Being: Bristol, Birds, a Babbling Brook, Bullfrogs, Bunnies, a Biker, and the Bells of St. Brigid

This morning I woke up at 5:26 AM.  It’s summer, and I’m a high school English teacher on summer break. Considering that the alarm goes off at 4:30 every day during the school year, waking at 5:26, sans alarm, is actually sleeping in.  I made a commitment several weeks ago:  I’m going to walk in the Columbus half-marathon in October.  In order to meet that goal, I need to train, no small task given that I’m not in very good shape.  But, I have been faithful; I have a training schedule; today marks the beginning of the third week of training, and I’m on schedule.  Since I was already awake, and because I wanted to walk before the heat of the day descends, I got out of bed and headed out the door.

This morning’s walk, as with every walk thus far, was an occasion for rumination.  A myriad of seemingly disparate, but strangely related, ideas flitted through my head as I walked along with Bristol, my beloved mixed-Terrier shelter dog (some say we rescued her from the shelter, but I believe she rescued us).  My first thought was that it was a beautiful morning – the kind of morning that I’ve been missing lately.  It’s been a different summer:  usually we camp most of the summer, but this summer, my husband had a total knee replacement, so while he recuperates, our camping has been and will be curtailed until at least the latter to end part of the summer.  This morning, though, was like the camping mornings I so enjoy. When we camp, I’m usually the first one up, and since my internal body clock is set to rise early during the school year (remember the 4:30 AM mandatory wake-up call), I tend to wake at the the literal crack of dawn, school or not.  It wasn’t always this way, though.  Teaching has made me a morning person, and I’m glad.  Mornings are wonderful – the “filet mignon” of the day, according to a dear, departed friend.

My first thought as I stepped outside was that the morning was delightfully cool.  It’s been blisteringly hot and humid with an inordinate amount of rain.  But, not today.  The sun, starting to rise, colored the eastern sky orangish-red; while a few clouds, gathered on the western horizon, began their slow march eastward.  It was that time of day – no longer night, but not quite morning – that ethereal time in-between – that I love.  I love it because it is so still, so quiet, so soft.

My second thought was one of gratitude:  I am grateful that I live in Dublin, OH.  Though I pay high real estate taxes in Dublin, I don’t begrudge those in the least because it’s a community of great schools and quality of life; I can see where and how my tax dollars are being put to good use. Thanks to the awesome city planners, Dublin boasts miles and miles of walking/biking trails that connect the whole city.  The trails are well-maintained, and many are woven through parks and woodlands and wetlands.  Mature trees, with their welcoming shade, and vibrant plantings of annuals and perennials, bursting in riotous color, line the walks. Wooden bridges span the creek in numerous places along my walking route;  there’s been a respite from the recent rains, so the creek, lately a raging torrent, has softened into a babbling brook.  Soft morning, soft birdsong, soft babble of the brook.  Soft.  Softly speaking to me, all around. Playgrounds, still and silent, wait patiently for their eager charges, and meticulously groomed baseball fields sit empty and quietly, for a time.  Dublin is green, and right now, it’s in full, glorious bloom. Just beautiful.

I don’t listen to music when I walk for the same reason that I prefer to have my windows open (in my house and in my car) rather than having the air conditioning on:  I want to hear what’s going on around me.  With earbuds in (just like with the air conditioning on), I feel enclosed, caved-in, claustrophobic.  Besides, what better music is there than birdsong?  I love to hear the birds when I walk.  They compose a symphony unparalleled, indeed a joyful noise.  This morning the birds did not disappoint.  They were joined in chorus by some raucous bullfrogs, slightly out of tune, but nevertheless lively and passionate about their song.  And bunnies.  Bunnies danced and darted, flitted and fluttered across the path.  Feisty and spunky, ears pricked, nose twitching, tail wagging a mile-a-minute, Bristol was awash in sensory delight.  Birdies.  And bunnies.  Oh, and squirrels. Maybe sensory overload.

For the first hour of my walk, it was just me and Bristol and the birds and the bunnies, oh – and the squirrels.  That’s an advantage to heading out the door at 6:14 AM.  I had the trail to myself.  A lone biker (or cyclist, I guess) came up behind me as I crossed over the bridge into the wetlands.  I didn’t hear him coming, so lost in birdsong and rumination was I, that when he announced “passing on the left!” I about jumped out of my skin.  Another mile, another twenty minutes would pass before I would encounter another human being.  In the meantime, the wetlands were abuzz with activity and birdsong and rumination.

