I hope this letter finds you well. This election season has had me in knots and at several points made me want to throw my hands up in the air and stomp off the dance floor. Yet there is a rhythm that I hear underneath all of the maddening political and divisive sound bytes that have been chomping at my heart and making me feel as if I was being torn apart. A student walked into study hall the other day with a vocabulary sheet from her English class with two words “brevity” and “appalling” I chuckled. Yes, brevity is appalling when the psychological, social, spiritual and political ills of our society run so deep. So no wonder we all can’t wait for this awkward school dance to be over where nearly everyone has run out to watch a bunch of silly boys have a fist fight outside. This dance floor is a hot mess but we can’t run away. We must stay because to leave the dance floor is to leave life. There is a rhythm that I hear below all the noise and it goes straight to my core and it beckons me to stay. Ba boom Ba boom. A little bit louder. Tum tum tum tum. A little bit louder now Bum Bum Bum Bum. It is the heartbeat of this land and though it is crying out in pain, and though we have all gone mad it’s heart continues to beat. And it makes me want to shout! America it’s time to reclaim your soul and heal this land so humanity can begin to walk hand in hand!
A month or so ago I received an email inviting me to the New York Faith and Labor Coalition Faith at Work Awards breakfast. I marked it down on my calendar with little thought feeling like it is an event I’d like to attend. Just the other day I checked to see when it was again. It’s November 16th the date struck me and I had one of those “aha moments” that I teach my students to be on the lookout for when they read. It is one of the six Notice and Note Signposts created by renowned Literacy expert Kyleen Beers. An aha moment is defined as a “character’s realization of something that shifts his actions or understanding of himself, others, or the world around him” Text clues that mark an aha moment include “Suddenly I understood..” “It came to me in a flash…” The anchor question students are taught to pose to themselves is, “How might this realization change things?”
November 16th, that’s the day my brother died. I never knew him because he died before I was born. He only lived three days. His soul had other plans. My parents waited
another four years before they had me. As the story goes, I was conceived on my Aunt Ardie and Uncle Ronnie’s leather couch. My mother was 40 years old my father 52 and no I definitely wasn’t a mistake. They certainly worked at having me and I’ve heard the story more times than I’d like to admit. The realization hit me like a lightning bolt. It isn’t about attending an event. I am being called to use my voice and my story and actually put my own faith to work.
So like I teach my students, I ask myself “How might this change things?” I am unsure. But I’ll tell you that my prayer is that its impact is nothing short of turning this world upside down and letting everything fall away that no longer serves us so that the only thing that remains is love. I pray that these words could be like hitting a magical reset button like the one that exists in Undertale, a favorite video games of some of my students where you choose to play the game on either the genocide or pacifist route. When you take the time to listen to children, you’d be surprised by the wealth of knowledge they have. So, America even if you don’t hear my words, I know they make a sound because I hear my fingers typing across this page and feel God smiling down.
Though I firmly believe in the separation of church and state, it is impossible for me to live divided. My work as a teacher is an expression of my faith. Though God and I have a monogamous relationship, I’m polyamourous with my religious institutions. I believe that though the light that shines through a stained glass window creates many colors, it is still the same light. My tree of life my be nourished in the soils of Jesus Christ but first and foremost my religion is love. I am here to love and to serve and live my life and every waking moment in ceremony celebrating the sacred that exists in everyone and everything. Every morning I wake up and say my prayers and recite my vow to live a simple life and to seek inner peace so that I may bring joy to others. I then recite my agreements to take 100% responsibility for my experiences and to do whatever it takes to fulfill this vow.
Every morning at school the announcements come on and we are asked to stand and recite the pledge. I must say I used to despise saying the pledge. I saw myself as a citizen of the global world yet I have come to realize how important it is to honor the land that gives you the freedom for you tree of life to grow freely as it wishes. Once I began to view the pledge as an intention, one in which I am responsible for helping to bring to fruition gives me a
sense of purpose and civic duty. Lately though I have grown frustrated because our country doesn’t seem to be doing whatever it takes to live up to the ideals set forth by our founding fathers. I recite the pledge with a poster of Martin Luther King at my back and a postcard of the Upstate Black Lives Matter under it and I question why we seem to honor our dead activists and not the ones carrying on their legacy. I have felt tempted to take a knee myself yet I can’t because I also feel for those who sacrificed their life for the flag. Yet to me true patriotism means questioning and taking responsibility for the space between where we are and where we’d like to be as a country. It seems that this character I am playing in this movie of my life is having every literary conflict imaginable. So, I don’t take a knee but I put my hand on my heart and I raise my left hand in prayer. Praying that once this election is over we as a nation will take the necessary steps to heal. I pray that as more and more women rise into their divine and sacred power we can give birth to a nation that will truly be a beacon of light because it isn’t afraid of its own shadow.
