Thursday, May 3, 2018

Memoir--When They Tried to Get Me Fired!

It was after church that Sunday autumn afternoon in 2005 when I got a call from one of the parents of my Dual Enrollment Senior English class students. She told me that a small group of parents had gathered at the Harpeth High School library to talk about having me fired. By then I had been teaching in Cheatham County for 33 years and was 56 years old.

In shock, I called my principal. She wondered aloud how thay had gotten into the school building and who had given them permission. She and I had an idea who had a key to the library and who had let them in. Then I called my English Department chair. He knew that I had taken my senior class to the Hindu temple and to Cheekwood on Thursday of that week and asked me about that field trip. We discussed how he and I had been teaching about the major religions through literature for 10 years with no objections and how I had been taking my students on fieldtrips to the Hindu temple and Cheekwood's Japanese garden for many years.

(We discussed how I had been disappointed in several of my students for waiting until the day of the field trip to decide that they were not going. Besides having to edit the number of students attending the field trip and having to change the lunch reservations, I had not hired a sub for the class of students going on the field trip.  Asking another teacher to take these "left-over" students during her planning period, I had to come up with extra "lesson plans" for them. Along with these lesson plans, I wrote a note to these students, chastising them for their late notice about this field trip, but the very next day Friday, I wrote another note apologizing to these students for my being so angry.)

Things were especially tense for me that Monday morning at school. Sure enough during my planning period I was asked to come to the principal's office. My department chair went with me. The meeting actually took place in the conference room next to the principal's office. At the long table there, the principal, department chair, and I sat on one side, and four men and one woman sat on the other side. The parents would not look me in the eye. Later I was told that they had asked that I not be there, but my principal had insisted.

The group of parents had compiled a rather long list of detailed complaints against me. They quoted passages from the Board of Education's policies, saying that I had not adhered to those policies. It was obvious that their children, my students, had helped them with this list. These parents were the parents of four female students in my class who had not attended the field trip.

According to the parents, they wanted me permanently removed from the classroom and from Harpeth High School that very week or else they would take their complaints to the director of schools (which they did the very next day) and if she did not remove me, they would "pursue all possible channels to remove me from the classroom."

Among other things, the group of parents claimed that I had not used a school-approved bus for the field trip and that I had not obtained individual parental permission slips, and they were right, because we were such a small group of students, we had gone in cars, and I had had the parents sign a form at the semester's beginning about the planned field trips.

They further claimed that I had made a sexual comment to a student and that I used sexually explicite language in my classroom.

(Although  it was unknown to me, they were particularly upset about a remark I had made two weeks earlier when one of my female students had received a rather large bouquet of roses from the boy she was dating. We had just finsihing reading, discussing, and writing about the poem "To His Coy Mistress," by Andrew Marvel. It is a perfect example of a carpe diem poem, and seduction is the theme of the poem. When the rather huge vase of flowers was delivered to my classroom, I made some off-the-cuff comment about what the boyfriend's expectations/intentions were. It was one of those, "you-had-to-be-there" comments, and it fit the classroom discussion, but taken out of context, I then realized that it sounded really bad. No one had told me that this incident had apparently been widely discussed around the school. No one told me that the girl or that her parents were upset.)

Though it seemed as if they had talked to many others about this incident, neither the student nor the parents had come to talk to me about the remark. Having no idea that my remark had offended the girl, I was clueless.

They also claimed that I regularly made indirect sexual innuendoes in my class----such as I would say, "Don't bang your books on the floor!" and that I used the f-word in class--which really astounded me--for  I had not used profanity in my classroom. It was discovered that they were referring to the word "fart" (which is, of course, not a sexual word).

They claimed that I was not following the Nashville State Community College curriculum, and I explained that this was a dual enrollment class and that it combined the NSCC curriculum with our AP English IV curriculum. Apparently, they had contacted NSCC about me! Since I was an adjunct teacher for NSCC and taught there in the summer, I was embarrassed.

These were their major complaints about me, but oh my, there were many, many others (5 single-spaced pages worth!) You could tell that they had scoured the hundreds of pages of board of education policies, and with the help of their children, my students, they had come up with any possible number of ways that I had "blantantly and regularly ignored the policies of the school board and the civil liberties of our children"--from having the students not attending the field trip do work in class the day of the field trip to the questioning of my qualifications to teach about the faith traditions, from the "majority of Ms. Mallernee's class focused on religious subjects" to my "avoiding, ignoring, and circumventing school board policies and state and federal laws." Further they labeled me as "vinditive person." 

