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Things Are Looking Up For This Substitute Teacher

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THINGS ARE LOOKING UP FOR THIS SUBSTITUTE TEACHER

It’s only fair that I should share my good news with you, after all the angst I’ve dumped since beginning my new adventure as a substitute teacher. Today I found my sweet spot — with the five-year-olds.

The initial shock & trauma brought on by six days of “teaching” a rambunctious first and second grade class lessened after a week of recovery. I read several books on classroom management in the interim. I then subbed for a few days with a different class of the same age group, and I could tell I was learning some of the tricks of the trade. We saw a play in DC and watched a dance recital, so there were perks, but I still came away feeling that I had been pummeled and crushed and mangled and tossed in the dumpster each afternoon.

I spent one dreadful day administering math tests to fifth graders which made me feel cruel as I watched my fellow non-math compatriots wriggle and sigh and twirl their hair and bounce their legs and stare into space and flunk the test. I knew exactly how they felt. I’ve been there. Heck, if I hadn’t spent the night before practicing fraction equations, I couldn’t have passed it either.

Returning to the Fray

So it was with great trepidation that I returned to school for the first of three days with a dozen kindergartners. I was still wondering if I had misconstrued various spiritual “promptings” regarding this new direction.

I began to put into practice advice from my newly acquired Substitute Teacher Handbook (thanks, R!) such as, “A ratio of one negative to eight positive interactions is recommended.” My time spent poring over the list of “101 Ways to Say ‘Good Job!’” was well worth it. (Though I had to laugh at “Out of sight!” Has anyone said that since 1969?)

I also immediately identified the kid who was going to be trouble (it’s in the eyes and the dimples) and recruited him to be my “special helper.”

Surprisingly, this technique worked like a charm: “The most effective strategy for keeping students on-task is for the teacher to walk around the classroom in a random pattern.” I’m actually pretty good at wandering aimlessly, so this successful “strategy” came easily.

Perhaps it’s not going to be rocket science.

A Full Heart

I touch the kids a lot, pat their heads, rub their shoulders, high-five their little hands. And it turns out it’s OK to smile at kindergartners, whereas smiling at second graders is a major show of weakness and is asking for trouble.

I have a photo of the moment I knew I was in the right place. My little people filed outside for recess and burst onto the playground, only to be stopped in their tracks by the most fascinating and astounding thing they had ever encountered! A major event!

The jungle gym, swing set and sandbox sat empty as the whole class gathered in wonderment around . . . a dead worm being eaten by ants. I joined their circle.

After recess I read them a book called Ten Things You Can Do to Help the Earth and we talked about worms and mice and compost and strawberries. During our afternoon “Meeting for Worship” (it’s a Quaker school), we pondered the question: “Why do I love nature?”

My heart is full tonight. 

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/was-this-teaching-thing-all-a-mistake/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/the-continuing-adventures-of-a-new-substitute-teacher/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/end-of-chapter-one-substitute-teacher/

 

 

An Eye for Good News

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There’s been way too much bad news lately, right? The stuff of nightmares. So when this week’s photo challenge suggested the word “eye” as inspiration, I considered writing about the optical sight on the barrel of an assault rifle or the crazed eye of a terrorist behind a black mask.

But I’m weary of such topics, and besides, I haven’t personally taken photos of guns or terrorists and hope never to do so.

I have, however, photographed a pelican’s eye. Here it is:

Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

This is a juvenile – isn’t he pretty, in a pterodactyl kind of way? Here he is in the water:

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Here, fishy fishy fishy…

Happily, this pelican-eye picture provides a reminder that good news happens.

You May Say I’m a Dreamer

When I was born in the fifties, Brown Pelicans had nearly disappeared from the continent, thanks to pesticide use. Endrin killed pelicans directly, and DDT weakened their egg shells so that they cracked when the parents stood on them (pellies warm their eggs with their feet).

In 1970, the year I entered high school, the birds were listed as a federal endangered species. Politicians worked together to confront the crisis (cue John Lennon’s song, Imagine), and within two years, DDT was banned and Endrin production was reduced.

