To all my high school teachers 30 years ago–I’m so very, very sorry

While I was getting fingerprinted yesterday, I realized I had a lot of apologies to make.

No, I hadn’t committed any crime, except for becoming a substitute teacher for a local high school.

Which means I remembered my high school years and the way I behaved.

No, I wasn’t smoking in the east parking lot, being a vandal, or getting into an other 1980s-teen-movie troubles.

My greatest problem: I was obnoxious, with a capital O-B.

I was sweet and charming (or so I thought) and I would never, EVER shut up.

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Gee, which one might I be?

So to all my high school teachers who I interrupted with some clever quip which derailed their excellent explanations or lectures, I am very, very sorry.

I wasn’t clever–I was annoying.

We all know it, don’t bother trying to save my feelings at this point. I’m a grownup now.

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Yeah, that girl–the “charming” one.

I did get to apologize directly to my AP Biology teacher about a year and a half ago. I found him online and thanked Doyle Norton for his wonderful lessons (I still remember the ATP Choo-Choo train). Then I wrote, “I also want to thank you for your incredible patience, especially with students like me who never shut up, trying so hard to be funny when you were trying so hard to teach us about the circulatory system.”

Generously, he responded with, “Oh, I don’t remember you being obnoxious.” I’m sure he didn’t remember me at all out of thousands of students, but I’m sure he remembered the mouthy ones, putting them all in a category which, at the end of the day, made him rub his face in exasperation.

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Dear Doyle Norton even took a busload of his biology students to southern California each Easter. Patience of a saint. Or the madness of a scientist–I’m still not sure which.

I rub MY face in exasperation just remembering what I was like 30 years ago.

So to all my teachers at Viewmont High School–I am so, so sorry. I don’t remember any of you losing patience, becoming angry, or doing anything more than smile with GREAT forbearance at me, and now that I’m your age (and older, I’m sure), I’m even more impressed with the examples you set.

I also need to apologize to my friends, particularly Heather McClure, wherever you are: you not only sat next to me in AP Biology but also AP English, the two classes where my mouth was the mouthiest. I kept up a quiet running dialogue during both classes all year long, and you so very generously, very kindly, would only smile and keep your eyes on our teachers instead of turning around and screeching at me, “SHUT UP ALREADY!”

I would have deserved it if you had.
Did you pass the AP tests?
I’ve worried about that, for 30 years now.
More apologies if you didn’t. It was completely my fault.

I’m remembering all of this as I mentally try to anticipate what substitute teaching will be like, and I’m reminded that we never fully escape our past but usually end up paying for it in some way.

I think I’m about to pay for it this fall, and now I’m praying earnestly for the same great forbearance my teachers showed to me. Because the one thing–the main thing–I remember about my teachers was their enormous kindness.

Even when there were kids mouthier than me (shock!) I remember my teachers’ patience and  . . . I guess it was love. Their concern for us was greater than their need to protect their egos. They put us first instead of themselves or their lessons.

I realize teenagers and times have changed dramatically over the past 30 years, but what hasn’t changed is that children of all ages need to feel loved, need to be treated with kindness, need to have great forbearance shown to them.

I’m praying daily now to develop those essential skills myself, and hope I’ll never have to apologize to my future students for never being kind enough. (But I probably will–I’m sorry. Again. Already.)

    Go bold, Mahrree wrote on the scrap paper late that night.
    She frowned at it.
    It should have been Go boldly, right? She got it wrong all those years ago. But that indicated going somewhere, and what she’d meant was, Be bold.
    But then it would have been, Be bold, or don’t be at all, which was far more fatalistic than she intended.
    She scowled at the paper. Things are so much simpler when one approaches them with the over-confident superiority of a teenage mind.
    Now, as an adult, she finally realized just how simplistic and incorrect her old motto had been.

~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World

Don’t care what the world thinks: 7 steps in the pursuit of peace!

