Looking back and thinking forward

Month: November, 2013

On gratitude

Survival, being right where I am, busy and having meaningful work, flowers, walking.

These are some of what I have been writing about feeling grateful lately.

Two days remaining for the count down series I started at the beginning of this month, and I realize that feelings of gratitude have deepened for me more than in the past. It was not that I was glib about them before, rather it is that the feeling has become more profound. Indeed, I have always been thankful for kindness of strangers. For without them, I could not have felt deserving, or realized my self-worth. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that it was one of the aspects of my life that saved me from an emotionally abusive childhood. And so, I have known that gratitude is important for my sense of well-being, as well as for opening me up to trusting others. 

When I arrived in America a little over twenty five years ago, I was delighted to discover a holiday that celebrated being thankful. Indeed, the first Thanksgiving dinner I attended was filled with warmth, friendship and colorful foods. I marveled at, and cherished it all. But mostly I felt a surge of joy when we all sat around the table and spoke about something we were grateful for. 

Forgiveness has opened me up to gratitude. That is more complex than it sounds, because forgiveness becomes easier only when I allow myself to first acknowledge, feel, and, thus, validate my anger. This is really difficult for me to do, because I learned very early on to fear, or be ashamed about feeling angry. Shame was a driving force – a critical component of discipline in my earliest childhood. Forgiveness and gratitude opens me up to the humanity of others – indeed, to the human condition. For me, they are crucial in developing empathy and compassion. Understanding all this has taken years of therapy, reading, working with children, teachers and families, and from experiencing pain, as well as joy, in working through relationships with those closest and dearest to me.

If someone gives me the smallest gift, or remembers me without my reminding them, I am thankful. If I am acknowledged in the slightest way, or if someone makes a stand for me, I am thankful.

But mostly if someone just listens to me, and validates my feelings, I am overcome with gratitude.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Guilty pleasures

Busy, busy, busy

Early morning. Sun isn't up yet. I stretch and look around my study. A pile of books waiting to be read sits upright on a table next to my desk. Splayed out next to the computer is a chapter of a manuscript that I have offered to respond to, with a small piece of my own. Down on the floor lies a pile of papers to be graded as the semester draws to a close. There is much to be done. Sighing now I start to feel overwhelmed. That old familiar buzz of anxiety as I wonder how everything will get done. Students will receive their grades in time, deadline for my written work is coming up soon. Once again I realize I will have to push back reading the books that beckon me from their ever growing pile. A full day of meetings and teachings lies ahead, and I am not sure where to begin.

I stop thinking about it and take another sip of coffee, which has now become cold from the passing of time as I mull over my fate. 

Scratching the back of my head, I continue to type these thoughts as they pop into my head this early Monday morning. "After all," I think to myself, "This was supposed to be a post about being grateful … for my Countdown series!" I start to smile slowly. I almost say out loud, "Well, I suppose I could be thankful for being busy." And then that starts to feel good. My smile is broadening now. After all, I have much to live for – interactions with students and grading their work so as to help them think about what they are saying and doing about young children. That's worthwhile! Writing a piece for a book on social-emotional development – that's always worthwhile – I mean, getting my point of view out there could give someone a different option about how to think about things. That's one of the things I most enjoy about education – offering another option. And those books? Well, I will get to read them – winter break is coming up and there is much to look forward to.

Ah – this is becoming energizing now. I find myself tapping my toes as I write this post. Eyes are wider now and breathing is deeper. I remember a line from Out of Africa. Meryl Streep's character strides energetically and with purpose out to the large barn. She has become tired of sitting around waiting for her "man" to return from his adventures. She says forcefully, "Give me work."

This morning I am grateful for being busy, and having meaningful work!

Thanksgiving countdown continues …

Recently, I received a card from my mother-in-law. She wrote, among other things, that the important work I do "will have a lasting impact on children, teachers and parents in our schools and families." Her words arrived at exactly the right moment, and brought tears of gratitude to my eyes.

Today I am thankful for being who I am right here, right now. So often I find myself yearning for the Tamarika of yesteryear, ages 32, 45, or 52 perhaps. I discover nostalgia and regret when I look in the mirror, peruse old photographs, or when exhausted at the end of the day, I slowly, and sometimes painfully, climb the three flights of stairs up to my office. I long for some forgotten mythological character of Tamarika from way back when, as if by being youthful or spry I was somehow happier, more confident, or felt more belonging.

Indeed, right here and now is where I want to be. For, as young as I once was, I was not half as content or confident as I am now. Nor did I experience joy in the profound way that I do, receiving untold pleasure as I discover the bloom of a new cactus flower, or gaze for long minutes at the cats curled up, locked in a warm embrace as they sleep, cuddled and huddled together on the couch next to me while I read or grade papers. 

