To my future child

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It is something magical, to be able to peer inside of your mother’s tummy to see your perfectly forming outline shimmering in sepia.

The technician pressed the little ultrasound knob harder and harder, jiggling it around impatiently atop you, to try and get you to turn, as if she were trying to entice a fish, but you shrank away into the depths, as if you knew you were being looked at. She slowly took the measure of each and every one of your bones, and we could see your little feet and hands flailing, lit like candescent bulbs. You liked curling around yourself and kept turned towards your mother’s spine. We could see your brain, the flow of blood through your developing veins. We could see and hear the fluttering of your heart, still split into halves. The technician kept making your mother turn from side, to side, and back again, to try and see you in profile.

You were still sort of amphibian, a primeval force swimming in the darkness, your segmented spine twisting like a little stem.

But then, finally, there was your face, already singular, universally human, projected as an image before your mother and father and a weary technician, holding hands in this little room on the 10th floor on the east side of Manhattan.

It struck me then that I too am developing, shedding my vestigial self-involvement to become a father. I will be your father. This is no longer a thought, a hope, a fear. This is what will be. My soul grows towards the moment when I will see your face in the light of the sun, and hold you and speak to you and call your name.

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Care about people, not ideology

“With altruism, you don’t care about ideology, you care about the fate of people. And then it solves the issue: If you care about the fate of children, why would you want guns in the school? The most legitimate aspiration of any human beings is the basic wish not to suffer, the basic wish for well-being.”

—Mattieu Ricard, in an interview with Michael Paterni, “The World’s Happiest Man Wishes You Wouldn’t Call Him That

In Memory of Claudia

My little bird, Claudia, passed away today. She was a spunky, beautiful, loving parakeet filled with song and vivacity. When let out of her cage, she would swoop and dive bomb about our apartment, a little green hornet.

She had the softest tiny belly. She loved sitting on my shoulder, grooming me.

We got her to provide companionship for my white-fronted Amazon parrot, Vincent, whom I’ve had since I was a little kid in San Diego.

She loved Vinnie as much as we do, and would selflessly groom his forehead and sing to him. She would boss him about and eat the food out of his bowl.

Four years ago, we purchased Claudia from a Pet Co downtown and brought her back all the way home on the A train.

In the middle of the night in one of the first months after we’d gotten her, she somehow got herself skewered–literally–on a toy hanging up in her cage. She was hooked onto it like a fish, flapping around in pain and fear. We managed to disentangle her, and I poured hydrogen peroxide on her wound.

We were terrified over the course of that week that she would die, but she was resilient. She was a tough little one. My NY bird.

Because of this resiliency, when she began getting sick over the past month, we didn’t think much of it. I was worried, of course, but I assumed that she would pull through whatever was ailing her.

And she did seem to get better, for a while. But suddenly today, she took a drastic turn for the worse. She was having difficulty breathing, and eventually moved to the floor of her cage, hiding under her food bowl.

When a bird does that, you know things are bad. Birds are good at hiding when they are really sick.

She passed away before my eyes this evening. It was awful. There was nothing I could do to help her.

Whenever I tell people that I have birds as pets, they seem to think it’s weird. And I’m sure that it must seem silly to you to grieve over a parakeet. But birds are wonderful pets. They have vibrant, unique personalities and are filled with the joy of living.

My wife and I have been sobbing all night, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I loved that little bird. And I am going to miss her terribly.

Ashen

I once asked
how close to the earth must I sway,
sweeping in the wind
like a broken tree?

But I have grown a bit
since that time.

That question was centered all around
me;
my struggle; my need.
As if the world
should work for
me.

A better question may be–
how close to another person can I get,
to know love
in every breath?

The world has riven
me, and will continue breaking
waves against any stance I assume.
But I can bend, and learn, and grow.

In the end,
I want there to be found nothing
but gratitude in my heart.

To Be Wed

Ring Ceremony

As of Saturday, I am forthwith a married man. My wife and I have been living together for 5 years, so married life will not be substantially different for us, but I admit that walking around with a ring on my finger does make me feel different. More confident, perhaps, more adult. (We’ll see just how long a feeling imbued by a material object lasts!)

I’ve always loved weddings, because they seem to be one of the few venues where people of all walks of life and ages can come together and celebrate. I am pleased to say that my own wedding was a beautiful celebration, and I am not saying that just because I’m biased. I’ve never seen my parents dance so hard. My nieces and nephews were running around and having a blast and being adorable. My wife and I have incredible friends and family, and they were the ones that made this experience so wonderful. If there’s only one thing I regret about my wedding, it was being unable to spend lots of time with each and every one of them there.

