Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Never the Same Again

"There is that phrase again," I said to myself this morning as I watched Al Roker interview a survivor of  the devastating, destructive tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri this past weekend.  The man had just witnessed his hometown ripped to pieces in moments.  He was searching for his neighbor.   Everything he owned was gone.  All he could say was, "It will never again be the same."

How I have fought against that phrase.  I have refused to believe it.  In fact, one of the first thoughts that came to my mind after my daughter's death was hearing a dear friend tell me that her mother was never the same after her sister's death.  "I will not be that person," I said to myself.  I will not change.  I will continue to be who I am.

Now, a year later, a year after the black line that went down the record of my life clearly dividing my life into two parts, I know that it is not possible to be as one was before a devastating, shocking, unspeaking loss.  I am changed.  I am not the same.  Sometimes, I don't even know who I was before.  Jerry Sittser  in A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows through Loss, writes, "Catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity."

One may hope to remain the same after such loss.  I now believe this is not possible.  One's life has forever been altered.  When that happens, one changes.  In the past year, I have made peace with this truth.  Sittser tells the grieving soul that catastrophic loss is to be compared to a massive flood that is "unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncontrollable, brutally erosive to body, mind and spirit."  One cannot survive such a flood and come through to the other side without being changed.

In the end, I am thankful I will never again be same.  I would not have chosen this path for my life, for my children, or my grandchildren.  I would have done anything to stop the horrific loss that we suffered one year ago.  There will always be a hole in my heart, a gap in our family circle, a missing link, a link that brought so much joy, laughter, and delight.  Why did I think that I would not change?  How could a mother lose a child and not be left bereft?

A day of celebration for me and Julie when she earned her hard earned BA in English.   

"Recovery is a misleading or empty expectation.  We recover from broken limbs, not amputations.  Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same."  Even as I read these words of Sittser's last summer, I was repulsed by the thought as I wrote in my journal, "There it is again.  We are never the same"  Now, I see that I had a choice.  I choose to submit to transformation.  I have chosen that course.  I refuse to be destroyed.

I have been changed.  It has been a transformation.  I am learning why loss can be 'a grace disguised.'  Yes, despite the hole that will never really heal, and despite an amputation to my family, to my life, to our futures, I am learning that the soul grows through loss.  For that, I am grateful.  I would not have wanted to remained the same after such loss and not learned this truth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wrapping Up A Successful Semester

I've been back to retirement mode for about two weeks now.  Retirement has a way of luring one into thinking that there is always tomorrow that can be used for all the things that don't get done today.  With that being said, perhaps you will understand why I am just now posting some of the final activities that I had with my students from the international program at our local University.The semester literally seemed to fly by.  Here are some highlights for our time together since Spring Break:

  • We said good-bye to my dear friend Dixie who substituted for the regular instructor for Level Two students with a party and a presentation of the life maps we made in class.
Colorful Life Maps

Dixie surrounded by her students
  • We never pass up an opportunity for a photo op

Some of the girls

A couple of the guys
  • I gave an end of the semester brunch at my house
Our faithful volunteer tutors
Walter and Alda

We are so grateful for this couple who graciously have given so much time to the program for years.  We really appreciate them, their help, and their great personalities.

A fine young man 
Part of the joy of working in the program is getting to know youth from many countries.  I keenly feel a great responsibility toward these students whose parents give them the opportunity to study in another country when they are so young.  This student proved himself to be worthy of that trust by working very hard and making incredible progress.

Another fine student
I can't imagine what it must have been like for our Japanese student when he learned of the earthquake in his country this semester.  He was the picture of great perseverance as he continued to work hard while knowing that his country was in a time of great distress.  It was rewarding to see how the class came together with concern and support during the time of crisis in Japan.

Eating together

The light is not great in these photos, but you get to see the great time of friendship that we all enjoyed.

My guests brought flowers and other gifts
to grace the table
 I love the faces on these beautiful cats that were graciously given as a gift to the hostess.  Thank you so much for the gifts that you brought!
Two darling cats

  • We gathered one last time as a class the day before the final.  Everyone was nervous about taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) the next day.  We all were also very sad as some of us tearfully said good-bye to each other.  Those of us there, gathered for one last photo together.  Sadly, one important class member was not there that day.
My students and I
Spring Semester 2011
I don't know that I will ever be able to properly express how much I have appreciated the students I worked with this past semester.  They, all five of them, were some of the finest people I have ever met.  Working with them helped me to heal from the greatest loss of my life.  Two of the students were born the same year as my daughter.  For some reason, I found this especially healing to see them progress in the life goals they have set for themselves.  

Someone gave me this card a number of years ago.  I have kept it on my desk all these years.  Someone else gave me memento that says, "A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart."  At the center of teaching is heart.  As a teacher, I have learned it is the teacher's heart that is most moved, most touched, and most enlarged.  I have always loved being a teacher.  It is a profession that have given more than I have ever given it.  This year teaching truly helped to heal my broken heart.  