At a rally I attended for Zephyr Teachout, my saving grace of this election, she spoke of the courage it takes to meet anger with love. I agree. In class we have a mascot. His original name was Leo the Liono. He gives my middle school Spanish language students the courage to make mistakes and learn from them. It seems America needs a Liono. I must have been around three when I saw him at a flea market with my mom. For a long time everyone thought something was wrong with me because it took me a long time to speak, but when I saw this Lion I made myself loud and clear. I needed him. This would go down as one of my worst tantrums ever. I wasn’t going to leave without my lion. My mom doesn’t call me “Testa Dura” for nothing. You see she knows my soul better than anyone I know. She lost that battle that day. But, sometimes you must lose the little battles to win the war.
I watch middle school girls and boys hold him, fix his mane, make him a habitat, and enjoy him by their side. Just the other day I found him adorned with a superhero’s cape. I wonder why we are in such a rush to make them grow up. Obama, don’t you know life isn’t a ladder in which we race to the top. Life is an endless circle that goes round and round. So can we please stop racing to nowhere. In one of my classes he is known as Couraveous. You see in my room we have a class charter outlining the ways in which we want to feel each day. We were having a dialogue regarding the difference between feeling courageous or brave. We needed to eliminate one. But there was one student who hardly ever participates who got excited about the idea of feeling brave so since we strive to have an inclusive classroom, we needed to get creative and use our imagination to solve this problem. They decided to create a new word. I mean why not? Language is social after all. As much as it gives us a sense of comfort and a sense of control nothing is really fixed nor set in stone.
With the divide I feel in our country, I have been feeling the need to be “couraveous” enough to don my own superhero cape. It seems Marvel forgot to include an important heroine in Captain America “Civil War” To many she may appear as as “just a teacher” yet in reality she is a BAT and she knows how to sense her way through these dark times and knows what it takes birth a nation into light. She blurs the lines between her public and private life and though it sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable, she pushes people’s boundaries to show them they are boundless and divine. She is the real deal wonder woman sparking the curiosity of the young and igniting their dreams. Well, at least that is the kind of superhero I’m working to be.
Last year on my desk at school I had a copy of Stephan Dinan’s book “Sacred America Sacred World” in which he lays out a vision for our country in fulfilling our mission in service to all. He argues so eloquently that we need to develop a sacred worldview and a “recognition on a soul level that we are each part of something larger: a sacred plan. A destiny. A calling that goes beyond left and right politics.” While reading I was inspired as he laid out a vision that I had been so long yearning to hear. But then, I was suddenly hijacked by overwhelming self doubt, my greatest inner terrorist took over. He almost had me crash my own plane making me believe that there was no room for my voice that everything was already said. He told me that I might as well go back to bed. Yet, I have learned how to put that little devil in his place. Each and every single one of us has something special to add to the unfolding of our human story. God has so graciously planted the dream of our lives within us. There is a dream inside each and every one of us where our joy meets the world’s needs. We need teachers and community members who can guide our young to find it. Our duty while we are blessed to be in these bodies is to help each other manifest the dream of our lives. Our manifest destiny is within us not outside of us.
I know America you are feeling broken hearted but I promise you this collective disillusionment we feel is good news. Parker Palmer, a world-renowned educator, writer, and activist, and probably my greatest role model and famous person I’d most want to have dinner with, aside from Louis C.K, discusses heartbreak in his book “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit” He explains that heartbreak is inevitable yet our power lies in how we let our hearts break. We can choose whether our heart breaks into pieces or if our hearts breaks open. I can tell you from my own experience that when we let our hearts break open, we will find amazing grace.
