Wednesday, November 1, 2017
“Slow down,” He would say. “Just slow down, Missy,” He would repeat to me, with the most gentle motion of a hand slicing air which seemed to stop the currents of time if even for a breath in ones mind.
I remember, Father. I remember.
This past weekend I heard a prayer which I had loved from the moment I first heard it not many years ago. I decided to not forget it again.
“I thank you, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
From the date of my father’s birthday through Halloween to my son’s birthday always feels like a cornerstone of time, a marker of the changing seasons. In Wisconsin it is dramatic shift of necessity. A person has to release summer. A person has to open ones coat a bit to feel the chill in the magnificent ability of the earth to decorate itself with white.
Or, you could grump about it.
Halloween was always one of his favorites, my fathers, and his students’, even his students’ children too. Giving out candy? Children in costumes? My father’s bliss.
The mum plant by his grave, once jammed with beautiful dusky rose pink blooms, now stands naked, its green and brown exposed since the pastel frivolity has been nipped by morning frosts. I missed that dash of light color as I walked toward his stone. “Seems like everything goes too quickly, huh, Pop?”
There is a funny thing about mums though. Underneath, in the green and brown nakedness, were buds. Buds. I could feel my cheeks burn with shame that I could have ever grumbled at the missing blooms. It was the most beautiful and uneventful sight. Ever. On a Sunday.
“Es! Stop! You don’t need to scream. I can hear you.” But the wind kept howling around us and she kept screaming in response, hoping to out blast its fury.
We had made our way for quite some distance, steadily and without event on the path which seemed to rise up to her feet while the beast of shadows labored with its darkness just far enough away yet near enough. Just when the path might have become monotonous, the grade started to slope upwards. Not steep enough for us to need to use our hands, but it was steep enough to feel that semi-pleasant burn of a hill climb in our thighs. It was the first time the beast did not flank us. We watched for a bit as it headed in our similar direction but it would not climb the hill. I could have wondered more about the beast but the slope of the hill and my unused muscles demanded more of my attention. Watching and wondering the beast for Es would have to wait. I was not sure I could make it up the hill.
We kept hiking. The path never got steeper and seemed to never hint at leveling off at a pinnacle. With determination Es stepped. The path had changed from the softness of green covered earthiness to the harsh crumbles of stone-pummeled stone, yet the way cleared with each step she took.
When the wind began to whistle through the rocks above our head we realized there were no more rocks above us, only along side. We had reached the pinnacle as the wind now howled, enveloping us. Es shouted about the beast.
“No,” I nodded back.
Es shouted again to me. “I have to tell them. I have to tell them what happened. I have to tell the truth.”
“Es,” I grabbed her shoulder. “Es, you do not need to. They already know.”
We looked at each other with disbelief. I, saying words which I did not necessarily believe and she, with a gaze of shock. The wind howled again, switching direction as quickly as it seemed it could. Before either of us could respond to the other’s gaze we began the descent. There below us, further out and further away from us , the beast’s darkened slithering body crept through the flower field. We watched it as we moved to a rock perched beside the path. There we sat, blanketed by stones, watching the dark shadow.
“People already know?”
“Of course, Es.”
“They already know what happened to me?”
“Maybe not specifically, but you are not the only one who has been hurt like this and anyone who has been hurt recognizes pain in another.”
“People already know I was fired?”
“No, but they do know that what happened is not what it seemed to be. People know you.”
“People will know how it happened? Will they know how cruel it all was and I never knew it was happening? Will they know that I had not had an evaluation in six, maybe seven years because I was ‘that good’ and I was friends with everyone?”
I stared at her. I watched her eyes. I had told her beforehand, I had warned her, but she had wanted to teach so intensely and she loved children so much and…she was smart. But she had not been wise.
“Do people know how it was done to me? Do they know that I was caring for the children of the same people who were going to fire me, at a staff Christmas party, swimming with their children, while they were meeting to fire me? Do they know that ten days prior to being fired I was publicly praised by my friend, my boss, about what a great asset I was to the school? Do they know we, and other female teachers, went out for drinks to celebrate that same evening? Do they know that upon request from my friend, my boss, I wrote the Common Core curriculum for mathematics, language arts, art, and computer science? And then I was fired?”
“Do they know about the months of intensifying, bullying behavior as I was going through a heartbreaking divorce? Do they know how I reported the bullying behavior of one teacher with students?”