As we were planning the wedding and grimacing over the money spent and the inevitable stress of event planning, I began wishing that we’d just eloped and been done with it all. But now that the wedding has finally occurred, I can say honestly that it was all worth it, no matter how quickly it swept by. It was worth it because it served as a critical reminder of just how fortunate and blessed we are to have our family and friends. Without them, we would be unable to cherish and sustain our commitment to each other over the long haul.

Relationships aren’t magic — they require a lot of hard work, dedication, and compromise. We move into our marriage with full awareness of what real love requires, and with the models and sustenance of our parents and our families and our friends to look to for guidance.

We’ll be going to Kauai for our honeymoon next week. I know I’ve been delinquent in posting here since summer has began, but I think I’ve got a good excuse for it! ;) Keep your eyes peeled for more junk on public education later.

Only The Best Every Day

I finished my last graduate courses on Tuesday. As I walked to the train talking with a colleague who had begun the Fellows program at the same time as me, he remarked on how different we had become since that first summer during our initial training before entering the classroom. How innocent we were then! Teaching changes you, indelibly. I remember how on top of the world I felt at that time, even as I knew the challenges that awaited me. I had been a manager at a demanding and innovative grocery retailer and was physically fit, accustomed to breaking down pallets of heavy groceries, dealing with crazy customers, and working on one full meal a day with 4-6 hours of sleep and a 1 1/2 hour to 2 hour commute each way on what was generally a middle of the night series of subway trains. Yes! I finally had adapted to NYC after a recent move from Lake Tahoe and felt I was ready to tackle anything. Phew. Folks. What hubris, what folly.

See, the thing is that teaching takes much more than simple ambition, physical drive, stamina, and dedication. It takes deep internal spiritual and emotional wellsprings to maintain composure and constancy. Every facet of your being will be challenged, every hidden assumption, every underlying prejudice, every underdeveloped part of your psyche and soul, every trigger of anger or annoyance will be released and exposed and prodded and overturned. You will be scraped hollow. You will be on the verge of mental breakdowns–or actually have them, depending on your level of mental stability. You will nearly break into tears–or actually break into tears, depending on your level of stoicism–in front of other adults or students. Oh yes. Teaching changes you.

And there will be days when you wonder, given how close to the breaking point you can come, just at what point a human mind becomes broken and can no longer be made whole again. And at the verge of this question is a rift of despair and anguish so deep that you can’t really quite go there–you have to wall off the reality of the lives of your students from your own life in order to protect your own emotional and mental well-being. Your students. Some of them living lives so unfathomable that you have to build a wall of professionalism in order to protect yourself. Or risk craziness, despair. Breaking down into tears at the mere mention of their name. Because it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s always about them. And even during the most challenging moments of confrontation, even during the worst days of acting out behavior, you know that this is all about serving them. About becoming a better person so that you can better serve them. Becoming a better teacher so that you can negotiate the land mine pathways of the heart and mind and guide them there by proxy.

Anyone who thinks that they can step into the midst of this situation and create a revolution will not survive. Idealism has little place in the day-to-day marathon battle of seeking to transform the very soil that these children are rooted within, confined within. Only steady, patient, nurturing, every day, constant, consistent, repeated love–love–love. Tough love. Real love. Love that does not accept mediocrity. Love that does not accept falsehood. Love that does not accept anything except the best from your beloved. Because you know that’s what they really are. The best. No matter what they tell themselves. No matter how much they try to show you the worst in them (and they will–it’s a child’s way of testing your commitment). Every day. The best. Only the best. The best in you. The best in them. Even when neither of you have it in you. You come the next day to try again.

Until one day, there is a moment when you look around you, into their eyes, into their hearts, and you feel it. You can feel it. Again, you almost begin crying, but this time, for another reason. It’s love. It’s real. And it is changing you. And if it is changing you, it must be, it must be changing your students, too. This is what you came here to do. And that is the only thing that can keep you going. That hope. That wish. That love.

Dialogue: Love, Faith, & Humility

This is the section from Pedogogy of the Oppressed that really made me begin listening to what Freire was saying and step beyond his language of “revolution” and recognize it as fundamental insight into the very heart of effective pedagogy.

Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed–even in part–the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world. . .

Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection. . .

If it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it, dialogue imposes itself as the way by which they achieve significance as human beings. Dialogue is thus an existential necessity. . . .

Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. . . Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and the dialogue itself. . . . Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation. . . If I do not love the world–if I do not love life–if I do not love people–I cannot enter into dialogue.

On the other hand, dialogue cannot exist without humility. . . Men and women who lack humility (or have lost it) cannot come to the people, cannot be their partners in naming the world. Someone who cannot acknowledge himself to be as mortal as everyone else still has a long way to go before he can reach the point of encounter. At the point of encounter there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.

Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birthright of all). . .

Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. . . False love, false humility, and feeble faith in others cannot create trust. Trust is contigent on the evidence which one party provides the others of his true, concrete intentions; it cannot exist if that party’s words do not coincide with their actions.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed