Thursday, January 9, 2014

Taylor & Shelby

Three years ago today someone I love very much passed away. He was beautiful. He was one of the best people I've ever met in my life and just so beautiful inside and out. His name was Taylor. And while I know that God has a plan and a reason, I know the world is missing a little piece of heaven we had down here to ourselves.

I know that I am blessed to have loved him. To have called him my friend and to have shared the time we did together. When he died my world stopped. And it took me a long time to fix myself after losing him.

I'll never forget the first time I really laughed after he died. I had gone back to College Station for the semester, and to join up with some of our friends to travel to the funeral. I met with two of the boys for breakfast. I met with Murch and Shelby. And I didn't know what to do. I was hurting and I knew they were hurting and I didn't know how to feel or what to think or say. And I had no appetite and everything just seemed wrong.

But those boys. Oh, they taught me that it was okay to laugh again. They made me laugh. And they held my hands and lent me their shoulders at the funeral. They put their arms around me and told me it was going to be okay. They comforted me. And we sang together and we laughed and told stories and I felt happy and I knew that eventually life would get back to normal.

And I love them. I love them so much.

And today I am here thinking about Shelby. Because as amazing a person as Taylor was, I was blessed to have known Taylor and Shelby at the same time. And that was the best kind of amazing, squared. All of us were Communication majors at A&M, taking a lot of the same classes.

I remember my first day of Comm 101. My very first class. I remember seeing Shelby and Taylor sitting together and talking, and thinking that they must be best friends who came to school together. They had just met. But they would go on to become best friends, and it was beautiful.

We all became involved in the same organization, Shelby and I on our own, before Taylor came in at Shelby's request. Eventually we all became officers. And friends. And we loved each other. It was just this wonderful happening. It was ordained by God. I know it in my heart.

Shelby once said that we were different. It was after Taylor died. He told me that we were better equipped to handle it because of our outlooks on life. He said that the three of us were something different. I adore Taylor and Shelby, so much so that I would never dream of putting myself on the same scale of wonderful that they are on, so to be told that I was a part of that made me want to be stronger.

Shelby and I leaned on each other after losing Taylor. We grieved privately and with our closest friends, but out of the group of officers who lost him, we gravitated towards each other. And sometimes it broke my heart. He once told me a very paralyzing truth about a thought he has waking up some mornings. And it was vulnerable. And he said it with such a calm, but in such a way that it cut me to the core. Because I love him so much that I hurt for him. And I embraced his reality in a new way. You see, Shelby is about as well adjusted about death as a person can be - because he's been walking with it for 11 years.

When Shelby was 14, he was diagnosed with nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis. And it's this crazy rare disease that affects his lungs. And he wasn't supposed to live as long as he has but he's doing it. And he has medication that opens up his blood vessels and turns him red. And then sometimes when he can't breathe as well he turns blue. So sometimes he walks around his very own shade of purple. And we would laugh about it. Because it's what has to be done. And because he, like Taylor, is the best of us. So Godly and faith filled, so optimistic and brave, that he sees something that would destroy almost any other person's spirit as a blessing.

And today, on this day when I'm caught up in the pain of losing our dear friend, I am faced with another harsh reality. Shelby has a doctor's appointment on Monday. He's gone almost as far as he can with his medication. He'll be undergoing tests and scans to see whether he will need to be reactivated onto the list for a double lung transplant. And I'm scared. And I know better than to feel scared, but I am. I know that fear is not of God, but I love him so much that the very thought of losing him pushes me first to that emotion. Because I can't lose them both. This world can't.

Shelby was only supposed to live for 2 years after being diagnosed. He and I would have never met. He's have never met Taylor. So much would be different. He once told me that the doctors could maybe keep him going on medicine until he was forty. And I wanted to believe that, so I have. I've believed that he's had 20+ years at least since we've met and that technology and science would make it all better. Because they had to. Because the world needs him. Because he is the best of us.

