Monday, March 31, 2008

Undone

I have not been writing much lately because I’ve decided it’s a lot more enjoyable to write about humorous things. Or at the very, least, I like to write about things from a humorous point of view rather than tackling weighty and profound issues of great import. And, to be honest, I’ve been suffering from a significant lack of humor over the previous several months. I do find reasons to laugh when I’m in the moment, and it is always genuine when it happens. But when it comes to the dark art of putting lasting thoughts to paper, I feel the weight of things so deeply that there seems to be no way to unlock the bright or ironic side of life. So I don’t write.

With that said, I cannot seem to move on without at least attempting to process things in my mind eventually, and writing is the only way for me to do it without getting distracted or shutting it out with visions of a fanciful (and thus obviously fictitious) reality. So, here is where I am at:

The one colleague I have that I’ve come to consider my friend as well passed away last weekend. George was in his early 60s and not in great health, but this was sudden. I didn’t need to hear about that on the first day back from Spring break, when I was trying to buckle down and focus on the task of work. And I shouldn’t have walked into his classroom on Thursday as scheduled and tried to carry on with his little charges as though nothing had happened. (Obviously, it didn’t work) But that’s the way things are. It appears he went out doing something he enjoyed doing (tending his flower garden), and if this is not actually true, I don’t really want to know about it. I know in my heart that I did not make full use of multiple opportunities to reach out to this lonely and gentle soul, so I get to live with that and the fact that there aren’t any opportunities for a ‘do-over.’

Last night, I learned that my long time friend and one time mentor and gymnastics coach succumbed to Cancer yesterday morning. She was one of those people that if you could only use the fingers on one hand to represent the individuals who helped you to become who you are (in a positive way), she would be one of them. Not quite, but pretty close to parent status in terms of duration and overall influence across multiple aspects of life, I worked with her directly for longer than I have had contact with my own kids to date. I can say with all honesty that she made full use of the opportunity to help shape my life in a positive way, which is really saying something. Gwen is going to be missed by a lot of people, and I will not be the least of those.

Tomorrow will be April 1, the first Anniversary of when I held my Dad’s hand and watched him take his last breaths. There is a whole lot about this chapter that has yet to be written (if it ever will be), and some of the memories are hazy while others are so vivid I can still smell them. On April 1 last year, my Dad died… and we got several inches of SNOW!! The improbables continue to mount, it seems.

I am supposed to be working right now. My job is an important one, and I have come to really care about my students and how they progress. But all I can think about is taking a ride in the mountains and going really, really fast around the corners; NOT as a death wish, but rather as a celebration of life! The scenery ripping by and the smell of the wild flowers and other vegetation being ram-jetted into my nose through my helmet is the only thing I have found that seems to drain the stresses of the world out of me so that I can once again face harsh reality with courage. Out there, there is no escaping the fact that God is real and still on duty. It is as though I'm screaming, "Are you still there?!" And He answers affirmatively in ways that I don't think I can describe in words.

But my motorcycle is broken right now, so I am left only with the inescapable cumulative thoughts and memories of folks taken from me in this current life. And thus, on the inside, I am just as my office is now: Empty.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Teacher George"

Personal losses continue to mount, it seems. I received word on Tuesday that “Teacher George”, the Pre/K Special Day Class teacher at one of my school sites, passed away at home over the Easter Break. Of the many professional relationships I have had over the past seven and a half years with this school district, George was an exception in that he strayed beyond that, into the realm of friendship.

He was a crazy Scottish transplant, who by some strange twist of events ended up going to University in Fresno and never moved back home after finding a job here as a Special Education Teacher. He had no family ties State-side that he mentioned, only his mother back home. She passed away a few years ago, and he had not been back there since. Always talked about it, though.

He had many hobbies, not the least of which were photography and a host of arts and crafts ranging from macramé to silk screening. In earlier years, he frequented craft shows with his wares in various parts of Central California. The photography showed up in his classroom with digital printed pictures posted on the walls of his current students taking part in daily activities.

He also loved the performing arts, and spent considerable time going to plays, musicals, and orchestras in London and the Bay Area. You could aptly call him a performing arts aficionado, as he could talk for hours about the relative strengths and weaknesses of various shows or performing castes.

George’s teaching style was somewhat unconventional at times, but his students tended to make progress beyond what was anticipated. With them, he was a gentle teddy bear who nonetheless had expectations for them to meet, and they adored him. Gentle was probably the best way to describe him, in fact. That said, he was not beyond complaining and muttering in Gaelic (and English) when he was out of ear shot of young and impressionable minds. This was with good reason as many of his students tended to skew toward the more challenging variety. At any rate, I tended to get a share of his venting sessions, most likely because I was willing to listen.

George was gentle, passionate, and at the heart of it all, lonely. It seemed to me that, while he lived for his ‘kids’ in his classroom and enjoyed shows and dabbling with technology, he was always searching for something to fill a void. I knew that if I went into his classroom in the afternoon after his students left, I was probably not going to be able to get away until late. But I did it anyway because I COULD, and I felt as though being a sounding board for him might have helped a little. He never said as much, but after a while his eyes would start to twinkle more and he would start to laugh more readily and heartily. He had a great cackle.

That said, I feel as though I did not do my best for him, and that I let him down. Not once, but twice, I felt convicted that he was someone God put ‘in my way’ for a purpose… And I did not live that way – plain and simple. This is probably why I feel so heavy and empty right now. I know he is not hurting or lonely anymore, and that he can finally rest and not have to worry about getting to work on time Monday mornings… But… Here I am again, trying to look at myself in the mirror.