Friday, September 26, 2014

The Weight And Toll Of Stress

I received the following story from a friend, Sharon:

A young lady walked confidently around the room while leading & explaining stress management to an audience with a raised glass of water.  Everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question, 'half empty or half full?'  She fooled them all...  "How heavy is this glass of water?" she inquired with a smile.  Answers called out ranged from 8oz to 20oz.

She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter.  It depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem.  If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm.  If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance.  In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes".  She continued, "And that's the way it is with stress.  If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on."

As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again.  When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden - holding stress longer & better each time practiced.  So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don't carry them through the evening and into the night.”

The Weight Of Stress
Try this for me, please . . .
Make a fist and at the same time, keep an eye on a watch.  Hold that fist for one minute straight without letting up.  Keep it tight as you possibly can.  After one minute, straighten out your hand.  Easy? Difficult?  Don’t you feel weaker than before you did this little exercise?

The Toll Of Stress

There are those walking among us who are under an unbearable amount of stress.  Needing to pay bills and not having enough money.  Worry about an evaluation.  Wondering if a son or daughter is doing okay.  Worrying about where the next meal will come from, or worse, if there will be a next meal.  Worrying about the upcoming test or quiz, the assignment that was due and is not complete.  The boy (or girl) friend that doesn’t seem interested.

Stress knows no boundaries.  Stress isn’t concerned about gender or religion or race.  Stress doesn’t care about poverty or wealth, talents, looks or dress.  Stress doesn’t care where one was born or where one lives.  Stress laughs in the face of status and title.  Stress ignores how much stress one is under and doesn’t know if too much is too much. 

Ignorant that way.  Selfish that way.  Uncaring and unconcerned that way.

The Weight And Toll Of Stress

We’ve heard the old adage, “Walk A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes . . .”

To be honest, there are some shoes I wouldn’t ever want to walk in.  I look at the folks wearing them, walking in them and I hurt for them.  I can guess at their pain.

Yet . . .

I know absolutely nothing of what they might truly be feeling and experiencing.  So truly, really, how can I walk in their shoes when their experience and pain and suffering . . . their stress . . . is their own unique experience?

Perhaps, then, it might be best in some cases . . . some times . . . maybe most of the time . . . to sit beside them, to walk along with them, to lend them a hand and help them up.  For them to lean on.  Sometimes it is enough . . . more than enough, really . . . to remain silent and be with them.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tears Of A Clown

I have to tell you, and I hope I don’t offend anyone by writing this, that clowns are kind of creepy.  I really never thought they were funny, and for just about forever, I was or am creeped out by them.

I mean:  white face paint, big red nose, floppy feet, painted on smile . . . see what I mean?

Remember the Stephen King classic, IT? 

The “bad guy” in the novel was Pennywise, the clown, whose tag line was, “We all float!”  Now tell me if that isn’t creepy!

In the old days . . . yes, even before my time, though not much . . . there were court jesters.  They were to amuse the court and the king in particular.  The unfortunate aspect of their job, however, was if they failed at being funny, they were sometimes put to death.  Not necessarily a job I would apply for.

Parades have clowns.  The circus has clowns.  Balloon animals.  Stilts.  Funny bicycles.  All that.  It has been a part of our culture and in spite of what I write or how I feel about them, clowns will always be around.

It is the concept of the clown I find interesting, though.

Smokey Robinson sang a song back in the ‘60’s titled, Tears Of A Clown.  The lyrics included:

Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my sadness hid
Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room I cry
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around

I know any number of people who can apply that lyric to their life, their feelings.  I see kids in the hallway, teachers working with their students or with their colleagues, who I know are moving through life carrying an unkind and heavy burden they might not be able . . . perhaps unwilling . . . to share with just anyone because it isn’t safe to do so.  There is hurt, there is sadness, and in that hurt and sadness, vulnerability.

More recently, Zak Brown sang a song, Goodbye In Her Eyes and it contains the lyric:

Sometimes I feel like a clown
Who can't wash off his make-up

Sad, really.  A clown . . . a person . . . somebody . . . who hasn’t received permission from him or herself, from others, to wash off the make-up.  Cast in a movie of life to live a character of perhaps his or her own choosing.  Perhaps of someone else’s choosing.  Never to be real, but just a character . . . a caricature.  Really sad, I think.

The actor, Jeff Goldblum was on an evening talk show discussing his role in a movie and the host asked the question, “How hard is it to get into a role?”  I will never forget his response.  He said, “It is only in acting that we are our true selves.  It is in life we play a role.”

Hmmm . . .

I think he has a point.  Kind of scary. 

A pretty tall order, a tough task: To know the difference between our true selves, the role we play, the mask we wear, and the make-up we’re afraid to or can’t wash off.  To be cast in a part, a role, of our choosing or someone else’s choosing.

And even sadder is the fact that we don’t recognize the sadness behind the smile, the sadness that rests in one’s eyes, the hurt disguised in the laugh.  Of kids.  Of our colleagues.  Of our leaders.  Of those in charge.  Of those we rely on for help and strength and inspiration.  Instead, we presume, assume, that all is well because a tear hasn’t been shed, a cry was not heard, a plea for help was not uttered.  And because we don’t recognize that hurt, see the tear, hear the cry or plea for help, we don’t reach out, we don’t offer help.  We just move through our day thinking all is well with me . . . with you . . . with them. 