But I feel so selfish saying that because I don't know if maybe I just need him. I don't know if I just need to know he's around being his wonderful, beautiful self and making the world a better place. Even if I haven't seen him in awhile. Even if I never got to see him again but could just know that he was happy and healthy somewhere making others happy.

I am so torn about what to feel in this situation. I don't want him to suffer, but I can't lose him. And I am praying so hard for answers and good news. But I feel terrible. I don't know what I should be feeling. That vulnerable truth he shared with me makes me wonder. I know this is in God's hands, but there are so many things in my head.

A few weeks after Taylor's death, Shelby and I sat together talking. He told me that when he gets to heaven he's gonna find Taylor sitting on a bench waiting for him. And they'll be together and talk again like they used to, and when Taylor starts to get up,Shelby will tell him not yet. Because they need to wait for me. And they will. And of so many pictures of heaven and promises above, I cling to that image. It's one of the most beautiful and loving things anyone has ever said to me.

I have felt that Shelby would go before me. I've only been so naive about the nature of his illness, though I would not begrudge a miracle its way to him. But I wonder about Taylor up there on that bench. And I think about the weekly lunches and breakfasts that they used to have, the meeting time conversations and classes shared each semester, and all that they have to catch up on from those missed appointments. And I wonder what God thinks about their meeting on a bench.

So I'm just going to pray. Because there is nothing better that can be done. And I'm going to try to sort out my head and my heart and I'm going to try and be that person that Shelby once said he believed me to be. As strong as he and Taylor. Because no matter what I know that's what he needs me to be.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I don't have any answers.

A few weeks ago I had one of the worst days I'd had in a long time at work. Maybe the worst day. One of my (now former) co-workers had failed to show up, leaving me with by myself with 20 kids that included a group of girls who were being incredibly difficult. They refused to behave and would not settle down. I was frustrated and spent the rest of the evening feeling incredibly simpatico with Mama Fratelli from "The Goonies."

"Kids suck."

Part of the trouble that day was that I had the my kids outside because the gym was not available to us. Being outside meant that we had to put up with any stragglers on campus. There was a child out there who was not a part of my group, but egging on her misbehaving friends who were with me. She was rude and disrespectful and a complete hindrance to my cause.

I've since learned her name and some choice information, and to say that she is anything short of a delinquent nightmare would be a gross understatement. I don't think I could find accurate or appropriate words to describe her. The mere mention of her name caused another adult to utter a disgusted sigh and roll her eyes, and for two of my students who never speak poorly of others to express immediate grievances.

She's decided that I am the enemy because I dared to discipline her friends when they were out of line, and have gotten after her for breaking school rules at the end of the day. She has also decided that because she is not in my program she doesn't need to respect me, and takes every moment possible to express that to be so. Of course, I've seen her act the same way with other adults, so maybe it's worse than I thought.

She is obstinate and flippant and frustrating, and most likely...broken.

And that gets me. Every time.

I absolutely hate disrespect for authority. It bothers me that she continues to act the way she does without correction. And I know exactly how to fix the situation. I know exactly who to speak to for results. I can have a simple conversation with her dance instructor and it would be taken care of.

But I keep stopping myself. Because I just don't know if I should.

I haven't completely figured this girl out. I don't know if my ignoring her tantrums is empowering or frustrating to her. I don't know if she's ever felt remorse or guilt in her life or cares what anyone thinks of her.

I know she's a bully. When I first attempted to learn her name from some of my students they told me that straightaway. I know she thinks it's funny when she misbehaves, and that she's entitled to act however she pleases. That's nothing new from her particular class. I don't know if she's the kind of person who acts out for attention or to make herself feel better. Maybe her parents ignore her. Maybe she's got a tough home life. Who knows?

I'm not excusing her behavior. That doesn't make it okay. Maybe that's harsh, but I don't hand out free passes. I know people from rough backgrounds who never made a fuss a day in their lives. Tough times never stopped them from being decent human beings.

It could very well be that her life is perfect but she's just a mean-spirited little girl who really doesn't care and another reason to worry about the future of our world. I just can't kick the feeling that I need to be praying for her instead of hoping that she'll suddenly be responsive to any sort of discipline. And I don't really think that it's my place to try and fix anything about her, but I've toyed with the idea of talking to one of our counselors about her. She and I have struck up a friendly rapport as of late. She's young and out to change the world - and asking for recommendations for group counseling sessions for girls. Maybe that's been the answer all along.

Of course I don't pretend to have any answers. And I don't pretend to be above this, because as much as I hate to admit it she knows exactly how to push my buttons.

So I'm going to do the only thing you can do when there's nothing you can do and pray about it. For guidance. For some kind of change. For something to get better wherever something needs to get better. And for a softened heart - maybe for both of us.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

a little better and a little sooner

I'm a big fan of the idea that everything that's meant to be will be. The right pieces will always fall into place, and the right things will always happen when they're supposed to happen. But you can't stay miserable while you're waiting for the end result. And you can't stay stagnant, but you can't just go through the motions. You can't live your life clinging so tightly to one hope that you forget to really live. It's no good. It's too hard. It's just wrong.

Sometimes you just have to trust God, and trust life, and trust yourself.

I learned those things a while ago, but I didn't realize how strongly I felt about them until today. I didn't know how very much I was taking them to heart. It's like it suddenly made more sense to me when I was sharing that insight with someone else who needed it.

Funny how trying to help other people sometimes turns the lens on ourselves. I've found that to be true as of late. I find myself handing out advice to others that I hope will keep them from going down the same rocky roads I traveled. Because maybe it doesn't have to be so hard for everyone.

So here's to learning to listen to ourselves a little better and a little sooner, so that maybe life can be a little easier. Because who couldn't use that?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tales From Middle School: We Laugh Because We Must

Ah, the middle school experience.

I thought I was done with it. I was pretty sure I'd done my time. Those two years at WAMS should have been the end of my sentence.

Rite of Passage: check.

Then I took a job working with an afterschool program at the local middle school. And I find myself in a position to watch other kids go through that right of passage.

I've only mentioned the job once, but it actually makes up a large part of my day-to-day. It's definitely an experience. I get to see kids at the beginnings of their selves. I get to watch them make decisions about the people they want to be. I get to see them think things through and grow in maturity. And I also get to see them in the moments where what's left of their innocence shines through in some of great ways.

Of course, it's not always great. Some days they make me crazy. Some days the behavior can be overwhelming and confusing. Some days we have to laugh because it's the only way to deal. You'll hear about those, trust me. Because even if I have to change names, I plan to document some of my experiences here. Because some of my stories are absolute gems of the "you can't make this stuff up" variety.

So I'm starting that today. But instead of jumping into the challenging stuff, I'm gonna talk about the good from today. There were a few hiccups with the kids, but the good was stronger than the bad, and I laughed more than I sighed.

Today I found myself really impressed by one of the boys.

We went outside so the kids could play soccer. One team was arguing over who was going to play goalie because no one wanted to. Finally I asked the other teacher to think of a number between 1 and 6 (the number of players we had on the team) and I counted off the kids. The kid whose number matched the one the other teacher was thinking of did not want to be goalie. He complained about not wanting to "just stand there."

Then I heard another kid say, "Hey Matt, I'll be goalie. It's cool." I was skeptical. Some of the kids get lazy and don't like to participate. I asked him, "Why? Because you want to "just stand there"?

And he said, "No, because Matt's mom wants to watch him play."

I was taken aback in the best way. I had forgotten that Matt's mother was standing nearby to watch the game, but Juan saw that she was there. He understood how much it would mean not only for Matt's mom to get to watch her son play, but also for Matt to play for his mom.

I hate to say it, but I don't always see that kind of thing. That kind of consideration and caring, and yes, self-sacrifice, because that's kind of a big deal for a bunch of kids who had just spent 5 minutes arguing about who was going to play that position. It made me happy. It was one of those things that makes you forget all of the bad stuff. And since then I've been bragging about him to anyone who would listen.

