As the bus made its way to this “where-in-the-world-are-we-going” corner spot of Washington State called Sumas, the organizers of the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Institute 2015 sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities assured us that Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center was worth the effort. “The food is great!” “The grounds are beautiful”. Under my breath I muttered, “Well, I will just wait and see about that!” For one thing this was Father’s Day weekend, and I was going to be away from my family. For another thing, I was already thinking of the almost twelve hour wait at the airport that I would have to endure on my flight back to Philly the following week. However, the next words from the lead organizer mouth made me turn away from the window and pay attention: “Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center is one of those thin places on earth”.
Hmmmh? I had not heard this expression before. Thin places? So to Google I went. I learned that the Celtics say that heaven and earth are only three feet apart. However, in some places the distance is even smaller. A thin place is a place where that distance is breached and we are able to get an unfiltered glimpse of God’s glory. Metaphoric or literal, what an intriguing concept!
So here I am the morning after the dreaded flight back to Philly without more than a few hours sleep, and I must admit that I have been in one of those “thin places”– Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center. And perhaps, my greatest takeaway is that while I would highly recommend a trip like mine, the trip though helpful is not a prerequisite. If you are interested in finding and inhabiting thin places yourself for respite and spiritual nurturing, read on. I suggest three such destinations in our lives.
Thin Places in Nature: Seek out and connect with the natural world as often and as frequently as you can. There is a voice that speaks to us so loudly in nature–in the songs of birds, the wind in the trees, raindrops falling on the rooftop, crickets chirping in the bushes, and even bullfrogs croaking beside a pond well into the night (inside joke). Ah, I must admit, that though I am a crafter of words, I am at a loss to adequately describe it. But I can tell you this from experience. If we train ourselves to listen well to the language of the natural world, we would hear love letters to God from his creation and love letters from Him read to us in the rising of the sun, the rebirth of spring flowers, and the ebb and flow of waves along the seashore.
Thin Places in Relationships: Find the thin places in your relationships. When this diverse group of christian educators and administrators gathered together to talk about leadership development, many things happened. We prayed together, sang together, listened to stories and words of advice from senior leaders, climbed a mountain (Yes, a mountain!), and sat together family style and ate many delicious meals. And let me say here and now, the organizers were SO right. The food was Yum-OH!! But more than the food was the spirit of community these encounters engendered among us as we passed the biscuits, commented on the bounty of fresh produce, and scraped the last bit of french toast from the bowl. Between mouthfuls and expressions of: “This is SO good!” we shared stories about our own lives, our aspirations and desires for advancing towards our God given purpose. Many bonds were formed, and on the final day as we gathered for our last worship encounter together we sang: “I need you, you need me. We’re all a part of God’s body….You are important to me. I need you to survive.” There was hardly a dry eye in the room as we caught a fresh glimpse of God’s glory and infinite purpose expressed in each others face.
Thin Places in Spiritual Development: Make time for spiritual development. Our spiritual selves are often the introverted sides of our personality–so quiet and unobtrusive that it is easy to ignore how critical it is to our survival. However you conceive God to be, make time to connect with Him. I firmly believe that our spiritual selves are nourished when we “get connected”, and I am NOT talking about Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram etc. etc! Get connected/reconnected by nurturing three important relationships in your life: your relationship with yourself, others, and your God.
At Cedar Springs, sans TV and heeding the wise counsel from the retreat organizers, we disconnected from the Internet during our sessions, instead we made time for early morning walks around the grounds or to the prayer garden, and mid afternoon hikes though the woods and to the top of Haystack mountain. I started each day in pray asking God: “What would you have me do today?” When we nurture our spiritual selves, we are opening up a soul-window to heaven that provides us with an unfiltered view of God and a thin space for Him to connect to us.
You don’t have to travel to Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, Washington to inhabit a thin place. (Though, I’ve got to tell you, it is so worth the trip!). The good news is that we can find and inhabit thin places if we act intentionally in the following ways:
Cultivate authentic relationships with those around us and God’s glory will be revealed in those relational spaces.
Make time to nurture our spiritual lives by choosing to get unplugged for a day or more and spend time with self, loved ones, and our God.
If you can do this, you’ll find thin places are well within your reach. Moreover, you will be thanking me for this timely travel tip to this worthwhile destination where the views are spectacular! I guarantee it!