On November 8th, election day, it will be a year since I moved out of me and my husband’s home in Stuyvesant, NY. I’ll spare you the pain of it and share with you the fruit of my labor. Everything that goes on in our personal and interpersonal lives is mirrored in society at large. Don’t try to change people work on you. Peace begins with you. It will be one year since I traded in a dream I thought I had wanted for one that is seemingly unfolding before my eyes with each and every step that I take with God at my side. You see, I have a wild, adventurous, and romantic story that I’ve longed to turn into a book but right now I feel called to do my part in teaching this great nation to become a beacon of light so that our world can learn to eat, pray, and love together.
So though I have been torn, illusion has turned to something real for me. You see I’ve realized that I am both beauty and the beast and though a romantic at heart no prince charming is going to save me, only my Savior will do that. Though I searched the world looking for it, this revelation didn’t happen in Peru’s Sacred Valley or in some other far off and distant land. I had this revelation in a small town in a school named after Washington Irving’s famed Ichabod Crane. I’ve realized as frightening as it is you simply let go, and let God, be brave enough to ask for a helping hand, and have the courage to put your tail between your legs and own up to your mistakes. Good people with kind hearts, saved this drama prone, impatient, impulsive, and hot tempered fiery Italian woman from her own worst enemy, herself.
This September I went from Ms. Nowicki to Ms. Gregory. I was so appreciative of how supportive my colleagues were. After requesting to change my name Shelly, who lovingly greets everyone who walks into Ichabod Crane Middle School immediately greeted me as Ms. Gregory and my Principal seemingly made a point to give me a strong and cheerful, “What up Gregory!” It was a deep and cherished gift. Some of the kids say they prefer Nowicki. Leave it to kids to tell the truth. In spite of their preference, the majority have been kind enough to refer to me by my chosen name. But for the ones who seem to enjoy the way Nowicki rolls off of their tongue we have arrived at Great Compromise and have settled upon Gregwicki.
Recently some students ran up to me at the playground and enthusiastically said “Ms. Did you get married?” “No, I responded. The opposite actually. I got divorced.” Some said sorry. Some looked surprised, especially the ones whose parents have also chosen to part ways, and still others looked like they didn’t know what to say. I continued on and told them, “Sometimes you realize that you are better off as friends”. It was a simple truth something that I knew over ten years ago, when he and I first met. Yet, this world provides you with a lot of distractions and a lot of noise that covers up the whispering truth of your soul. Unlike the community where I live that base decision making on Quaker practice, we are yet to have schools and workplaces that are prepared with the tools to help us discern our fears from our pain. Eventually these half lies we tell ourselves turn into a big ball of evil. When I told them, their response went something like, “Cool! That makes sense.” Then they proceeded to show off their new rock treasures and ask me when we were going to meet for book club.
Children are God’s greatest gift to us and though I am not a mother by traditional definition, I love with mother’s heart. Sometimes instead of yelling at my students when I’m angry I roar like I’m a tiger. It’s a little ridiculous but it helps to keep it light while still getting my point across that I’ve had enough. And like a tiger, when a mother senses her children are in danger she knows when to pounce into action. Children teach us how simple it is to let go, they teach how to follow the whims of our soul. But we have created a society that is still being fueled by an outdated notion that children should be seen and not heard. Believe me the children that I am blessed to work with on a daily basis hold the promise of the America I long for us to be.
Nowicki to Gregory. Though this outward change seemingly happened over-night, the truth is that it was an invisible, painful, dark, yet utterly transformative process. Comparable, I imagine to the invisible process it takes for an acorn to sprout into an oak seedling. I recently watched a beautiful video of this process filmed over an 8-month period time lapse. Yet my process from Nowicki to Gregory, acorn to seedling sprout, took far longer than that. I’m one of those students who most certainly needs time and a half. Even though I can give a ferocious teacher look that will leave you squirming in your seat, the truth is I am not yet that mighty and tall oak that I long to be. But just wait world you will eventually see.
You see there is wisdom on both sides of the liberal and conservative divide, but we hold too tight to our positions fearing the beauty that can emerge when we let go of our preferences and make decisions guided by higher truths. We wonder why there is a threat of nuclear war? It is because our nuclear family structure lacks a sacred nucleus. The pain we experience within the walls of our own homes become nuclear weapons on the world stage. Because we get so busy in our relationships reacting to all friction created between each other, we create explosions within the walls of our own homes and the shrapnel is sent flying into our schools, our workplaces, our communities, and our world at large. If only we could learn how to take a breath and allow our higher selves to respond.