By the time I started working at the Sierra Club a decade later, pelican populations along the Atlantic and eastern Gulf coasts were bouncing back, and when I left the Club almost 30 years later, pelicans nationwide had reached pre-pesticide numbers. The species was declared fully recovered in 2009.

All Eyes on Paris

So while many of us pause each morning before turning on our computers, televisions, or radios for fear of bad news, it’s important to remember that good things happen, too.

This post is dedicated to the thousands of conservationists working in Paris this week to negotiate a binding agreement that may at long last confront the crisis of climate change. All eyes are on you. Thank you, and may the Force be with you.

If you need another smile, check out the link to the photo challenge – Henry will melt your heart. Peace.

 

 

Photo Challenge: (Climate) Change in Progress

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This week’s photo challenge from WordPress is to “show us change in progress.” Sad to say, these cheerful photos of bumblebees sipping nectar reflect profound change . . . climate change.

Bumble Bees in Trouble

Bumblebee on Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) in my Maryland garden

You see, scientists say that bumblebees are abandoning their southern habitats due to the warming climate, but they are not expanding their northern range. In other words, they could be squeezed out of existence.

And when bees are in trouble, the crops and wild plants that depend on them for pollination also suffer. And who is at the top of that food chain? Yeah, the species that builds coal plants and fracks for oil.

“We play with these things at our peril,” says bee ecology expert Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa. “The human enterprise is the top floor in a really big scaffold. What we’re doing is reaching out and knocking out the supports.”

Kerr says that the shrinking bumblebee habitat is clearly related to climate change, and he’s amazed at how fast it’s happening. In the past forty years, some bees have retreated more than 185 miles from their southern homes. They’re also escaping to higher alpine altitudes — but all is not well in the mountains, either.

Another study shows that the deep, tubular flowers that alpine bumblebees prefer aren’t surviving the warming temps — up 3.6 degrees fahrenheit since the 1960s — so the bees now have to rely on more general foraging. Amazingly, in just forty years, the tongues of bees have shrunk 24%, which enables them to drink from different flowers. The pace of this change is “dramatic,” reports study author Professor Candace Galen in the journal Science.

“The finding of rapid adaptation is a glimmer of hope for bumblebees, whose populations worldwide are declining,” Professor Galen says.

And we can sure use the hope.

I’m hoping there is another type of change in progress, too, brought on by the straight climate talk from Pope Francis last week. It’s the old-fashioned concept of repentance, defined as “to feel such regret for past conduct as to change one’s mind regarding it.” The word is derived from the Latin “to think again” or to “re-think.” In ancient Greek, it’s translated as “to turn around.”  All of this would be appropriate for humankind when it comes to our environment.

Greed, denial, and creaturely comforts are tough to turn away from, but I think the Creator of the Bumblebees is up to the challenge, and so I pray: Great Lover of the Bumblebees, please change our hearts and minds and make us instruments of peace instead of purveyors of destruction. Amen.

Bumblebee on New Hampshire wildflower

Bumblebee on New Hampshire wildflower

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images of Life: Journal and Camera

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Sometimes you lucky readers are treated to a glimpse of my inner workings when my nearest and dearest confidante — my journal — opens its pages to you. Not all its pages, mind you, just a few select snippets.

The best time for a peek into the journal is when I’m staying at Quiet Hills, my little writing retreat up in New Hampshire. Otherwise you would be treated to endless pages of I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that- and-I-need-to-do-this-and-then-I-need-to-do-that. Here, I have time to pay attention to life and to think and to not think.

And so, a few snippets:

June 17:

Quiet Hills! I’m sitting on the deck in the morning sun after an uneventful trip up, just traffic and fog.

The shower isn’t working, the side door fell off its hinges just after I arrived, and I can’t air out the house properly because I can’t juggle the storm windows with my broken arm. My neighbor never brush-hogged the fields last fall, so they are becoming forest. Sigh, sigh, and sigh. But I am here and glad of it.

Arrived!

Arrived!

There’s always this strange combination of great happiness but also anxiety when I arrive. Just to be here is pure joy. But so much is left undone at home, and I mistrust myself to get everything taken care of. And money is always a worry — how can I afford to keep this sacred place with the crazy taxes and maintenance?

