The World is Still Beautiful

“The world is still beautiful.” These words, murmured in the ER, by the woman who has helped to raise me, alongside my parents, for most of my life. These words, said as we hold hands, surrounded by the steady beeps and constant commotion of this part of the hospital. These words, as my dear Thelma is suffering for what is, most likely, the last stage of her long life.

Where is she seeing the beauty, I wonder? Is it in the sunshine? Is it in the simple fact that we are together, holding hands? Or is it somewhere else? Something else that I can’t see or feel? I’m not really seeing beauty here. I’m seeing and feeling deep sadness, almost grief. What surrounds us in this little space are machines and sounds that signify trauma; heart monitors, drips, oxygen tubes, and all sorts of other wires and monitors. I’m seeing a woman, who has fought through the hardest experiences imaginable to lead a life of incredible success and independence, who is now weak and tired. Where is she seeing the beauty?

I’ve learned so much from this woman. I’m sure this is yet another lesson I need to learn, and she is here teaching me. Look for the beauty, even in spaces where it is not obvious or easy to see. Always search for the beauty. The world is still beautiful.

First Trip

I love to travel! It’s one of the things I’ve really missed over the past 48 months. I love to explore new places, eat interesting food, experience different cultures, art, architecture, and scenery. I’ve especially missed trips to see family who live far away. This weekend we took our first real trip since February of 2020, and it did not disappoint!

Our son and his family live in Music City (aka Nashville, Tennessee). When they invited us down for our long vacation weekend, we were hesitant. On the positive side, the COVID numbers were coming down and we would be staying at the house and not venturing out much. Our son and family are quite cautious, and the weather was looking sunny and warm, so we would be outside most of the time. But still, it meant going to an airport and flying on an airplane. We decided it was time to be brave and give it a try, so off we went for the long weekend.

We drove all over Nashville, seeing different sections of the city, our son showing us how much had changed in the two years since we had visited. There has been incredible growth in Nashville. Buildings are going up at breakneck speed. There are new restaurants, new museums, and plans for new neighborhoods. There has also been a devastating flood and a powerful tornado. We went on long walks with the dogs, watched our granddaughter play in a nailbitingly-close basketball game, played cards and Rummikub, and watched movies. We went to the zoo. We ate great food, from BBQ to pizza to fancy farm to table, and drank some great coffee too! We sat and talked around the fire pit at night. We woke up and had quiet mornings together. I even got to French braid my granddaughter’s hair as she went off to middle school. The trip was everything we wanted and needed it to be.

I really hope that traveling is something we can continue to do. It makes me so happy.

Witnessing Magic

Over the last few days, I have been helping with some kindergarten reading assessments. This experience has filled me with more joy than I could have imagined. I have had the privilege of observing these young children as they begin to unfold their wings and take flight as readers. One after the other, I’m watching these new readers as they;

-point to each word.

-use all they know about how words work to solve words like get, put, some, and even shopping!

-reread when they notice something isn’t quite right.

-check the print and the pictures.

-comment and connect to the text as they read.

-persist to solve problems.

-talk about what happened in the book and how they are like the characters.

But I think the most exciting thing of all, and the thing that fills my heart with joy, is seeing how proud they are of all they can do.

I’ve been witnessing magic!

Making Something

Over the front rail, through the middle, over the left side rail, through the middle, over the right side rail, over the back rail, through the middle, and back up over the front rail. Pull it tight. Use the clamp to hold it. Repeat.

Each evening I returned to my project and worked some more. Each time re-watching the YouTube DIY video clip. Each time the project growing closer to completion. Each time feeling more confident and fluent with my motions. Each time noticing that I was actually creating a chair seat out of rush. And then the time came when I put in the final strands, tied off the last piece, and stood back to admire my work. It was finished. It looked good. I had learned to rush a chair seat! It felt great!

As a Literacy Coach, this sense of starting and completing something tangible in a relatively short amount of time is not something I experience often, or even expect to experience. My work, and the work of all teachers, is about ongoing improvement. Progress is often slow, or bumpy, or feels like “one step forward, two steps back.” The pandemic hasn’t helped. Some initiatives have slowed to a crawl or even been halted altogether. I know we have to be patient. I know it’s about long term improvement. I even know that we may never see the rewards that will stem from all of the work we have been doing. But some days I wish my work felt as real and complete as rushing that chair seat.

Building Habits

For the past week, I’ve been listening to Brene Brown’s podcasts with her guest, James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. It’s inspiring to listen to these two thinkers discuss how we can create new, positive habits and crush some bad ones. The advice seems logical, practical, and powerful all at the same time. Some of the advice seems almost a bit too easy.

OK…a few examples:

Start small! When asked what the biggest obstacle to developing better habits might be, Clear quickly said, “When goals are too big!” He talked about someone who wanted to exercise more and how he started by driving to the gym, going in for 5 minutes, and going home. It honestly sounded kind of silly, but it’s small, achievable, and started this man on his way to building a habit.

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. I always think the other way around. I think if you start to work out, you will become a healthier person. In fact, Clear suggests just the opposite. Ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do?” You will then think about the habits you need to develop to become that healthy individual, which would clearly include exercise!

If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead. What? No goals? How do you change if you don’t set goals? This is one of those bits of advice that really got me thinking in new ways. What are my systems? Which systems are helpful and which systems are getting in the way? How can I build new systems that will take me in a better direction?

Clear and Brown really have me thinking about my personal and professional habits. I’m thinking about how I can work to improve upon or develop some better habits and how I might work to get rid of some bad ones. They also have me thinking about how we might share some of this advice with our young readers and writers. I can imagine how this might go in our reading and writing workshops. We can encourage kids to start small. We might suggest, “Just start with one sentence every day and see where it takes you!” We can ask children what kind of reader and writer (and human being) they want to become and then help them to develop the habits that these kinds of people exhibit. And we can help them develop systems that will move them toward becoming the person they want to be.

I hope to finish listening to these podcasts, read Atomic Habits, and get started (in small bits) to grow toward the person I dream of becoming and to help children do the same.