There is too much work that needs to be done in the garden, but it will have to wait for another day. First of all, it is raining. Second, one of my other passions, writing, is demanding its fair share of time. I must give in–deadlines are looming.However, as I did a quick walk around the garden this morning, I saw so much that inspired me.
The sugar snap peas have outgrown the first rungs of string on the trellis, and they are pleading with me to add a few more rungs.
And can you believe how these sunflowers have grown! They are almost as tall as I am!
These pole beans amazed me (Actually, they creeped me out a bit). I saw that they were badly in need of a trellis. So on Sunday morning I put down some stakes to begin the process. By the evening (I kid you not), they had wrapped their vines around the stakes. I know!! Like REALLY!
I took a risk and started planting earlier this year. Did lose a few plants due to a late April frost, lots of rain, slugs and caterpillars. But I simply replanted and kept on going. Now, I think it is paying off “Big time!”. I had almost given up on this tomato plant, after it took a bruising form a late cold spell. “But lookee, lookee here! It is thriving, and I see tomato flowers already.
In fact, I have too many tomato plants that sprung up in my garden from last year. I gave several away, and I have planted as many as I can in whatever spot I can find. I even put one in a pot outside my garden fence. Hopefully, Mr Groundhog will get his fill here and leave what is inside the fence ALONE!!. But alas, I had to pull some out to make way for my other veggies. After all, a girl cannot live by tomatoes alone.
Apart from tomatoes growing like weed in my garden, I found another surprise. I tried to pull a weed (Well, I thought it was a weed) from the tomato bed, but it would not budge. Finally, I pulled and pulled, and pulled up a potato! Yes, a potato!! Seems like when I emptied the pot of soil from my potatoes last year, some spuds decided to stick around and give it another go. Hey, I’m not complaining. So I dug the rest up and placed them in their new home in this pot.
Finally if you need a bit of inspiration for your day. Take a look at these beans, they have been eaten and eaten by slugs and caterpillars. However, I covered the remaining leaves up and replanted a few more seeds. Now here they are still fighting the good fight for survival. You’ve just got to be inspired by that!!
Much more I could say and show, but my writing awaits.
Stories are powerful things! Stories were an important part of my first curriculum. And, “No!” I am not speaking of the Dr. Seuss or Dick and Jane kind of storybook curriculum. I am speaking of something even better. Let me explain.
My sister and I spent most of our early childhood in the quiet village of Matura in Trinidad on my grandparents cocoa estate. This was where my father would leave us for a day or days while he went off to work. “Ma” was a disciplinarian who took her job of caring for two motherless girls dutifully. And yet, as she busied herself with making cassava bread and grating the cocoa balls to make chocolate tea, or as she fed us lunch, or made poultices to treat the ever present boils that erupted on our skin from rough and tumble exploring in the estate, she still managed to remain distant from us. Oh, but at nights! At nights, her stoic love underwent a remarkable transformation!
When the moon cast its soft light on the Spanish styled verandah, and stars winked at us from above, we sat on long wooden benches as Ma told us Anansi stories and Trinidad folktales. These were fanciful tales where animals talked, Cricket and Spider were friends, Anansi tricked the other animals with his craftiness, and an ugly chick named Gyo Phelon went off in search of his fortune. How we enjoyed those tales! There was no need for television. Actually, even if she had one, it would not work; Ma had no electricity. But, as cicadas trumpeted their shrill cries through the air, and owls hooted, we were transported to the world of the imagination where folktale characters roamed the night to work mischief. Then we would huddle against Ma’s form as she hugged us close—our bodies silhouetted against the dim glow of gas lamps in the windows.
These stories were comforting! They were therapeutic! This was the occasion in our day in which her love for us was personified and our hungry hearts were fed. And more than entertainment, and more than vain imaginings, they were preparing us for life outside of the sleepy village of Matura. We learned that good manners are still valuable, friendships are to be cultivated, and fortune waits for those courageous enough to venture out.
My early experiences sitting on that bench next to Ma as part of our nightly ritual have forever cemented in my mind the power of story. Perhaps, it was destiny that I would feel this yearning to write, to share creative stories and eventually weave my scholarship with narrative inquiry in the co-authored book Collaborative Autoethnography. And yet, I am convinced that the capacity to craft stories is an innate human gift. Each of us has been blessed with the gift of story and the power it possesses.