Some of our wonderful international students
Students gather in the International Office
to celebrate graduation

I've taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to high school students, middle school students, and elementary students.  Each group brings its own special joys and challenges.  Now, I am hooked on teaching college age international students.  It is special to go to the office and see so many nationalities speaking so many languages everyday.  The experience has broadened my heart, my world, and my circle of friends.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Last Prom with My High School Sweetheart

Jim & Sally
Prom 1961
My husband was my high school sweetheart.  Some of you may recall the post I wrote in March about our first date.  From the first time I ever met this guy, I knew he was a very special person.  His kindness, steadiness, sense of humor, leadership, and character were very apparent even when he was a young man.  I fell madly in love with him, my very first boyfriend,  when I was only sixteen years old.  I was only a sophomore in high school and he was senior back when this photo was taken.  Age didn't stop him from asking me to marry him on the day he graduated from high school.  Because he had the goal of going to college to be a teacher, he didn't plan on marriage until after college, but he wanted me to know that I was the one with whom he wanted to spend his life.

Not long after this first marriage proposal of sorts,  we were separated by family pressures, moves, and college attendance in different states.  Despite these distances and distractions, my dear high school sweetheart maintained that we were destined for each other and should get married someday.  After he finished college, when I was still in college, he came to visit me and once again proposed marriage.  I was really not interested in marrying anyone at the time.  I remember him telling me that he would get a teaching job that would pay him about $4000 a year.  That was tempting, but no, I really wasn't ready for marriage.

A few years later, I became engaged to my former husband.  I wrote Jim, my high school sweetheart, to tell him I was getting married.  At the time, we were living in the same state.  He called me and asked if he could come to see me and take me to dinner.  My fiance' didn't have a problem with that, so Jim drove from Provo, Utah to Ogden, Utah to take me to dinner three days before I married my first husband.  Jim listened to me tell him about my new guy and all about our plans.  Then, he said, "Sally, you are making a big mistake.  You are supposed to marry me.  I'm asking you again, Will you marry me?"  I told him I would always care deeply about him, but that I was not changing my plans.  I planned on marrying someone else.

Fast forward thirty years:  I had been divorced for ten years and living in Colorado Springs.  Jim, just recently divorced and living in Pueblo, called me asked me to lunch.  The years seemed to literally fall away when we first re-connected.  Within just a few months, he again asked me to marry him.  This time, I was smart enough to say, "Yes." Six months later, on June 12, 1992, we were married.

This year, exactly fifty years after our first prom date, we attended what will no doubt be our last prom together.  Serving as an administrator, after coming out of retirement for six months, at a school district near Colorado Springs, meant that my husband again had prom duty.

Since the prom was being held at the beautiful Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, he booked us a room there.  He was even able to get a good deal on our wonderful room because he was chaperoning the prom!  The room was in Dove Lodge, which I thought was just ironic since my friend Dove introduced us so many year ago before our first prom.

The main lodge was located across the courtyard from our lodge.  Another prom was held right outside our room.  That was really quite cool.

Before the prom, we had dinner together in the main lodge.  We made sure we had our picture snapped to record the momentous occasion.

Jim & Sally
Prom 2011
Fifty Years After Our First Prom
Still Sweethearts
Jim & Sally 2011

After the prom, sitting on the deck outside our room, I took some time to write about the event in my journal.

While writing, I turned to my husband and said, "I am one lucky lady.  Not, only am I married to the kindest, sweetest, most supportive, compassionate, and thoughtful man I know, but I am also married to someone who makes me feel sixteen again."  Last year at this time, we were on a cruise.  I told him that I would rather spend my time surrounded by youth, full of life and hope, than surrounded by old retired folks at a cruise best dress affair.  Being with teenagers has a way of keeping one engaged in life, hopeful for the future, and happy.  My heart and soul were truly uplifted that night.  Mother's Day Eve was a happy and healing time for me.  For that, I am grateful.  

I am also grateful for my dear, wonderful sweetheart.  His enthusiasm for life, and for his profession, has meant that he has stayed young in spirit and positive in his outlook on life.  He believes in giving back.  He believes in mentoring others to become good educators. He believes in the youth of our nation, and he loves being involved with them.  He has made good on his life goals that he expressed to me on the night of his high school graduation:  he became a teacher, and he married me.

He has been the best husband in the world for me.  I don't know what I would do without him.   I adore him.  My children and grandchildren adore him.  I am thankful I got things right when I married him. 

 Jim, this song is for you.  XO

Friday, May 13, 2011

Historic Ruling?