In a quest for a more peaceful existence (I really wish I could live in the world of Books 5 and 6 of my series), I’ve been eliminating that which causes undue stress. No, I’m not abandoning my house or nine children, but I’ve been thinking about my dad, how he was the most calm, pleasant, peaceful man I knew.

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My dad, Rudy Strebel, in 2007, holding a granddaughter.

Not that his life was easy—he suffered as a child in WWII Germany, then had a wife he dearly loved but who had frequent and violent bouts with PTSD from her traumatic life as a refugee. In their 50+ years of marriage, I never knew him to lose his temper with her but did his best to soothe her paranoia and terror, every time. And I can count on three fingers the amount of time he slightly raised his voice at me.

He chose to be peaceful, and he was also very careful as to what he let into his life. He didn’t read, watch, or listen to anything that could harm his spirit or drag him down.

He wasn’t ignorant of the world, but he purposely distanced himself  from it to remain unspotted as it splashed in filthy waters.

Lately I’ve been trying to pursue peace as he did, and have implemented ways to limit what weighs down my mind and soul. I’ve incorporated a number of minimalist ideas, and I’m finding greater calm in my life by doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribe! To those emails that entice you to see what’s on sale, what the latest thing is, what you “really don’t want to miss!”

Miss it anyway. Don’t be lured in, don’t be tricked into buying something simply because it’s a great deal, and don’t waste time reading what can’t elevate you. It’s all distracting, even just deleting it, having to swat it away like a pesky mosquito. Get rid of them altogether. I’ve been opening, scrolling down, and unsubscribing from dozens of emails–even from places where I still buy something once or twice a year–and my feeds are cleaner, sleeker, and calmer. All that remains now is that which is really important for me to consider.

2. Unfollow! Here’s an awesome feature on Facebook: stay friends, but stop seeing every little thing they do.

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I’ve realized that I care only about my family (we have a secret group just for us), and some neighbors and friends who consistently demonstrate insight and humor–qualities I value.

The other hundreds of “friends”? I’ve unfollowed them. I can always check on them every few months if I feel the need (if I remember who they are).

In the meantime, I’ve cut out a mind-cluttering stream of whining, bragging, complaining, and comparing. It’s been like leaving junior high all over again–sweet relief!

Now I have a feed of primarily funny, inspiring, and heartfelt posts.

Twitter, Instagram, all those others? I don’t even go there, but you can also pare those down significantly to refine your life.

3. Tune out! I quit listening to the radio years ago and felt my blood pressure in the car normalize instantly. We never watch TV news, I skim the newspaper for only important news, and I’ve quit following nearly every online news outlet.

The result? The world keeps on churning but I don’t have to swim in that muck. I know what’s going on, but I observe only from a distance. Getting angry over the world doesn’t fix it. Stepping away from it, however, allows me to continue raising my family with peace of mind.

4. Ignore trends! Years ago, I quit following trends in home décor, clothing, and etc. by eliminating magazines and TV shows that told me what I had was out of date. How much more I love my house and wardrobe now that I’m not worried what the world thinks of it! And I’ve saved a lot of money, too.

And no one, ever, has said anything about me not being trendy enough. It’s like no one really cares.

5. Don’t participate! Like my dad, I’ve chosen to not listen to music that degrades or is “hard.” I listen to soundtracks and trailer albums instead. I read only books that satisfy and uplift; one summer, I sent back nearly a dozen library books after their first chapters because they were smutty, suggestive, or crude. I don’t watch rated-R movies or anything excessively violent, vulgar, or profane. All of that introduces anger and angst to my soul, qualities I’m purposely ushering out.

Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find something current to watch or read, but there are also a lot of classics out there waiting to be discovered. I’m also taking up my dad’s habit to read more biographies of truly great people, and more doctrinal works that teach me deeper about the nature of God.

