When it's a good day, the universe gives you a story. A story that you need to live better. "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros was that gift about fifteen years ago during some teacher training. The story was used in a procedure for teaching story elements and it was a helpful sticky note exercise that I have used many times to help students identify and discuss literature. I still remembering hoping to avoid becoming Mrs. Price, the cranky pants teacher in the story whose thoughtless comments ruined a child"s day. That wasn't, however, the theme that came to me as I approach this Mother's Day.
In the story the character is having a birthday and she says, "What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight..." She compares the years of one's life to the rings of a tree. It's a helpful image as I age and as I relate to my mother. It's easy to think of the aging people in our lives and just view them as they are now, forgetting that inside they are all of the ages they have ever been. We celebrate those years sometimes after our loved ones die, but probably not often enough while they are still with us.
My mother, 88, has to stop to catch her breath more often when we walk. She often tells me the same thing two or three times in one conversation (my kids tell me I do too) and I frequently have to finish her sentences or give her a name she is trying to retrieve. Again, I admit I sometimes have to look to my younger friends for the same support. She can still walk a 5K, read about 70 books a year, make a mean casserole, and keep an active social schedule. Sometimes, I forget and I think of her as "just" my elderly mother instead of the woman who is still 10, 18, 28, 45, and 60. It helps though that she has shared life stories and that I have my own memory bank of her earlier days. Just yesterday she shared with me about her first teaching position. "I made $1800 for the year. Can you believe that?"
The Tree of Mom. Inside the strong, slight exterior of this lovely woman are the rings of experiences touched by grace. The 18 year old who was first in her family to go to college, the teacher in a one room schoolhouse, the young bride, the tired mother of three, middle school teacher, the retreat leader, spiritual director, ordained minister, and voracious reader. The woman who could shake one mighty finger at my sassy 14-year-old self,and bring my back to my senses. (This particular memory is why I still show her the respect she deserves!) The woman who has the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard. The woman with magical dreams and strong bones. I often rest in the shade of this mighty woman and when God is with me, I don't take it for granted. I listen more, walk slower, and look for the rings of life which sustain my own.
Happy Mother's Day!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Anyway, as usual the students I saw showed fortitude and perseverance that inspired me to work through the hard questions with them. But all this thinking about measurement got me to thinking about how often I attempt to measure things that I shouldn't be measuring. Teacher life is full of opportunities to measure. Teachers measure pounds of papers, sizes of classrooms, cups of coffee needed on Monday, pencil lengths, and voice levels among their students on any given day in April. That is the nature of the job, but the thought that occurred to me this Holy Week is that I am prone to measuring and comparing the very things that should freely flow from my heart.
We aren't meant to keep track of the number of times we had to smile at a student before we got a smile back. We aren't meant to measure how many times we have done that small act of kindness or how much recognition we got for it. It's not productive to count how many affirmations we give out and how many we receive. We wonder if pound for pound, we have put more effort into a project than someone else. We hold onto some love if we feel the other hasn't made a big enough deposit into our happiness account because we imagine we might feel better somehow if we have that to hang onto. It might cross our minds that we have extended more grace than we have been shown at times and soon we are placing limits on the capacity of our hearts that can actually be overflowing,poured out, and readily refillable.
So, here is what Holy Week comes in. Working at a Catholic School I am reminded, every hour on the hour, that the biggest measure of love, of grace, is the cross. I looked at the image of Jesus today hanging on the cross and had to get real with myself. I just can't find any unit greater, heavier, or with more capacity than the mass of that wooden cross. When my father was still alive, he gave the homily at my daughter's wedding. He was talking about love and the kind of love that it takes a marriage to work. He reached into his pocket and handed a small crucifix to the young man marrying his granddaughter. "Here," he said, "this is love." A startled young man accepted the one pound cross and the charge to love without measure.
So, there it is- my strange juxtaposition on math and the occasion of Holy Week. I hope to love more, to give more, to live larger, and to stop measuring the unmeasurable.
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for his friends."