Dreaming and Dancing

Writing is a dream. I lay down a string of sentences, a line Annie Dillard called them, and I have them dance. I don’t always know what the dance will be and sometimes, I am disappointed with it. I can’t always dance with it–but when I can, it is as delicate as the most sublime ballet, as passionate as the richest tango. I get lost in it.

I’ve been doing a lot of it recently, too–so much that my right arm has gone arthritic and seethes with pain. Part of this is due to the use of my school computer. The mouse is uncomfortable, so is the keyboard. Combined effects create intense pain, numbness in my thumb and forefinger. The elbow takes the brunt of it, but it is bad all the way down to my fingers.

And yet, the story is there and I love writing it. The rhythm of it, telling someone’s story, discussing from their point of view why it’s important–and getting it, nailing it, is like that dance. It’s not an everyday thing. It’s a kind of magic.

My family is a dream. Every wake up, every down at night, I am comforted by their presence in my life, their connection to me and mine to them. I do what I do because of them, for them and together, we get through. We do what we have to.

God is in all of those dreams, binding them together, the thread that weaves the fabric. He grants these visions, these connections, these dances. The arm is mine-the dances are His.

That’s the week that’s been. Teaching didn’t happen because it was testing week. All we did this week was corral the kids when they weren’t testing and they were so fried that doing anything above reminding them of a couple of things was simply out of the question. So, it was a week to be a reporter and a writer, a father and a husband. It was a week to walk the dog, take a break and lament how much of a pain the testing regime has become.

So, it’s back to the dreams because in them, I feel myself coming alive and that’s what I want to feel more of. 33 days of the 22nd year of teaching left. And that’s all I have to say about that.


Eyes Front

Breath and memory. Spirit–that’s the week that was. As I write, I am reminded how things seem to be spinning out of control. Bombings, children dying, friends passing and opportunities shrinking. It is no longer a time of optimism and looking forward. Most of us are looking backward, now. We’re so afraid, but we have nothing to look forward to-nothing on which to pin our hopes: except our children.

That’s what we’ve always had, of course. Shannon is the best of me-the best of her mom. So we pin our hopes, perhaps as the people who lost their son at the Boston Marathon….perhaps as the fine people who lost their son last week here in town. There are no guarantees and there is nowhere written a scroll that says it will all be O.K. It most decidedly will not. Not for those people.

So what do we cling to? Where is faith to go? For some, it evaporates into the ether. Faith is nothing to those who see the world in gray and drab. The Lord does not give nor does He take away. The Lord isn’t watching, if He exists at all. Faith is a fantasy word–a word that, as Shakespeare wrote, is full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But faith to those of us who tend that small flame is so much more than that. The worst part is in a time of constant communication, of instant discussion and opinion-forming, we cannot share our faith. None of us who write can create the words that somehow elucidate what we have in our hearts. God hears prayer and He answers it. Sometimes, the answer is not what we want, but it is there just the same. Sometimes we are not listening when He answers. But faith tells us that all will be well–all will come round.

I got in trouble on Facebook when I tried to discuss the issue of the Supreme Court’s taking up gay marriage as an issue-as though the government had any right to discuss marriage, as though marriage was something that the government grants. I was unable to make myself clear. Most people assume since the government allows marriage licenses and tax filings, it must now do so for gay couples. But marriage isn’t an act in which the government has any role. None. I’m not for or against gay marriage. I’m against the government going outside its strictly enumerated powers and making decisions that it should not be making. And that didn’t come through in the comments.

So, how should I “tweet” or “facebook” what I feel about my faith? How should I “tweet” or “facebook” what my wife makes me feel inside, how it feels to hear my daughter tell me she loves me after she’s gotten mad at me? No. Not how—why? It’s no one’s business, is it? And how should I ‘tweet” or “facebook” my failures as a man, a husband, a father, a teacher? Why should I?

We are looking backward, now. We are gazing behind us and not looking ahead. Some might say this is good because doing so allows us to regroup, to sense where we have been and make corrections or at least, ponder what might have been. Looking forward, say some, can cause us to mis-step, and can break us down as we are unprepared to face what may come. We act hastily and we don’t heed the warnings.

But that’s where faith comes in for me. We look forward because we have faith that even when it gets hard, God is with us and holding us. Even when things fall apart, they are not things God will care about unless they fall apart because of our lack of faith in Him. Looking forward isn’t just optimistic, it is a necessary part of being human. We have to advance, our reach has to exceed our grasp. And sometimes, our reach falls short leading to tragedy.

Right now, though-we’re facing backward and as we do, we’re afraid of what might be in front of us. We’re so afraid, we’re not even facing it so that when it does come, we won’t be the slightest bit prepared. We won’t realize we were supposed to keep the faith because we were too busy trying to figure out what just happened.

It’s time to turn around. Eyes front.



“At times like these…”

I did not know the young man, but my students did. He was in my friend Richard’s class, right next door, during third period. There is no news on how it happened-and perhaps that’s as it should be. A 16-year old boy died this week at our school. No real reasons explained. He was home after a concert, talked to his mom before he went to bed–and when she went in the next morning to wake him, he was dead.

The grief that follows such an event hits the school population like a tidal wave. Everything is subdued, everything slows down. Teachers who knew the boy grieve with their students. Teachers like me, who did not know the boy, provide room, space and time for those grieving. One of my kids was very close to him. He missed school one day and came back the next. We hugged and I asked him how he was doing–he responded well. He has a good disposition and he has a supportive family and network of friends.

