The Value of Small Gestures

 

student_pajamas_virtual learning
This is how many kids are doing online learning during Covid days.

The end of this most unusual school year is finally upon us. Today was my last day of online tutoring . For the past five weeks I worked with students who bravely engaged with me through computer screens   Navigating through all this involved both huge challenges and delights. Along with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students, I learned two basic facts this spring: 1) we can teach and learn virtually–even with young children it is possible; and 2) it’s not nearly as much fun or satisfying to do school through computer screens (although it is nice to wear pajamas to school every day).

Society en masse experiencing shelter-at-home and safer-at-home orders has forced us to reconcile the lifestyle we all took for granted with a new way of living—apart physically, yet finding the most creative and innovative ways to still be together and connect human to human. We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable on the fly, and on all levels—mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. In my case, the emotional level has felt most extreme. Days and nights have been wide emotional pendulums, from feeling steady, happy, and even joyful at moments, to later in the day dipping down into anxiety, fear, and loneliness. We’re undergoing a grand human experiment of learning resilience in the face of adversity, and of experiencing grace under unprecedented pressure.

Through online tutoring, I observed that the kids adapted to the lockdown situation with surprising agility and often much less drama than many adults in the room. The biggest hardship for children, I’d guess, is their highly restricted social time with friends and limited opportunities for physical exercise. Teaching academic subjects is challenging enough through a screen; how PE teachers manage it is nearly incomprehensible.

Saying goodbye to my students, who are all between 7 and 9 years old, was an internal process that took many days. I realized anew how hard it is to say goodbye to people I grew fond of, and all the more so because of their innocence and vulnerability. The biggest learning for me during the past six months is that a caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Small gestures matter greatly—the few minutes that you give to really listen to a child so they can express what’s in their mind and heart will give them self confidence and trust in you.

This spring has shown many of us the value of small gestures. It has shone a spotlight on people that many of us casually take for granted—now deemed essential to the running of society. I believe that teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals, and school staff members are included in the group of essential workers for society. Although some parents and family members may disagree, I would argue that a child’s school community is a critically important part of their life, and what they experience within their school will either enhance their self-worth, intellectual, emotional, and social capacities, or do the opposite. Society as a whole must continue to support their local public education system, and not let corporate money interests dictate how the system is run.

As a last gift, I shared this music video with my students today. It’s an old song, and still sounds so good. I hope it brings a smile and few dance steps to your body, mind, heart, and soul.

 

 

Looking for silver linings during the pandemic

 

cloud-silver-lining
image via https://www.flickr.com

Hello again, Dear Readers! I’ve been laying low during the past weeks of lockdown, like so many of you across the planet. One the one hand, it’s been difficult to find words to express all that I’ve been thinking and feeling during the past several weeks. On the other, I hardly know where to begin to articulate all the emotions, observations and insights that have flowed consistently through my soul.

Such paradoxical times we are living through right now! As Dickens once famously wrote, “the best of times, the worst of times” seems to sum it up in broad terms. The news cycle continues to find every detail and nuance of the pandemic to report on, to the near exclusion of everything else. Not a healthy emotional diet to subject myself to, so I’ve started limiting the amount of Covid 19 news I can stomach in a day.

Now that spring has arrived here in Colorado’s Front Range and May is nearly upon us, the energy has shifted. People are outside much more, despite the stay-at-home order still in place. The lovely park near my home was filled with folks exercising in imaginative ways as they enjoyed the balmy spring temperatures. Many of us are by now simply wishing to get on with our regular lives, go back to the routines and work/school life we all relied on, and have the nightmare of Covid 19 get behind us. Yet, we are still in the middle of the crisis that has touched everyone in one way or another.

Working as a literacy tutor this school year, I, along with tens of thousands of other educators around the US have had a steep learning curve on how to hold virtual classes with students. I am very lucky to be working at a school district that already had many resources in place for virtual learning. Through the support of my wonderful coach and the whole team at Colorado Reading Corps, some of us have been able to transition to online tutoring. It was an extraordinary and joyous moment when I first saw my students’ faces and heard their sweet voices again after a month of lockdown with no contact. One of several miracles I’ve experienced during these stressful days.

