Friday, June 28, 2013

Searching For Light

Searching For Light 

About four years ago, some friends gave us a potted orchid as a housewarming gift.  We placed it on the windowsill above our sink and it eventually bloomed into a pale lilac flower.  We keep it in the sunlight and water it every other day.

Next to it is a dark red or burgundy plant that our youngest, Emily, got about four or five years ago to conduct a science experiment on. It doesn’t take as much water, but like the orchid, loves the sun.

They sit side by side on the windowsill soaking up sun and taking in the water we give to them.

In the four or five years we’ve had them, they’ve grown bigger, together, so Kim had to transplant them into bigger pots.

As the plants grow, the stalks or flowers reach out to the sun Searching For Light.  Eventually, they push against the screen, so I turn them to give the plants more room.  But in a day or so, the stalks and flowers are again pushing up against the screen, so I turn them once more.

On and on, over and over. 

It doesn’t matter how often I turn the plants, they continue Searching For Light.

When I lived in Southern California, one December it had rained for all or part of twenty-seven or twenty-eight days.  As I recall, the first several days were no big deal.  But as the days stretched onward, we became restless, irritable, and in general down in the dumps.  When the rain finally stopped and the sun reappeared just like it does most every day in Southern California, I saw people stop and stare up at the sun, me included. 

We became happier, more content, and our mood lightened.

Searching For Light.

People, like plants, seek out the sun.  We Search For Light.  Not only in the literal sense, but also in the figurative sense.  Living in darkness isn’t normal. I know it happens.  I know we need to recharge our ‘batteries’.  We need down time.  We need peace and quiet.

But we need light.  Like plants, we seek it. We Search For light.

And I contend that we must bring light to each other.  There are those who shine so brightly, who we enjoy being around, who just make us happy.  We seek them out.  And, unfortunately, there are those who bring darkness to us.  Who sap strength, happiness, and joy from us.

So, as you Search For Light, do you extend that light to others?  Do you bring joy and happiness to those around you?  As others around you Search For Light, do you shine it back to them?  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!   

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Power Of Touch

I sort of always knew, at least intuitively, that touch is important.  In some ways, touch is as important in communication as words and gestures are.  At times, so much is conveyed with a touch that words become superfluous.

I remember back in undergrad in one of my psychology classes talking baby monkeys.  In one experiment, they were separated from their mothers and placed in cages with only a terrycloth puppet monkey to cling to.  Obviously cruel even though we did learn much from that study.  There were developmental setbacks in comparison to other baby monkeys who had a mother and siblings with which to grow. 

There was a study about an orphanage in a foreign country whose children were not thriving, even dying, because of a lack of contact with other human beings.  Finally a doctor instructed nurses and aides to hold the children for periods of time throughout the day and night.  Kids began to thrive.

The Power Of Touch.

My wife teaches middle school and she’ll come home and complain that “the kids just can’t keep their hands away from each other.  They’re always touching, grabbing, or poking someone!”

Little kids come by it naturally and honestly.  Visit a Kindergarten class at story time.  Kids sit so close to one another and to the teacher that they’re almost on top of one another.  Middle school kids can’t just hold hands or sling an arm around another’s shoulders innocently without provoking thoughts of sexual innuendo.  So, they poke.  They grab.  They touch.  Safer that way.  No one can ‘accuse’ them of inappropriate contact.  Of something sexual.

Sad.  Really sad.

It perpetuates what I call “Skin Hunger”.

We are made to touch, to hold, to caress.  There are those among us who don’t have this opportunity.  No one touches them.  No one holds them.  No one caresses them.

“Skin Hunger”.

My kids tell me from time to time to keep my hands to myself.  I’m a toucher.  A holder.  My kids will never wonder about that existential question: “Do I Exist?” because I touch them often.  I hug them and I kiss them for the heck of it.  Whether they need it or want it or not.  Maybe mostly because I need it.  But I also know it’s good for them, too.  And good for me. 

When they were babies, I’d hold them.  A lot.  With Hannah, I took the late, middle of the night feeding because it was just Hannah and me in the rocking chair.  With Emily, she’d seek me out, crawl up on my lap and fall asleep.  I was her teddy bear. 

I have to admit, I miss those times.  Miss them a lot.

I grew up in a family of touchers, huggers and kissers. It’s in my DNA.  It’s the way I’m wired.  I didn’t grow up in a cage with a terrycloth puppet to cling to.  I didn’t have to worry about growing up without anyone touching me, hugging me or kissing me.

The Power Of Touch.

Kids, big and small, young or old need to touch and be touched.  Obviously, there are appropriate ways and appropriate times.  I get that.  But it doesn’t lessen the need or the impact of what a simple touch can convey.  It communicates so much.  The love we have for one another.  The importance we place on one another.  So, I give you permission to give The Power Of Touch to others.  Tell them, “Lewis said so!”  They might not understand, but they’ll like it nonetheless.  And you will too.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, June 21, 2013

All In The Planning

There are some things we do in life that don’t need a lot of planning.  Choosing a movie.  Where to go out to eat, unless it’s a fancy restaurant that needs reservations. 

Sometimes where you go on vacation.  I have a family member that just packs up the car and takes off with only a vague idea of direction or destination.  I find that a bit adventurous for my taste, maybe a bit scary, but if it works for them- and so far it has- great!

There are some things that need planning and practice. 

Jumping out of an airplane is one that comes to mind. 

First of all, I’ve never done that and I can’t picture myself ever doing that unless the plane is taking an unfortunate nosedive and is out of control.  But for the jumper, the chute has to be packed just right and I would suspect the back-up as well.  I would think the jumper would have some instruction and perhaps some practice.  The jump-site would need to be scoped out and someone would have to tell the jumper when to jump. 

All of that takes a fair amount of planning.

I would think a rock climber needs to plan and practice.  First of all, one needs to be in shape. For some of us, that can take some time.  Perhaps practicing on small hills and bluffs with a slight incline might be in order.  The climber has to plan each hand-hold, each foot-hold.  Unless the climber is free-climbing, a safety harness and the special hooks and clamps and guide rope have to be chosen for the best possible location. 

For the climber, the results of not planning, not practicing could be tragic.

There is a multimillionaire who, a long time ago before he was ever considered rich, wrote two goals on a piece of paper.  What he wanted to achieve in life.  He folded it in a nice, neat, tidy square and to this day, still keeps it in his wallet.  When he doesn’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning, he pulls out that tattered square, unfolds it, reads his two goals, and then gets up.  Those two goals are his reason for getting out of bed.  Those two goals are his purpose.

Do we have a plan?  Do we have a purpose?

Do we just jump into life and head off with a vague idea of where we’re going and the direction we’re headed in?  Do we dare jump out of a plane without checking the chute?  Do we climb hills and mountains without practice, without positioning our hands and feet just right lest we fall?  Tragically?

I think there are times in life for “chancing it”.  There are times when we can just “wing it”.  There’s a time and a place for that.

There are other times when we need to plan. There are times when we need to practice.  Most of the time, we need to have a goal and a direction.  Without it, like the climber who didn’t practice, who didn’t plan, who didn’t watch where a hand or foot was placed, we fail.  We fall.  Often, tragically.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Knots And Tangles

Remember Slinkys?  I think every kid had one at one time or another. 

I couldn’t ever get one to work right.  I mean, I’d put it on the top stair and start it down the next and instead of doing its “Slinky thing”, it would tumble down in a lump.  Without the grace and agility shown in the commercials.

Perhaps I was doing it wrong, but I don’t know if it’s even possible to do a Slinky wrong.

Hannah was about three or four when she handed me her Slinky.  It was a tangled mess.  She said, “Daddy, can you fix this?”

Hmmm . . .

I held it in my hand and stared at it, wondering where I might even begin.   Hannah must have recognized my consternation, so she said, “Just give it to William.  He can fix it.”  It should be noted that William is her big brother, about eleven years old at the time.

Another hmmm . . .

I felt my “daddy-hood” slip a bit.  I mean, daddies can fix just about anything, right?  Well evidently, not this one.