The Power of the Personal: First, we must recognize our life for the valuable drama that it is and the power we possess to craft the story line. In the book, The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck begins with the memorable line:”Life is difficult.” However, I prefer to say that “Life is challenging.” And we can view those challenges as difficulties OR opportunities to grow–as gifts to write life stories. We can create a surprise ending as Maya Angelou did. Born in St. Louis in 1928, she was raped at the age of 8 by her mother’s boyfriend and became mute for several years in the wake of this tragedy. Yet, she crafted these elements of her life into an inspiring story of strength and courage, and she will be forever remembered as one of the foremost icons of African American poetry, prose and thought. The truth is that our life story becomes richer not so much by what happens to us, but by how we choose to respond to these happenings. A truth that my sister-in-love writes of in her book Built to Last.
The Power of the Authentic: Secondly, to arrest the power of story, we must learn to tell our stories honestly and authentically. Beware of the unstory! The unstory is a sanitized and palatable version of our life that allows us to fit in with the dominant narrative of those around us—and yet is a mere facade of who we are and where we have been. It is analogous to the selfie that has been taken and retaken and photo-shopped ad infinitum. Oh, I can recognize the “unstory”! You see, in a younger life, I had learned to tell it well. Now, to be fair, an authentic story needs the right audience.. So perhaps, it is good to have two stories. The unstory is for those interested in the mass-market paperback version that often sells so well—but is weak in substance. The real power of story is best harnessed in the honest, open, telling and retelling of our life experiences to the receptive listener. Then we can let go of the pretense, and we can share with a fellow traveler the similarities in our human experiences– how we failed, how we triumphed, how we tried again, how we got over, and what we learned.
The Power of the Legacy: Stories have no life outside of their telling. My grandmother did not speak much to us in our day to day existence as was the way in Trinidad culture. Yet, we came to know and experience a depth of love in the stories she told. And now that she is gone, her stories live on in me and in my children. These stories are now part of our family legacy and are more valuable to me than words can express. If she had not told them, my childhood would not have been as rich. If she had not told them, this blog would probably not have been birthed. If she had not told them, the love for storytelling and reading would perhaps not have been nurtured in my own daughters. Stories are given life as we tell them, and then they are free to take on a life of their own.
The Power of the Transformation: Our stories have the power to transform. In valuing my experiences as gifts, they have become agents of transformation in my own life . But what is even more remarkable than this is that my life story is not meant just for me. Our stories also have the capacity to transform others, to connect them to a past way of life that they will never experience, and to teach them valuable lessons for the future. So I tell my daughters, Alyssa and Amya about walking two miles to school every day, about buying two coconut biscuits from the parlor for a cent. I teach them the games that my father taught me, “Pincher, pincher, fly away”, and I tell them of the time when all I had was one pair of shoes for church. These stories I hope, socialize them into a simpler way of life and cultivate in them an appreciation for their heritage.
And so, on some nights, I still choose to pull my daughters close to me, and we sit in their rooms with the lights off. Then in my best imitation of Ma’s voice, I begin to weave a Trinidad folktale: “A long time ago, before my time, before your time, when animals talked and lived like people, there lived a….. “ And I watch their eyes open wide as they wait expectantly for my next words…. And in those moments I am able to connect them to their great grandmother, and their grandfather, to the place of my birth and a time all of which are foreign to them. And in those moments, I am amazed and in awe of the power of story to connect the past and the present and to offer an open link to the future.
There is power in story!
Well, it’s been a minute, but with the semester almost behind me, it’s time to talk all things garden. Every year, I seem to be expanding the variety of vegetables I am planting. I even brought some sprouts which I am hoping to grow in canning jars–(We’ll see if that comes to pass).
However, my garden or should I say gardens are coming along nicely. At the back of the house most of the plants are already in the 6 prepared beds. I planted cucumbers and tomatoes too early and they succumbed to an unexpected April frost. I have since replanted those. I also have plants growing in containers and at other places throughout our yard. Take a look at what’s growing:
Spring is here and it’s ON! Gardening that is! It’s SO on!!
Now in case you stumbled on this blog in search of expert advice on gardening. Ahem!! Sorry to disappoint you. Expert, I am not! What I am is an aspiring green thumber who enjoys the experience of gardening, and loves to eat healthy, home grown produce. So if you feel the awakenings of a desire in you to tread the path of sun, weeds, and bugs in the quest to grow your own vegetables or flowers, and if you feel like you don’t have a clue about what to do, but you are willing to try anyway. “Eureka!” This is the blog to read.