Yes, much of the complaint had to do with the teaching about religions. Yet, at one point, they complained that with over half the semester over, the class had only studied about the Hindu and Buddhist religions and still had Judaism and Christianity and Islam to cover!

(What they didn't mention is that we had also covered poetry, myths, the nonfiction books The Power of Myth and Dance of the Dissident Daughter, the novels Life of Pi, The Power of OneThings Fall Apart, and Siddhartha. In this course, one of my faults was in trying to cover too much material! Usually, in addtion to many other subjects/topics, as time permitted, we studied about Eastern religions in the first half of the semester and about Western religions in the second half of the semester. At the semester's end, because of time limitations and our extensive study of literature and composition, it was the study of  Islam that often got short-changed .)

One thing was clear--the students (and their parents) did not like my chastising them about not telling me that they were not going on the field trip until the day of the field trip.

I did receive one rather telling note from the parents of one of the students who did not attend the field trip. They said that she did not do the assigned work that I had given them to do in class that day because they felt that the class work was punishment for her not going on the field trip. They further said that they "would not allow her to go to a pagan house of worship or to a Zen meditation garden to participate in a religion that we do not recognize." The student herself had said that she did not go on the field trip because she feared missing basketball practice that afternoon.

It was definitely the roughest weeks of my teaching career. I felt betrayed by a few of my students and ostracized by most of the faculty. (Thank goodness I was a member of the Tennessee Education Association, who supplied me with a lawyer to talk to who said that the parents didn't have a case.) Thank goodness I had a supportive principal, some good friends, a few colleagues, and former students who called and wrote letters on my behalf to the director of schools. Thank you again to all who did write those wonderful letters!

But I have to say that most of the Harpeth High School teachers acted as if I had done something terribly wrong and did not offer support to me, but instead they ignored me and made me feel like a leper--like someone to be avoided. It felt amost as if they agreed with these parents.

Here was the outcome: I was removed from the classroom for one day as someone from the central office talked to the whole class about me. Then one by one each of my students was taken out of my class and "interviewed" by this central office person. One student later told me that it was definitely a "witch hunt"!

The remainder of the semester, I was not allowed to teach about the tenets of Western religions nor to go on our second planned field trip to the Parthenon and to a Jewish synagogue, and I had to teach "only literature" and composition--so I chose to teach about the Greeks--Plato and Socrates--and  to teach the dramas Oedipus Rex and Anigone, Shakespeare's Julius CaesarThe ChosenMurder in the Cathedral and Hamlet (all of which I was going to teach anyway).

And finally, to "protect" the students from me, everyday the then vice-principal (a former coach) came in and sat in my class for the rest of the semester. On most days he fell asleep!

(But much later, I recalled my department chair's telling me that the present girls' basketball coach [a former Cheatham County Central High School student of mine] had said that when he was a student, I "had given him a 'D' in English and that he was one day going to be my principal and have my job!" [Ironically, he lost his own job the next year.] So I had to wonder about this connection since two of the students involved were major senior ball players.)

Now I also realize that all of this calamity could have been avoided if only the student who received the flowers (and her parents) had come to me and let me know that I had hurt her feelings with my off-hand remark. I had no idea, and now I believe that that incident had been the beginning of all this unnecessary drama.

Life lesson--if someone makes a remark that bothers you, talk directly to that person, instead of to everyone else!

Also if the students who were not going on the field trip had been upfront with me, this situation could have been avoided.

Later that semester one of the students involved wrote a letter to me, apologizing for her part in the situation and for what her parents had tried to do.

Things never were the same for me after those weeks of hurt and anxiety. It was obvious that much of this story had circled the school and leaked out into the community. I retired from teaching five years later. After nearly 40 years of teaching in Cheatham County, it was time to move on.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What I loved to Teach About and Why Some Wanted Me Fired for Teaching Such Things

If you've read much of my blog, you'd know that the one part of my teaching career that I was most proud of was the teaching about the different major religions through literature.

How this got started was that I had this idea that with our world changing so much--with so many different cultures becoming a part of the United States, we could be a more loving and compassion people if we understood some of what these different peoples believed.

(Plus the truth is that I wanted to study the different reliigions myself to see what they had to say about God, the universe, death, etc.)

Traditionally in public school across our nation (and here in Kingston Springs,) the sophomore English year was a hodge podge of grammar and literature, while the junior year was American literature and the senior year was British literature. Now I had noticed that in most private schools, their sophomore year was the study of world literature.

