This is the last picture I had taken in my classroom. I had a one hour break between a conference that has just ended and before my last two conferences of the day. I had already been at the school since 7:30 that morning and I was a few hours away from a spring break I needed desperately.
That week was incredibly hard.
My grandma had passed away two days before this was taken. The only reason I was at the school was because we had parent teacher conferences that were really important for our 8th graders because that is where they schedule their high school classes. I had already done all the prep work and these conferences are some of the only opportunities to really meet a family. So, I showed up in a raw place of grief.
I think those last four days though embody much of the year. It was exhausting, filled with some unexpected challenges, really long days, so much learning, and some personal grief. But, it was also filled with depth, growth, a deeper strength in all that is weak within me, healing, and so much gratefulness. And, the care of people in my life loving and supporting me.
There is very little we ever control. As a teacher I quickly learned flexibility was key. You adapt. Every day. You make lesson plans and something always happens to lead them to take shape differently than you mapped out. Maybe technology stops working. Or students are students and want to distract and do all sorts of things to avoid whatever it is you are teaching. You truly just never know what is going to happen each day. You know your schedule and your plans, but you also know that a fire alarm always seems to ring when you least need. In teaching, In teaching, we are proactive in trying to prevent different challenges, absolutely. But, much of our job is about being responsive. Human beings are complex and when you are learning alongside and teaching over 90 human beings who are also experiencing all that is middle school, it is messy. They have bad days and you also have some really bad days. You learn “I’m sorry” actually can be really meaningful. You learn to be honest with a room full of 30 people that you failed. You learn that failure is in fact the greatest teacher in the room.
When I took this picture, I was already within a week of grief and unexpected challenges and my students met me there with so much grace. I was preparing for a quiet trip with my mom during spring break and then a trip up North for my grandma’s funeral with family and quite honestly just wanted to make it through these conferences. Then I could breath, I thought. I put off my grief as much as I could so that I could show up and be where I needed to be in those days. But, inside, I was crumbling.
The unexpected continued. As the spring break trip went on, schools began to close. We had to cancel our flight and I had to make the difficult decision to miss my grandma’s funeral due to all of the risks of what we were hearing on the news. And then we’ve been making shift to each unexpected change each day since. We’ve all, in so many different ways, have had to live in response mode. There is no other way to life within crisis.
Grief, long days, new news, and also new healing. This space outside of our “normal” spaces is inviting us all to respond to ourselves. To check in and see if we’ve been doing okay this year. And to check in and see if we are doing okay right now. Some days it is easy to do so because our emotions speak loudly. Other days, not so much because there is just too much. Some days I gratefully welcome in a distraction from the grief, just as I was doing in this picture above. And that is okay. We grieve differently. We respond differently. And our hearts ache differently for whatever has been lost or changed or different than we expected.
So, was this the first year of teaching I expected? Absolutely not. Pandemic or not, it was never going to be, no matter how hard I tried to emulate what I envisioned in my head. What it was though, was richer than I could have ever imagined. More tears and more laughs and more unexpected gifts of joy than I could have ever planned myself. That seems to be how life continues to go. Sometimes the unexpected and the loss and the grief are mighty. But, sometimes they coincide with the raw richness that comes out of the unexpected.
When we lean into grief, it speaks loudly, but also gently. Speaking to us to breath and to take it all one step at a time. That’s it. Just one step. Not a run. Not even a walk. Just a step. It is reminding us that facing the pain is worth it. A holy healing is on the other end. Grief and relief so often go hand and hand and we struggle to understand that. We want to compartmentalize. We struggle with the tensions that seem to be on opposite ends. But, that’s the beautiful paradoxical nature of healing.
We are healing in the depths of all that the past few months have been. And also, there will be healing that will need to be had from all of this when this ends. But, our grief is speaking- uniquely and individually to us all. My hope is that we learn to listen.
Our grieve is inviting us into the space where we are reminded of just how human we are. We are met with our sufferings and also our beauty. We are met, tirelessly, with our weakness and also with the never tired strength of a Gracious Father.
In this space, we can be reminded of our humanity. Our finiteness. How little control we actually ever have. And how desperately we need one another. We can be reminded of the power of words. The profound beauty of the arts. And that truly one of the most precious gifts we can receive is a friend wrapping us up in a hug. Gosh, I want to hug someone.
I’m still grieving. And I hope you are too. We struggle in America to do so. We put grief on a timeline and a schedule like everything else in our life. Grieving isn’t a checklist. It isn’t a set of goals to achieve. And it generally isn’t what we expect it to be. It is a posture of listening to what is happening within us. It is an outward expression of sorrow. And, it is an inward grappling with losing whatever it is we’ve lost. Grief isn’t tied only to death. It is connected to friendships and jobs and all the unexpected. Grief isn’t the enemy. It is a Healer. A friend who cares enough about us that it will push us to feel in order to heal. A friend who cares enough about us that it will sit with us, patiently and with no agenda but to be. Grief is a ticket giving us the permission to be whatever it is that we need to be without judgement. If you are angry, let your anger be heard. If you are sad, cry as many tears as you need. If you are frustrated, let it out. If you are grateful, rejoice.
And, if you are afraid of grief, you are not alone there. But, every time I’m in a place of grief and I let people in on that, I see the goodness in humanity. We may not know how to grieve for ourselves, but a lot of people sure do know how to sit with you in your grief. And they long to do so. I am convinced there are few things more is powerful than a friend sitting with you in that place of grief- no agenda to fix, just a desire to be near. Let them be near. It’s okay. Be weak. Be wrecked. Unfold into your grief. They won’t love you any less. In fact, I’m sure they will love you a little more. It’s okay to be fragile. We actually seem to know how to tend more to what’s fragile in the world than we do with what is perceived to be strong. We can bend down next to a flower hanging onto its stem for dear life and slip into such a gentleness. But, when a tree branch breaks, we don’t know how to respond. We are all much more like the flower than the tree branch. That’s okay. Let yourself be tended to. Let gentleness in and grieving out. There is time my friend.