Even though it is still a bit chilly in some parts at least in my neck of the woods, it is the perfect time to begin planning, dreaming and PLANTING your garden. Yes! I said planting! And it all begins with the all important seed.
Call me picky, but I am becoming a seed snob. This will be my fourth year gardening in these parts, and one of the things I have learned is that not all seeds are created equal. There is so much tom foolery going on with seed production in the name of capitalism, that it is worth it to pay more, do a bit of research and get the best quality seeds as nature intended them to be. In fact, I told my husband recently that I believe that seeds will be an important part of the currency of the future. REAL seeds I mean!
So where to begin?
The Seed’s the Thing: I have decided to purchase my seeds from companies that sign the “Safe Seed” pledge and offer non-GMO or heirloom seeds. In fact, my goal as I progress in gardening is to start a “Seed Bank” collecting and keeping seeds from one year to the next. I also have a growing collection of seeds from friends who garden to add to my bank—Yes! My bank account of seeds is growing.
Have a Plan
Do an inventory of how much space you have to plant. If you don’t have a lot of yard space, do not discount the value of container gardening. Hey, make it work! Decide on what you would like to plant, get your seeds, seed starter trays, seed starter and you are on your way. Be sure to read package directions to determine which seeds to start indoors and which to wait for outdoor sowing when the temperature evens out. Or you can skip the whole seed starting thing and buy mature seedlings from a reputable garden center.
Go Organic or Go Home!
One of my main motivations for growing vegetables is to eat fresh produce that does not contain any of that yucky stuff, they put on it in the supermarket. In fact, the first time my husband and I tasted a cucumber that had made its way from garden to plate in the span of about 10 minutes, our taste buds were in SHOCK!! So this is what a cucumber was supposed to taste like! Delicious! Organic is a tough road to plow, but so worth the effort.
Plant What You Like
If you are just beginning, plant in abundance the things that you really like to eat or grow. No point doing all that work to let produce fall off the vine and die. Our garden is going to be chock full of beans, kale, collards, tomatoes, cucumbers, salad mixes etc, because we can never get enough of that stuff. I also love sunflowers, and peonies so they are in abundance in our garden and yard.
If you like tomatoes don’t just go for the tried and true roma or cherry tomato, try some heirloom tomatoes; try some purple potatoes, rainbow carrots; plant some sunflowers and nasturtium among the beds to attract bees and make the garden POP with bursts of color. Have fun with it.
And on that note, I am off to do some gardening of my own. Do share some of your own garden tales of joys or woes in the comment box.
Happy gardening all!
A few years ago, while visiting friends in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, I attended a Toastmasters meeting. I had heard about Toastmaster, but that was about it. However, my girlfriend was scheduled to give a speech, and she invited me along. The lead toastmaster began the session with the following quotation by John Quincy Adams for us to consider:“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader”. After the meeting, my girlfriend and I were still thinking and talking about Adams’ words.
I must say, I rather like his definition of leadership. You see, it is too easy for us to think of only those who occupy rarefied, administrative or managerial positions as leaders–those whose job descriptions include formal leadership responsibilities and/or occupy the coveted corner office spot. I myself have been guilty of this misconception. In fact, a few years aback while conducting a collaborative research project with colleagues who both have formal leadership titles, I struggled to include myself in that category. Who me? A leader? No way!
Now, I think: “Yes, way!” (As my 7 year-old daughter would say).
Whether we choose to accept it or not, as we go about the business of our daily lives we have the capacity to influence others both in positive and negative ways. It doesn’t take much. For instance, as I spent the week in Tortola visiting with my dear friend, I was once again humbled by her vivacity and positive outlook even as she deals with significant life challenges. I thought to myself,” Wow, I can learn from this.” Even without her knowledge, she was inspiring me to “do more, and become more.”
If we take this definition to heart, I cannot help but think that it would compel us to live more intentional lives knowing that our actions carry with them the power to lead others in paths of greatness.