What I convinced my then principal of was to allow our English department to let our sophomores study American literature, our juniors study British literature and our seniors study world literature. That way our students would not lose anything--like the study of great bodies of American and British literature--but they would be mature enough to study about the world through some major pieces of world literture and through the major  religions. And their literature experience would be an ever-widening circle to include everyone and all cultures, as I hoped their education would be.

This was in the 90s and I began to study and to learn and to teach though literature as gently as possible about the major Eastern faith traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism and about the major Western faith traditions such as Judaism and Christianity and Islam. The actual studies of these religions were quite superficial--highlighting only the very basics of each religion. (For I was discovering that any one of these faith traditions could be studied in depth for the rest of one's life; they were that complex and complicated!) But it was a beginning point for high school students and for me.

I searched for the "perfect" pieces of literature to wrap each study around. For example for Hinduism and Christianity and Islam, it was the novel Life of Pi , and for Buddhism, it was the novel Siddhartha, and for Christianity it was the drama Murder in the Cathedral, and for Judaism it was the novel The Chosen. We also studied Antigone and Julius Caesar and Things Fall Apart and one year we even read The Shack! Except for the last title mentioned, they are all such great pieces of literature. (Though I loved the ideas in The Shack, the writing itself was not good enough to rank as great literature.) We read Huston Smith's renowned book entitled The World's Religions and Philip Novac's The World's Wisdom.

Wow, I'm getting enthused all over again just describing the class to you! We studied extremely short excerpts from the Bible, from the Vedas, from the Torah, from the Gita, from the Quran (Koran), and  from The Tao de Ching. (After we transitioned Advanced Placement English to Dual Enrollment English these excerpts usually came from our college composition textbook entitled World of Ideas.) The course work eventually became too much to study for the allotted time--especially after the high school transitioned to block scheduling, whereby the class was "shortened" to a semester, albeit 90 minutes a day, but that meant we had fewer weeks to read and study each great piece of literature. Thus we could not study all of the works mentioned in the paragraph above in one year; which ones we studied over the years varied somewhat. I was searching for the literature that the students would appreciate, and I was attempting to balance out the studies about the religions. If I didn't watch out, the course work could be slanted toward the religion I knew the most about--Chritianity.

I worked hard not to proselytize concerning these religions or any religion, for I knew that in public schools, we could study about the religions, but that I as a teacher could not try to convert anyone to any religion. Hardly was that my intention! As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said, "[i]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion, or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization."

I worked hard to annihilate stereotypes and misconceptions concerning these religions. To this end, I tried to incorporate some meaningful and educational field trips into our semester. One of my favorite field trips was to the Hindu temple on Old Hickory Boulevard in Bellevue. Our guide there was always so gracious and heart-warming that the students could see her spirituality shine through her face and could understand how someone could be as fervent about their beliefs as we might be about our own. To her delight, one year our principal chose to go on this field trip with us.

What is beautiful about the Hindu faith is that they believe in accepting all of the other religions as legitimate paths to God. They do not believe in one "right" way! As a matter of fact, we discovered that it is primarily some Christian denominations that believe in this "only one right way to God" idea.

Hopefully, our study was opening minds and opening hearts! And thus we continued for many, many years until as the saying goes, someone decided to throw a wench into the works!

to be continued . . .


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Memoir: "Shout out your sadness and pain. This can bring you back to normal."

Recently passing Harpeth High School after a spring hike, my friend said to me, "There's the school. What do you feel when you pass it?"

I responded that I still felt some bitterness about my last few years working there. Now after eight years of retirement, I want a way completely to let go of the bitterness and to help my old heart mend still further. My heart yearns to soften toward all that happened there.

This morning as I'm reading The Book of Joy, the Archbishop Tutu tells us "Shout out your sadness and pain. This can bring you back to normal."

Another friend discourages me from telling my stories--especially these three--because she would say that they are private and no one else's business but mine. She says that readers who don't know me at all will think, "Boy, she sure feels sorry for herself " Or else that I will appear "whiney and vindictive."

As people who know me know, I do not feel sorry for myself nor do I ask for pity. As a rule, I am not a complainer and certainly not vindictive. But I will tell my stories to you and to no one else. Please judge tenderly of me, Dear Reader. I believe that the telling of these stories will help to mend a broken part of myself and perhaps help others understand their own stories and heal themselves.

According to the The Book of Joy, we are to embrace all of our emotions because they no doubt play a necessary role in our lives. The Archbishop says, "It is the hard times, the painful times, the sadness and the grief that knit us more closely together."

My teaching career, which was so instrumental in my life as a whole, ended on several notes of sadness and grief.