And just as a bonus, a cute interaction:

Jose: Ow. My head hurts.
Me: Did you hit the soccer ball with your head?
Jose: Yes.
Me: Dennis did that earlier, he didn't hurt his head. Does Dennis have a harder head than you?
Jose: I don't know.
Me: Hey Dennis, do you have a harder head than Jose?
Dennis (who has a really cute, Spanish accent that makes "yes" sound more like "jes"): Um, yes, it got stronger because my mom dropped me twice.

I don't know if that's very cute to you, but I think it's absolutely adorable. I dunno, maybe I'm just a little bias and a little attached. Some of these kids I just can't help but like.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Phobias and Superstitions (aka hang-ups)

I learned a long time ago that we are only born with two fears: the fear of falling from high places, and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear we have is learned.

I'm not afraid of those two things. In fact, while I'm sure I did fear those things at one point in time, I have no recollection of it. I did, however, pick up some phobias somewhere along the way.

I use the term "phobia" because by definition, it suits my issues best.

pho·bi·a  n.
1. A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.

Key words higlighted.
I know better! I really do. I know how stupid some of my fears are, but I'm inclined to believe that there are some childhood scares you never fully get over. Years later and the memory alone of a few particular episodes of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" can give me the heebie jeebies. Seriously, chills run up my spine. And I know I can't be the only one!
So you have these childhood fears you can never quite shake and they follow you into adulthood to mix with a special batch of inhibitions developed a little later on in life. This usually leaves you with a decent amount of irrationalities. Nothing crippling, nothing you actually couldn't beat, just stuff that sneaks up on you every now and then.

Which would be an okay place to be. And is where I imagine most people are. And it's pretty much where I am. Except that I also have this nice little collection of superstitious beliefs that I observe that are either rooted in or exacerbated by my obsessive compulsive tendencies. I think that might make things worse.

I don't take them seriously, but I definitely observe them. Isn't that weird? To "observe" fears? Honestly, I more so feel that I just have a bunch of neurosis. By defintion, I have phobias, but that word tends to carry a lot more weight. I like to call them "hang-ups."

I thought I'd share.

1. I don't like having my feet exposed to whatever may be lurking under the bed even though I know there's nothing there. If I have to turn off all the lights before I'm in bed, I have a very small window of time to cross the room before slight panic and the adrenaline that enables me to harness all the power of an Olympic jumper kicks in. Oh, and my feet can't hang over the bed in the dark, either.

2. I knock on wood. ALL THE TIME. Whether I say something that I don't want to happen, or just think it. I feel the need to fix it by knocking on wood. This helps to keep all kinds of bad things from happening. Like if someone says, "Is so-and-so still alive?" and they are, you KNOCK ON WOOD. It will save their life. Then you yell at whoever just tried to kill them for being so insensitive.

3. I don't step on cracks in the sidewalk for fear or affecting my mother's back. And I've never been quite sure whether that applies to just the cracks that form in the sidewalk over time, or also the cracks that separate one cement block from the next, so I avoid both. And if I accidentally step on one, I knock on wood.

4. I don't look at mirrors in the dark. In fact, I hurry out of rooms with large mirrors (like the bathroom) as quickly as I can as soon as I turn off the light. Bloody Mary? No, thanks. I also don't keep exposed mirrors in my bedroom and always make sure my hand mirror is turned down before I sleep. There's a lot of lore that comes with mirrors that I don't really believe in, but am still aware of. Seriously, a while back I stayed with my friend's in-laws for about a minute and there was a HUGE mirror in the room. Very pretty in the day, I'm sure, but I needed a nap. I chose to ignore it. I was really tired.

5. I always throw salt over my left shoulder if I spill the salt. Even if I'm picking up the shaker because someone else knocked it over and neglected to pick it up. Because there's a chance that I could have spilled some of the salt while picking it up. Then I'm pretty sure that would be on me.