“Do they know about required staff meetings, study sessions, in which my Jewish heritage was made fun of? Do they know how they laughed at Judaism?”
With this proclamation, her tears began. She continued with the next nail.
“Do they know how I told my friend, I kept telling her about what was going on. She was my friend. Do people know she continually called me ‘weird’?”
“Do they know how my life was shattering, that my nineteen year marriage was disintegrating?”
“Do people know I was sexually assaulted in the same year? Do they know I told my friend, my boss?”
“Do people know, that when I was fired, I thought of my father? Do they know that I said nothing during the meeting. I had nothing to say. Do people know that I had already told everything to my friend who was my boss? Do people know I ‘took the fall’ for the lack of student skill development from other years? Do people know that I was blamed, that within three months, I was the blame for skills that should have been taught two years prior? Do people know that I took the fall for a mother not knowing her child had failed a mathematics placement exam? Do people know this mother was a part of the same group who decided to fire me? “
“Do people know that I was never asked, not once, by any of the group who did fire me or any official, any leader, about any events? Do people know that no one, not once, wanted to talk to me, ask me directly? Do people know I was never warned? Do people know about,” and her voice broke, “that a fellow teacher – in front of children – hummed the Bridal March to me? Do people know she laughed as I began to cry?”
“Do people know? Do people know how I was threatened?”
“Es.” I said to her flatly, as flatly as I could. “Es, people know it never quite added up. You don’t need to justify.”
“I have justified my whole path. All of these years.”
Then she tore at another “nail”.
“Do people know how….”
But she stopped. We were looking downhill when the blackened outline of the shadow figure caught our eyes. Its movements had always been, if not beautiful or graceful, at least steady. Now it seemed rather confused, as if a shadow can possess such a quality. The more we watched, the further we seemed to be away from it, as if our attachment was a stone to be thrown or the know of a safety rope.
Me. Lady. Now.
I had this brainy idea to paint my face for Halloween or Hallowed Eve or Reformation – whichever you decide to celebrate, if you should choose to do so. I am rather fond of celebrations, personally.
After writing about my Saint Paul trip, I must admit to being hit rather hard with a realization. Along that trip I had visited a Catholic church, having been raised Catholic. I had visited the synagogue out of reverence and a continued curiosity at a piece of my heritage. My faith was still poking me, wondering if this is me or this is me. I had treated my faith like a Goldilocks quest. The significance of these habits played with me in the days to follow my return home. How long have I sought to justify not only who I was but who I am? Everything I write, everything I do, my life I have bent for that sole purpose.
I have been rather confused by that realization. How undeniably spoiled I must be, to trivialize life and yet how dishonest I have been to call that justification, itself, to be of any meaning, any significance?
Stephanie. You are better than that. Stephanie! Your path is not and should not and you better not, be one of that type of justification. Because that… is just an excuse.
(Insert moment of pout).
But I had not put the pieces together until today (technically, yesterday). I had been stopping my own growth with the reference point of not what they had done to me or what I have experienced in my life, but really I had been stopping my own growth by justification. I am not justified. Those experiences do not entitle me. Those experiences do not pardon me from development.
“Do people know, that I believe they made up things about me? Yet, some of those same people had called me the kindest person they ever knew?”
“Es, I am pretty certain people know, even if they do not know.”
“Do people know that despite my marriage counselor, my soon to be ex-husband and my attorney’s advise to file a lawsuit, I chose to forgive?”
“Do people know that I packed my whole computer lab and all my teacher supplies in one night, through the night because I was so scared? Do people know how I cried? Do they know…how I drew comfort, through hours of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Amazing Grace and Hebrew chants?”
Es sniffed a bit, wiping the tears from her eyes. We watched again, wordlessly, the shadow beast in the flower field. It stumbled, slowing, uncertain of its own direction now not being able to see ours.
Es turned to me with the warmth of a slow grin and the eyes now of a gently justified soul.
“Do people know how I had driven three youngsters in my Jeep every morning to school? They were young, very young, from preschool to kindergarten. The teachers from the primary grades had gathered three car seats so that I might legally transport them. Each morning I would swoop in and each morning they would hop, backpacks and all, from house to Jeep. Every morning, for ten minutes, we were transported, pretending that as we arrived at drop off in back of school, along with all the other students, we were landing safely in our jet airplane….if only for ten minutes…”
Sometimes, we would even pretend it was the Batmobile.
Thank you and Happy Saints Day!
Love. Lots and loads of love,
#reformation #love #thesaints