Knots, on the other hand, I’m pretty good at.  Big or small.  String or even fine jewelry.  I usually get it.  I see it as a challenge.  A puzzle.  I find that surprising because I’m not particularly patient and my fingers are stubby and fat.  My thumbs don’t work like they once did.  A little pain here and there.  But all in all, I can handle knots.  I like them actually.

Got me thinking.

Some days, even some weeks go by and life is pretty good.  No problems.  No worries.  We breeze through.

No Knots.  No Tangles.

Then there are other days, even some weeks, maybe even months, where there is one Knot after another.  One big Tangle we can’t unravel.  Sometimes the more we try, the worse it gets.  We pull one end and the Knot gets tighter.  Pull a different end, and the Tangle becomes worse.

In Hannah’s case, she couldn’t untangle her Slinky by herself.  She asked me, her dad, who failed without an attempt.  So, she chose someone else, someone she trusted and believed could help her.  She went from one to another until she got the help she needed. 

Persistent and pretty resourceful for a three or four year old.  She knew she couldn’t do it by herself, so she sought help.

Asking for help takes a bit of courage, don’t you think? 

I mean, it’s admitting that you need help.  That we can’t do it by ourselves.  That we’re not as self-sufficient as we thought we were.

On the other hand, asking someone for help gives us a new pair of eyes with which to see the Knot or Tangle.  Another pair of eyes might help us see it more clearly.  Perhaps give us a new start.  A new beginning.  A way out.  And help guide us through it.

Nothing wrong in asking for help.  Nothing wrong with admitting we can’t do it by ourselves.  Nothing wrong with another pair of eyes.  With another set of hands.  Nothing wrong with that at all.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Invisible Kids

This is my 37th year in education, my 14th year or so as a principal.  And tomorrow, on Saturday, 439 students will take part in commencement.

I know several principals . . . and teachers . . . who have been at this longer than I have. 

God Bless ‘Em!

Tomorrow, the kids will dress in their blue gowns, their blue “hats”.  Some will wear gold stoles with gold tassels, signifying they graduated with honors.  Some will wear medallions because they graduated with even higher honors.

Parents, Grandparents, Family Members, and Loved Ones will be in the stands cheering for them.  Lots of smiles.  Some tears. 

Some relief.

There will be some whose hand I will shake and wonder, “Really?” as I think about their missteps and mistakes that, well, we’ve all made.

You see, it seems I know both ends.  Those at the top with the best grade point averages . . . and those who struggled, because it didn’t come very easily for them.  But they made it just the same, and like the kids with the gold stoles and gold tassels, they’ll walk up the ramp, onto the stage, receive their diploma, and I’ll shake their hand.  They deserve it too.

I have a teacher, Kathy, who is retiring this year.  She’s been at it a long time.  She adopted a classroom of special needs kids and refers to them as “The Best Class”.  One of them, Trey, is graduating.  I wrote about him earlier this week and I’ve got to tell you, I’ll miss him.

But Kathy was also clued into the kids whom she called, The Invisible Kids.

The Invisible Kids probably won’t be dressed in a gold stole or have a gold tassel.  They might not have the greatest grade point average.  They got it done in the classroom, perhaps not as well as the kids at the top, certainly better than the kids at the bottom, but they got it done.  They didn’t get into trouble.  They didn’t have many missteps.  They walked the narrow silently, quietly, with little, if any, fanfare.

The Invisible Kids.

Kids content to stay out of the spotlight.  Kids who answered the right questions in class.  Kids who may or may not have volunteered for this or that answer, but perhaps were called upon instead.  Mostly got it right.  Mostly.

A mom came into my office a week ago and thanked me for the awards ceremony we had.  She explained, quite proudly . . . modestly, that her son wasn’t the best student.  He didn’t play on a team.  He wasn’t in a club.  He didn’t take part in an activity.  Yet, at this awards ceremony, her son was recognized by a teacher because he gave effort.  He tried and didn’t give up.  He was a good kid.  He didn’t make waves.

An Invisible Kid.

But not Invisible to the teacher who recognized him for an award.  Saw him as deserving.

It made that kid’s year.  It made that mom proud.  Thankful, because a teacher made sure he wasn’t Invisible.

So . . .

Tomorrow 439 kids will graduate and take part in commencement.  Some of them who are golden like their stoles and their tassels.  Some of them who struggled, but made it, and who will someday be golden in their own way too.  Someday.

And some who, whether they like it or not, will walk up on the stage and for a brief moment, have their name called, and approximately 5,000 people will cheer for them. 

They will receive recognition.  Be in the spotlight whether they want to be or not.

And, as it should be, they won’t be Invisible any longer.  At least for a brief moment on a Saturday morning in June.  Something to think about . . .

Oh, and I almost forgot . . .

I wrote in an earlier post that instead of giving a speech at commencement, I sing to my kids.  I pick a song that fits them, captures their personality.  This class liked to rush to the future.  Want to get into ‘life’ in a hurry. 

So, for those of you who wondered what song I’m singing tomorrow, I chose “Don’t Blink”.  I’m being accompanied by one of my seniors on an acoustic guitar.  I only hope I do justice to Kenny Chesney’s song.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What We Learn From Children

Casey was a tough ranch kid.  Little blond-haired kid who played basketball for me for three years.  Intense, great defense, pretty good passer, fair shot.  I noticed after each game, he’d grab two bags of ice and hold them against his knees.  After each game and generally for the next day, he’d hobble like he was an old man with a terrible case of arthritis.  

It wasn’t until after we had won the state tournament and after I had announced I was leaving to coach at the university level that I found out that Casey was born with split kneecaps.  They never healed or grew properly.  I’m not a doctor.  I don’t know much physiology if any.  I don’t even know how it’s possible to have split kneecaps.  But that’s what he told me.  I asked him how he was able to walk, much less play basketball.  He shrugged, smiled and said, “’Cause I like it.”

Melanie was a quiet young lady.  Honors student.  Top five in her class.  She seemed reserved, almost shy.  Her eyes were bright and she had a ready and willing smile.  As a senior, she had to write an essay for a scholarship about overcoming an obstacle.  She wrote about not knowing if there would be a meal to eat for herself or for her younger sister.  Her parents were out of work.  There were times that the only meal she and her sister ate was school breakfast and lunch.  Don’t know what she did over the holidays or over the summer for food to eat.  The electricity was turned off until the bill was paid, sometimes for long stretches.  She wrote about running home after school to take advantage of daylight to do her homework, often finishing by candlelight or by flashlight.  She wrote about having to wear long sleeves and pants to bed and having to put rubber bands on her cuffs and sleeves to keep cockroaches out of her clothes.

I gave a certificate of completion to one of our students yesterday in a simple ceremony with friends, relatives and staff members.  Trey is a special needs student who has been with us for five years, almost six.  He is gregarious.  Loves to laugh, loves to hug, and loves to tease.  We’ve become buddies these past five years.  He has difficulty in speaking, but will draw a picture to communicate with us.  He loves to see an A+ on his paper or a 100% on his projects and will declare, “I can do it better!”  And he does.  Always.  Never quitting until he succeeds in what he determines is his mission.

I’ve Learned From Children.  From Kids.

I’ve learned from them since I’ve been in education . . . or at least, since I’ve taken the time to notice. 

Their struggles.  Their accomplishments.  Their seeming failures, only to get up and try again.

Their innocence.  Their joy in discovery.  Their sense of wonder.

Casey taught me never to give up.  Never to settle for anything other than one’s best.  He taught me to never complain.  To smile myself through it.  As I write this, I find myself smiling even now.

Melanie taught me perseverance.  Never to make excuses.  To rise above with grace and dignity.  Taught me that when the pennies are few, there are those among us who have even less.

Trey taught me that one doesn’t have to be brilliant to be bright.  One doesn’t have to be gifted to be great.  Taught me that there can be pleasure in almost anything.

What We Learn From Children is that often, there is beauty in simplicity.  In wonder.  In perseverance.  In sucking it up and smiling through it.  We can Learn much From Children.  And, we can teach them too!  Something to think about . . .

Live Life, and Make A Difference!