6. Choose kindness! This one can be tough, especially for me because I inherited my mother’s cynical mind and tongue (when she was well, she was acerbic and hilarious). My father, however, while full of dad-jokes (he invented them all), was also unfailingly kind, even to his end. He suffered from Alzheimer’s, but the staff at his assisted living center said that while many in his condition became angry or violent, my dad never did. It was as if his mind had been choosing for so long to be kind that it simply didn’t understand rudeness.

Kindness softens the soul, and when I’m kind to people, especially strangers, sweet peace comes. As an introvert, I don’t like talking to people and tend to be abrupt with strangers, especially when I’m checking out with my groceries. I need this t-shirt:

Introverts t-shirt

But I’m trying harder to smile genuinely, thank sincerely, and respond to their questions with more than two-word answers.

I’m also trying to consider everyone with a kinder heart, and a more generous attitude. Even just thinking kindly brings peace.

7. Be quiet! No, not “kindly shut up,” but I mean, take time to be quiet and disconnect. Yesterday it was 85 degrees, so I took my 5-year-old son to a splash pad. I watched him for 45 minutes racing the sprays and screaming when the water went up his nose. He dried off for ten minutes and we watched a front-loader moving dirt the whole time, seeing how much dirt he dropped as he drove.

It was “quiet” in that I wasn’t listening to music, or playing on my phone, nor was I even reading. I was simply enjoying the water splashing, the boy yelling (happily), and the truck moving dirt. Purely peaceful, purely disconnected from the bigger world. I could focus on the most important part of the world, right in front of me. 

I am finding greater quiet and calm in my life in a world that’s increasingly not, and I’m always looking for new strategies. What works for you? How do you eliminate the world and its nonsense, and find peace and serenity instead?

“We don’t care about what the world thinks of us, Young Pere. You know that. We left it behind and have never regretted it.”

Peto realized there were many pure men and women, but they couldn’t exist in the polluted world.

~ Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon      

The Internet Civility Award (TICA): Who will you award it to?

The other day something astonishing happened on my Facebook page.
Friend #1 posted his feelings about government spending, and Friend #2 chimed in with an opposing viewpoint.
Friend #1 presented more evidence.
Friend #2 countered and began to escalate.
This is the astonishing part: Friend #1 explained his beliefs, then APOLOGIZED if he stepped on Friend #2’s toes.
Even weirder, Friend #2 responded by saying no apology was necessary and that SHE was sorry for getting emotional.

AND THAT WAS IT. CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!
They remained friends, and everyone went merrily on.

I, however, messaged both of them and told them I believed they each earned The Internet Civility Award (TICA). Since there wasn’t one yet, I couldn’t give it. But here it is now. (Yes, I just made this up.)

TICA The Internet Civility Award

Copy and paste this on anyone’s social media page to recognize them for kindness and respect.

I’ve written about civility before, but lately I’ve been watching for it, and it’s out there. For example, the LDS Church (Mormons) recently announced plans to build a temple in Pocatello, ID, and a Muslim family who lives there posted publicly on Facebook that they were happy for their LDS friends.

Muslims and Mormons

CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!

In looking for examples of civility to share with my children, we recently became addicted to “The Great British Baking Show,” not because we’re any good at baking, but because we love watching the contestants. It’s a competition, with each week a Star Baker identified, and someone sent home.

The amazing thing is watching these contestants HELP each other, GIVE each other advice, and when one of them wins, they CHEER their fellow competitor. And when someone gets sent home, they WEEP genuine tears for their loss.

Image result for the great british baking show hugging  Image result for the great british baking show hugging

CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!

I realized the need to point out good behavior to my children during last year’s presidential election. My kids read over my shoulder when I’m on Facebook, looking for movie trailers and videos of screaming goats. My 9-year-old was stunned to see the posts of supposedly “mature” adults she knew, calling candidates names and behaving very uncivilly.

My 4th grader said, “That person’s a GROWN-UP! Why isn’t he acting like one?”

That great question led to a discussion about kindness and respect for all people, if we like them or not. Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone.