First and last, it was by word-of-mouth that I discovered that I had lot my job. After nearly forty years of teaching, in 2009-2010, I had finally realized a dream of mine to retire and then to job-share, I had worked the first semester, and my job-share teacher/partner was working the second semester.

It was January or February 2010. Through the grapevine I heard that the then director of schools Tim Webb had let all part-time and job-share employees in the county go! Apparently, he gave no thought or care as to who these people were that he was letting go. He wasn't from our county and didn't know us. The then board of education seemed have some control over the director, and they too must have wanted part-timers and job-sharers gone.

Immediately, when I heard of job-share teachers losing their jobs, I went to the school and asked the then new principal about the "rumor" and why she had not informed me. She responded, "I thought that you would have received a letter." I never did receive a letter nor a phone call from the central office. Nothing.

Perhaps it was all in the name of saving money, with no consideration for experienced teachers because the very next year the county offered experienced teachers "bonuses" of thousands of dollars (depending on one's experience) to retire, and many really good educators who had lost faith in the way the county school system was being run took the money and left the profession. (New teachers are paid less salary than those of us who have experience. So a county full of new teachers is going to spend less on paying its teachers.) My guess is that after the 2010-2011 school year, Cheatham County was left with a dearth of  experienced teachers.

Thus ended my nearly 40- year  career as a teacher in Cheatham County. There were no farewells, no goodbyes. About nine months later, my daughter and a former student of mine and one of my co-workers from Cheatham County Central High School hosted a retirement party for me in a beautiful venue in Nashville. They put a lot of work and love into it, and it was a really fine get-together, filled with many former students and some faculty, but it was bittersweet for me. Harpeth High School, where I had spent the last 25 years of my career, never even acknowledged my leaving the profession.

Since then, I have heard that my story of loing my job unexpectedly was a universal story in Cheatham County for that year and the next. Many good teachers and administrators lost their positions as unwise decisions continued to be made by the then director (whom the county eventually had to "buy out" of his job) and his buddy, the next director, and the board of education.

Lives and jobs were tossed about with no thought or care of how these actions affected the individals involved nor how they affected the school system as a whole. (Later a group of administrators sued the school system for loss of their jobs for bogus "reasons," and the administrators won! Thus the county ended up paying out thousands of dollars to settle those law suits! In the long run, I don't believe the county "saved" very much money, and it lost a lot of valuable educators.)

Nevertheless, my own career was ended before I had made that choice myself. Knowing me, I would have continued to work part time until I was ready to fully retire from teaching. It would have been a way of slowly phasing out in stages and of adjusting to not being a teacher after nearly four decades.

But here are the good things about my losing my job--my first granddaughter was born in late March 2010, and my daughter had post-partum anxiety and was not sleeping at all. So I was rested and free and able to keep baby Tessa overnight from the time she was a couple weeks old! And I've been keeping her and her little sister on overnight visits for the past eight years!

When the big flood came in early May that same year and my home was partially flooded, I was rested and free and able somewhat to keep my sanity and help with the big clean up and reconstruction of my house.

Another good thing was that I could not have made the decision to retire on my own; teaching was too much a part of who I was--so it's a good thing that I was forced into retirement. Also I did not know that my last semester teaching was my last semester teaching. Thus I was not then sad and griefing the loss of my career.

There are a couple other things that occurred those last few years that I taught at Harpeth High School that I want to tell you about, Dear Reader--one had to do with a group of parents who wanted me gone (fired) from the school system and another had to do with a group of teachers who broke my heart.

Those are the other two stories that I want to share with you in the coming weeks.

to be continued . . . 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Memoir: Feminism Is My Story

First used in 1841, the word feminism means "(1) the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" or "(2) organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests," according to Merriam-Webster.

A dear friend asked me at lunch yesterday how I had become "such a feminist." Right away, I wondered once again how people could not believe in political and economic and social equality for both women and men. Later this same friend said that she has other friends who were teens in the 60s with much more moderate views on the subject.

It was then that I was reminded of one of my male students calling me a "feminazi," which means, of course, a radical feminist. His calling me that word upset me; I think that it was the "nazi" part and its association with Hitler. I've always been proud to be called a feminist, even when it was not meant as a compliment (or when its meaning was misunderstood, which it most often has been.) I do not think of myself as a radical feminist--just a plain ordinary feminist--but in a small southern town, where it seemed apparent to me that feminism had not yet arrived, if it ever would.