A few weeks after attending this event, I sent a message to a friend to let her know the great influence she had on my life. We both attended the same church when I was a child, and I observed her from a distance. She was and still is a beautiful woman who carried herself with poise. More than that, she was pleasant and engaging! I would say now, totally devoid of the kind of foolish pretentiousness that some attractive people carry. I really admired that! She was surprised when I wrote her and confessed that she had no idea I thought of her this way. And yet as a young girl growing up without my mother’s presence, it was so important for me to have a role model in her and to be able to think and dream that when I grew up, I could be someone just like her.
Thank you Toastmasters’ group of Tortola for reminding me that we each have the capacity to be leaders within our spheres of influence!
I challenge you today, to LEAD ON in your own neck of the woods.
* A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my sister site http://www.facebook.com/nexeconsulting
I am finally doing it! I am slowly jogging my way into the elite club of people who call themselves runners. For years, I convinced myself that I could not run. Touted every reason why it was not possible for me – too many years playing netball and basketball on hard concrete surfaces in Trinidad, shin splints, twisted ankles, and knee pain etc. etc…. Then in June of 2013, I went on a walk/run with a colleague and began my litany of excuses for not running. “You are a runner!” she said. For some reason, the words clicked. I began thinking to myself, “Maybe, she IS right!” I came back from that encounter convinced to turn my walking routine into a running routine. And on the morning of August 8, 2013, for the first time—I ran, and ran, and ran for four miles with only two short walking breaks. (Small disclaimer here, I must admit that it was more of a turtely kind of run). But who cares! Wahoo!
Since then I have not stopped running–no short breaks needed!!
Now, I keep thinking about those four words that Beth uttered to me and the magic they contained. Her timing could not have been better. We were attending the Women in Leadership Affinity Group Inaugural Conference in Pacific Grove, California. In several of the sessions, one common theme emerged from research of women who had risen to leadership positions in their various contexts. Though they had not aspired to leadership positions themselves, someone had spoken those words of affirmation to them: “You are a Leader!” That was the final ingredient added to the potion that unlocked their leadership potential.
In the book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz captures well the efficacy of words in the first agreement: “Be impeccable with your word.” Though some of the mysticism expressed in this book escapes me, I recognize a good idea when I see one. Ruiz (1997) writes that words are magical; they can cast good spells and bad spells. I have been the victim of the “black magic” cast by words. I was about sixteen at the time when after failing to sing a note pitched by the pianist, he declared that I was “tone deaf”. Ouch! Since then several others have suggested that I have a beautiful voice that should be cultivated, yet it is difficult to escape the enchantment of those early words.
On the other hand, I have also been the recipient of “good spells” cast by words. My elementary school teacher convinced me that I was a great writer; my British Virgin Islands mentor told me that one day I would be able to write the letters Ph.D. after my name; and the words of my friend Beth continue to inspire me to keep on running. I am so grateful for those magical words!
Each of us has the capacity to not only benefit from well-spoken words but to practice some “good magic”. After writing this post, I called a friend who is not only gifted chemist but a brilliant poet, and I tried my hand at a word spell: “You are a brilliant poet! Your work needs to be published. Submit to a journal this week!” I said. D, I know you are reading this so, “Get to it!”
To all others (myself included), let’s practice some good magic today. Let’s use our words.
PS: Please share your experience of giving or receiving magical words.
I began listening to the audio version of The Hundred-Foot Journey and was drawn in by Neil Shah’s expressive reading and his fluency with French and Indian words. I ended up getting the book, but found that I preferred listening to Shah’s interpretation of it—which was a much needed pinch of flavor to sustain my interest to the end.
From the first line I felt drawn into the imagery, smell, scents, and foods in the book. Morais has an adept way with words, which mirrors authentically the image we are left with of the main character Hassan Haji—an unpretentious, likely character who tries to do the right thing in an effort to find his place in the world.. What is even more impressive is Morais’ connection with Indian and Parisian culture and his inside knowledge about foods and the workings of the food industry. And though this book is about Hassan’s journey to making a name for himself from the humble beginnings of his ancestral launch in the food industry, it is as much about his journey as it is about the food and what it takes to become a three star Michelin chef. Ironically, this double focus is one of the strengths of the novel, but it is also one of its flaws. In his attempt to do equal justice to the compelling story of Hassan’s rise to top chef status and to school readers in Indian and French cuisine, the two story lines compete for each other and often left me wanting less of the latter and more of the former.
