The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, October 8, 2012

September's Second Half - A Rich Summary

A very special picture to me... my "kids" being kids after spending time contemplatively reflecting on AIDS at the AIDS interfaith chapel (inside Grace Chapel, seen in the background)
I've got to stop doing this whole "catch up" thing with blogging. Since blogging normally keeps me sane even when I'm stressed, the lack of blogging lately really speaks to the insanity of everything in my life lately. Or perhaps it speaks to the fact that I am actually managing it all relatively well lately, so that I don't feel the necessity to blog my woes. Haha.  It has been busy, but not too stressful really.

Let' see... what has the blog world missed.

Two weeks ago, Vinny and Marc were in the parade with our church. They had a really adorable little "Peace" themed float, which is so appropriate for our church. My sister and I took the girls and went to watch. Later that evening, we met up with our extended family at an Embassy Suites for a family reunion. With their managers reception in the evening, there is no better place for a family reunion. It was great to see everyone. This is something that has been happening annually for a few years, but Marc and I just joined for the first time last year. Little by little, I am starting to get to know my dad's uncles and cousins, whom I didn't really grow up knowing, so getting to know them now is kind of special. Some of his cousins are even teachers, so it has been fun to chat with all of them.

Last weekend, I took my drama students to San Francisco. This was an interesting trip in that the primary purpose was to study a culture so close, yet so far from our own. These students are so used to their conservative, homogenous, Mexican immigrant community, sometimes they don't realize what is just a few hours away. 

      Since a college prep teacher is always looking for opportunities to plant college seeds, we also visited UC Santa Cruz and SFSU. A lot of the kids just fell in love with UC Santa Cruz. It felt sort of like a giant academic summer camp to me. Strange. With wooden bridges stretching through forests connecting parts of the campus, redwood trees everywhere, and deer eating outside lecture halls, it was hard to believe that it was a major UC school, not a quaint forest retreat center. But it really does seem like a good school and our students would be in good hands with a good future ahead of them.

Art abounds at the SF LGBT Center
     Anyhow, the musical we are doing this year takes place in San Francisco and is about the AIDS Names  Memorial Quilt, so this was the focus of our trip. On the way up on the bus, I showed them Common Threads, a documentary about the quilt, and Rent. We visited the LGBT center, and the AIDS Memorial Grove, and the AIDS chapel to see a quilt block.

AIDS Grove
I think my favorite part was the grove. It was just amazing. One of the most beautiful places I have been in this world. We went early in the morning, when the dew was still fresh on the grass. The care put into this place is so obvious. It is meticulously landscaped and cared for by volunteers. The creators of this grove have managed to capture the true beauty of the natural works that God has created, which I think is so appropriate for remembering the victims of AIDS.  AIDS has such a nasty history, particularly in the stigma towards victims. At the beginning, the ignorance meant untouchability, like leprosy. The victims were so ignored for so long, so hated. The idea of condemnation is almost worse than the disease itself. If I were a family member of a victim, this place would mean the world to me. Its beauty and tranquility would bring peace to my soul.

I can see why people put money and time into creating and maintaining this place. Being able to have a place of beauty, tranquility -- somewhere that is so pleasant to be at -- brings healing. I think it truly had to be a grove, a place teeming with life. In the midst of all these living plants, the running water, you can feel the life. Because AIDS meant death, in so many ways, including an inability to produce healthy children, the amount of life here is exactly what an AIDS memorial needed to be.

The Outdoor Labyrinth - Similar to the indoor one, only larger
There was also a really special moment when we were visiting the Grace Chapel (where the AIDS quilt is), a moment that will stay in my heart for a long time. The Grace Chapel has two prayer labyrinths, one inside and one outside. Next to the one inside, it gives instructions on praying the labyrinth (not that there is really any wrong way to do it, but it gave suggestions) and suggested that it is best experienced without shoes. I have prayed the labyrinth before, and it has always been very meaningful to me. When I saw it, I wanted to do it, but there were some little kids playing on it, so that detracted and I decided against it. After touring the rest of this beautiful church, I came back again to the front and found a handful of my students, barefoot, walking the labyrinth at different paces, in different ways. I jumped in. Shoes off, away I went. There was something so peaceful about that moment. I don't know the faith of my students' hearts, and being a public school teacher means I keep my personal spiritual journey to myself most of the time, but for a few minutes that Saturday afternoon, we shared an authentic moment. In the few spots where I passed students on their path through the labyrinth, there was nothing awkward, just a mutual respect for the value of a quiet moment with God.

I want to build a labyrinth in my yard. Would that be weird?

Overall, the trip to San Francisco was a success. Students bonded with people they may not have otherwise bonded with. They made memories to last a life time. They got a taste of... something different. (Literally and figuratively. I took them to an all organic restaurant. Some loved it. Some hated it... but at least they tried it).

Returning from this trip was hard. I don't know why it took SO much out of me, but it did. I found myself unwillingly falling asleep before 10:00 every night last week. I was just... DRAINED.

Tranquility - National AIDS Memorial Grove
Now, finally (heaves huge sigh of relief), it is fall break. Although a small portion of me mourns the passing of an entire year since experiencing the serenity of Maui, I am mostly glad to have a quiet week to do nothing but catch up on everything from time with my children, to house work, to grades. I spent about 12 hours yesterday grading. I know that sounds like an odd way to start a week off of work, but it was so necessary and felt SO good to do in a peaceful, non-rushed state. Today, I cleaned my garage. Sometime the mundane can be so... poetic in a Wordsworthian way of just understanding "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility." 

    I mean, the icing on the cake is truly this... approximately 6 months ago, a dear friend gave me some boxes containing the entire collection of her son's childhood reading. What a glorious gift. Boys are typically reluctant readers, and she seems to have spent considerable time making sure her son (and now mine) had a high interest book flood. 

Thanks Barb & Mark!
     I've been longing for time to clear a space for them and organize them. They've been laying open in the garage, with Tiana scooping up board books here and there, Vinny musing over chapter books he may someday want to read. In August, he and I even fished out a Beverly Cleary book and read it together, but for the most part... they've been waiting for me to have time for them. After clearing a space today and buying a shelf, they are finally ready and waiting. Many have already moved into the house, but for now, this delightful collection awaits a day when Vinny is ready to pass on his picture books and move on to bigger and better things.  

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