I also remember returning a call to a parent when my classes were studying Kate Chopin's book The Awakening. The mother of a young man in my class wanted to know why we were studying this book. "One of the themes of the book concerns the idea that men and women deserve equal treatment," I said. To which she responded, "I don't believe that men and women are equal." I was dumbfounded by her remark, and for once, left speechless. Perhaps she and I were talking about different things.

"Equal" does not mean the "same." Anyone knows that women and men are different. But from an early age, I resented males being treated better by virtue of their gender, which was happening in my family of origin and in my schooling and in my being a teacher in Cheatham County. 

Most of the time, male chauvinism in our schools was "somewhat" subtle. Early in my teaching career, all of my principals and vice-principals were males (as if only males were capable of leadership positions). My first principal was male, of course, and definitely a male chauvinist. I intuitively knew that I was treated differently (less respected) because I was a young female teacher--differently (and not in a good way) from how the young male teachers were treated. What we now call "white privilege" was then "male privilege."

(Sometimes this "less than" treatment of women appeared to me to connect to religion--especially to right-winged, fundamentlist religions that taught that women were to be subordinate to men.)   

Research shows that teachers (male and female) call on male students more often than female students and praise male students more often and just generally give them more attention. Male favoritism was obvious in our school system--for example, one of my male principals was overheard saying in reference to me when I was disciplining some students for cheating, "What she needs is a husband." And still later I overheard this same principal saying to a male teacher, "Wouldn't it be better/easier if all teachers were men." 

Perhaps I can trace the root of my becoming a feminist back to my childhood. It was the 1950s, and I had a male cousin nicknamed Butch, and he was about the same age as I. He  was definitely favored by my Grandmother Drawdy (my father's mother) and her only sibling and sister, my Great Aunt Pansy. I couldn't have put this preferential treatment that my male couisin received back then into words; it was just a feeeling of being made to feel inferior to him, as if he were better than I simply because he was a boy. (It also seemed to be common knowledge that my grandmother favored her sons.) 

Here's an except from the blog that I wrote about our Great Aunt Pansy and for which I interviewed my cousin Butch:

"My cousin Butch would visit Pansy for a fun-filled week during the summers, and she would buy him spiffy back-to-school clothes from the downtown J. C. Penney's. With Aunt Pansy's attention, Butch almost felt as if  he had two loving grandmothers on his father's side of the family. Butch remembers, 'We (he and Aunt Pansie) always went to church on Sunday morning and then went to Clemson House in Clemson for a lunch of she-crab soup, roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy and real strawberry shortcake for dessert. We would joke around about how could they tell if it was a she-crab or a he-crab. We would laugh and talk; there was never a dull moment around Aunt Pansy.' Butch also recalls his family going to lots of Clemson football games with Pansy through the years."

In my memory, Aunt Pansy had never taken me or my family out to eat lunch or gone to a football game nor had she ever bought me school clothes or anything else. 

My cousin Butch had been born to my father's (Ken's) older brother CF, and as a child, I got the distinct impression that my father was somewhat jealous of CF and that part of that reason was that CF had received favorable treatment from Aunt Pansy and another part was that he had a son whereas my father did not. (My father had two daughters; I was the younger one.)

From that same blog, now I can discern that it wasn't only Butch that Pansy favored but also his father CF, my father's older brother--"Once [Grandmother Drawdy's] first born graduated high school, CF (Charles Fulton) went to live with and work for Aunt Pansy, delivering Western Union telegrams. Later she sent him to Clemson College, then procured him a summer job at Carolina Beach." 

So I can now see that it was as if I absorbed my father's envy of his older brother and transferred it to his brother's son Butch--but I can also perceive how CF's and Butch's being favored by Aunt Pansy and by Grandmother Drawdy most certainly set the stage for my becoming a feminist.  I was a little girl child, and like all children, I was trying to make sense of this world into which I had been born. It didn't seem fair or make sense to me that Butch got the lion's share of attention and affection. Simply because he was a boy.

Now this is over 60 years later that I write about this experience--that I put all of this into words--back then it was just vague, and not so vague, feelings. I have to wonder how all of this affected  Butch--he had to feel so special and so loved. I would like to go back in time and tell little Laura that she was special and oh so loved too!  

Thus the stage was set to fast forward to the 1960s and to today!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mindful Living in Today: Do Not Worry; Trust the Universe

Intuitively, I knew that "mindfulness" was the most important concept that I had learned from teaching nearly 40 years of high school English. Elsewhere, I have already blogged about "living in this present moment" several times, and since my retirement in 2010, I have headed up some "workshops" on the subject.

