Things I learn…

There are so many reasons I love working with college students. They have an energy and enthusiasm for life that is contagious. They have a wonderful perspective on the world that is both insightful and refreshing. They are at an age where they are poised on the edge of independence, but they still look to adults for guidance. And they are not afraid to settle in and get comfortable.

Yesterday, as I walked through one of the main student areas in our building, I noticed the shoes of one of my student workers tossed haphazardly on the floor under the chair on which she was perched. No doubt as she settled in for her tutoring shift, she kicked them off in an effort to make herself at home. And in truth, this—the college—is her home. And the fact that she had kicked off her shoes peeked my curiosity about this student, and I wanted to sit down with her, have a conversation, and learn about her life.

As I passed by these shoes on the floor, it didn’t even occur to me to suggest that she put them on to maintain a more “professional” appearance. In fact, I wanted to applaud her for her level of comfort, for being herself, and for taking this step to ground herself in the present and connect more closely with place. I found myself wanting to remove my own shoes and join her at the table. But I didn’t… because I had work to do.

I love working with college students because they have so many lessons to teach me. Pull up a chair, take off your shoes, and stay awhile. I’d love to tell you about all I’ve learned from the students I work with.

Periphery

I was driving home from a dance class this evening. It was rainy and dark and more than a little bit foggy. I was listening to a story on NPR about baking and bread and devising new recipes. The story had my attention because I hadn’t had enough dinner before I ran out the door, and I was hungry.

In the distance, a barely visible shadow streaked across the road in front of me, jolting my attention from the radio and from the task of driving. I strained my vision through the fog to discern what it was I was seeing. Was it a cat? It seemed a tad too large. Was it a fisher? It didn’t move in that awkward, uneven manner of a fisher. Or was it someone’s escaped dog? The figure was gray—barely a shade lighter than the gray of the foggy night—and I wondered if, in fact, I had really seen an animal dart across the road despite the clear sparkle of its eye.

But then my mind wandered to all of the things that are constantly playing at the edges of my consciousness. Just like the animal that had crossed my path, these things could slip by unnoticed unless they are given attention. A butterfly flits through the meadow on a summer breeze. A deer stands in the brush, munching on leaves and grass. A streetlight blinks and turns off.

But there are other things that hang out in the periphery, as well…. Ideas that aren’t yet fully formed, that are just beginning to take shape. Words that might have been spoken before the opportunity slipped away. Prayers that need to be said rather than kept inside.

Life has very few distinct edges. It blurs and frays and blends. The physical blends into the cognitive which blends into the spiritual in ways that are reminiscent of this evening’s fog. Our lives blend into the lives of others. If we relocate our attention, we might just shift our focus, our decisions, and quite possibly our reality. Imagine the possibilities.

{Photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash}

Journeys

It’s been a tough week of walking the line. Some days, it seems gremlins have attached themselves to my brain, and they are sneaking around the edges, working their way into my thoughts when I least expect it. There has been much going on around me—accidents, illness, suffering, loss—all way too close. So many of these situations demonstrate how quickly our paths can veer off course and life can change. But these are also the things that tend to bring my blessings into focus. Being an eternal optimist, I always look for the blessings.

This year, our Thanksgiving table was filled with many family members. But throughout the day, I couldn’t help thinking about the one who was absent… Dad. There was much laughter around me, and I spent the day tip-toeing the precarious line between laughter and tears. Wanting to flee to a quiet spot to cry, but being drawn by the warmth of the laughter. I chose to show up and be present.

Life is a one-way trip, and we’re all going the same way. The clock always moves in one direction. We continue to move forward because… well, it’s the only worthwhile choice. There is no going back for a do-over. If you make a mistake, learn from it and keep moving. If there are gremlins in your brain, holding you back, figure out a way to get rid of them or sneak by them. Just. Keep. Moving.

Life is a journey. Pack what you think you might need, show up (with as much confidence as you can muster), and be present. If you need directions, I can help. Forward. Go forward.

And along the way, be the eternal optimist. Always look for the blessings.

Blink

Over the years, we have hit milestones with the regularity of the thump of a flat tire. Thump… thump… thump…. At first, it’s kind of reassuring to know that your child is hitting all the important milestones. But recently, it seems the car is speeding up and the milestones thump by faster and faster—at an alarming rate of speed, really. And this week, my daughter completed—and submitted—her first college application. Breathe.

These monumental occasions always give me pause and compel me to take a quick (or leisurely) inventory of the years that have come and gone. This most recent milestone hints at the small amount of time I have before she is off and testing her wings.

The early years of single parenthood are still vividly etched in my memory. I spent the days looking in the rearview mirror, counting heads in the backseat of the car. As the one parent of three very small children—all under five—I was always afraid that in my sleep-deprived state, I would leave one behind. Maybe one slipped by me somehow, and was still hiding in a store in the mall. Perhaps someone went to use the potty and was in the bathroom finishing up, or worse, didn’t get in the car and was standing in the driveway in a puddle of tears wondering why I left without him/her. In those early years, that fear never fully dissipated.

I blinked and we were in a new house in a new neighborhood with new friends and a new school. Little hands reached for mine with regularity. A hand to hold; a hand to help; a hand to lead the way. Those were days of constant attention and discovery and learning. There were toys and games and books and building and dancing and crafts. LOTS of crafts.

And then I blinked.

And the day came when they were all in school, mornings first and then full days. The school bus rumbled up the hill in the morning and swallowed them up. I would watch as the bus drove off up the road and out of sight before I ran home to switch to “adult” mode and be on my way to work. In the early days, I was home from work for 3:15, always needing to beat the bus to meet the kids so they were supervised and transported to the activity of the day. Always rushing so I wouldn’t be late.

