There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing

There was a 1973 film directed by Alan Pakula by the same title that I have "borrowed" for this post. My post has nothing to do with the movie, but the title seems appropriate. In the past two weeks I have experienced the gamut of joy and sorrow, ups and downs, love and pain, and everything in between - and that's just with and amongst my students and the school community where I teach. This morning, as I lay in bed, I was struck by the amount of gratitude I had for all of life - for each moment, for all that I have experienced - for all the gifts that come with happy exuberance, deep grief, or simple contentment. Two weeks ago I attended one of my students' (from last year) Bat Mitzvah - a right of passage for Jewish thirteen year-old girls as they take responsibilty for their personal practice of Judaism and the upholding of Jewish traditions. Though there is a solemnity to this rite of passage, it is thought of as a true celebration and, typically (as with Jamie's) there is a party that follows the ceremony at the synogogue with singing, dancing, mirth and merriment. Yesterday, I participated in another rite of passage: a memorial service. This was for another student of mine, who died last Wednesday. A seventeen year-old girl who died after spending half of her life dealing with Valley Fever and an immune deficiency that made it difficult for her body to fight the fungal infection. I only had a brief opportunity to get to know Rachel, as I have only had her class (11th grade) this semester and Rachel has been out of school for most of it. However, I knew her enough to know that she was a fighter. That she had a thirst for learning and doing her best. And that she was kind. Through her classmates I learned that she was funny, sarcastic, talented, and a true, loyal friend, with an amzing spirit. At the service yesterday, which was held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I sat bewteen a parent of one of my 12th grade students and one of my senior students. The parent, who sat on my right, has a younger daughter who has severe cerebral palsy, and daily this mother has to deal with not only "what if" but "when" her daughter is going to die. The student, who sat to my left, just started attending AA meetings last week, and has been dealing with depression and calling out for help for quite some time. He had recently experienced the death of one of his cousins, which had hit him extremely hard. Sitting between this student and parent, I realized how much sorrow there is - how much pain each one of us goes through in different ways. And yet there is so much joy there too. A parent who cherishes every moment she has with her daughter and finds bright spots within that and in the knowledge that she also has a wonderful and healthy son. A young man who struggles with drug addiction and depression, and yet is excited to have "made it" through six days clean and sober, with a 24-hour chip in his pocket, a "home group," and an AA sponsor. Hope, faith, connection. I held both their hands at different points in the service. I felt blessed. I felt alive. There was a lot of love in both ceremonies I attended. There was also joy in each of them as well. Though the memorial service was incredibly sad and there was much grief in the room, there were also moments of joy. Joy in the life that had been lived, the lives that had been touched, and the spirit of a young woman who will live on as an inspiration to so many. In my classroom, we begin each class period with a ringing of a mindfulness bell and a bow. I call out the name of the first student on the attendance roster and that student then calls the next, and so on until the last student calls out, "Here!" Thursday's roll call in Rachel's section was incredibly difficult. On Friday I asked the students what they would like to do for the remainder of the semester: take Rachel's name off the list or continue to include her in our attendance ritual. Unanimously, the students said that they wanted to continue to include Rachel. So we will. On Friday, each of the 11th grade sections devoted their drama periods to designing prayer flags for Rachel and her family. I had pre-cut card stock and punched holes in the top and the students used pens and markers and wrote prayers, bible verses, quotes, letters, and some drew pictures to Rachel. We strung yarn through the holes of the cards and hung them on the trees in the courtyard. I was introduced to prayer flags at Naropa University a few years ago. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. (Wikipedia) I tweaked the idea of the prayer flags a bit for our purposes. It was my hope that the students could cultivate a bit of healing for themselves, for the school community, for Rachel and her family by creating the flags and then sending their messages out into the "wind" - and into the rain as was the case on Friday night and all day Saturday. Rain is cleansing and clearing and I learned that Rachel loved the rain. It was appropriate then that it rained on the afternoon of her passing and, again, on the day of her memorial. It seemed right that the rain should fall on the prayer flags as well(I took a photo - below - of them today, Sunday, post rain).

This morning, as I sat in bed with my cup of coffee and my journal, I wrote a gratitude list - which I try to do every day any way, but today, it felt different. I was struck by the fact that I can so easily forget what is important (even though I practice focusing on that daily). That I can so easily take for granted each moment. I thought about how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to teach - and learn from - both Jamie and Rachel and all my other students. I thought how fortunate I am to lie in bed for just awhile longer on this Sunday morning, and stretch my body under warm covers and see the sunshine streaming through my window. How grateful I am for my family, my friends, my beautiful dog, for my health, for laughter and a sense of a humor, for my life. Dan Millman, athlete, coach, and professor said, "There are no ordinary moments." And Einstein explained, "There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." Today, I chose to look at everything as extraordinary, as a miracle. Once out of bed I ate breakfast mindfully (I adapted this from my experience at Deerpark Monastery last summer, and while I had planned on eating a mindful meal once a week upon my return, I honestly, only do so about once a month). I read a mindful eating meditation and then proceeded to chew my food slowly, tasting every bite, noticing each flavor and texture, and thinking about how this food actually came to be and then came to be on my plate. Then I took my dog, Love, for a long walk. It was a beautiful day: sunny, with blue sky, and a slight breezy chill in the air. While I was writing my thesis I always took an "Awareness Walk" with Love in the mornings - making sure to notice as much as I could and doing my best to observe Love and how she "noticed" the world, doing my best to stay completely present. Leaving my phone at home, I set out to enjoy an Awareness Walk this morning. It was wonderful! Again, I felt blessed to get to see and enjoy the little yellow flowers on a tree, to inhale the air, to feel the wind on my cheeks, to hear the click-clack of Love's nails on the pavement, and to take interest in whatever Love seemed so incredibly curious about under this tree or that rock. To not be anywhere but where I was at that moment. I cried today too. I cried over loss, over fears, over a quote I read. I also laughed. I laughed really hard when I couldn't catch an onion I had taken off the shelf before it landed smack-dab into my coffee cup (probably doesn't sound funny, but in the moment it was pretty hilarious). Each of those moments passed. But I had them. I noticed them. I felt them. Laughter, tears, contentment - Love and pain and the whole damn thing. For all of it, I am grateful.

1 comment:

Griffin said...

Thank you, Nicky... for your thoughtful words and your perspective on life and death and the journey... I needed that...