More attention is being paid to the concept of mindfulness in our world today--more "articles," podcasts, etc., on the subject. Ironically, I think that part of the reason for this attention to mindfulness is because we live even less mindful, more mindless lives than ever before. In part because of technology--in particular because of our smart phones, tablets, etc.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible has always been that one from the Sermon of the Mount that tells us, "do not worry about tomorrow."

Unfortunately, as a child and teen in my damaged/dysfunctional family of origin (which I've also already blogged about in my memoir posts), I was taught to worry about everything! Perhaps many of us raised in the 50s and 60s were taught to be too concerned about the future. Especially if we were raised in a family with mental illnesses.

Lately, my go-to word has been "Trust." It is imprinted on my key chain, and it is the word that usually comes to my mind when my yoga instructor tells us to find a centering word.  

This morning I read an interpretation of the "do not worry" verse from Deepak Chopra's book THE THIRD JESUS that tied "mindfulness" and the verse together in a way that made a lot of sense to me.

First, Chopra lets us know that this "do not worry" verse is one of Jesus's most radical injunctions to us, yet it is probably the least followed. Like everyone else, Christians worry, plan, earn a living, and amass money and possessions against some future time. And all of our society encourages us to do so. Learning to trust God's Providence (or providing) is a process that we can learn to practice everyday.

Chopra tells us that the most direct way not to worry about tomorrow is to live in the present. Only the present is real, but it can be elusive. Why? Because we spend so much of our time remembering the past and anticipating the future. The past and the future are "unreal." Thus the real and the unreal become blended--so entangled, in fact, that the present must be retrieved piecemeal.

Furthernore, Chopra gives us 7 qualities of the present to ponder and to embrace, and he further gives us their opposites to avoid:

7 qualities of mindfulness:            

Alertness--being awake
Openess--being free from expectations
Freshness--not being overshadowed by the past (yesterday)
Innocence--not judging (from old or past experience)
Spontaneity--allowing new impulses to come in without criticism or censorship
Fearlessness--the absence of traumas from the past
Replenishing--the capacity to renew oneself from within

the opposites:

Dull instead of alert
Closed off instead of open
Stale instead of fresh
Knowing instead of innocence
Planned or routine instead of spontaneous
Anxious instead of fearless
Depleting instead of replenishing (renewing)

Children--especially young children--display these 7 mindfulness qualities all the time, and all of these qualities are present inside us. So we don't have to learn them, but we have to uncover them once more. As Jesus tells us, "Let the children come to me."

Right now, the present moment is filled with memories, expectations, projected beliefs, and past conditioning. Allow yourself to fill the present moment in a different, far more real way, by practicing the 7 qualities above! Allow yourself to be free, for "the truth shall make you free." As a matter of fact, we need to be more childlike and trusting.

Retrieve the present moment by clearing out the past, which means whatever is routine, dull, knowing, calculated, anxious, and traumatic. You cannot manufacture innocence, for example, but by removing its opposite, knowingness, you leave space so that innocence can express itself once more through you.

Chopra challenges us to the following exercise: When confronted with someone you think you know very well, whose behavior is predictable, don't react at first. Leave a place for something new in this person. Ask a new kind of question, agree where you would normally disagree, withhold judgement, and see what happens. Distance yourself from past experience and expectations, leaving space for something unexpected to emerge.

This same process can be applied to every other qulaity of the present moment.

Trust the universal Spirit, ask for a change, and let this universe be transformed into a safe haven, a home for evey person, filled with life's necessities. Because it already is. If we allow it to be.

Practice the 7 qualities of mindfullness, of living in the present monment. And trust that your needs will be provided for. Chopra says that Jesus called this safe haven Providence because its purpose is to provide.

Because God or the Universe knows what you need even before you ask, I say pencil in your plans for your life ever so lightly and Trust that Life will flow through you and fill out your Living in this Eternal Present moment.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Regrets--I've had a few"--Part 2

We all love imperfectly, if we love at all.

When I was a child, there were two people whose love I was sure of. I knew that my Granddaddy Clark (my mother's father) and my step Grandmother Etta loved me. And only me, it seemed to my childish heart, or at least, loved me best of all. They lived in Columbia, South Carolina, and I would get to stay with them for a week or two in the summer. I've written about their love for me in another blog post.

To the best of my knowledge, Etta had married my grandfather after my own parents had married. I don't know Etta and Joe's (my grandfather's) story--how they came to meet and fall in love. I only knew that my grandfather "drank," and that my mother's parents divorced when my mother was a young girl. (Her mother had also remarried to my step Grandfather Wassil and moved to New Jersey, where we visited once  year.) From my family and society, I had gotten the message that divorce was "wrong" or something to be ashamed of.