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Supporting an authentic voice


Tamar 2

I dreamed there was debris everywhere. What a mess! I had the hugest clean-up I had ever had to do. What had happened? A party? A catastrophe? I could not make it out. Just that I had so much to clean up and put away. Amongst all the stuff lying around, and after I had pulled from the sink or sewer (I couldn't quite make out which) a large blanket and some clothes, a white shirt, pants, and other items I can't remember, I noticed a child, about the age of eight or ten years old. She lay asleep. Her head was shrouded with pale curls, and her eyes and nose were crusted with dry mucus from crying too much perhaps. I thought to myself, I will get to her after I have cleaned up. The cleaning seemed almost done when I decided to turn my attention to the sleeping child. I looked at her intently, and decided I would need the shower hose to wash away the crusted eyes and nose, and pale tangled curls on her head. "How will I wake her up?" I said to myself. "She has been through so much, I will have to be very gentle." 

And then I awoke. Suddenly. Upright in my bed. With the image of that young child in my mind, I slipped on my vibrams and wrapped my black shawl-like cardigan around my shoulders as I went down to make coffee and feed the cats. As I was in the middle of my early morning routine, almost sleep walking as I was still pondering my dream, uncontrollably I suddenly said out loud, "The child is me!" I repeated out loud what I had thought in my dream as I stared at the sorrowful, neglected child: "She has been through so much, I will have to be very gentle."

It made perfect sense, because the day before in my therapy session, we had talked about my childhood in more depth than I had ever allowed previously. In fact, I had started the discussion because feelings and experiences during some recent events in my life had become clear to me. Indeed, I had felt like I had touched the very core, the essence of my childhood pain. At one point in the session, my therapist and I fell silent. He looked at me intently and said, "You are a survivor." I wept for a few moments, feeling validated and pride at the same time.

As soon as I had completed my chores, I donned my sneakers and went out for a long morning walk. As I strode out into the crisp fall air, the sun shone in my face and through the tops of the almost bare trees. Leaves were swirling around my feet as I went. I could smell autumn in my nostrils – the pungent scent of soaked, fallen leaves. I began to imagine waking up that tormented, neglected child. Remembering how I had thought in the dream, "… She has been through so much," I slipped my arm under her head ever so gently and whispered kindly, "It's time to wake up." And then I stroked her curls and took a warm, damp cloth to wipe away the crust around her eyes and nose – all the time taking care to be as gentle as possible. I took her small hands in mine and looked into her eyes with compassion. I said, "Everything is going to be all right. You are safe now. We will take our time. I won't leave you." As I imagined the scenario, I wept as I walked. It felt like a weight was lifting, and deep healing was occurring. 

Turning the corner out of the woods and up the road leading toward home, the air seemed clearer and sun brighter. I smiled to myself and thought: "Count down. Today I am grateful for survival."


Quote of the day:

It's so curious: one can resist tears and "behave" very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.  Colette


I was reluctant to throw out the white Dendroblum Orchids that my son sent me on the day of the shiva for my brother. They were so delicate and fine – almost pure – and when they arrived I wept with sorrow and joy all mixed together. It felt good to be remembered, noticed, and supported for my confusion and grief. Each time I walked into the room, the flowers seemed to glow back at me a greeting of love. The bunch of rust colored chrysanthemums I had bought myself that day for the occasion seemed to pale in comparison to the flowers I received by surprise delivery. Especially significant was the note that arrived with them, "Understanding how difficult this is, with sympathy and hope," it read. But no signature. I stood still for a minute, maybe shorter, when I realized they must have come from my son and his woman friend. She has a wise soul, and has seen her share of sad times. I texted them: "Did you send me flowers?" "Yes," was the response. 

Counting down to Thanksgiving, how could I not be grateful for flowers? 

Count down to Thanksgiving

I couldn't help but think about gratitude on my morning walk, with the crisp autumnal air, wind blowing burnt orange, amber, red, burgundy, and brownish fall leaves across and around me, forming piles along the way and even under my feet. I strode out with feelings of confidence and strength the likes of which I haven't experienced in awhile. Was that my aging back straightening up and out towards the cloudy sky? Each song that came up on my iPhone, through the earphones and into my brain seemed picked out by some cosmic force, now soothing and rocking, and then energizing my every step, as my body swayed and tilted in time, in tune.

Returning to an old tradition of counting down to Thanksgiving, and first on my list is walking. Slow or fast walking. Sauntering or striding out. Walking up hill, walking through woods, or around them. Waking up longing to walk, or not feeling like it but doing it anyway. Gazing at the sun shining through the tops of leafless trees, while I walk. Thinking and feeling thoughts and feelings that bring tears to my eyes, or that make me laugh out loud while I walk. Listening to music, or hearing songbirds in the spring. Walking with purpose, or straggling along with sore ankle, back or hip. Greeting walkers while I walk. Observing dogs and owners walking obediently, joyously, or grumpily. Feeling the cold to the tips of my fingers. So cold that I clutch the inside of my sleeve to warm them from the chilled air, as I walk. Shedding garments as I heat up feeling stronger and more confident all the while. Peaceful and happy on my return, or deep in thought, humming a tune, or wiping away tears. Homecoming from my walk and the day opens out  before me, clear-headed, blood pumping in my veins, and breath is even. Stretching out those muscles, breathing in and out.

Today I am grateful that I can walk.