I Am a Teacher

calendarToday is Tuesday, November 26, 2019. For the last two weeks, I have been ready for tomorrow, Wednesday, November 27, 2019. Tomorrow is the start of a 5-day break from school for the Thanksgiving holiday. Saying that I am ready for it is a gross understatement. Like saying I like carbs. Or, I like to sleep late. Or, I like to read. People who know me well know that all of these are gross understatements. I am SO ready for my Thanksgiving break.

bootWhy? First, I didn’t really have a summer break from teaching. I spent my summer in a non-weight bearing boot, sitting in a recliner, waiting for my broken ankle to heal from surgery. Yes, it healed, but as grateful as I am that I am fully-mobile again, I still feel cheated. Teachers live for summer break where we can go out to lunch with friends, go on trips, spend weekdays running errands, reading for fun and not for professional development.

Second, I’m so ready to get in my kitchen and cook to my heart’s content, since for twelve long boring weeks I wasn’t able to cook. My kitchen is upstairs, thirteen wickedly steep and treacherous steps. My husband and daughter cooked some and we ate a lot of take-out. Uber Eats was Uber Regular. So, in preparation for the biggest food day of the year, I’ve been running through menu possibilities like Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40 greatest hits.

In spite of all of this, though, even though I am SO ready for my Thanksgiving break, today in literature class, I was stopped cold in my tracks. Instead of wishing for the remaining hours to hurry by so I would be on my Thanksgiving break, I was reminded why I love teaching. In a very short, one-paragraph example of creative writing, I was reminded what I have to be thankful for, and why. With the permission of a very special student, I share with you what I experienced today.

mozartkugel tinWe had finished my lesson plan for the class period and we had about ten minutes left. I pulled out my “think-it tin” which originally housed Austrian chocolate hazelnut candies called Original Salzburger Mozartkugel. thinketsNow it is filled with little objects I find all over my house: a charm from a bracelet, the little plastic clip that holds a pair of socks together, a fake gold ring from a box of Cracker Jacks, a badge from Girls Scouts that never got sewn on, the spring out of a ball point pen, etc. Students reach in and pull out something. They get to decide what the object is, and then they write a story where the object is the main character. The slight twist for today was that the story had to be about Thanksgiving.

My student today pulled out something that he decided was a belt. In reality it is a dog collar for a Chihuahua (dog). In the past, students have decided it was a leather bracelet, like the ones you see hipsters wearing these days. But, today, it was a belt. And this belt had a lot to say.

MLKWhen you read this, your first reaction may be that it’s light-hearted and humorous. That it is. But look deeper and I hope you will see the serious side of it as well. My student, using a literary device called repetition, famously used by MLK Jr. in his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech, wove through his short paragraph life lessons and poignant reminders of what is really important in life. mother teresaHis very creative short story is reminiscent of some of Saint Mother Teresa’s famous quotes about doing small things with love, starting with loving your own family. Please read it. Consider it my student’s Thanksgiving gift to you.

thanksgiving feastThis Thanksgiving, let’s all focus on what is really important, not which side dishes to have or how many pieces of pie is too many. Let’s focus on loving each other. Let’s focus on being grateful and thankful for what we have, not what we wish we had. Let’s focus on appreciating our family, family thanksgiving 2018especially those who hold us all together. Let’s focus on love Let’s focus on being a belt.

 

 

 

 

I Am a Belt

Love Never Fails

It’s midday Sunday and I am just sitting down to write this week’s essay. It’s been a busy weekend. Friday night was the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner for one of my colleagues, a third grade teacher at my school. Months ago, after announcing her engagement, she stopped me as I was coming in to school one morning and asked me to do one of the readings of scripture at her wedding. I am still surprised at how emotional I became when she asked me, immediately choking up and fighting back tears. I hugged her and said yes, of course, and thanked her for making me a part of her special day. Yesterday was the wedding and reception, and much of this morning was spent looking at wedding photos on Facebook posted by some of those in attendance.

I moved to the DC area from my home state of Louisiana in 1988, so by all accounts this should be my home now. But, with no extended family here, and not having grown up here or gone to school here, in a lot of ways I don’t feel “at home”. One of the times when this is most evident to me is when hearing about weddings. If we lived in Louisiana, we would be invited to weddings much more frequently than we are here in Maryland. We are friends with a lot of people, but often not close enough to get invited to weddings. It is understandable, with the high costs associated with even a modest wedding in this day and time, but nonetheless, when we are invited to a wedding, it is indeed a special occasion for us.

