The joyful heartache of growing up

I seem to stay the same, but all around me children are moving on. The semester is ending this week, my students will wave good-bye and new groups will come in, many I’ve had before but are now older, many seniors for whom this will be the last semester of high school. Then they’ll walk away.

At home, I will have new grandbabies this year, a new in-law joining the family, and adult children on the move in all directions. I feel the need to chase them down, as I did when they were toddlers racing to the toy section of the store. But now, they run faster than I can.

My only consolation is that my adult children with families also express their happiness at their babies’ milestones, then complain that their children are growing too fast.

I think every generation for thousands has endured the same joyful heartaches.

Children grow away

 

It’s time to be brave and fight the current

“It’s time to be brave.”

My friend messaged me those words yesterday after we had been chatting about Ricky Gervais and his audacity to public tell his “Hollywood friends” what hypocrites they are. I wrote that I wished I were so brave, and she replied with only five words that have been echoing in my head:

“It’s time to be brave.”

I have another friend online who every day stands up for his beliefs in religious and moral issues, and is castigated by dozens, if not hundreds, of people. I’d cower under such scrutiny, but he wrote, “I have to say what I know is true, so that others know they’re not alone.”

“It’s time to be brave.”

In towns, in cities, in states, in countries, lines are being drawn, and we’re no longer able to straddle two worlds and pretend they’re not at odds with each other. We can either drift along helplessly with the current, letting it drag us wherever and act surprised when we find ourselves somewhere we really didn’t want to be.

Or we can fight the current, swimming with those who school like fish alongside of us, refusing to drift to an uncertain end. There’s enough of us willing to stand for our beliefs in God, in morality, in family, in our country, and in each other.

It’s time to be brave. I’ll fight the current.

rather fight the current

“Why fight it?” Mahrree asked her neighbor. “Because what if everything we believe is wrong?”

Mahrree saw her poor neighbor’s eyes glaze over. She knew better than to get into a debate with Mrs. Shin. That was something else everybody ‘knew.’ If Mahrree didn’t break people down by logic, she did so out of sheer persistence. Mrs. Hersh realized too late she’d been dragged into the discussion, and the dread in her eyes demonstrated a frantic desire to escape.

But there was also something else there: a sudden loyalty to her society that demanded no one step out of bounds. “Then we’re wrong together,” Mrs. Hersh decided. “Being united is important,” she said as if realizing she actually believed that. “What everyone thinks together is correct,” she reasoned out loud, “and so if you follow the crowd, you’ll never be wrong.”

Mahrree’s shoulders fell. How can you open someone’s eyes who holds them firmly shut, yet claims she sees just fine?

“It’s like the river,” Mrs. Hersh went on, emboldened by Mahrree’s discouraged silence. “Everything flows downstream. Simply . . . go with that flow. It’s just easier that way.”

Mahrree saw her way back in. “Fish don’t flow downstream.”

“Yes they do.”

“No, they don’t.”

Mrs. Hersh put her hands on her hips. “Why wouldn’t they?”

“Because then there’d be no more fish up here in Edge!” Mahrree pointed out. “I’ve seen them when I’ve taken my students to see the river, and when I’ve dragged my fishing husband home again. Many fish swim in the same spot, fighting the current. A few species even swim upstream, against everything pushing them to the southern ocean.”

Mrs. Hersh pondered for a moment. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t they just go with the flow of the river?”

“Because,” Mahrree tried not to sigh at her neighbor’s inanity, “maybe they don’t like where the river is going. Salty water at the end of it likely kills them.”

Mrs. Hersh squinted. “How would they know about the salty water? Besides, so what? At least they had an easy time getting to it. They’re going die eventually, so might as well go easily instead of fighting the current.”

And right then Mahrree realized, to her horror, that the Administrators had won.

People didn’t need to think for themselves, they only needed to think what everyone else thought. They didn’t need to worry about the color of the sky, because everyone agreed it was only blue. They didn’t need to worry if they were drifting to an irreversible tragedy, as long as they were doing it together, united.

Because as long as everyone else was doing it, you should too. Hold hands and jump off the crevice together, never questioning why.

“I’d rather fight the current,” Mahrree said quietly.

Mrs. Hersh shrugged her shoulders. “You’re a lovely neighbor, Mrs. Shin, always willing to lend an egg, but I truly don’t understand you.”

The debate was over.

~Book 2, Soldier at the Door, available here.

Try to smile, even if it looks scary

After spending a wonderful but fast week with my children and grandchildren in Washington DC, and getting home late last night after driving through snow and ice, and taking down all of Christmas this morning, and trying to wrap my head around the idea of returning to school tomorrow (who thought a two-day week after Christmas would be a good idea?!), and realizing that I’m very far behind in grading, but still trying to plaster a hopeful smile on this weary, weary face, this quote seems quite appropriate to begin the new year:

strained smile

I’ll do my best to face my students tomorrow with a “naturally pleasant face,” but it’s gonna be tough. I just checked the weather, hoping for a sudden snow day, but alas–the weather gods are against me. It’s going to be partly cloudy and 36 degrees. Curse you, decent weather!!!

IMG_6131.JPG

But being with all of them again (even though two sons, two daughter-in-laws, and a granddaughter are missing) is totally worth it. I’m a wife, mom, and grandma first, and always.

Get Book 2, Soldier at the Door, here.

“I’m not good enough.” “No, you’re not. But there’s no one else to do it.”

When the incomparable composer John Williams was shown a cut of “Schindler’s List,” and Steven Spielberg asked to him to compose the score, Williams was so moved that he humbly said, “You need a better composer.” To which Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.” Spielberg himself had put off directing the movie for ten years, and tried to get other directors to take it on, partly because he felt inadequate to do the story justice.

I shared this with my students today. We’ve been reading a holocaust memoir, All But My Life, and I told them about rescuers: ordinary people like Oskar Schindler who felt they had to step up and do something more for the Jews. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at short videos about Sir Nicholas Winton, Irena Sendler, and Gail Halvorsen–the candy bomber during the Berlin Airlift. Ok, so he’s slightly after the holocaust and was helping the Germans, but he’s still a great example of someone saying, “Isn’t there something more I can do?”

As I’ve read interviews with these and other rescuers, I’ve picked up on a common concern they each expressed: “But who am I? I’m nothing special. I’m not good enough.” Spielberg and Williams felt the same way, and I certainly do, on a daily basis, I’m sorry to report.

There’s a constant battle in my head. Maybe you’ve got the same in yours: “I’m not smart or good enough to [insert daunting project]. Surely there’s someone better to do this?”

Then there’s another voice that says, often quite unhelpfully, “No, you’re not good enough. But there’s no one else to do it.”

As I explained to my students that we rarely feel up to the tasks before us, I realized that I was giving myself a pep talk.  Daily I realize that I’m not a good enough mother and wife, or a good enough teacher, or a good enough friend, or a good enough Christian, or a good enough writer.

But apparently it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how to help, or fix, or resolve every problem placed before us–still we have to try. We can’t just walk away, we can’t just ignore, and we can’t hope that someone else will step in and take over, because usually no one else will.

Realizing this, we take a deep breath and keep going, flailing as we do and coming up short far too often, but knowing that someone has to do something. And it has to be us.

if I don't do this who will