6. Hollywood ghost children scare me. I love scary movies and I would even love someday to go on a ghost tour in the South, but ghost children in movies and shows freak me out. I love "Doctor Who", but there's a two-part episode that I have a love/hate relationship with simply because it has a scary ghost child. One of those AYAOTD? episodes that freaks me out? Ghost child. 'Nuff said.

So those are my hang ups. I mean, I still don't walk under ladders or open umbrellas in the house, and I'm not saying I've never felt uneasy in certain real-world situations, but those are the only "big" phobias and superstitions I'm really aware of and observe.

The funny thing is that I'm actually one of those people who tends to think that nothing bad can happen to them. It's not the best way to be, but I always feel kind of stubbornly secure. I'll do certain things and go certain places and take certain risks without thinking twice. But even as I'm typing this now, I have this urge to knock on wood and I will knock on wood because I feel like I'm tempting fate or God or something even though I know that's not the way things work.

I just have these things that stop me up for a minute.

We all have them, even if ours aren't the same. And if you can't relate to mine, then you could at least laugh at mine. And then imagine that maybe someone could laugh at yours. And if you have a fear that's laughable, then that's not really something you need to worry about, is it?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ants/Sycorax - Tomato/Tamahto

I went on an ant killing spree a little while ago. They invaded my home. To those I let live, I give [almost] the same warning The Doctor gave the Sycorax on Christmas Day.

"By the ancient rights of combat, I forbid you to scavenge here for the rest of time. And when you go back to the stars (outdoors) and tell others of this planet (house), when you tell them of its riches, its people, its potential, when you talk of the Earth (my residence), then make sure that you tell them this... is defended!"

[Note: No, I don't think I got too carried away with this. They were biting me, y'all.]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

School was not out forever. Alice Cooper lied.

I don't ever really talk about my job on here. I may have mentioned the kids I work with once or twice - maybe, but that's about it. I think the few times that I've tried to the words just didn't string together properly so I just gave up.

I wonder if that says something about me.


Basically, I work for an after school program at our local middle school. That means that I not only get a summer, but also the end of summer blues (happening just a tiny bit now). But with a new year and new kids come all kinds of new possibilities that I've got to admit I'm at least a little bit excited about. Our program is geared towards 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and free to anyone who wants in. It can be tough at times, but has it's rewarding moments. We put together activities that have something of an educational basis (even if we have to stretch that a bit), play sports, offer tutoring and homework help, give the kids a snack, and try to make a difference in the lives of the kids who need it.

Middle school has got to be the hardest age group to work with ever. Not only did I know that going in, but nearly everyone I met felt the need to tell me so. Apparently middle school burns people out quick, and our particular group of kids does nothing to help diminish that fact. Even without the overwhelming sense of entitlement and almost full-blown apathy we have to deal with most of the time, 11, 12, and 13 are very much crossroad ages. These guys don't really know if they're coming or going. They're torn between being a kid and becoming teenagers. They don't know where they stand. They battle tons of negative outside influences every day, they've got all these hormones running around, and peer pressure has probably never been so terrible. I know it because I've seen it. Kids who are just absolute delights on their own can turn into terrors caught in the pack mentality that is middle school. Toss into the mix the learning difficulties and home issues some of these kids have and life can be a pretty scary place.

My heart constantly goes out to them, yet at the same time I often find myself wondering when I've ever been so frustrated. These kids test me on a daily basis. Before this, I never knew that I could be the disciplinarian, but now I will never doubt that ability again. I'm tough when I have to be because I know they need it, but despite my efforts and those of the educators around me, there are some I still have a hard time imagining a bright future for without some huge and probably terrible life event forcing them down the straight and narrow.

But I still hope, and I still try. For the chance to help however and whenever and wherever I can. Sometimes the smallest and strangest things can have a positive influence on someone, so you never know. You just gotta hang on for your moment. With these kids you have to keep an open mind and an open heart; know when to stand your ground, and when to be flexible and adapt. You have hope that things go your way, but be willing to blast some Chumbawamba and try again if they don't. And with tomorrow being my first day back that's exactly what I intend to do, and I'm excited.