Morais’ way with words and his ability to create characters who are flawed but brilliantly human and likeable like Hassan’s Father and Madame Mallory—draws the reader into the story and makes us feel deeply about these characters and champion for them in their various battles. The depth of character depiction is without doubt another great strength of the book—for I find myself still thinking of them long after I have read the last words. However, the depth of character and the great emotions that Morais is able to rouse for earlier characters in the book is not well sustained in later sections. Newly introduced characters remain mere silhouettes and again I found myself longing to know more what had happened to Hassan’s relatives and friends that he had left behind in his rise to fame. Finally, in the last few pages of the novel, as if sensing the need to tie it all together, Morais does a quick rounding up of the troops, in a rude announcement of people the reader has forgotten or barely been introduced to in the earlier sections of the book.
Overall, The Hundred-Foot journey is a delicious meal which could have been significantly improved with the omission of several courses. The first courses were phenomenal with great depth and flavor and promises of even better things to come. However, midway through the meal our appetites are sate and the fare becomes mediocre leaving us anxious for the dessert course, which though good does not quite live up to expectations. With all of that said, feasting on the first courses of this delicious book is just too good an opportunity to pass up.
I ended last semester with this question on my mind: “Higher education for what?” As I watched my students prepare to walk across the university stage to receive that long awaited diploma, the question provoked its way into my thoughts. Now, here again at the start of a new semester, it is demanding to be answered. Yet when I think about it a bit, it occurs to me that I have been pondering this question for more years than I can remember. You see, it all started with my dad.
It was clear to me as a child that Daddy believed there were two worthy pursuits in life—pursuing education and cultivating a relationship with God. Though he had not finished high school, education beckoned him as a commodity of great value, if not for himself for his daughters. And even now I have a fixed image of him driving his green crown Toyota taxi, with a silver angel on the bonnet, back and forth from Sangre Grande to Matura, or up and down Ojoe Road, accepting crumpled dollar bills and loose change, gathering them all up into precious investment bundles which would one day yield the academic fruits of this aspiring blogger.
It saddens me that he died before we could celebrate in our characteristic way. Perhaps, both of us sitting in the gallery, he on his makeshift stool, and I on the banister, looking out at the road and cars going by, and intermittently calling out greetings to neighbors on the street, as he asked me questions about my professors, and courses and what it was like to live abroad. And I would paint pictures for him about American life and foods, and smog and snow and places he had never been. Ah, to think of it now, still makes my eyes water.
I am convinced that this investment in my education was for him one of his great life accomplishments. For when I do make it back home for visits, family friends and people I don’t even know come up to me and say how he would corner them in some quiet spot at the market or grocery store and tell them in that easy on the ear Trini twang: “Cathian at U—nee-ver–sity now, yuh know! Doin’ ah Doc-tah-rate in som’ ting or de other!” And he would be smiling broadly.
I was compelled to call forth this memory from the treasured spot where I keep all such recollections of Daddy after an encounter last semester. One of my graduate students sought me out after class to tell me of his plans to pursue a terminal degree. He spoke with a passion that was contagious! I was excited for him, especially since I meet so few African American men in the academy. So I asked, “What do you intend to do with it?” He shrugged his shoulder and said with great certainty, “I just want a Ph.D! Do you need to have a reason to want a BMW? No! Well, I want a Ph.D. It will be my Bulls**t card! So I can finally say what I want to say and be heard!”
Since then I have reflected on that response. Though at the time I was tempted to dismiss it as superficial, the more I have thought about it, the more I understand that young man’s desire. The reality is that for a man or woman with a black or brown paint job in US society, credentials are needed to earn you a place at the table and EVEN then, you might have to claw and fight to be accepted as having a credible voice. But that’s another story, and deserving of a separate discussion.
In response to the question at hand: “Higher education for what?”, I recognize that the young man’s aspiration and my father’s hope for his daughters are connected by a common thread. The pursuit of education offers the possibility of an elevated status in life especially for those who have in some way been marginalized; education presents tangible rewards. After all, I am not ashamed to admit that during my last years at Temple University, the thing that most moved me forward to completing that terminal degree was the image of me wearing that beautiful cherry colored robe and the big poufy hat. Yes, the hat! Me! This sun-ripened, pan-hoop playing, marble-pitching, water-toting, guava-tree-climbing girl! Me! That girl! The taxi driver’s daughter from Quash Trace in Sandi Grande, ah U—nee-ver—sity graduate! ME!!
Oh yes, the tangibles!! They do matter!
But after that what? What about the intangibles? What is the real value and purpose of education in our increasingly technological but still troubled age? Now, I will admit that this question is a deeply philosophical one, and worthy of a more erudite discussion. Yet, in this blog space which is intentionally informal and personal, I wish to share some of the hopes in my heart for my students and the younger version of myself –hopes for the intangible rewards of education.
I hope that my students have been rewarded with an appreciation for deep versus superficial learning. I hope they recognize that having a 4.0 on a transcript means diddly squat, if they have not learned the content in a way that improves their knowledge, skills and attitudes to enable them to offer their best service to world. Sadly, over the years, I have met too many students who did not get that. They were too intent on doing what was needed to pass the test, to make the grade–but the learning had not changed them personally and professionally—had not touched them deeply. That pseudo learning is anathema to education.
I hope that my students have learned that the ultimate benefits from education are derived from ongoing learning. This is not a one shot deal. In fact, the more I learn the more I realize how little I know. After all, a Master’s degree or a Doctoral degree only means that you have begun to study a topic, within a topic, that is as slippery as a fish and metamorphoses as it is shaped by societal and other forces. How humbling! Much of what we know today is quickly becoming irrelevant or obsolete. But what will remain with us is the skill to continue learning so that we can address problems that are yet to be defined.
I hope that my students will be rewarded with a critical mind–to question old ways and patterns of doing things and in doing so have the courage to fight against injustice. Perhaps, James Baldwin has said it best: “The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. …To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions…, to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk” (A Talk to Teachers, 1963).
The world is in need of men and women who have been educated to this end—to tackle some of the hard questions and problems of our time: how to deal with systemic discrimination, homelessness, poverty, broken judicial systems, corrupt political systems, untenable economic systems, inequitable educational opportunities to the most vulnerable populations, global warming, incurable diseases, moral decay…. How will your education help you to take your place in the world? What will you do? What will I do to help?
So to my students in pursuit of that Bullsh**t card, and to the younger version of myself who longed to wear that beautiful robe and the poufy hat, I say this: “What you probably don’t know is that the robe is heavy–for it is lined with the weight of great responsibilities– responsibilities to our God, to ourselves, to those who have invested in us, and to the waiting world.”
My response to all, and certainly to my dad is this: “I promise to wear that robe well!”
Initially when I thought of the title for this post, there was no question mark at the end. And in spite of my growing ambivalence about making a declarative statement, I had decided to keep the title: “Forty-six and Feeling Fabulous! Why? Because I liked the way it fell off my tongue, the cadence of it, and the verve and vivacity it suggested. “Hey, I am 46 and feeling fabulous!” Wahoo!
The fact is though, that at the moment of writing this, I do not feel anything like fabulous. Truth be told, this post is one year late. I had intended to write it for my forty-fifth birthday, but I wasn’t feeling very celebratory this time last year. Mom (my mother-in-law) had just passed away and we were dealing with so much. Well, guess what? It is one year later and I am still dealing with so much — new joys but also new challenges. So I got to thinking, that perhaps this is a more authentic title — mirrors more realistically the ups and downs of life. In fact, as I get ready to celebrate my 46th birthday on Thanksgiving Day, I think it is a question I would like to pose to you the reader whatever age you are. Fill in the blank: “_______ and feeling fabulous?” Well, are you?
My answer is: “At 46 I am choosing to be fabulous!” To be clear that is not a boast, and it’s not a feeling. It’s a choice. If like me, you have been blessed with a few decades behind you, chances are you have made a few mistakes (In my case a lot!). You’ve had lots of laughter and good times, shed some tears, achieved some major milestones, and watched some dreams die. You’ve witnessed a few marriages, graduations, and births; but you’ve probably also lived through a few deaths, broken relationships, and tragedies. Some of these experiences have nurtured you, inspired you and been like a good shot of adrenaline in your arm. Other experiences have perhaps left you wondering if you could make it through another minute, another day.
As I reflect on my life experience, I am choosing to be happy, to be amazing, to be FABULOUS– recognizing that both tragedies and triumphs are shaping me into the person I am—stronger, wiser, and I hope a more compassionate individual. So, how do I feel about aging? I’m not even going to pretend on that one. I DO NOT rejoice at each new grey hair, or wrinkle, ache and pain, or extra pound that refuses to go away; in fact, they are all tangible reminders that this party WILL end. BUT, I am choosing to accept them graciously—recognizing that length of life is indeed a precious gift. More to the point, I am learning to be appreciative of who I am becoming through this life journey and the lessons I am learning along the way. And though I feel like I could write a book about these (actually, there’s a thought), if you have a couple of minutes, I’d like to share four of these lessons with you.
Become an Author. I am learning to be an author of my own life story. If you don’t like something about your life, change the script. So the circumstances of your birth weren’t ideal. I hear you. But don’t choose to be stuck in “woe-is-me land”. Let me tell you, the first time I met my mother, I was probably seven. She came to visit us one day, years after she had dropped us off at my grandmother’s house. Long story short—it was a quick visit; she did not stay. Talk about a rotten script! I did not like it, and though I struggled with the thought that perhaps it would define me, I chose to write the storyline that I had imagined. Now, here I am married with two kids and I have to say a GREAT mom! And though residuals sometimes overwhelm me, and I think “What if..,” or “Perhaps, I may still get this thing all wrong…” Guess what? I keep my pen in hand, and I just keep right on working at that new script that I am writing.
Dress the Spirit: I am not beyond moments of sheer exhilaration at finding that perfect pair of shoes. But the older I get, the more I realize the value of dressing the spirit. You will outgrow shoes and clothes, and throw out pocket books, but your spirit is with you for the long haul. No escaping it. Might as well make it beautiful, FABULOUS even! So I am choosing to invest the time in giving my spirit—the person I am on the inside- a workout, a makeover if you will. Because I’ve got to tell you– this “life stuff” can really do a number on you. Injustices can harden you. Make you bitter, even resentful until you may not even recognize the person you are becoming. Choose to dress the spirit! Work on those old insecurities, attitudes and habits that are keeping you back from being your best self. Just learn to wear the bad stuff like a loose garment, and let it drop.
And on that note—can we all just lose the pretension and impression management for a minute! In the age of selfies, just keep it real that your life is not always great or that your photos are not all AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL and youthful looking. In sum, be authentic–show people what you really look like inside and out! In choosing to dress the spirit and present an unpretentious picture of ourselves to others, we offer them an unfiltered view of their own imperfect humanity. And that my friend is what makes us truly beautiful.
Get Connected: Make time to nurture three important relationships in your life: your relationship with yourself, others, and your God. And I have to say, “Don’t believe all the hype. Social media is not all that!” Now I will admit that technology does offer some pretty cool stuff to keep us connected. Like I am blogging right now, and I will share this post on my Facebook page, so far be it for me to bite the hand that feeds me. However, value the importance of connecting with others the old-fashioned way. Interrupt your schedule and your digital calendar if you will to talk to someone face-to-face, look into their eyes, hug them close, cry on their shoulder, send or receive a handwritten card or share a simple meal. Choose to get unplugged for a day or more and spend time with yourself and your God. When we get connected in this way, we nurture our spirit; we feed that part of ourselves that has the potential to energize us, spark our creativity and help us live more fully.
Be Gentle with Yourself: I used to be my own worst critic. My husband, Mark has been an equalizing force in my life to help me focus not so much on the things I did wrong or what remains undone on my “to do list”, but to also celebrate the accomplishments, even small ones; to help me recognize that my worst mistakes do not define me, but can be assets in pushing me on to greatness if I value them correctly. In choosing to be gentle with myself, I am choosing to be my number one cheerleader. It is also teaching me to be gentle with others. To acknowledge the frailty of our humanity– that we are all flawed individuals—capable of great and noble things but we do have cracks and rough spots. In sum, we are both broken AND beautiful and most deserving of the instruction: “Fragile, handle with care.”
Before you leave this blog with the mistaken impression that I “have it all together!” Nothing is farther from the truth. These life lessons are ongoing, and they are aspirational. In fact, when I shared a draft of the last lesson on this list with Mark, he just looked at me with an expression on his face that said without words: “Are you kidding me?” Then he asked bluntly: “Are you gentle with yourself?” To which I responded, “Hey, I’m still learning! Okay!”
So here’s to 46 years of life! I am looking forward to more lessons in days and years to come. Happy birthday to me! And here’s to you, whatever age you are: Choose to be FABULOUS!