one of the most profound observations from the book, “dark star safari” was on my mind as the 84 year-old master (sensei fusaro – 9th dan) was schooling us in karate this week. he had to sit down once or twice, but no one was bellyaching about having to work too hard or being tired or being frustrated with our inability to do what he was doing–not with that guy out there, no way! gall dang inspiring!
what all older people know, what had taken me almost sixty years to learn, is that an aged face is misleading. i did not want to be the classic bore, the reminiscing geezer, yet i now knew: the old are not as frail as you think, and they are insulted to be regarded as feeble. they are full of ideas, hidden powers, even sexual energy. don’t be fooled by the thin hair and battered features and skepticism. the older traveler knows it best: in our hearts we are youthful, and we are insulted to be treated as old men and burdens, for we have come to know that the years have made us more powerful and streetwise. years are not an affliction. old age is strength.
as a teacher at an alternative high school, i regularly find myself critical–or worse, cynical of young people and the choices they make every day. but, over the last couple of months i’ve seen something that is truly astounding–young people discovering their voices and finding their true power — standing up and speaking up — for what they believe in — their right to life. it is inspiring. and, no matter your social or political leanings, you’ve got to be moved by that, you’ve got to respect that. for me, it’s been a while, if ever, since “i looked up to a teenager”–but, that’s exactly the way i feel today. good speed and carry on, youngins! cheers!
during the television broadcast of an nfl playoff game, the camera focused in on the cheerleaders…and so, my son and i focused in on the cheerleaders…then, he spoke…
my son: they must be cold.
me: i reckon so.
[in an instant, forty-five years of living as a man in the world flashed through my mind; when he said that, i scanned through all of the thousands of pieces of social data, experience, and history i had seen and heard over the years (everything i knew)…that led to this very moment–where young women were standing there, in front of the world, in a strip of clothing–so much to say and no words, for my six-year-old son–so, deliberately, i tucked this moment away in my mental files and stacks, in the section called, “father/son conversations“–and thought, we will talk about this again, son–oh yes, we will talk about this again!]
those were the words i heard my wife say to my son (almost a year ago)…as we were getting ready to leave my wife’s sister’s house…
we had been over at their place celebrating several cousins’ birthdays (including our own kids) and spending some time together as families, when those words floated up from the basement stairs…
when i approached my wife at the top of the stairs, with an eyebrow raised and a look of like–what did he say?
she said, i’ll tell you in a minute, let’s just get moving.
well, “a minute” turned into a half-hour and eventually we said “our goodbyes” and packed the kids and all their stuff into the van. in the driveway, while the kids were tucked securely away in the vehicle, i asked my wife–what did he say?
she turned to me and said, he said that ‘he didn’t want to leave and that he wished he lived here–because their house was so much better than our house.’
there was a moment of silence.
then, i said–really? ok, i’ve got this.
[i said that because i could see that she was at her wit’s end and done with the challenging behaviors that had ‘run her ragged’–i said that, because it was time for me to “tag in”]
then, my wife got into the van and i got into my own car and we both headed home (i had come from work, so we had driven separately)…but, i left first and flew home. en route, i thought about all the possible ways to respond/talk to my five-year-old son about what he had said and how to communicate just how important it is to be ‘thankful for where we live’ and all that we have (i mean, i had just loaded up a shit-ton of birthday gifts for him and his twin sister, people! come on?!) – but everything i came up with, initially anyways, was either inappropriate or illegal–and could’ve potentially resulted in some sort of serious negative outcome…like losing parental rights.
then, just before i got to our house, it hit me…i knew what i was going to do.
upon arriving home, i went inside and got down to business…i knew i had to move fast because my wife and kids weren’t too far behind me.
so, i went into jack and grace’s bedroom and over to jack’s side of the room — and got to work — completely stripping his bed. i took off the pillows, the stuffed animals, the bed sheets, the mattress–everything! as quick as i could, i jammed all of that stuff (including the mattress) into our bedroom and shut the door. after that, i walked to the kitchen, poured myself a jack and coke, sat down at the table and waited.
well, they came home a few minutes later and were bustling about…
i said nothing.
after a few minutes, grace went down the hall to their bedroom and immediately i heard her call for jack…
jack, come here.
so, jack walked down the hall.
i heard their murmurs–as they were talking about ‘what was going on with jack’s bed?!’ and ‘what had happened?!’
my wife walked down there too, and walked back out to me and said, uh-oh.
i gave her wink and said, yep, why don’t we go down to their room and have a little talk with our children.