According to the definition of nuclear weapons, these reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. So yes, that seemingly meaningless quiet judgment and dirty look you just gave your husband or wife, just sent a vast ripple of hate into the world. You see I’m an alchemist of sorts and no I’m not going to put on a show and turn metal into gold, I’m far more interested in collecting the shrapnel of my soul and enjoying the riches of inner gold. So, if we want to truly defend and protect the sanctity of marriage, we must be willing to take our dysfunctional relationships out from behind closed doors and be willing to expose the rawness of our yearning to be loved authentically as the whole and holy creatures that we are. Being the peace you seek in the world is no easy job at all. While it may be easy to say, “our world has gotten too mean and too rough and that we must treat each other with respect and kindness” doing it is whole different story. You see America, leading from the heart is not for the faint hearted. The command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is difficult work especially when you think your neighbor is a jerk. In order to walk the path of love and peace one needs to be a warrior of light.
The other day during study hall my student Ean asked me what an integer was, we looked it up and he wrote the definition in the margins. Later that afternoon in 7th period Sasha walked into class with the labels whole, rational, and integer sticking to her part time mermaid tee-shirt. Of course I found the meaning. Perhaps I have always had trouble calculating fractions and percents because I know down deep we are whole, and complete. I’m starting to realize now that math is fun when it is imbued with sacred meaning. My problem exists when we treat people like numbers leaving those in power to define so many in the margins.
In our school we utilize a textbook called Journeys. It was suiting because that year I lived alone in a dying dream on 48 acres certainly sent me on a journey. You see when you are on a quest to reclaim your own soul all books begin to speak to you. You begin to find a bit of every character in yourself. The Journey’s textbook was speaking to that wild imaginative little girl I had been chasing who truly believed that she had the power when she jumped off the couch with her Heman sword and the lights went out. Though I reasoned that magic moment away with logic, I see now that it doesn’t matter whether I can prove if it was magic or not but my belief in it is magic enough. Reflection and retrospect have a way of illuminating what we deem to be happenstance. Magical thinking is what we are going to need in order to heal our country’s great divide.
We become true masters of our universe when we are armed with a sword of discernment that can bushwhack our way through the jungles of illusion.While I gathered a piece of me from almost every story, there were a few that stood out. There was the story “Martin My Brother” and then an expert from “Harvesting Hope” the story of Cesar Chavez, and then there was “I Could do That!” the story of how Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote. That one particularly struck me because similar to my father there is nothing that motivates me more than someone saying I can’t do something. The bottom of every page of that story had a teapot printed on the corners and I was reminded of the underwater tea parties that I had with my mother in the pool as a kid. It also reminded me of my most favorite movie scene in the world when Mary Poppins has tea party on the ceiling. I remember I would playing with my dog Flip in the den of my parents bedroom and I would hang upside down on the couch imagining that I was having tea party on the ceiling with all my stuffed animals. Though I resonate a lot with Mary Poppins in that scene I am most certainly Uncle Albert. I love to laugh!
Last school year every time I left my room to go to the bathroom a poster of Martin Luther King stared back at me. Similar to the experience I had when I saw Mona Lisa’s smile when I was 16 in Paris, his eyes appeared to be following me no matter where I walked. For awhile I avoided his gaze but at some point I could no longer ignore his powerful stare. “What do you want from me?” Eventually his message became loud and clear in a lesson I was teaching to my students. It seems I choose to teach the lessons that I myself need to learn. This lesson is called “What is your sentence?” It is an exercise taken from Daniel Pink. He contends that in order to have purpose and meaning in one’s life we need a sentence. Last year I had my beginning ESL students write their own autobiographies where I had them create their sentence and then write the story of their lives. I hadn’t planned so well for the lesson (shh don’t tell) and quickly pulled up a timeline from google. The first one to come up was one on Harriet Tubman from this website called softschools. Her sentence read, “Harriet Tubman held onto her bravery and trust in God through a time of national turmoil. She freed slaves up and down the east coast, working for the Underground Railroad.”