Sad, I think.  Really sad.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Parent's Love

On my way to school each morning, I pass a house maybe a half-block from the school.  There are times when I see a young man and his dad waiting for the bus.  The student is developmentally and cognitively disabled, and my assumption is that this young man goes to a shelter for training.

A special bus comes to pick the young man up and the father walks with his son and waits until he is seated, and then stands at the edge of the driveway and waves as the bus pulls away.  It is only then that the father slowly, with a limp, walks back to his house.  It happens each day, every day.

It is touching and moving and no matter what I have planned for the day that faces me, no matter how much in a hurry I might be, that scene played out each morning calms me somehow and seems to put me in a better place.

A Parent’s Love.

My father-in-law and mother-in-law, Kim’s parents, are raising my nephew, Shannon, a fifteen year old cognitively and physically challenged boy.  Chronologically, Shannon is a year younger than my daughter, Emily, but cognitively, much younger than that.  Kim’s sister, died a few years ago from a massive seizure, leaving her son, in the care of her parents. 

For parents in their seventies . . . for parents of any age . . . they do a remarkable job providing for Shannon’s emotional and physical needs.  They take Shannon to and from a special baseball league just for kids and adults like Shannon.  They take him to and from physical therapy and speech therapy, and even a special training center where Shannon learns life skills.  They treat him as their own son, not as a grandchild, and the love they have for him and the love he has for them is readily apparent to anyone who takes the time to notice.

A Parent’s Love.

I watch teachers in my building work with kids with autism, Down’s syndrome, and kids with other cognitive and physical disabilities, and their patience and love for our kids is astounding and actually, humbling.  They are patient, kind, and nurturing.  They truly care about and love these kids as if these kids were their own.

Linda is an art teacher who came to me a year or so ago with an idea.  She wanted to develop an art class for kids who are cognitively and physically challenged.  And she did.  These kids do amazing work.  Other regular education students buddy up with one of the other kids and they work as a team.  I’m not sure who has more fun, but I do know that without Linda, it wouldn’t have happened for any of them.

Scott is a young man I got to know many years ago when I coached summer basketball camps.  Nice young man, a leader, quiet, and humble.  Years later, he became an adaptive physical education teacher because he wanted to.  “His calling,” he said.  When I had commented that he was a gift to these kids, Scott thought about it, smiled, and said, “I think they are a gift to me.”

A Parent’s Love.

You know, there many examples of parents, teachers, coaches, paraprofessionals and volunteers who care for and love their kids, our kids.  They don’t view these kids as someone else’s kids.  No, not at all.  Each of them will tell you that these are their kids.  And like Scott, they will tell you that these kids are gifts to them. 

Challenging?  Yes.  Some days tougher than others?  Yes.  But I have to believe that in each case, after watching these wonderful men and women both young and old, that there are many more good days than bad days.  Sort of makes my bad days seem less.  Sort of makes my bad days seem not so bad after all.  In fact, just thinking about these wonderful men and women, and having the opportunity to give them a shout out, causes me to smile and lightens my load a bit.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, September 5, 2014

In The Dark

When I was a counselor in California, among the many students who attended the school, was a young man who moved around the campus with a white cane.  The boy had no vision beyond one foot in front of him.  In essence, he was blind in spite of the very thick glasses he wore. 

Some of you might not realize that the high schools in California, for the most part, are built so that the classrooms open to the outdoors.  The “cafeteria” is often a grassy area in the middle of the campus.  Kids would sit and eat on the grass or at a picnic table or perhaps in inclement weather, lean on the walls on the sidewalk and under the overhang. 

This young man navigated the campus seemingly without effort.  Every now and then, students might move out of his way if they saw him coming in their direction or kindly explain an obstacle in his path like a broken concrete sidewalk.  They might gently take an elbow and help him around it and then off he’d go heading this way or that way, to or from his class.

I still picture him today as I write this.  A smile on his face.  Moving at not quite a quick walk.  Confident.  Friendly towards those he encountered.

He operated In The Dark.  His world and those whom he loved were In The Dark.  Yet, he lived, and studied, and worked, and listened to his music In The Dark.  He knew no other world, no other life.

It is a marvel to me, this young man, and I wonder whatever became of him.

There is a story, a parable I believe, that you might have heard once upon a time. 

In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk or the leg or the trunk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.  In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to "see" the full elephant. When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, they also learn they are blind. While one's subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth.

I think that last line bears repeating . . .

While one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth.

In other words, we . . . each of us . . . might be In The Dark and not know it.  From our perspective, we see, we hear, we know whatever it is we see, hear and know.  But someone else might have an entirely different perspective.  It could even be that six or seven see, hear and know whatever it is they see, hear and know, and are in general agreement with what “it is” and still, they might not see, hear or know the totality.  At least, not without asking questions, seeking answers, and approaching the subject . . . a person . . . with an open mind. 

Instead, without asking questions, without seeking answers, and without the advantage of an open mind, an individual or group of individuals is fully content with what he or they “know” and proclaim it as “truth” when in fact, it is possible for him . . . for them . . . to be In The Dark.

So . . .

I ask you this simple question:  Where are you?  Are you content to move around and live In The Dark, or do you, with an open mind, ask questions and seek answers?  Are you willing to admit that perhaps you have a partiality of truth instead of the totality of truth?  On any given subject?  On any given day?  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!