She agreed with me that we should unfollow this person, along with a few others, who didn’t demonstrate “grown-up” behavior online.

But I want to reward those who act like mature and civil adults (even if they’re still kids), so I will be awarding TICA  TICA The Internet Civility Awardto those who demonstrate excellent behavior in the face of rudeness, intolerance, and anger, and I’d love for you to join me.

When you see someone approach a conflict with grace and dignity, with kindness and respect, paste this image to them and let the world know that here’s a person who still knows how to behave.

TICA The Internet Civility Award

Maybe if we point out civil behavior more often, more of it might occur.

“That’s the way to respond! With respect like that, you’re already two weeks ahead of everyone else.”

~Book 6, The Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

You don’t have to agree with me for us to be friends

I was 19 and terrified to realize that my supervisor for the summer was an openly gay man. It was the late 1980s, and I was from a sheltered community where “such people” were rare. Realizing that me, Molly Mormon, would have to interact with Flamboyant Paul made me think I’d made a mistake in taking that mall job on the east coast.

My suspicions were confirmed when I met my coworkers who immediately jumped in with predictable knocks on my religion when they heard I was from Utah. The fact that I didn’t join in on their drinking party as we unloaded the new freight didn’t help much. I was an easy target. My work environment was initially very uncomfortable, but since it was for only three months, I decided to grit my teeth and bear it.

I frequently noticed Paul watching me, and only much later did I realize that he must have understood what it felt like to be the object of scorn. One afternoon, when the store was quiet and I was dutifully putting away stock while Paul sat at the register with paperwork, he suddenly blurted, “Dogs!”

I looked up, surprised.

“Do you like dogs?” Paul asked.

Confused by the random question, I said, “I grew up with a small, white mutt named Fluffy.”

“Tell me about it.”

“We had him since I was a toddler. When I moved away to college, he’d grown very old and smelly and was going blind. He wandered off shortly after I left. My mom was devastated and my parents searched everywhere, but no one ever saw him again. As if when I left, he knew he should die.”

When I saw how aghast Paul was, I wondered why I’d chosen to relate such a depressing story.

But then Paul burst out with, “That is the SADDEST dog story I’ve ever heard! But I LOVE IT! I love sad dog stories! Ok, I’ve got one—listen to this!” And he went on to relate an even sadder dog story. I have no idea what it was anymore, but I found myself smiling and sniffling at the same time.

I realized Paul had been looking for something to talk about with the quiet, awkward Mormon girl who worked in his store, and finally we connected on dogs.

He told me all about the Great Dane puppy he and his boyfriend were raising, and we spent the whole afternoon talking dogs.

The next day I hesitantly mentioned, “Right now, I have a fish tank.”

Paul clapped his hands and said, “And WE want to get a fish tank! Tell me all about yours!”

For the rest of the summer we chatted every day, and when I left, I hugged Paul with genuine tears in my eyes while Paul sobbed, because we had become friends.

Paul demonstrated that I can still be friends with someone even if I don’t agree with their beliefs or behavior. Our relationship was based on what we had in common, and after three months, that was quite a lot.

About ten years later I was teaching a college writing class where the main project was a 15-page persuasive research paper. I had a very cocky and confident student who I’ll call Doug. I brought articles to class to analyze different points of view, and Doug made it point to quiz me on what leanings I had toward the issues, then launched in to argue against me. While I found him rather boorish, he certainly did liven up the class.

Soon he was meeting with me after class to dig deeper into a certain issue which I suspected was for his paper. He even took notes about my position. Sure enough, when he turned in the project, the little stinker had taken a position the polar opposite of mine. In fact, he argued against me, point-by-point.

When I handed back the papers a few weeks later, cocky Doug appeared worried, for once. He hastily thumbed to the last page, looked at his grade, and gasped.

His peers, who had been reading through his drafts—and warning him, too, about not directly writing against me—leaned over to see his grade. They, too, gasped, and one of them said, because Doug was speechless, “You gave him a 98%? But he argued against you!” (He had a few grammar issues, after all, to warrant losing a few points.)