I nervously approached the board and looking into the eyes of my beautiful students I knew I could no longer put off writing my own sentence. I knew that if I yearned for my students to reach for their highest potential, I too would have to have the courage to reach for my own. I hadn’t planned what I was going to write, but I felt like I just needed to trust and jump. Under Harriet Tubman’s sentence, I wrote the following: “Ms. Nowicki (now Gregory/Gregwicki/maybe I’ll go all Prince and create my own symbol) was an educator, writer, and peace activist who inspired a nation to reimagine and recreate a new world. I saw that sentence looking back and felt a strong sense of mission. Who knows? Maybe in another year or two I’ll revise that sentence and maybe it will be something completely different. I’m not going to be held hostage to my ego’s drive. But for now, it suits me well and fills me up and makes me want to show up.
To scaffold the autobiography, I had organized the project in sections, childhood, education, work life. We modeled ours after the one I did in elementary school. Yup, I’m an only child and my mother saves every little thing I create. The power of a mother’s of love is sweet and painful all the same. Nayeli was a new ESL student and we quickly grew close. It was so sweet how adorably shy she would get when asked to speak in English. She’d shrug her shoulders up to her chin as if she were a turtle trying to hide. I’d coax her out sometimes softly and sometimes with an order to just say it loud and wrong and with a smile. At one point as we were sorting through her papers, I yelled, “Go get your childhood!” Samantha, a more advanced ESL student with a deeply creative mind looked at me and we burst into laughter that lasted nearly ten minutes. It was a tea party on the ceiling moment. There I was telling Nayeli to go get her childhood when I was the one chasing after mine. She recently returned to Mexico and we had a send off dinner at La Bella’s pizza and I pray that when she eventually comes back she will be greeted with an America that spent time tearing down the walls that exist around our hearts because our human connection transcends language and borders.
You see there is magic and mystery that surrounds Ichabod Crane because it brought me back to the days of my years at Upper Nyack Elementary School. It was my version of Dream a Little Dream another one of my favorite movies and songs. Upper Nyack was an elementary school so many have fond memories of. Perhaps it was our morning program where the famed Judy Thomas would lead us in diverse songs from around the world and who taught us to never step over an instrument because it would take away their soul. When my old friends and I get together we usually end up having a couple too many drinks and find ourselves belting out songs from days at Upper Nyack. Our favorites include, “Sitting on the Deck” and my friend Peter does a serious rendition of the old spiritual “Harriet Tubman, One Night I Dreamed” 24 years later and we all still remember the songs we were taught and here we are cutting music and arts from schools. It makes me want to scream!
I was a beast of a kid with a loving heart and fiery spirit that knew how to stand up for what is right. Courtland Faulden in 2nd grade tried to tell me a woman could never be president. The next day I walked in with a banner that I made at my neighbor Kelly’s and not before long we were holding a rally in the lunch yard. Ms. Goldstein, who later that year married and became Mrs. Silber, got calls from several parents complaining that they weren’t advised that we were holding class elections. Oops. Though I try to act like respectable vampire and ask permission before I enter, there are some places and situations that I am called to enter and ask for forgiveness later. Let’s go Hillary because I can’t wait to shove that one in Courtland’s face. There was another time when when I saw “Tank Man” on TV standing in Tiananmen Square and an image of the Wonder Years episode where the students staged a walkout in protest of Vietnam came to my head. I immediately connected the dots. You see my genius lies in my ability to connect the dots not fill them in. The next day, I marched into my dear Principal Buzz Ostrawsky’s office and made my case that we walk out to stand in solidarity with the students in Beijing. He didn’t let me stage a walk-out but he did let me address the school during morning program. But when I stood up in front of everyone, I stumbled all over my words struggling to get out what was in my heart. When I was born my Nonni and my Zizi (Sicilian for grandmother and aunt) said I was born with an old soul, yet at this moment of life my ability to express myself with words had not caught up with deep knowing I held in my heart.
When your mind and heart align it is time to put it into your body. This summer I participated in my first Save Our Schools March for Educational and Social Justice. Lately, there seems like there is march for everything. I just don’t get how people can ever be bored when there are so many problems that have yet to be solved. Yet, I am not interested in being a martyr for any cause and honestly prefer to make my life my cause. Yet I have a deep understanding that though I feel as if I can fly that this gnarly unsettled feeling I have inside me is most certainly why the caged bird sings. One could spend their entire life marching but honestly I’d rather be participating in dance parades. The Save Our Schools March is so vital and a cause I’d love to see our nation rally around is so important because all of our educational and social justice issues are interdependent. It is here where we can begin to unravel this horrific ball of pain and work towards creating a world there is social harmony
I drove down this March with my best friend’s daughter Roxy and former Ichabod student. Halfway through our trip my timing belt on my car broke and we were left on the NJ turnpike. We eventually got a tow and we sat on the side of the curb as we figured out plan B. I called my ex husband hysterical in tears and he walked me through step by step and got me a rental car so we could make the rest of our journey to justice. Fear got me telling myself that it was a sign to to go back. He didn’t let that inner terrorist of mine to take over. He told me to go on and that we’d figure everything out. I wept at the tenderness of his gesture and hung up the phone. My mind began to spin out of control. Did this mean we were making a mistake? I wanted to make meaning where there was no meaning to be made. This 13 year old rockstar of a kid who is bound to make an indelible mark on this world looked at me and spoke a profound truth that went right to my heart. “It means you are friends” and she held a space for me to grieve tears mixed of pain and gratitude. She was then quick to give me a good kick in the butt and we carried on blasting the soundtrack to Hamilton.
When we arrived at the rally she helped me make a sign. It read Reclaim the Soul of Education. Shortly after I made my way to the Lincoln Memorial and stood in the very same spot where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and I experienced a felt sense of the power of what it means to leave a legacy and what it means to have the courage to dream a world into existence that one may not come to know in their lifetime, but to have the courage to dream it anyway. Standing there, I planted the mustard seed of my dream of an educational system and a world that has found its soul.
Once again we find our country in a time of national turmoil and our future is uncertain. However, like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, and Reverend Barber who at the rally said, “If we don’t succeed, the children need to see us trying” I too have a deep and abiding trust that God is on the side of peace and justice. Reflecting on the picture I snapped of my sentence under Harriet Tubman’s, I couldn’t help to think that her sentence and my sentence were inextricably linked and how our freedom is bound to one another. I couldn’t help but think of all the people young and old, black, white, and brown who are living out life sentences in the prisons of their minds, because we are failing to provide people with the tools to be a master of the universe that that each one of us holds inside. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps it is in the discovery and pursuit of each of own individual sentences that collectively, we are composing the most sacred book of all.
On November 5th 1989, I woke my mother and asked her to write down a poem for me and she obliged. It read, “If you can’t get along let’s all have bones. If you can’t get along with white skin, brown skin, yellow skin, let’s have no skin-let’s just have bones” The other day we celebrated “Dia de Los Muertos” a beautiful holiday that many of the students in our Mexican community celebrate. There were skeletons abound. At St. John the Baptist they held a bilingual mass, I unfortunately didn’t attend but most certainly my heart was there. In my own class I showed animated film that truly expresses what this day means. It is a day that teaches you the value of life by honoring the dead. There is so much to learn from our differences. Maybe if we all took a collective moment to contemplate that these bodies here will one day be ash, we might treat them like the holy temples that they are.
On Friday October 28th a beloved member of the community where I live past away after a long battle with cancer. Throughout her illness, Ellen kept a blog called “World of the Sick, World of the Well” I didn’t really get to know Ellen well and the few interactions I had were awkward. I didn’t know how to act. You see, we both were dying yet I was blessed that it wasn’t my body and simply an outdated self that I had outgrown like a tight pair of shoes. For three days we held a sacred fire for her. During the fire an ash fell on my shoulder and I was reminded of a time in our history not so long ago when our world was running full on hate that this ash could have been from the body of a child from a crematorium. Perhaps Elie Weizel’s recent death is here to remind us the horrifying consequences of hate and unhealed pain.