The white iris by the birdbath are blooming. 

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Lots of chipmunk activity. Quiet bird chitter. Peonies in full bloom and lilies covered with buds.

chipmunk

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Orange Hawkweed, also called Fox-and-cubs — don’t you love that?

Beedie’s (grandmother’s) climbing roses by the front door fill the hall with their fragrance. There are loads of Orange Hawkweed and daisies in the small field, but the big fields are all brushy — few flowers.

Butterflies abound. After dark there should be fireflies – loads!

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My grandmother’s roses

I hadn’t been here more than thirty minutes yesterday before Emily W. arrived and invited me for a pancake supper with the boys, so I abandoned unpacking and bed making and went up the hill. With Bill working late, she really, really has her hands full with the three little guys.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     June 18:

It was overcast today, cool but still t-shirt weather. I stayed low-key yesterday, hanging out on the deck reading Richard Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond and perusing cookbooks for recipes to try when the family arrives.

Emily came by with the boys after work. The twins were playing with my phone and all of a sudden Biff’s voice was filling my head. “Hi, it’s me. I was just thinking . . . ”

I know my eyes got as big as saucers. “Oh my God,” I said.

“Who’s that?” asked Emily.

“My brother,” I answered.

She leapt up, grabbed the phone from the kids, silenced the speaker, and dashed back to put her arm around me.

“It’s OK,” I said, and the weird thing is — it was. His voice sounded hale and hearty and healthy, and I felt glad to have that recording. I might listen to it sometime. I am finally coming out of my serious grieving time.

June 19:

Last night I got back from the Toadstool bookstore just after sunset. The sky was all pinks and gold and there was a hermit thrush serenade going on, at least three of them at the edges of the fields. I walked around the house listening to their divine exchange, fully in heaven except for the mosquitos. So crazy that this is my life! Beginning to settle in. Still a touch of anxiety now and then. The space and time here leave room for worries that are drowned out by busyness at home, but I seem to need to go through them before I get to the peace.

This morning I made gazpacho and a big pitcher of iced tea. Summer.

Then I wandered around taking pictures. It’s a glorious New Hampshire day, just perfect.

Columbine by the barn

Columbine by the barn

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I posted a blog this morning, trying to process — but mostly escape — the latest mass shooting by a mentally unstable kid with a gun. Nine people dead at the historic AME church in Charleston, including their pastor. Kid was a racist, railed about blacks “raping our women.” My escapist blog began with a wish that I were a cat, a cat that knew no racism, mental illness, NRA, terrorism, climate change, or Donald Trump (the moron has announced he’s running for president).

June 20:

Chilly morning, wrapped in a shawl. I’m watching a couple of deer bound across the meadow and listening to dueling woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting on metal and wooden poles along the lane. A chipmunk is fussing at some imagined intrusion, and I can hear a thrush up the road — a lovely, lovely song that deserves a metaphor, except that there are no words.

I’m loving the Rohr book. He can be brilliant at times. Sometimes it’s hard to follow his theology, but it’s not so much the “figuring it all out” or the “grasping it” that I’m after; what I need and desire is a deep knowing, a knowing of the Spirit. I do not need to “have” a philosophical understanding so that my needy little ego can explain it and be right about it, I just need to know — that I am God’s, that I belong, that All is One.

I had some nice prayer time under the stars last night. Prayer realigns me, gets me back on track. What do I pray? That I would be love. A perfect channel for God’s love, get all of my crap out of the way — and that I would desire that more. That God would comfort the families of the Charleston shooting, that God would heal this broken country, that God would guide us as leaders at Cedar Ridge and use our church to bring love to the world. That we would all be more of who God designed us to be.

Fireflies and stars. I love NH in June.

Related posts: Journaling in Space, Journal as Amusement Ride, and A Fourteen Sentence Glimpse into My Journal

Forces of Nature

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“Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands — a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world.”   Sidney Lovett

 

Of all the fierce energy that makes up the natural world — tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis — I believe that the greatest force of nature is her ability to heal our souls and bestow on us the gift of belonging. You belong — are there sweeter words?

