, but I can’t. All I can do is share it with my children.
Whether they choose to listen is up to them.
Something tells me that, in their current lives, they probably won’t listen or understand.
But someday, in one of their future lives, they’ll know exactly where their mom was coming from.
I probably would have liked the REAL person I used to be. What I wouldn’t like is how she presented herself to the rest of the world.
What I needed was an editor: someone who adjusted my words (and actions) so they took into account the perspective of others and helped me better explain where I was really coming from.
Take, for example my test taking experiences as a teenager.
I’d take a test then complain to everyone around me that I had failed. When I’d get back a 94 or a 96 out of 100, the other students would groan,roll their eyes and show their basic irritation that I had lied about failing.What they didn’t understanding was that I hadn’t lied. To me, any score less than perfect was a failure. I hated falling short.
What I didn’t get was that some students really failed – even when they did their best.
If I’d had an editor, he/she would have told me that failure really is a relative term and instead of proclaiming it, I should have said I wish I’d done better.
Recently, instead of worrying about a score on a graded test, I find myself worrying that I’m falling short in various aspects of my life. I’ve come to realize that I still need an editor. Life experience is a good editor, but it’s not perfect.
Maybe that’s because I still expect myself to excel at everything I attempt, and when I fall short, I focus too much on my imperfections.
A good editor would tell me that life is as much about the experience than it is about the outcome, and I should appreciate the experiences.
Maybe that’s because I still find myself judging people by the standards I set for myself, and when don’t show the same passion, or they blame others for their shortfalls or when they just show up rather than commit to making a difference, I get irritated.
A good editor would tell me that judging someone never provides any insight. Giving people the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words does.
And maybe it’s because I worry that there is so much to accomplish.
A good editor would tell me that any thought, belief or desire that we actually put in writing is an opportunity to touch lives and influence others. Once our words leave our care, we can’t control who is actually listening or reading. We just have to trust that the right person will hear them.
There are times when I wonder how I will someday look back and view the person I am today. And I wonder if I’ll still note how I needed an editor.
That’s when I realize that I am actually my own best editor.
All I need to do is listen and follow her advice.
They embraced danger.
After hiking almost to the top, I told my kids not to walk along the ridge or the narrow trails others were carefully navigating. I imagined how a mere slip could result in disaster, and the signs warning about the number of people who had died on Seneca Rocks didn’t help. They simply fed my fear.
Later, as we were driving home, I thought about my fear.
And I realize that one word “my” said it all.
To me, fear is all about the risk of physical or emotional harm to me or someone I love. I identify that risk and then I do everything I can to avoid it.
That’s how I operate.
Apparently, others operate differently.
My friends tell me that some people don’t analyze their behavior as much as I do.They say most people don’t even know when they are afraid. Instead, they just think they are angry.
Lately, I’ve been debating whether I agree. I never used to think my anger stemmed from fear.
I get angry at injustice when people aren’t treated fairly. Am I afraid that I too can be a victim of injustice?
I get angry when incompetent people are allowed to continue in their jobs despite their ineffectiveness. Am I afraid that my hard work is pointless?
I get angry when people blame me for their inability to be effective. Am I afraid that others will believe them?
My answers to all these questions is”maybe.” But I’ve begun to realize the question shouldn’t be if my anger is rooted in fear. The real question is: “If I am afraid, how do I deal with that fear?”
I can either face it, like the rock climbers do.
I can avoid it, like I did when sitting on the cliffs.
Or I can learn to turn it into something meaningful.
And that choice is the real fear factor.
I have no idea what our pastor said that caused my daughter a moment of panic in church last Sunday, but he obviously said something that triggered her concern. She looked stricken then leaned over and whispered, “When, exactly, does Lent start?”
I pointed to an announcement in the bulletin about Ash Wednesday services, and she breathed a sigh of relief. That afternoon, she asked me what she should give up for Lent. I told her that was a personal choice.
Days later, she announced she was giving up playing the game Flappy Bird. I must have sighed because she asked, “What’s wrong with that? I like Flappy Bird.”
She may like Flappy Bird, but I don’t think she’s making any great sacrifice by giving it up. She downloaded it on my phone, not hers. In other words, she only plays the game when her phone battery is running low and she is looking for something to do when we are out running errands.
My daughter’s decision reminds me of a student who lived in my dorm during college. I’d always considered the young woman superficial. My assessment of her proved right when she announced that for Lent she was “giving up eating junk food after getting drunk.”
She was missing the point of Lent, and I think my daughter might be too. She can certainly spout the reasons Christians give up something during Lent, but I’m not sure she has fully embraced the concept of spiritual growth.
Sometimes, I wonder if I have either.
That’s why I’m not giving anything up this year. Instead, I’m taking on something, and I already know it’s going to be much harder than giving up caffeine or chocolate.
I know it’s going to be challenging because I’ve been practicing. At least, I’ve been trying to practice, and I’ve been failing miserably.
I’m taking on praying daily for people I don’t like or who have hurt me. And the purpose of those prayers isn’t about my relationship with these individuals or my hopes that they will change their behavior. My prayers are simple: that they find peace and happiness. My emotions aren’t as simple. Letting go of anger is difficult and embracing forgiveness is tough.
As Lent begins this week, I hope I find the strength for both.
My husband isn’t just a dad or a father. He is a parent. That means he has always taken on significant responsibility. He’s even taken on costume fittings for dance. But the one thing he’s never taken responsibility for annual science and social studies projects. I’ve always sucked it up and taken full responsibilty for the last minute projects…until yesterday. My son’s science project was due today but I had surgery yesterday morning. That left my husband in charge, and it left me smiling.
Letting go of things I can’t control always makes me smile.
Day 163: Letting go of things beyond our control
I am writing this from my hospital bed in a great pain. While walking my dog, I went down and broke both bones in my wrist in multiple places. The pain has been excruciating and I am scheduled for surgery.
There may not appear to be much to smile about in this story, but there is.
I am just unable to type much right now, so the story will have to wait. But that is a reason to smile.
At least it would me.
Anticipating a good story always makes me smile.
Day 162: Anticipating a good story.
Some are significant, and some aren’t. Some have a long-lasting impact on us, and some don’t. And some are memorable, and some are easily forgotten.
The moments that make headlines either tell us about events that will affect us or are intended to engage or entertain us.
But the moments that help shape who we are and who we are becoming are often less dramatic or public. But sometimes they are, and in those rare occasions, they might get a brief nod in the back pages of a newspaper.
Such were the events of last Friday night.
Anyone who attended the Spring Mills High School football on Friday night probably recognized the events had everything a good Hollywood script requires, including an ordinary beginning.
Students, parents and community members trickled into the stadium to the sounds of rock music. The football team, cheerleaders and band warmed up. And the announcers checked the sound system.
The only thing outwardly unusual about this Friday night was the biting cold and the students who came dressed in costumes.
“It’s the last football game before Halloween,’ the younger sibling of one student told me. “Of course they are going to dress in costume.” She then puffed up a bit. “My sister is the one in the poodle skirt.”
Almost on cue, the night became magical.
When the band played the national anthem, the whole stadium was unusually silent. Even the younger students who are generally unruly, paid tribute. Later, when a boy didn’t have enough money to buy a hot chocolate at the concession stand, an adult offered him change. The boy looked at him in awe and said, “thank you, sir,” at least three times.
And then there was the game itself.
Spring Mills High School, which has no senior class and, until Friday, had never won a football game, scored 14 points in the first half.
The other team didn’t score anything.
For the first time since August, our team had hope.
During the third quarter, the other team tied the score, and that hope began to diminish until Spring Mills scored another touchdown.
As the final seconds of the game ticked down, the energy in the frigid stadium went up. When the final buzzer sounded, the student body rushed the football field and celebrated for a long, long time.
Some students may have been celebrating a win for the sake of winning. Others may have been celebrating the football team’s history making moment. And others were celebrating the individual successes of all the young men who had persevered.
One by one, the students left the field. Then the football team left the field. And then, finally, the band members left the field.
The band, like the football team, is new this year, and it, like the football team, is smaller than those of other high schools.
But, for the first time ever, as it marched off the field after a football game, the band played in celebration. The band parents in the concession stand stopped what we were doing and started clapping and cheering and crying.
The moment was movie perfect until the young girl, who hours before had bragged her sister was wearing a poodle skirt, came back. In child-like innocence she said, “Did you see the other team? The looked so sad when they left the field, Their heads were hanging down.”
For an instance, I felt guilty about all the jubilation.
But then, I realized we weren’t really celebrating our defeat of another team or the points on the scoreboard. We were celebrating the community we are becoming. For the first time, we had collectively experienced a memory that will stay with us the rest of our lives.
There were no reporters and television crews at the game, and the victory received only a brief mention in the local newspaper.
But for those of us who were there, the script for that evening unfolded in a way usually reserved only for movies, and we will all carry that perfect movie moment with us forever.