On Saturday, October 29th Spee another community member where I live wrote a blog post titled “Time to Fly” I couldn’t help to think that it was a message for me, and for all of us. It is time we all fly. Earlier that day I went to St. Luke’s Church where my dear friend Gloria was giving a Mexican cooking class to a group of both English and Spanish speakers. Now this was a supper I think Jesus would be proud of. Leaving I saw a new friend Juan walking home and I told him to jump in the car. I was listening to my School Rocks mix CD that the PTA had gifted the teachers and R Kelly’s song “I Believe I can Fly” came on. I turned it up and this man who was a stranger just moments before began belting it out with me with the windows down and and the wind in our hair. This is the magic of life when we don’t walk around scared of everyone. This is the magic that happens when we choose to live sacred lives!
As you enter St. Luke’s there is a signpost that says “We love our children please drive carefully” Please stop, notice, and note the importance of this message. We need to be very discerning about who we put in the driver seat. Are we choosing leaders and are we being leaders in our own lives whose determination is sourced from love or hate? Will we be driving our children down a path they will thrive in or one in which they will need to hide from? Unfortunately people don’t see how deeply our global world is connected. I remember a facebook post that went viral that a mother had snapped of her daughter standing on the toilet. She thought it was cute until she realized it was an active-shooter lock down drill. The fact that these incidents are so prevalent in our schools is horrifying and every time I practice them with my own students I am crushed by the sadness of this reality. Yet I have a sense that in some ways the prevalence of these shootings is urging us to make the connection that there are children every day around the world whose schools and communities are plagued by violence. Something tells me that until we take seriously that the American child standing on the toilet is the same as the Syrian child who is seeking refuge and a new start in our schools, this cycle of violence will never cease to exist.
We had a lock-down drill the other day in school and I found myself alone with no students cutting up emotion vocabulary words in Spanish. With the lights off and door locked and a painful discomfort of this sad reality we have created, I couldn’t help to think that all of the violence that we see in our schools and in our world stems from the fact that we don’t make room for feeling and that a large majority of our population has not been taught how to treat their human bodies like a guest house. We are only pilgrims passing through these bodies. America don’t be afraid to feel. Only when we welcome all our feelings and thoughts and greet them with a smile can we offer the gift of hospitality to others.
Dear beloved America. Are we living a scared life or a sacred life? This is the real choice this November. Perhaps it is that fact that the only album on my phone is U2’s Songs of Innocence but something tells me that those who are were raised by wolves need to show the world that we are stronger than fear. We don’t want to destroy our world with the flip of a letter. I will vote with my conscious and respect my neighbors and colleagues whose conscious leads them a different way and on November 9th and every waking day that I am blessed to be here I will work to build bridges and to continue to allow God to pull at my heartstrings so that I can become a fine tuned instrument of peace by bringing the sacred alive into each and every aspect of my so called life.
Author James Baldwin once said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with the pain.”The path of peace is made step by step. Like children learning to walk we will stumble on our way. May we all learn to face our darkness and come to see the light. In this year that the Pope has named the year of Mercy, may we be couraveous enough to hold a space to deeply feel our collective pain and come to see that we must cross the threshold of forgiveness to experience heaven here on Earth. America, there is wisdom in our mantra to “Never Forget” . We must never forget that we are ALL made of stardust and we are all divine.
I recently got an email notifying me that November 13th, Stephan Dinan the author of “Sacred America Sacred World” and the Shift Network will be sponsoring a Day of Healing and Reconciliation in Washington D.C. with the aim of releasing the pain and trauma of this election cycle and recommit to harmoniously working together as Americans. Once again, the date hit me like a lightning bolt. That is the day my brother was born. A day each year that my mother Mary Ann painfully suffers with the fantasy of what it would have been had her son lived on. Yet, God does work in mysterious ways. How might this realization change things? I am not sure. But a few years back my mother had a dream that a group of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian soldiers were coming towards each other from two hilltops. In the dream, she felt as if she needed to do something to stop the hatred and fear. The only she could think to do was to get large speakers and play War’s “Why Can’t We be Friends?” Shortly after, the soldiers dropped their weapons and the hatred began to fade from their eyes and they began exchanging child like lunch boxes. You see, we were never meant to exchange the playground for the battleground for we are all children of God. I don’t know but that little girl in me who believes in fairytale happy endings and has faith like a mustard seed believes that we can choose to play this game of life on the True Pacifist Route and that sharing this message will hit a magical reset button and we will all find ourselves waking up to heaven here on this blessed mother Earth where we the children run free and you and me are free to be you and me.