I also knew that, at first, I had three sets of grandparents. Then I had two.

Here are my Granddaddy and Etta, Daddy and Mama and little eight-year-old or nine-year-old me with the sun in my eyes in front of the old store that my grandparents managed on a hot dusty street in Columbia, SC. They lived in rooms behind the store. I just noticed that painted on the wall behind us it says "school supplies"!
As fate would have it, my Granddaddy Clark died in his 50s when I was 9 years old. His death left me in despair, but in my family, I had been taught to put on a brave face and not let people know how I felt. So life went on. And down I went into the maelstrom of my damaged family.

Since Granddaddy was gone, I do recall visiting Etta only once; she lived with her sister(s) in Summerville, SC, and the old house seemed filled with those large coastal Carolina cockroaches or Palmetto bugs that scurried when one turned on the kitchen light at night. I do not remember our visiting Etta anymore. And somehow to my childish mind, that seemed about right, She was, after all, a "step" grandmother. Not someone that we were really kin to.

I do not recall being encouraged to stay in contact with Etta, nor do I remember any more connection to her. But apparently my mother stayed in contact with her because the next thing I do remember about Etta, my mother was telling me that she was in a nursing home and didn't want to live anymore, to which my young adult self replied that then she should be allowed to die. Possibly 15 or 20 years had passed since the death of my gandfather.

And these are my regrets about Etta--that I did not stay in touch with her--with someone who had loved me as a child--that I did not let her know how important she was to me--that I did not thank her for loving and caring for me and my grandfather--that I neglected her. So when I get to Heaven, Etta is another one of those people that I will definitely be looking up, for I have a sin to expiate. My deepest hope is that she will somehow find it in her heart to forgive me. After all, Heaven's the right place for forgiving; I don't know where it's likely to go better. (to purposely misquote Robert Frost)

Another regret that I carry in my heart is with my first mother-in-law Lucy Cooper.

Here are Tommy Cooper and I getting maried.

And here's the only picture that I know of that I have of Lucy Cooper--she's the pretty lady in pink smiling so broadly, so proudly to the right of her son.
Since I had begun to date Tommy in high school, his mother Lucy was nothing but kind to and supportive of me. After my junior year in college, Tommy and I married. Lucy continued to be nothing but kind to me and proud of me; she liked to brag about the clean and organized house that I kept, which to her was a great accomplishment. She taught me some of the few cooking skills that I had--like how to make the best whipped potatoes. Since he was an only child, Tommy and I ate dinner with his parents, probably every other week.

After about two years of marriage and working, I had finally earned my English degree and qualified to become a high school teacher. It was May, 1972, and I was gong to graduate from college (which my father had predicted that I never would do after I had gotten married). Again Lucy was so proud of me.

Tommy and I had rented the smallest possible house in Clarksville. (before tiny houses were popular). It was probably originally build for a so-called "mother-in-law" apartment in the back yard of a much larger house.

My parents were coming from Kansas to attend the ceremony, and though my house was too small for them to spend the night, I had invited them over for a meal that I was cooking after graduation.
I was so nervous about cooking and about the table setting and about the house being perfect for them.

Of course, Lucy had naturally assumed that she and her husand, Tommy's father, whom we called simply Cooper, were invited to partake of my speical day and special dinner. But I had to tell her that I had no room for them, that the table only sat four people, that I didn't have enough dishware for them, in short, that they were not invited to the dinner.

And though she did not show it, I know that must have hurt her something fierce. Pretty much, I thought that I and my family were better than the Coopers--than Lucy Cooper--I was still being that little snob who had dissed Dethula years before:

--and I was still trying to impress my own parents, still trying to win their love, I guess. It was rude; it was mean. And later I regretted it, but by then, Tommy and I had divorced (which also, I'm sure, had hurt Lucy), and I had moved on to Ashland City to my first teaching job and out of the lives of the Coopers.

So again when I get to Heaven, I have something to expiate--my mistreating Lucy Cooper in any of the ways that I may have done so. Decades later, when I saw Tommy again when I bought a car from him in Madison, he told me that his mother had died years before of cancer. Asked why he had not gotten in touch with me when she was sick, he said that she felt if people didn't come see her when she was well, she didn't want them to come when she was sick. I stood there justifiably accused. I should have taken the time to go to her and to have apologized for my mean act toward her and Cooper.

 Please Dear God, Forgive me now, for all my sins of commission and my sins of omission. Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2017

"Regrets--I've had a few" and I Shall Mention Them Here and Come Clean!

We are shaped by the people that we perceive love us unconditionally.