I am looking for silver linings now, no matter how small or subtle. Gifts of this time include: the quiet of my inner city neighborhood and closing of certain streets, giving pedestrians and bicyclists the luxury of space to walk and ride on normally congested roads; an appreciation of the vastly improved air quality in town and clear skies for stargazing at night; time to simply be—to meditate, pray, dream, nap, and relax; the general slowdown of human life on Earth, enabling our precious Mama Gaia to take a necessary breath and begin to heal from the constant destruction inflicted upon her by nearly 8 billion human souls.

A beautiful example of a silver lining hidden within the crisis comes from NPR this weekend. They ran a story about a migrant worker from Nepal, who with tens of thousands of others, ended up stuck at the Northern Indian border during the lockdown. Unable to return home, the migrants were sheltering at a school converted into a temporary camp. But, unlike many people who become stranded at borders, these migrant workers were lucky to have some selfless teachers there to help teach them literacy skills. One man, Pratap Singh Bora, now in his mid-50s, had never learned to write or read as a child or youth. He had never learned to write his own name. But during the past weeks at the border camp, a teacher taught him, along with other workers who were also illiterate, the Hindi alphabet and basics of reading. Now, for the first time in this man’s life, he is able to write his own name. (read the full story here)

A huge silver lining to the Covid 19 pandemic is that it is showing all of us, in high relief, the areas of our common society that are sorely in need of radical shifts. The problems, and their potential solutions, have been in plain sight for years. Yet, the pandemic and emergency measures that have been put into place have exposed vast inequalities in such an extreme way that it is impossible to continue to ignore them in the same ways as before. It has shown the public how vital having a social safety net is, just how vital essential service workers truly are, and how taken for granted they have been by the rest of us. It has shown even more starkly, how broken our government system is at the federal level. Eventually, the pandemic will lessen and life will return to its usual bustling pace. But, life will not, cannot, return to how it was before the coronavirus time. This pandemic is changing all of us in ways we can’t yet know.

Record these days in whatever ways you can, Dear Readers. These days, weeks and months of 2020 are epic and life-changing for humanity as a whole. Notice all the silver linings in your own lives and celebrate every single one. Although we cannot yet hug each other because of social distancing, we can still smile while acknowledging our common joys and sorrows.

Keeping calm in times of crisis

When crisis comes, it’s critical to remember the calm center within, and hold onto that light for yourself and others.

Happy March 2020, Dear Readers. February was filled with intensity, crisis after crisis, and where I live, winter storms that came one after another. The world is now facing a pandemic via the outbreak of the Covid 19 strain of Coronavirus, which at the moment has entered about 60 countries, affected nearly a hundred thousand people, and killed several thousand. I’m not gonna lie, this is seriously scary news to deal with on all levels. Headlines over the weekend stated that people in the United States were buying up face masks in an effort to protect themselves, and the head of the Center for Disease Control has urged everyone to stop buying them, as fears increase that public health workers may not end up having the protective equipment they need in order to do their work.

In a moment of collective anxiety over the transmission of a potentially deadly virus such as this, it is easy to forget that humans live amongst all kinds of germs, viruses and bacteria 24/7. True, the vast majority of them don’t have the potential to kill us as we walk around in our daily lives. The past week brought the whole subject of germs and hygiene into sharp focus for me, so I thought I’d share a personal story with you.