I am thrilled to have learned yesterday that a juvenile court judge in the State of Utah made a positive ruling in the case of a teenage boy who has lived in this country without proper papers since he was five years.  The ruling clears the way for the young man to gain legal resident status in the U.S.  You can read about this young man's situation by  clicking on this link.   The article was published in Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah this past weekend.   
This historic ruling is great news to all of us who work or have worked with this special population of students.  It is, in my opinion, the right decision that brings hope and justice to one kid.  One can only hope that the ruling is setting a positive precedent for the future.
My Personal Connections and Views on Working with Immigrant Children
As many of you know, I have worked for many years as teacher to those students for whom English is not the home language.  This area of the educational world has long been my passion.  I have worked with students who have come to this country with papers,  and with those who have come without papers.  I never knew for sure the legal status of my students, not did I care about their legal status.  In fact, as teacher in the public school system I was barred from inquiring about my students' legal status because of the Supreme Court Ruling Plyer vs. Doe 1982.  I am often shocked to find out how much misinformation there is out there in regard to the rights of immigrant students when it comes to public education.  Plyer vs. Doe clearly stated the rights of these students when it ruled:  "public schools were prohibited from denying immigrant students access to a public education. The Court stated that undocumented children have the same right to a free public education as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Undocumented immigrant students are obligated, as are all other students, to attend school until they reach the age mandated by state law."
Now, the Dream Act is being addressed in the news.  The sad thing about working with students who may be undocumented is that they find themselves in a situation that they did not create.  They are brought to this country with or without proper papers through no fault of their own.  Many work hard in school, learn a new language, integrate into a new culture, and then are denied access to state institutions of higher learning as residents of the state in which they may have resided for years.  They are caught in some sort of legal and cultural limbo as they progress into adulthood.  

Those of us who work with this population come to deeply love and respect these students.  We see them vilified in the public sector through no fault of their own.  We see them subjected to racial profiling, and other forms of subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice.  Frankly, it is heartbreaking and discouraging to hear and read some of the prejudicial emails that circulate about this population of families that now live in our country.

I am all for legal means of coming to this country.  I am not in support of punishing the innocent victims who are undocumented because of the decisions of their parents.  To be honest with you, I have worked with gang members whose families have been in this country for generations.  I have also worked with immigrant families.  There is a wide divide between these two populations.  
I am personally thrilled to hear that one young undocumented student may have a more positive future because of the ruling of this juvenile court judge in Utah.  Congratulations to all concerned.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Partying With My Students

Those of us in the English Language Institute in International Programs at Colorado State University-Pueblo have been partying the past few weeks.  I am just now getting the photos downloaded and posted.  I realize that Easter happened a week ago, but I really did want to share a bit about our fun Easter Egg Dyeing Party we had on the Friday before Easter.

On Fridays, we always have an activity for our students.  We have had some fun times throughout the semester by doing such things as riding the bus downtown to a coffee shop, touring the main library in town and a smaller branch library, walking along the Arkansas River and eating at the restaurant at the Nature Center.  Each of these activities were planned to allow the students to become better acquainted with the community in which the University is located.  

In order to familiarize the students with the campus itself, we held a scavenger hunt on campus.  The students were not familiar with the term "scavenger hunt" and had never been on one.  That didn't mean they didn't get into the activity with great enthusiasm.  They had to quickly familiarize themselves with various sites, departments, and people around campus if they wanted to win.  Once the hunt was on, the competitive nature of the teams became very apparent.  Fun times!

A Cultural Activity - Dyeing Easter Eggs
Easter Egg Cake and Easter Bunny Cookies
The Birthday Boy

On the Friday before Easter, we had a cultural event activity.  We dyed Easter eggs.  None of the students had ever dyed Easter eggs before.  They were excited to begin the new activity.  

Since Easter Sunday was going to be Mauricio's birthday, we celebrated with an Easter egg cake before getting down to work.

The students had to protect the tables used for the activity and read the directions about how to dye the eggs before we could begin.
Reading the directions
I think we need some vinegar

Shin had done her research.  Before class, she had googled Easter Eggs on her iPad.  She shows what the eggs should look like to the others.

We had 7 1/2 dozen eggs to dye.  It took us three hours to color the ones that didn't get eaten.  It was great fun!

A toast is made
Woo Huck toasts us with something that is pink.
It is not champaign.

How many eggs have you eaten?  Do you want some salt?  
What could be better than coloring eggs and eating Easter bunny cookies?

Glitter was added for a special look.

A bunny face was drawn on the egg by using the practice drawing as a pattern.

The creativity of each participant was fun to see.

Shin was very proud of her eggs.

Mauricio was determined to dye an egg black.  It didn't work, but he kept trying.

We decided to have a contest.  This Happy Family entry was entered in the "Most Creative" category.

Jung Hee entered eggs that she called, "Woo Huck and Shin."

Our judges were our faithful volunteers, Walter and Alda.

This rainbow was entered in the "Most Beautiful" category.

Walter selected this egg as "Most Beautiful."

We made Easter baskets to distribute to others and to take home.

Every student must taste a Peep.  They didn't like them at all!

I was given this beautiful basket to take home.

I will always treasure the memories we made this day.  Working with international students is an enriching and rewarding adventure.  Can you believe I get paid for having this much fun?

Stay tuned for this past week's party...