I was talking yesterday to a friend about regrets in our lives. She mentioned that she regrets not finishing college, and I quickly responded, "But you can still do that!"

Then I said that my regrets are such that I could not do anything about them. Most of them are about hurting other people.

Being known for my "tactlessness," I'm sure that I have hurt many people unintentionally and was completely unaware that I had hurt them. But these regrets that I write about now are about intentional hurts.

I'll talk first about Dethula Mathis.

There she stands in the top picture on the left in 1984 at age 54, I think. Sorry the picture is not clearer.

Here's the story. It was in my childhood in the 1950s (grades 4-6) in Madison, Tennessee. My family and I lived on Berwich Trail, way down a long driveway by the Cumberland River. For several years Dethula was our domestic, as we called black women who came into the house to help our mothers with housework. Though my mother was a stay-at-home mother (as were most mothers that we knew), she kept such a spotless, perfect house, she needed help once a week to keep it that way. Plus she needed help to do all of the ironing that was done back then--to starch and iron my father's crisp white shirts, my school dresses, etc.

My mother was not a very nurturing woman, but Dethula was the essence of the word maternal. For years, she mothered me, as I had not known such nurturing before or since. As much as I loved school and my teachers, I loved her more. I couldn't wait to get home from school on the days she worked at our house and was always greeted by her big smile and a warm embrace. Then I would hang with her as she completed her chores. On occasion, I would pretend to be sick so that I could stay home from school to be with her. She would baby me like no other--fix me my favorite foods for lunch (PB& strawberry J and her delightful concoction of homemade chicken noodle soup with a rare gingerale), read to me, and rub my back until I fell asleep,  Later I discovered that she was referred to in the Madison area as "Big Mama."

Me around 8 or 9.
So life was good to me in those early years in Madison, Tennessee. (,

And Dethula was an integral part of that good life. I had felt loved by her and by my Granddaddy Clark ( and by my teachers at Neely's Bend Elemenary School.

Then we moved away to Louisville, Kentucky, where things changed for me in many different ways and where these things changed me. (

Flash forward to Madison, Tennessee, 1964. After a couple chaotic, confusing years in Louisville, Kentucky, my family had returned to Madison, where I was to spend my best high school years--my sophomore and junior years at Madison High School. I had left Madison at age 12, feeling on top of the world, and I returned to Madison at age 14 an insecure teenager, thinking that what mattered the most were the way I looked, the clothes that I wore, and how popular I was or was not.

Me at 13 or 14.
So one day as I walked into the Madison High School cafeteria for lunch, I spied Dethula way back in the serving area. Back then, probably blacks were not allowed out in the front, where we students were served our food. Immediately, I ignored her. Weeks passed and I continued to ignore her, hoping that she would not see nor recognize me. But one day, Dethula caught sight of me in the serving line and her face broke into her biggest smile, and she loudly and lovingly called out my name, "Laura!"

I turned away from her as if  I did not know who she was, but not before seeing the look of deep hurt on her face (or do I just imagine that). I had become a snobby little overt racist! Because she was black, I was rejecting the person who had shown me the most kindness in my younger years. And I felt nothing, or perhaps I felt that I was jusified. I don't recall what I felt--except embarrassed that she had called my name, hoping no one else had noticed. That was it; that was the only and last time that Dethula tried to acknowledge me. I guess she knew exactly what was going on in my small mind and smaller heart.

As best I can recall, I immediately regretted what I had done, but didn't have the courage to make amends for it. I avoided even looking at Dethula the rest of my years at Madison High School, for fear that she would again try to speak to me. I simply ran my heedless high school ways through the rest of my days there, caring only about myself.

Sometime later in my life, I began to feel shame and sadness and repentance for what I had done. But one day led to another, and my life continued on in its shambles through college and into adulthood. Still later when I read D. H. Lawrence's poem "Snake" and taught it to my high schoolers, I knew that I found comfort in his words:

"And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life. [with one of the saints of life]
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness."

Expiate means "to atone for guilt or sin." Synonyms include "make up for, do penance for, pay for."

I can see from an online obituary that Dethula died in 2010 at the age of 90 and left behind three grown children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. I wish that I could have visited her in this lifetime, so that I could have apologized to her and told her my story of how much she meant to me when I was a little girl who lived at the end of that long driveway by the Cumberland River and how much her affection for me meant later in my life..

Dethula is one of those people that I will definitely be looking up when I get to Heaven, for I have a sin to expiate. My deepest hope is that she doesn't ignore me, that she will somehow find it in her big heart to forgive me.