Our own wedding, June 10, 1989, was very small, mostly just family, a few of our own friends who mostly were involved in the wedding in some way, and a few friends of our parents. our rehearsal dinnerThe rehearsal dinner was at Tom’s family restaurant, Ardillo’s in Amite, Louisiana, founded by his grandfather Roy S. Ardillo, in 1947. My father-in-law continued to run it after the death of his siblings, until it closed in May of 2012.

at our receptionThe reception was at my parents’ house, with a table set up in the living room for the wedding cake made by a friend of my mom’s, the groom’s cake made by me, and finger foods that were made by my mom, some of her Sodality friends, and relatives. food at our receptionIt was in our minds, the perfect balance. We placed our focus on the wedding Mass, where we received the Sacrament of Matrimony. We had attended pre-Cana preparation at our then parish, St. Ann’s in Washington, DC, where we were both active in parish life while we dated and were engaged, Tom singing in the choir and me teaching religious education on Sunday mornings. planning our MassWe spent time picking out our readings, asking friends and family members to participate, and picking out music for the Mass. My good friend Ann was my maid of honor and Tom’s brother Jay was his best man. Our godparents brought up the gifts. My cousin, Penny, played the organ for the processional and recessional. our musiciansA mutual friend, Steve, who was instrumental in our spending time together early on, played guitar and sang, along with another friend, Kay, who cantored the Mass. Steve even wrote a song just for us and sang it after Communion. In every single way, to us, it was perfect.

This weekend’s wedding festivities were quite different by contrast. The bride has a large extended family, representing several different cultures. Both the bride and groom grew up here so they had many friends and family members to invite. The wedding Mass was held at the church parish of the school where we teach so there we all felt “at home”. children with coupleThe bride had invited her current 3rd grade class to the wedding, and they attended in full force, along with many of their parents, all smiles as they watched every move of their teacher on the altar. There was a certain energy to the wedding Mass that was almost palpable, brightly colored dresses and the sounds of young children filling the large church. The reception was equally lively, with a steel drum band playing during the cocktail hour and a DJ spinning popular hits in dance music after dinner. dancing the night awayFlower girls and junior bridesmaids danced the night away side by side with older relatives and middle-aged couples, ourselves included. The featured libation was chosen by the newly married couple, a rum punch, which was delicious and as colorful as every other detail of the two days of festivities. It was a beautiful celebration of the love of these two young people.

Knowing the bride stemmed from a large family, I was truly honored to take part in the ceremony. I was given the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I know it well, having heard it many times at other weddings and as part of the readings in weekly Mass. I began practicing it as soon as she gave me a copy. Even though I serve as a Lector in my parish, Shrine of St. Jude’s in Rockville, as well as a Lector at some of our school Masses, I fully appreciated the significance of being asked to read at their wedding and wanted to perform this duty to the best of my ability. taking the reading to papal massOn September 23rd when I was getting ready for the Papal Mass, I folded it up and tucked it into my purse. I told the bride I would be taking her and her fiancé with me to the Papal Mass and then I would bring the Pope to their wedding Mass via the same piece of paper, which I did.

This reading from Corinthians is very powerful, and its power comes from the poetry of the words themselves. Studying and analyzing words is what I do for a living, teaching literature to middle school students, showing them how to break down passages of literature for its deeper meaning. Reading is one of the great joys of my life, and the more I focus on my own writing, the more I appreciate the beauty of words and the power that exists in truly well written prose. This piece of scripture is a fine example.

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (12:31–13:8a)

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, 
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
The word of the Lord.

Even though St. Paul was not talking to a young couple about to embark on a lifetime together, this popular New Testament reading is still listed as a choice for Catholic wedding Masses. The detailed “laundry list” of what love is, as well as what love is not, can be applied to the Christian community of Corinth, who had fallen away from the teachings of the Gospel, as easily as to a young man and a young woman trying to live a life of faith in today’s fast-paced world. It is difficult to find time for peace and quiet reflection in a world of instant communication via many different types of social media, evidenced by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram images of this weekend’s wedding being posted while the events were still taking place. I myself fell victim to this increasingly more popular trend, holding handstaking a quick photo when the couple took their seats for the first reading. The way the groom so sweetly was holding the bride’s hand was so reminiscent of my favorite photo of our own wedding, a now-yellowed photo taken by a relative as we exited the church after the wedding, my new husband not only giving me his arm to walk me down the aisle but taking my hand as well.us leaving the wedding

In the end, this young couple needs only the excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth and the closing words of the priest’s homily at their wedding to help them navigate the joys and strife of their new life together. It isn’t about the beautiful wedding attire or the delicious food and drink at spectacular venues. It isn’t about the Pinterest ideas or the ubiquitous iPhone cameras in the hands of nearly all of the guests. It isn’t about the rain and dark clouds that dampened the two days’ activities. It isn’t about the dress or the cake or the flowers. It is about love. And, love never fails.

“New Testament Readings.” For Your Marriage. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.