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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Living Life: Times of Struggle and Times of Grace

I suppose that I see limitless opportunity for promising change and development because I have experienced being trapped time and again in life.

As a young child, I lived in a very busy, small home with many people. There were many, many positive experiences in that home, but there was also the "trapped" feeling that one gets when he or she feels different than those around them. As a young child, similar to today, I loved to spend hours reading, writing, drawing, and most of all dreaming. That was not activity well supported in my home, a home that valued chores, physical activity, sports, and adventure more than writing, drawing, crafting, and dreaming. Often I would hear the words, "Get out and play" or "Find some friends." Still today those in my life that have little worth for daydreaming, writing, reading, and research lament my long hours sequestered away playing with ideas and building new worlds. I find solace from others' words and actions who, like me, spend their time focused on betterment, ideas, and research--they give me strength to follow my path. The naysayers too contribute to my work because they introduce me to new worlds as well. My active dad who valued adventure introduced me to natural adventures that have given me strength throughout my life, strength in experience, strength in resilience, and strength in metaphor. My mom who values her social connections greatly introduced me to countless people and social events over time. Her happy, open minded, fun-loving spirit urges me forward again and again when life seems too heavy or difficult. In school sometimes, I too urge students to move from their comfortable places of dreaming, contemplation, and other solitary endeavor to be part of the group and to engage with activities that are not their favorite. I'm sure they feel a bit trapped when that happens too. I try to remind them, however, that it's wonderful to be who they are and enjoy what they do and that they should take that seriously as their lives move forward and they make choices about who they will become, what they will do, and how they will contribute.

As life moved forward, I also felt trapped by the social expectations of my young life. When everyone was smoking and trying drugs, I chose not to do that. I wanted to be cool, but I knew it wasn't right and I saw the hardship that caused to so many who live near me. I wanted to date desperately as a young girl, but I never had any confidence and I didn't have the popular looks that other girls had so no one was flocking to my door. I thought of boys as a people apart and didn't really understand that boys and girls could be good friends. It wasn't until college that I began to make sense of that. In fact, one of my great revelations in college was that there were smart boys--until then, almost everywhere I went, intelligence and scholarship were not valued much--the "good" boys were the athletes, and there was little attention paid to anyone's scholastic efforts or achievements. In fact, those who demonstrated those attributes were mostly looked down upon in my places of learning.

College was a great experience for me. At last I met people who valued who I was and what I loved. As in my home, I found places to hide out to draw, write, and dream. And as in my past life, I was challenged and trapped in a sense too by social situations mostly related to economics and past experiences. My experiences in many ways were different from many that I studied and learned with, but mostly I was so entranced by the studies and the college atmosphere in general, I didn't worry too much about that. I loved being introduced to big ideas I never thought about before and mostly ideas that freed me from old thoughts and ideas, thoughts and ideas that limited me and hindered my passion and potential. College opened many doors for me and elevated my desire for a just, fair, beautiful, and good world.

After college, I was on my own again to find a job and begin a life. First I spent time typing a resume over and over again until there were few to no typos (no computers then and I didn't have the good secretarial support that some of my college friends had). I drove up and down the highway dropping off my resume looking for any job I could find. Finally through a contact my mom had and a contact related to my college I got a clerk job at a local company. It was a prison-like work atmosphere that had me working at a desk in rows with many women. Our boss was a demanding man who shouted orders and watched us from his office window. There was no room for thought or conversation, just time to complete the orders. The talk at lunch was about diets, husbands/boyfriends, and vacations. The women were good women working hard to live as well as they could. I learned many skills and a bit more about people, but in general I was suffocated there. That suffocation led me to go to the bank to take out a $700 loan to move to Boston. I was so proud of that act, and so happy to move to the city where I felt more at home.

In Boston I brought my resume and art portfolio to an employment agency. The woman at the agency loved my college and knew someone I knew that studied there. She loved my portfolio too and sent me right away to an architectural firm. When I walked in, I was immediately in love with the place--a big, old, renovated building with lots of white walls, drawings, plants, and positive human energy everywhere. I got a job in their marketing department, and loved working there for three years. The passion-driven work of the employees and the great conversation, creativity, and camaraderie encouraged me to find a professional field I could similarly invest myself in and led me eventually to applying to graduate schools to fulfill a dream I had as early as kindergarten which was to teach school.

I applied to a number of graduate schools and landed a very helpful scholarship at Boston University. I studied there and worked all kinds of jobs to afford that opportunity. Upon graduation, I asked my boss from the architectural firm to write me a character reference to work in the beautiful town where he lived. He wrote that reference, I got an interview, and eventually got a job teaching fourth grade there. What I didn't know at the time was that the principal of the school also had very strong positive feelings about the college I attended, Holy Cross, and had family members who worked and went to the college. Throughout time my college experience has come back to support me time and again, and I know that's because my college is one that's committed to positive teaching, learning, and service and its reputation for that serves to strengthen every student who goes there during their college experience and beyond.

In the meantime there were all kinds of social events that affected my life too. My busy family and neighborhood sometimes overwhelmed me but it also gave me a great community to live in and grow up with. The children in my neighborhood still today gather on Facebook to tell stories and are there for one another when tragedy or triumph strikes. A close bond existed and still exists today. My very big extended family was always there to support one another too. We had so many good times together and we still have those good times today both planned and spontaneous. I was a very naive young girl who didn't date much at all, and when I did date, I dated really great men who were as much friends as boyfriends. When I met my husband, it was as if it was divine intervention--truly he was like a knight coming to free me of many of the shackles of self consciousness, insecurity, and prejudice I had experienced as a young working class women. He introduced me to all kinds of adventures and had a will to do well in the world, be kind, and succeed. He is an amazing friend and spouse and a true gift to my life. Very good friends have remained in my life from my earliest years too--friends I rely on today to understand me and to urge each other forward in positive ways as we navigate teaching, parenting, and growing older.

As I look over my life and the many positive and challenging experiences as well as the great people I've had the chance to live with and learn with, I am left with the realization that life holds tremendous potential for whom we can be and what we can do. All of us are called in different directions and we all bring our unique perspectives, talents, passions, experiences, and challenges to life. None of us are the same yet we all share common quests for love, belonging, contribution, joy, pleasure, and living well.  We all have significant gifts to contribute and needs to fulfill.

In my life, I have witnessed tough times become better through the hard work and dedication of many. I have seen what was once a feeling of being trapped become an expression of freedom. I have watched how the magnet that good living and humanity is calls individuals and society forward, and I have seen those who turn away from truth, goodness, love, and solidarity face hardships that I wouldn't wish on anyone--it definitely pays to live a good life with your best intentions and actions.  Even when that good living is challenged by peers and others, stay the course of good, righteous, truthful living.

As I move forward from this point, I won't tell you that I'm not fearful. I fear the tough times, but I know that with good people and good effort, we can withstand the harshest of experiences. I also know that we can't be afraid to question, reach out, and look for solutions when we are trapped, lost, or forgotten--today, more than ever, given social media and the close proximity of so many resources, ideas, and possibilities, there are answers to your questions and needs everywhere so don't be afraid to look for and reach out for what you need.

Life holds limitless possibility and promise for good living and betterment. Often we choose the tough times because we know those are necessary stepping stones to the life we imagine and long for--we withstand the struggles to do right by ourselves and those we deeply love and care for. We stand strong and work hard for the dreams born in us and dreams we nurture from our youngest days.

In the end, we must keep a strong mind, strong heart, and strong purpose as we head forward to live well, love a lot, and contribute in ways that matter. Onward.