Humans may have betrayed nature, scraped and beaten and chopped her until she is raw and bleeding, but she endures and she provides for us. We are a part of her.

I first discovered the divine company of nature among the evergreens, ferns, and moss of a New England forest. That’s where I met God. But here in my little corner of suburbia, if I take the time to pay attention to “something not made with hands,” I am reminded every day: I am not alone. I belong.

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The patterns, balance, and beauty of the natural world — the assurance that sweet, delicate, winsome spring flowers will overtake the icy, harsh, and deadly serious winter — these great forces of nature reassure my soul.

 

This post is in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge: Forces of Nature

Pilgrimage Day Two: Tears in the Desert

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If you’re prone tears as I am, you’ve got to expect that at some point on an eight-day spiritual pilgrimage in the desert, you’re going to dampen a few hankies. Especially when your one prayer for the pilgrimage is to open yourself to God. God is real and raw and authentic and takes no part in denial, false pride, or stiff upper lipping.

I see my emotions as part of who I am, gifts from God that help me understand what is going on in my soul and recognize areas in which I want to grow and heal. I used to stuff my emotions in a misguided effort to protect myself from pain, and then I tried simply hiding them so that I wouldn’t riffle anyone else’s pond. But now I’m a grown-up and allow myself to be fully me (mostly).

Mortification and Defeat

Nevertheless, I was mortified to find myself on the first full day of our pilgrimage, standing on a dusty trail in the middle of nowhere with ten virtual strangers, sobbing kindergarten tears onto a nearby shoulder. I knew none of these people and was pretty sure that none of them would want to know me after witnessing my wailing: “I’m so frustrated! I’m so tired of hurting!”

I had not been sure that I could make the hike, but thought I’d give it a try. Thrilled that I needed no cast on my recently fractured shoulder, I wanted to take full advantage of the beautiful surroundings at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. I’d taken care of myself and honored the limitations of my injured arm by skipping 7 a.m. body prayer yoga (always glad to have an excuse to smack the snooze button), and by resting after lunch, journaling and reading J. Brent Bill’s little Quaker book, Mind the Light.

Now I took a handful of Advil and responded to my father’s Texan voice in my head telling me to “Buck up! You can do this, you’re a Griffin.”

I laced up my hiking boots — a feat that would have been impossible just a week before — slung my daypack over my good arm, and headed to the trailhead to meet my fellow pilgrims. Our trip leader Tiffany had asked me to wear my arm brace for her own peace of mind and advised me to carry a walking stick for the steep trails.

I quickly fell behind the others, juggling my pack, stick, and clumsy brace. A sweet guy quoted some scripture about helping one another with our burdens and reached out to carry my pack. His kind gesture, coupled with my pain and the growing realization that I was already slowing everyone down, sapped my energy as surely as the altitude had sapped my breath.

When Tiffany said kindly, “I don’t think you should go on this hike,” I threw myself on her shoulder and moaned “I don’t either,” and the waterworks started.

I was face-to-face with my imperfection, my brokenness, my inability to do absolutely anything I put my mind to, and yes, my age (this trip being a sixtieth birthday present to myself). My familiar mantra, “I should be able to…” was crumbling like the red sandstone cliffs that surrounded us.

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Even rock cliffs crumble

Letting Go

That morning we had begun our main work of the pilgrimage, looking at the cycles of call — the phases and transitions in life — and reflecting on resistance and the need for release. What’s holding you back, and what do you need to release in order to move into the next calling in your life?

“What needs to break is often our competence,” warned our pilgrimage leader Marjory, clearly prophesying my afternoon breakdown. “Call often comes after suffering.” Moses had lost everything before he was “called” by a burning bush in the desert, and Jesus spent forty days in the desert suffering trials and temptations before he was ready for his earthly ministry.

The desert is a great place for suffering. It’s a harsh place, a place that reminds us of our mortality. Droughts, razor sharp foliage, whipping winds, and killing sun. One doesn’t look to the desert for mercy.

No mercy here

No mercy here

Now I headed back the way our group had come, my broken competence stowed in my daypack and my broken shoulder throbbing. I turned to watch the other scrambling up the rocky trail and felt humiliation and defeat.