“I know,” I said, “and marvelously, too. He almost persuaded me to his line of thinking.”

When Doug finally looked up at me, he was grinning. “I thought you’d hate it!”

“I did,” I told him, grinning back. “Because you made such darned good arguments.”

When the semester ended a couple days later, he gave me a quick hug as thanks, and we parted as friends with mutual respect. We didn’t have to agree with each other to appreciate each other.

Over the years I’ve discovered different kinds of people who I appreciate. For example, I’d never become Amish, but I wholly admire the life they live and how they remain mostly untouched by the outside world. I don’t want to convert to Judaism, but I deeply respect their culture, tenacity, and temerity. While I’ll never be a Muslim, I’ve gained greater understanding for them, primarily through chatting with a sweet Muslim family at a university dinner, and discovering how much we had in common.

I have many friends who, while not of my faith, still show support for what we do. On occasion I post pictures and stories about my children who are serving as LDS missionaries, and among those who comment kindly and like the posts are Lutherans, Baptists, and even a “recuperating atheist.” None of them are likely to join my church, but they’re happy to see the experiences of my children, as I am to see the successes of theirs.

We call this kind of appreciation and behavior “civility.” 

And despite what the news and social media would have us believe, it’s still a widely-held virtue, at least among many people I am blessed to associate with.

I have acquaintances who put up with my quirks and ideas without agreeing with them. One friend, who knows I’m trying to go vegetarian, delights in telling me how much meat she consumed that week. It’s friendly teasing, and I barb her back because we know we are safe with each other; we respect each other’s differences.

If I insisted that the only friends I’d have would be those who believed as I do in every last thing, I’d have no friends. I wouldn’t even be married, because there are number of issues on which my husband and I will never agree. Still, we manage around those, as we have for twenty-eight years, roll our eyes at each on occasion, then simply move on to one of many other things wherein we do agree.

No one in my family has precisely the same views on politics, music, literature, food, or education as I do. Yet still I love and appreciate all of them.

Indeed, if we all believed the same about everything, we’d be instantly bored with each other.

We need each other’s differences to challenge us, open us, expand us, and make us take second and third looks at what we thought we knew. We really don’t want homogeneity; we really need variety!

I’ve noticed that people tend to get fixated on rightness and wrongness. It’s been my experience that for a few key issues, usually dealing with life and death and personal agency, there are clear rights and wrongs.

But for the millions of other things we can bicker about, it really doesn’t matter. (I’ve heard people argue vehemently if cookies should be crunchy or chewy, of all stupid things.)*

Many dissimilar approaches can all be “right.” For example, what the “right” dress or music or meal may be for my adult daughters will not be the “right” one for me.

And I think there are times when all of us may be “wrong,” so what does “rightness” matter except to make more enemies in an argument where no winners can exist?

Civility doesn’t worry about who’s right. Civility chooses to exist despite its surroundings.

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My gay friend Paul never approached the topic of religion, nor did I approach the nature of his sexuality, except to ask where he found such a gorgeous man who could have been cast as Superman. We avoided the topics we knew might cause a rift, because we wanted to be friends.

Friendships can form even between people who spent an entire semester debating opposites sides, because of mutual respect for the other’s opinions. It’s been nearly 20 years, but I still think fondly of Doug.

I refuse to believe these incidents, or that civility itself, are from a past era, because I still see civility occurring among thoughtful, intelligent people all around me. Civility does not ...mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good. - Mahatma Gandhi

I see acts of kindness despite idiosyncrasies, and patience with others’ peculiarities. I frequently witness joy in differences. And if you want to be my friend even though I’ve got some strange ideas, I’d love to be friends with you, as long as you promise to keep me on my toes.

Let’s make civility fashionable again.

*Chewy.

“When people govern themselves honestly, there’s little need for mediation. ”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti