Thoughts on Vegas

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Last Sunday night I went to bed thinking about all the random things that had happened over the weekend, mostly consisting of “ughhh why did I eat that” and “I’ll just grade that really fast at school”.  Monday morning, at 5am, I was sleepily glancing through my daily Skimm e-mail, and stopped cold when I saw the headline “Shooter at Vegas Music Festival”.  Every time there is a tragedy that happens, I always feel shock and empathy, but this time was different–this time, my best friends were at the festival.

After some frantic phone calls and panicked-but-trying-to-sound-calm voicemails, I saw that my friend had posted on Facebook that they were ok.  Relief immediately flooded my body, and I got ready for work in a haze of thankfulness.

The reality of things truly didn’t hit me, however, until I got to work and I started watching footage of the horror.  The staccato bursts of the gunfire sounded like a video game or an action movie, and the panicked people mere actors on a set.

But it was real life.  Live, horrific, indescribable.  I started bawling as the reality of the situation hit me.  I tried to imagine what my friends must have felt like, the amount of adrenaline pumping through their bodies, the terror coursing through every minor vein.

Yet as much as I want to enter in to their pain, I can’t.  I wasn’t there.  I have no idea what it TRULY felt like.  All I know is that I need to be there for them in whatever capacity I can be.

Which is all we can ever do in a situation like this.  Be there.  And by ‘be there’ I mean actually BE THERE.  Be available to meet up at 9pm if they need to get out of the house.  Be there to hear their stories, 20 times if need be.  Be there to sit in silence when the stories are too painful to utter out loud.  Be there when they attempt to be strong and be there when that attempt crumbles.

Humans are the largest paradox on earth because there is nothing so incredibly strong yet so softly fragile as the human spirit.  If there is any glimpse of light in this situation, its that it caused so many people to hold their loved ones a little tighter, hug a little longer, and love a little deeper than before.

It sucks that sometimes it takes a situation like this to make us realize how fragile life is and what the important things are; we have little reminders surrounding us constantly, and the reality of our impending death is always acknowledged when the topic is brought up.  However, being slammed in the face is a lot different than a gentle nudge, and that harshness, however unpleasant, can grudgingly be appreciated for the fruit that it bears.

The thing about tragedy is that it cannot be truly understood unless it directly effects you.  I have experienced way more empathy and love for the victims of Las Vegas than I have for any other horrible event, simply because I had a direct connection.  I can never enter into that experience fully, but I have definitely been opened up more than ever before.

The biggest thing that has come out of this experience for me is the importance of loving fiercely.  We cannot burn with the brightness of a 1000 suns every second, but we are infinitely capable of bursts of ardent flame, way more than what is self-allotted.

Love, no matter what kind, deserves to be fueled boldly and purposefully.  Make it a habit to show your love.  So many times we assume that those in our life know that we love them.  However, knowing and feeling are two very different things, and the latter is what everyone deserves to experience.

Simply saying “I love you” is powerful.  Hugging someone even when you just saw them yesterday, or when you know you’ll be hanging out tomorrow.  Squeezing a hand.  Keeping plans.  Sitting in silence in each other’s company.  Being honest.  Doing stuff you don’t care for because it makes them so happy.  Going the extra mile.  Loving so loudly and proudly it’s embarrassing.

People are imperfect and flawed.  But more than that, people are worth it.  No matter what kind of relationship you have, whether it’s a sibling, parent, friend, partner, that spark of love is precious and worth all the time in the world.

When it comes down to it, relationships are what we are left with when all of the bullshit of life goes away.  Relationships, not money or fame or luck, are what get us through life unscathed.  Relationships are the only currency of any true, consistent value.

Tragedy on both a major and minor scale helps us to refocus on the things that matter.  How lucky are we that we possess things so valuable that their loss would devastate our existence?  How thankful can we be that we actually have something to lose?

As the shock and the pain of this calamity eventually fades, keep the reminders of fierce passion burning bright.  There is so much devotion in the world, which is a force more powerful than a bullet and a strength more enduring than the deepest pain.  Nothing can stand in the way of pure selfless emotion.

When we are filled with the deepest and truest love, we are unstoppable.

Be Careful What You Wish For

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This weekend is the very last weekend of the summer *stifles sobs*.  On Monday, I will be greeted with 150 smiling faces in rotation, all filled with as much trepidation and anticipation as mine will be.

This year, it’s going to be different for me because I chose to move schools after the whole being laid off thing got taken back just as quick as a toddler grabs back a toy he’s offered to someone else after he’s changed his mind.  I had the choice to go back to my old school, but instead of sticking somewhere where I was well-known and had built my reputation as a good teacher, I decided to branch out and move to a high school a) because I’ve always wanted to teach high school and b) I felt like I had already reached the peak (or close enough to it) at my old school and I was ready for a new challenge.

Oofda.  Did I ever get a challenge.  Firstly, I discovered that I would be teaching 7th and 8th grade (not quite the high school experience I was envisioning) along with some 9th grade classes.  That’s right.  Three preps.  Considering that last year I taught 8th across the board, that in and of itself was enough to make me think that perhaps I should opted for comfort over novelty.

Secondly, not only will I have three preps, but the middle school classes are designed to prepare the students to enter the IB Diploma Programme in 11th and 12th grade that has just started at this high school, which means that they need to have TOP-NOTCH instruction in an inquiry based setting.

Now, in my previous schools, if you were able to get the kids to behave and respect you and also learn something along the way, that was enough to get you through (not to mention middle school is less rigorous than high school).  I have my relationship building tools with my kids down pat, but I have not yet had a chance to really test my actual TEACHING capabilities with kids who are, shocker, eager to learn.

Of course, I wouldn’t be teaching if I thought that my kids didn’t learn from me.  But my focus has always been on more of the social-emotional piece for my kids, because that’s where I saw the most need.  Now, on top of preparing for three different classes each day, I need to make sure that my lessons are interesting, high-level, and relevant.

ON TOP OF the academic side, there is the reality that I have no real support system at this school.  I chose this school specifically because my old principal worked there as well as several old coworkers who moved there during the last couple years, and because of the IB programme; being trained in that will be invaluable for my own skill set and my ability to move anywhere should I chose to ever leave California (doubtful, but possible).

However, all of my old coworkers have since formed new bonds or tighter bonds with their fellow middle school cohorts, and I left our first day of meetings feeling a bit adrift in the sea of it all.

Now, at this point, I could either curl up in a ball and wish my hardest to turn back time and go back to comfort and familiarity, OR I could narrow my eyes, set my shoulders, and prepare to knock this shit out of the park.

When it comes down to it, challenges are the spice of life.  Think about it.  Every single thing that is good is challenging at first.  Learning to walk?  There’s a reason diapers are so fluffy.  Marriage?  There’s a reason counselors make bank.  Parenting?  It’s a wonder that we’re still alive as a species.

Challenges make you grow.  They make you question things.  They make you stretch yourself in ways that you never thought possible and then stretch a little more.  You may chose your challenges or have your challenges thrust upon you, but the outcome is still the same: you get better.

An unchallenged life is truly an unlived life.  Think back on all the times you have grown and changed as a person.  Usually, it was the direct result of a challenge to your security, belief system, or familiarity with something, and when you look back you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The thing is, you WILL get what you ask for if the Universe knows you are ready (and sometimes even if it knows you’re not).  Most of the time we have no idea what we’re really asking for until it comes to us and then we realize that we have called something into reality that we aren’t quite sure we actually want, but by that time it’s too late.

Most of the time, however, these unexpected manifestations help us hone what we really want, and build up strength to get through the tough times of life.  I wanted nothing more than to get married young, and boy, did I get what I wished for even though it was quite possibly the worst decision of my entire life.

Yet, I’m thankful for this challenge that I overcame, because there have been so many times I’m able to share my experience with someone who is going through almost the exact same thing, and it is so gratifying to be able to see them relax and know that I truly understand what they’re going through.

If your life is on autopilot, choose a challenge for yourself or open yourself up to the Universe providing one for you.  While the temptation to stay in the cocoon is quite strong, remember that no one looks twice at a brown lump hanging from a twig, yet a butterfly can capture the attention of even the most hardened of hearts.  You are that butterfly.  All you have to do is narrow your eyes, set your teeth, and never stop pushing until your wings are free.

And then, friends….you are free to FLY.