And in the near distance began the melodic tintinnabulation of the bells of St. Brigid.

Perfect.

Good morning.

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The Waiting Room

Hospitals, much like airports, fascinate me, perhaps because both are hubbubs of activity; each is a microcosm: an intersection of cultures, of personalities, of humanity, and both are rife for watching, observing the breadth and range of relationships and emotions; both are peopled with determined humans walking purposefully toward their destinations (or maybe their destinies); likewise, both are populated with the aimless, the dazed, the tired, the bored, the impatient, the hopeful, the worried, the relieved, the kind, the rude, the broken – many wandering about; some huddled on uncomfortable chairs, trying to sleep or trying to appear as if they’re sleeping; a number gathered in groups, chattering and laughing and hugging and eating and drinking and drawing strength or comfort from each other; others reading newspapers or books or magazines, or talking on cell phones, or gazing at laptops and iPads; a few praying. It’s early summer here now, and many of those waiting are dressed for the season as well as the waiting, wearing shorts or capris and t-shirts or tank tops, tennis shoes or sandals or flip flops, and ball caps; some anticipated the chill of the air conditioning and came prepared with sweaters or sweatshirts (I am not one of those: it seems I’m always hot these days, and today is no exception); a couple are more formally attired: the elderly gentleman in starched, striped, button-down shirt, tie with clip, Coke-bottle eyeglasses, slightly worn and scuffed dress shoes, and Einstein hair, his cane resting against his leg; the elegant woman in classic Ann Taylor and impeccable pumps and Queen Elizabeth pocketbook sitting in a straight-backed chair, alone, along the rear of the room (I suspect these two would likewise dress to travel; they’re of that generation, a by-gone era). Most of the waiting are toting ubiquitous, nondescript, brown paper bags filled with patients’ belongings. I hear voices: some hushed; some elevated; some coarse and raspy, gruff and gravelly – smokers’ voices, these; some uniquely distinct – their words discernible, even from across the room; all of differing timbres and inflections; a few with accents – foreign and domestic; some imparting medical updates with obvious relief; others talking privately (too loudly) on their cell phones – one young woman taking a call from a creditor and then, embarrassed, nervously lowering her voice when making payment arrangements; many simply chatting, passing the time in companionship – new and old – striking up random conversations with other waiters.

Overhead, from somewhere among the fluorescent lights, comes another voice – a disembodied voice that summons patients and families to the information desk, sending them on their way or providing patient updates. A still different voice interjects overhead and warns of an impending test of the hospital’s fire alarm system, advising waiters to disregard flashing lights and blaring horns. The arrival of the complimentary cookie cart prompts a mad dash to the front of the room.

And then, my husband’s baby-faced surgeon enters and beckons me to the waiting room within the waiting room. My wait is over: all is well.

The Seven Year Itch

When I was a kid, my sister, our neighborhood friends, and I would play school.  It was one of our favorite games.  We’d assemble in the basement of one of our homes, and we’d transform it into a schoolhouse, complete with classrooms, library, teachers’ lounge, and principal’s office.  I always wanted to be the teacher.  There was something magical about filling out hall passes on scraps of paper, writing with chalk – all different colors – on a chalkboard, fingers coated with chalk dust, standing up in front of my “students” and teaching.  For years, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d always answer that I wanted to be a teacher.  I was in awe of my own teachers; in my eyes, they were superhuman; they could do no wrong.  I wanted to be just like them.

As I grew older,  I wavered.  Born with wanderlust, fascinated with airports (I loved watching people, wondering where they were going or where they’d been, surreptitiously spying joyful reunions or tearful partings, secretly weaving dramatic stories about all of them), attracted by the glamour of travel (air travel was something special then; people dressed to the nines when they travelled, and it was an exciting and dazzling and euphoric spectacle to behold), I decided that I wanted to be a flight attendant.  But, alas, I was too short:  I didn’t meet the airlines’ height requirements, and I didn’t have much hope of growing any taller.  That dreamed dashed, I fancied myself becoming a writer with my great American novel topping the bestseller list or my columns syndicated across the country; maybe I’d even win a Pulitzer.  Or, maybe, instead, I’d become a translator at the United Nations or a professional golfer or a chef.  Then, I wanted to be a doctor.  I was sure I was destined to discover a cure for cancer.  That, or I’d deliver a bazillion babies.  Noble and ambitious, yes.  But the sight of blood made me squeamish, and the smell of formaldehyde in my high school Biology class just about did me in, so I reasoned that becoming a doctor was probably not for me:  after all, I couldn’t go through med school with my nose plugged, and I surely couldn’t make rounds and treat patients and deliver babies without seeing blood.

After I spent a tantalizing summer studying Italian in Italy and traipsing all over that breath-taking boot – that boot that left indelible footprints on my heart and soul – my wanderlust rekindled, and I came home determined to travel the world.   At the end of my senior year of high school, with my college plans in the balance, I decided to enroll in travel school.  Still too short to be a flight attendant, I knew there was no height requirement to be an airline reservationist or to attend the airport ticket counter or to be a travel agent.  So, I spent the next twenty-two years working as a travel agent and wandering the world.  Travel was good to me.  Very, very good to me.  I loved it, and I probably would still be in the travel business today were it not for the events of September 11, 2001.  That day, travel changed for me, forever.

It was then that I decided to go back to school to finish my degree and to get my teaching license.  So, at the tender age of 45, I became a rookie teacher, teaching high school English.  That was seven years ago, and today, I sent my latest crop of students off on their summer vacation.  It’s been an exhilarating seven years:  I’ve learned so much; I’ve experienced incredible highs and devastating lows.  I’ve seen the lightbulbs go off in students’ faces as they finally get it, and I’ve stared helplessly at a sea of bored, expressionless, glazed-over eyes.  I’ve never worked harder in my life.  I don’t have a chalkboard like I did in the basement so many years ago; I have a whiteboard instead.  Writing hall passes doesn’t seem quite as magical now.  But teaching!  Teaching is incredible.  I think I was born to do this.  I think my young self sensed it, too.

Today marks the end of my seventh year of teaching, and this has been my roughest year yet.  Faced with having to do more with less, to being forced to sacrifice time teaching and learning to instead prepare for and administer standarized tests, to dealing with student apathy and entitlement and bullying, to being asked to increase academic rigor while at the same time to decrease student stress, to stepping gingerly to avoid getting caught up in personal and petty drama among colleagues, to spending countless hours and endless in-service meetings trying to understand unreasonable, ever-changing, mean-spirited, and politically-motivated education legislation passed by dim-witted politicians who have never been educators – legislation that directly affects me as a teacher as well as my current and future livelihood, not to mention the academic welfare of my current and future students, it’s been a rough year.

This evening, as I sit on my patio, feeling the adrenalin letdown of this last day of the school year, I also feel the itch.  It’s been seven years; maybe it’s the seven-year itch.  Maybe it’s an inkling that something is amiss.  Maybe I’m not meant for this.  It’s too tough.  It’s too demanding.  It’s too, too, too.  No.  It’s the itch to start planning for next year.  It’s the itch to make next year better than this year.

It’s the itch to make a difference in at least one student’s life.

I’m itchy.

It may be summer.  Indeed, it may be the first day of summer.  But, I am, and I think I have always been, a teacher.

 

 

Patio Postings – Ahhhhhh

Summer is almost upon us.  It’s a glorious Sunday morning of a long Memorial Day weekend.  The sun is shining; the birds are singing; the breeze is soft and gentle and refreshing.  I’m sitting on the patio.  Bare feet.  Coffee.  Solitude.  Laziness.

I’m sore this morning:  a day of yardwork yesterday, ridding the patio of those pesky weeds that grow up between the pavers, has left my lower back and legs hurting.  I’m sure tomorrow I’ll feel it even more; it’s always that way:  the second day after is rough.  But today, the work is done, and I’m sitting on the patio, appreciating the weed-free environment.  I hope this is the first in a string of patio postings this summer.  After a winter of polar vortexes, windchill warnings, snow days, and altogether nastiness, I intend to spend as much time out of doors as I can.

Normally, my summer is spent camping, and while I will get to go camping this summer, I won’t be camping as much as usual.  But, I have the patio.  I have two big trees that shade the patio.  I have soft green grass (at least it’s soft and green now) to walk through bare footed.  I have the sweet song of a myriad of birds.  I also have the whir and whiz of the neighbors’ air conditioners (my own windows are wide open to the fresh breeze), but I’ll tune that out.  More pleasant sounds abound:  I can hear the cheers from the nearby baseball fields and the buzz of lawnmowers.  Soon the scent of newly cut grass will waft my way.  Lovely.  After the altogether nastiness of winter, this is altogether lovely.  And, I intend to bask in it.