As it happened, my eldest daughter who is in her mid-20s, became very ill with nausea, vomiting and severe intestinal pain early last week. After having a miserable night of suffering, her boyfriend brought her to the emergency room of our city’s central hospital the following morning. She spent most of the day in the ER, as the doctors took samples of blood and urine, and did a CT scan to figure out what was going on with her. They also gave her strong pain medicine, put her on IV drips for dehydration and antibiotics, and took turns coming into the room to let us know what they had found out throughout the afternoon. Turns out she had an unusual presentation of an appendicitis, along with extreme inflammation of her upper GI tract, which was obstructing the normal flow of her colon, causing severe abdominal pain. That evening she was admitted to the observation floor of the hospital, and moved to a room where nurses watched over her, administered medicine by IV and injections, and did what they could to make her comfortable for the following three nights and days. A surgical team of doctors checked in with us each morning, giving updates on her condition as we waited to see how she responded to the very strong antibiotics she was being given. Because of all the inflammation surrounding the appendix, the lead surgeon felt it would not be wise to perform an appendectomy right away. It became a waiting game as they sought to determine whether they should operate and remove her appendix. So my daughter spent the week in the hospital bed, suffering through many hours of pain, diarrhea, nausea, and just generally feeling pretty awful. She was not allowed to eat or drink any fluids for the first 24 hours, and then only allowed food, after two days of fasting, for a few hours before they restricted any more, thinking they would do exploratory surgery the next day.  Many more hours of no food nor drink followed; however, the doctors eventually decided not to do the surgery after taking a second CT scan two days after the first one.

My daughter is very fortunate in that she has a loving, caring family and friend group who were with her, often in shifts, throughout her hospital stay. I came each morning and stayed with her through the day. Her dad and sister came in the afternoons and stayed into the night. Her boyfriend came in the evening and stayed, sleeping in the lounger chair next to her bed at night. Friends came, bringing flowers, cards, various kinds of food and drinks in hopes she could eat and drink, told stories and made her smile. Slowly, her pain lessened, the inflammation was reduced, and by the end of the week she had improved to the point that the doctor put her on oral antibiotics and finally released her from the hospital.

This week was one of the most stressful I’ve experienced in many years. It was so unnerving to not know what was happening inside my daughter’s body and whether or not the doctors would perform the surgery, since it seemed they kept changing their minds. There were frustrating communication gaps between the lead doctor, her team, the nurses and the night resident who would come and give conflicting information to us. For the first part of her stay, every time a nurse or nurse assistant would come in the room, they put on disposable suits and wore masks over their faces. Only after a couple of days did we find out that was a precaution because they didn’t yet know if she had a contagious infection. Once the lab results came back negative on that, they stopped wearing those suits and masks each time they came in. Then there was the worry hanging over the atmosphere of “germs being everywhere,” while I became obsessed with handwashing and sanitizing everything I touched, like door handles, toilet flusher, faucet handles, and every surface became suspect of possibly holding harmful bacteria. I got so deep into the anxiety of germaphobia that I’d come home from the hospital at night and take off everything I wore, took super-hot showers, and started worrying about possible germs lurking in my own apartment. This past week was an In-My-Face example of examining how my thoughts contributed my state of consciousness and emotional state of being. The more I focused on the frightening germs that seemed to be everywhere within the hospital, the harder it became to remain calm and strong for my daughter’s healing process. I had distinct moments when I held my hands over her torso and tried with all my might to energetically suck the sickness from her and give it over to the healing angels whom I knew were also there with us in the hospital room. I believe it helped her somewhat to be in a state of prayer and meditation around her healing, along with all those antibiotics they kept pumping into her body. I know healing works on all levels—physical, mental, emotional and etheric. But for me personally, the most difficult part was fighting the irrational fear that kept cropping up of catching the bad germs that were all around us.

This personal story brings me back to the original point of this blog post—the Covid 19 epidemic that is sweeping through the world, and especially the collective fear that its presence is bringing so palpably into focus. For so many centuries of our collective memory, we have fought epidemics of one horrible disease after another. The fear of death and suffering through contagious diseases is still alive within our DNA, so how can we best fight those fears and evolve beyond them? Because that is exactly what we must do now. Dear Readers, I don’t have a solid answer to these concerns, other than to keep realizing that we are powerful beings of light having a human experience in these most extraordinary times. We must trust that kind, helpful, smart humans are all around us, helping those of us who become ill. The angelic realm is always here, ready to help us as soon as we remember to ask for support. The vast majority of the time, we do have the strength and courage to look our fears in the eye, and realize that fear is the old acronym—false evidence appearing real. We are powerful, and the more light we can gather, ground and radiate out to the world, the more inoculated we become against the world’s ills and disease. So, as the past week showed me so clearly, the most important thing we can each do is to keep calm and do what we can to be the steady presence for others, no matter what arises.