Desert Mercies

After I’d walked a while, I sat down by a narrow creek and took my water bottle out of my pack. As I leaned my head back to drink, I noticed that the branches of the cottonwoods lining the creek were bursting with tiny buds, reaching fuzzy chartreuse fingers into the brilliant blue sky. I wiped the dusty red tears from my cheeks.

Two robins arrived, tilted their heads at me, decided I was safe, and then hopped into the creek and began to splash exuberantly, creating haloes of sparkling water in the air above them. The juxtaposition between their mood and mine made me laugh out loud.

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I pulled out my binoculars, camera, and notebook and settled in for an afternoon of desert mercies. As She so often does, God was speaking to me through the natural world. I realized that I was now feeling intense relief — relief that I did not have to prove anything to myself or to anyone else. I could just be, like the robins . . . Day two.

Desert Pilgrimage — Arrival

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“What’s the difference between a pilgrimage and a retreat?” I’ve been on spiritual retreats, but have no idea what to expect from a pilgrimage.

Marjory rarely answers a question without giving it a bit of thought, so I’m familiar with the dreamy, unfocused look that comes into her blue eyes, as if she’s pondering some far-off, imaginary mountain range. Except that today she’s gazing at an actual mountain range that I can see, too.

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Pedernal Mountain

I wait.

Marjory is the closest thing I’ve found to a personal spiritual director, and I’m glad to have a day with her before the rest of the group arrives for our eight-day desert pilgrimage. We’ve just finished a more-than-adequate lunch and are sitting at a splintery picnic table outside the dining hall at Ghost Ranch in the red rock canyonlands of northern New Mexico.

“Usually on pilgrimage you go away someplace,” she says at last. “You put yourself in a different context. A retreat is more like a Sabbath for rest and reflection, where you just step back from life for a breather. But it takes work to go on a pilgrimage, and it’s for a long enough time that you can expect to come away changed.”

Under New Management

Her answer intrigues me, but it also unnerves me. Generally when I take a weekend retreat, I have some intention or agenda, a question or a difficulty or a request for God’s help. In other words, I feel I have some control.

That’s not the case here at Ghost Ranch. As I journaled this morning, I had trouble identifying a goal for this trip:

I do not know what I want from this trip. I would like this to be a time when I can simply “repent” — become willing to change, willing to think of myself differently. I just want to be open to what God has for me now. It is hard to let go of “control,” to surrender the notion that this is my life to plan and direct. Of course it is in one sense, but I never know when I’ll crash to the floor and break my arm, or when my brother will go nuts and die, or when the funding for my job will end. I don’t always get to dictate who or what comes into my life. I have a lot of choices, though, and perhaps this is what I’m aiming for — being open to seeking and choosing God’s way every time. But here I am, trying to manage my experience on pilgrimage, to dictate outcome. I will leave it all open for the Spirit to work, to open my eyes, mind, and heart.

Coming to Center

After lunch, I walk the dusty path to the labyrinth, strolling slowly beneath red and ochre sandstone cliffs, stopping often to catch my breath and slow my racing heart as my body tries to adjust to the altitude.

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People have walked labyrinths for thousands of years in search of spiritual centeredness. My church in Maryland has one, and I walk it often, sometimes receiving clarity about a particular question, sometimes receiving a deep sense of peace, sometimes receiving nothing except the knowledge that I am seeking God.

Today the Ghost Ranch labyrinth seems decorated for spring, with tiny purple and yellow flowers lining the rock pathways. I enter and begin circling, turning inward and outward, round and round, trying to empty my head of the chattering thoughts that followed me from the east coast.

Ghost Ranch Labyrinth

Ghost Ranch Labyrinth

A raven’s call echoes off the canyon wall. I stop to watch the black shape circling its own invisible labyrinth against the layered cliffs. The towering rock face reminds me of human flesh, with striations of variegated red muscle and yellow fat and purple arteries. Living rock.

I feel this desert landscape is breathing, and I’m breathing with it. I have a sense of grounded love and feel more than hear the words, “You are doing just fine, Mel.”

I go back to circling.

Day one.

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