when we got to their bedroom, i told them that we wanted to have a little talk with them, but especially with jack (and that grace could listen, because she needed to hear this, too)…they looked up at us, wondering what we were going to say and what all the “fuss was about”…
this is what happened next…
me: hey, bud, can i talk to you for a minute?
me: hey, mom told me what you said at your cousin’s house-do you remember?
me: did you say something like, ‘you wished you lived in their house because their house was so much better than ours?’
me: any particular reason why you said that?
me: jack, i just want to say that, while they do have a beautiful house, it’s good to know that we have one, too, you know. we live in a great house. one that your grandma and grandpa lived in and loved. one that is full of a lot of good memories. i don’t want to hear you say things like that about where we live again, ok? because we are thankful to have this place–and, we like where we live.
me: could you do me a favor? could you climb up on your bed?
jack: but, my bed is gone.
[the bed-frame was there and so were the wooden slats that held up the mattress]
me: i know, but hop up there anyway, ok?
[he climbs up on the bed-frame]
me: now, it’s going to feel a little weird, but i want you to lean back, lie down on the bed.
me: yeah, just lean back.
[so he leans back on the hard, wooden slats]
me: (gently) hey, jack, how does your bed feel now? does it feel good? like something you’d like to sleep on?
jack: (right away) no, it’s not good, it’s hard.
me: (after about 5 seconds or so) i know, why don’t you sit up now.
[he sits up right away]
me: jack, i know it didn’t feel good, but i want you to remember that feeling. i want you to remember that feeling because that is the feeling of not having anything, the feeling of not having all the good stuff you have–here in this house–ok? don’t forget about all the good things you have and the great house you live in, ok?
my wife: do you understand, jack?
me: ok, good, go ahead and get washed up for bed.
[while my wife gets him and his sister get ready for bed, i put his bed back together–reset the mattress, the sheets, the pillows the stuffed animals, etc. — after a while, they come back all ready for bed]
me: hey, jack, come back up here on your bed. i want to ask you one more thing, ok?
[he hops up on his bed]
me: why don’t you lay down and get under the covers, ok?
[he crawls under the covers]
me: now, how does that feel?
me: remember the feeling without this stuff? and now, it feels good, right?
me: don’t ever forget this feeling either–right now–the warmth, the comfort. it feels pretty good. that’s the feeling of having what you have.
me: good night, son.
jack: good night, daddy.
[i give grace a good night hug & kiss and turn out their lights and leave–two steps out of their room, my wife and i “high five” in the hallway and enjoy some time together (on our own) while our children fall asleep-yay!]
now, what he said wasn’t the worst thing in the world…not even close (take it from me, i’ve heard the worst things in the world:)…and along with that, they (our relatives) do have a truly amazing house, no lie–and, he could’ve been saying that for any number of reasons–maybe because they have a foosball table, new carpet and basement, or any number of other things–and we don’t–who knows?!
but, nevertheless, it was important to us, it was the principle of it all…to help him see that he has a lot to be thankful for, we all do–and sometimes we miss the very things that are right in front of us!
the things that you only see when they’re gone.
so, with that in mind…won’t you, please, have a blessed and happy thanksgiving!
a month or so ago, i got word that eric olsen was leaving his position…as the camp pastor/director at luther heights bible camp…after 30 years!!!
in honor of his work and service, i would like to re-post this dedication to him…
outside of my father, there are a handful of men that have been and continue to be (in some cases) mentors to me…i consider it an honor and a privilege to have known these men…because they are…
men who have made me a better man…
iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another…
one of “my guys” is affectionately known as “big e”…his real name is rev. eric olsen…and he runs luther heights bible camp in the sawtooth wilderness (in central idaho)…he’s been the camp pastor/director there for more than 25 years…i was fortunate enough to have worked closely with eric over the span of 6 summers…a short, but highly potent and influential time in my maturity…
the term “big e” is fitting because he isa big guy…nature made him that way…he’s the kind of guy who can crush boulders with his bare hands and pull fully grown pine trees out of the ground without breaking a sweat…
ever hear of paul bunyan? this guy trained paul bunyan, folks…
no, but seriously…
you won’t see him on the front cover of a magazine or hear about him on twitter…but he’s the kinda guy you should see and hear about there …because he’s a good man, a man who has dedicated his life to the service of others…and when you’re around him this is unmistakably clear…
you won’t know what he’s about by what he says, he speaks sparingly after all…
you’ll know it by what he does…
by his faith…he lives it out every day…
by the way he treats people…the kindness and love he shares with his family, the staff, the campers, the supporting congregations and individuals from those churches…
by the way he works…whether balancing the books, repairing a leaky roof, rebuilding a trail, building a new cabin, recruiting and guiding staff members, raising money for the camp, navigating relationships with the forest service, or digging out the composting toilet…(yes, he’s the big boss…but, he doesn’t leave the gritty, grunt work to someone else…he doesn’t shy away from the dirty jobs…he shows up–every single day)…
working alongside big e is a lesson unto itself…if you can keep up, you can learn a lot…
so, thank you, eric…for everything…you made a difference in my life…you gave me trust, responsibility, and most of all–grace (and there was more than one time when i needed that;)…for a ‘gentle giant’…you were a powerful presence in my life and in the lives of many other people…and i know i’m better for knowing you…
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long, how long, how long
How long to sing this song
how did the year go???
that is probably the question i get asked most in june…by friends and family…who want to know how the past year of teaching went–and how, exactly, it measured up to past school years…
in those moments, there are usually other people around, and it’s summer, and the sun is shining, and it’s over…so, usually i don’t mind talking about it–but at that moment, i didn’t want to talk about it at all…at least not in regards to the 2016-2017 school year, anyways…
because even though it was 80+ degrees out and i was standing next to the community pool (watching my kids play without a care in the world) on a bright and sunny summer day…when a friend asked me that question…i could feel the clouds coming, i could feel the temperature dropping…
i could see the shadow again…
here’s what happened last school year…
from november to january (within 8 weeks), at my work, shit went down: multiple types of hate-motivated harassment (primarily along racial and religious lines) between students occurred, serious online bullying and harassment took place, drug abuse was rampant, one student was raped by another student, one of our principals was charged with child porn (fired and charged), and one of our teachers was shot and killed by the police.
many of these things, and more, kicked off right after the election…
then, there was a little lull, a little bit of quiet…before the next wave hit…
in the spring, four of my own students were on short-term placements at mental health facilities…for wanting to take their own lives…young people, teenagers–for whom life had become just too much…thankfully, none of the students were ever successful in their attempts…in one case, i got word from a school social worker that my student was going to be gone for several days while at a placement after attempting suicide…when he returned, i got the chance to tell him, “i’m glad you’re back. you know, there are a lot of people around here who are, too–there are a lot of people around here who care about you. i do, too.” even though i meant it, and even though it was the right thing to say, i couldn’t help but feeling like my words were feeble and lame and weak.
it’s safe to say that, by june, i was sick and tired of seeing people being hurt. it’s also safe to say, that i’ve never seen a school year like the last one…never. and that’s saying something, given that i’ve seen some things in my time. the sheer level of emotion–especially, fear, anger, and sadness–was unimaginable…these emotions were laid bare, raw and exposed…and it took it’s toll on all of us. to say that i was in over my head this past year, would be an understatement–i don’t think i’ve had a year where i’ve felt more at a loss or powerless to do anything helpful in response to what i was seeing than i did this last year…the pain, the suffering, the brokenness–were overwhelming…never mind, trying to teach a class and go through lessons when all this shit was going down–in fact, i remember going to administration several times during this onslaught for help because i was drowning (and because, i’m not a social worker or counselor) …but, the party line was “keep doing what you’re doing”, “keep teaching” — their posture seemed ridiculous and impossible, if not laughable (were the situation not so serious)…especially since, the shock waves from the above incidents seemed to be knocking everyone down (again and again)–especially the kids…
to be fair, none of us saw this year coming…and nobody was prepared for it…
well, the school year ended and the summer began…personally, i was grateful for the reprieve and the rest…and now, it’s august and there’s a new year on the horizon…and i can say, wholeheartedly and humbly…that i am very, very thankful to the friends and family who helped me come out of the darkness of the past year…your great embrace of kindness, generosity, mercy and love have brought me back…thank you!
at the same time, i’m not foolish enough to think that just because i have found my smile again that that’s the same for others–the students, their families, and other staff members…i know well that some of these people remain in pain, i know well that some of these people haven’t been able escape the shadow…and may not be able to do so for months, years, or decades to come…
these people, these precious souls…are still on my worry list…
so, i hope and pray, that someday and some way…the storm will break, the tide will turn…and they will make it through…
i arrived at work (a couple of weeks ago) to find that a new desk chair had been delivered! you know, it’s not a raise or a bonus…but, it totally makes up for the exposed pipes and asbestos filled ceiling tiles in my classroom…rock on!