Until I blinked.

The kids were able to ride the bus to their activities. My work hours increased, and an after school sitter took on some of my role. Extra keys were made and cell phones purchased and the kids further shaped their identities as they took their first tentative steps toward independence.

I blinked again, and now they are nearly through high school. They will be out on their own soon, with jobs and lives that take them all in different directions. That doesn’t mean my job is done. A mother’s work is never done, is it?

Just don’t blink.

Compassion

It’s a complicated world we live in, and it’s important that we stop dancing around some of the bigger issues that threaten our safety and our society.

Today, I received a lengthy and detailed email from some overarching authority at one of the institutions for which I work. This email discussed how to recognize and assist individuals in Distress, with a capital D. “Distress” was then broken down further into several categories: general distress, victims of sexual misconduct, those at risk of suicide or self-harm, and those who may be dangerous.

This last one—oh yikes! But true, even though it seems to hit a bit too close to home as we begin to dissect yet another mass shooting. I listen to the news as the sheriff says, “No one expects this…” even though we are all coming to expect this. I hear an official on ABCNews instruct, “We all should think about what we would do in this situation…” and I know that any plan I could make would be lost in the terror of the situation.

But for those of us who daily deal with vulnerable individuals on a personal level, it is important that we are familiar with the warning signs of Distress. It is important to know what hurt looks like; how pain manifests; and when anger crosses into danger. So I read through the email, and I will read it again to commit the details to memory.

To all of my family, friends, students, neighbors, acquaintances, past and present; to all the people I know only in passing… if you are in Distress, I am here, and I am listening. If you need to talk, I will hear you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, mine are strong and broad. If you need a hug, my arms are open. If you need to sit in the corner and cry without judgment, I will sit with you. If you need encouragement, I will cheer you on. If you need prayers, I will offer them up.

I know I am not alone in the offer of help. The world is full of caring, kind, compassionate individuals who will listen and be present. They are willing to lend a hand, give a hug, connect over coffee, offer words of encouragement, or say just the right thing to make you smile. If you need something, we are here. Please… speak up and let someone know. If we all work together, perhaps we can make this world a little friendlier, a bit softer, and just a touch less complicated.

Positivity Post: Small Acts of Courage

While at the grocery store Sunday, I had the unromantic job of selecting broccoli crowns out of the large display bin. You know the drill—check to make sure it’s firm or it’s been sitting out too long…. As I picked through the options, there was a young produce worker next to me, loading up the bin of Brussels sprouts. And while he was working, he started to sing. Quietly at first, but then—when customers seemed to be enjoying his serenade—with more energy.

His voice was clear and even, and several customers complimented him. I had a sense that this was a bit of a risk for this kid, but he took it to see what would happen. Because after all, what was the worst that could happen? No doubt, it took courage for him to start singing [a Disney song] in a public place, but something tells me this young man might be brave enough to sing in public more often.

Sometimes, it pays to take those small risks. Clearly, we can all learn a lesson from this young man. If we can gather the courage to put ourselves out there (in whatever way  matters to us), you never know what might happen. At the very least, people might smile and approve of your first step out of your comfort zone.

Positivity Post: Helping out…

It was nearing lunchtime on a recent rainy day when one of my students appeared at my office door with a mystery that needed solving. She was breathless and dripping from her trek across campus. “Did I leave my jacket here last night?” she asked.

My memory completed a quick inventory of what I’d seen in the classroom that morning when I was cleaning up from last night’s late meeting. “I don’t think so, but we can check.” I stood and walked to the classroom door and flicked on the lights. A visual sweep revealed no jacket. “What does it look like?”

“It looks like this one,” she flipped up her hands, which were in her jacket pockets. “But it’s navy blue. I had it when I was tutoring, and I thought I brought it down here with me.” She sighed. “My ID is in the pocket.”

If you’ve been on a college campus lately—or had any contact with college students—you know that students need their IDs for pretty much everything—to get food in the dining hall, to unlock their dorms, to do their laundry…. This was serious.

“Do you remember when you last had it?” I questioned, taking on the diligent mom role, a role that seems to blend and bend into many aspects of my life.

“I wore it over when I was tutoring last night. That’s why I thought I might have left it in the meeting.”

Together, we went upstairs toward the tutoring room, but as I walked past the reception desk, I had a thought. “Hold on,” I said, stopping to check the drawer in the desk. The previous receptionist would sometimes put found items there for safe-keeping. The drawer was locked. “Not there, but let’s try the closet.” I opened the closed where we keep the mail, copy paper, and the receptacle for documents that need shredding. Two jackets hung from the rack, one of which was a navy blue windbreaker. “Is this it?” I asked, and her face brightened.

“That’s it!” she smiled.

I felt the pockets. “And your ID is in the pocket!” I handed her the jacket, and she left for lunch.

Now, I’m not saying it was my job to help this student find her jacket. In fact, it would have been very easy to send her off to find it herself. But it took less than five minutes out of my day, and because I know the building better than she does (and the places her “found” jacket was likely to end up), it made sense for me to help her. And the mom in me wanted to make sure she’d be able to get lunch….

A little kindness goes a long way, it seems. Not only did I help her find her jacket and ID, I scored some wins of my own. I gathered a few extra steps on my Fitbit, I had the satisfaction of making my student smile, and I was the recipient of her gratitude.

The next time I’m gong to send someone off to find something on their own, I might think twice. A little extra kindness goes a long way.