But that doesn’t change the facts. A boy is dead, we don’t know how or why-and we mourn as a community for his family-and for his passing. It happens too often in schools around the nation. And it has happened too often to me. I’ve lost a lot of kids over the years–some to terrible mishaps, some to drug use, some to rare medical conditions. None of them more explainable than any other. None of them more comforting than any other.

We carry on. We endure because we have to–but we know that there are some grieving so hard that enduring seems impossible and carrying on is the furthest thing from their minds. The electric shock that ripples through family and friends like lightning is impossible to stem or to ameliorate. Reasons don’t matter. There is loss–and there is grief.

“At times like these, any fool can see your love inside me…”–Steve Hogarth

And it is times like these that faith is all there is. Reason doesn’t help, there are no logical answers nor are there any acceptable ones. Whatever the physical cause of death, it doesn’t make it easier. As creatures of spirit, if we ignore that part of ourselves, all we have left is animal logic. Life is present. Life is not. But that’s not all there is. Faith tells us that there is something more–and that the vastness of the universe, in God’s time, is the answer. Cold comfort, yes. But without it, meaning falls apart and loss is permanent.

For family, the loss is permanent. It is real and it will not heal itself. Ever. But faith that God carries us, walks with us, is also real. Tears are not banished, not here and not now. But tears provide evidence that the spirit is real and lives and so for this family–I will pray for that sense of peace, however little it is.


The Anti-spring break

The last day of spring break 2013 and I say good riddance. The girls enjoyed their break, as it should be, and I seem to have succeeded in keeping my germs away from Conni and Aunt Laurie who (knock wood), have so far not been infected–or maybe they’re the ones who succeeded. But since I got sick on Good Friday evening at my daughter’s 12th b-day celebration and stayed that way right through until Wednesday, the break was less about relaxation and more about coping.

Yesterday was fruitful–Sue spent the better part of the day setting up a spring garden in the backyard. I helped a little-as I could. We put together a larger raised bed, four by 8 and 24 inches high, and in that are squashes, tomatoes, peppers and the like. Then in a smaller four by four, 12-inches high, Sue is growing some watermelons. In addition, she planted blackberry bushes along the rear wall and installed trellises for them. All three gardens look beautiful, we filled the two raised beds with garden soil we bought over at the Home despot (yes, that’s how I want to write it) and as all the soil is organic gardening soil, Sue put down weed barriers and the dogs are pretty handy at keeping varmints away.

We’ll probably do one more raised bed and put more veggies in it–I might even begin setting that up today. We’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but combinations of cost and inclination got in the way–so, we simply waited. Now it appears that the spring and summer will provide a bountiful harvest. Let’s hope so…

Yesterday, I was back in the reporter’s saddle out with some work in Simi Valley. It struck me that one week earlier, I was reporting on a story in Oxnard and feeling miserable. I had a fever of over 100 degrees and was sweating up a storm as I interviewed people for that piece. When I got home, I collapsed on the bed and wrote the piece in fits and starts from there. Yesterday was far better. There are just no happy memories when you’re sick. They all blur into nothingness and you’re just glad to be out of them.

The only really fun day I had on the break was Thursday when, after feeling a bit better, the girls and I went down the Pacific Coast Highway, ate lunch at the estimable Neptune’s Net and then headed to Leo Carrillo State Beach to examine the tidepools and walk the caves and the beach.


That, as you can see, was worth doing. Yes, I’m dressed for the beach–if you consider that I was cold, recuperating from the flu, and tired all at once.

April is here in all its glory and that means June is just around the corner. That will be 22 years of teaching under the belt. Hard to believe.


Semi-silent suffering

Easter was also Shannon’s 12th Birthday and it was an extraordinary day. Dad and Joanne were here all weekend and they honored their grand-daughter with a pizza party with a few of her closest friends on Friday night. Saturday was a whir of things back and forth and we all went out to dinner on Saturday night at 2088, the best restaurant in town–and somehow, I made it.

Friday night, while the girls were partying, I felt things going south pretty quick. Shannon had gotten the flu two weeks ago followed by a nasty bout with bronchitis and in caring for her, Sue got it a week later. Not to be missed–I was next. I was exhausted and tired and at 8:15, I went upstairs to bed to just hang out and watch television. Before I knew it, I was involuntarily shaking–my usual response to fevers–and sweating. The storm had begun.

Friday night was bad–but then Saturday, the fever ebbed and I assumed all was turning a corner. But Saturday night was bad, too. Sunday was nothing but a flood of nasal congestion and nose blowing and it was then–day three of the fever—that I thought, “this has gone beyond the flu.” Monday, I awoke with a temperature of 100 degrees–felt lousy and slept on the couch most of the day. Fever abated by Monday evening, so a bit better, but still exhausted and just hunkered down.

Up this morning, to the doc–antibiotics and nasal spray. Seriously bad sinus infection–so meds, fluids, rest. Drugs should start kicking in pretty quick, I hope. Day five of a fever is a real drag.

Just for posterity, then. I remember writing about Shannon’s birthday when she was six. Here we are entering the adolescent years. She’s a gem of a kid–and I couldn’t be more proud. Life’s gifts are so deep and rich–and include pain and pleasure, so–the pain is above, and the pleasure is being a husband and dad.