Saturday morning, my partner and some of our friends headed to the Cascade Mountains for a hike to Rachel Lake. I stayed home and felt sorry for myself. I am still recovering from the surgery I had in May to remove a tumor from my brainstem, and I am now thankfully without a tumor or any cancer but also without the ability to walk or to see with both eyes, and so I smiled and waved and wished them well.
That afternoon, instead of hiking, I went with my friend Ellen to hear the poet Lucia Perillo. Perillo had been an avid naturalist, hiker and park ranger before being diagnosed with MS. The essay she read connected with my own feeling of loss.
As I listened, it seemed to me that she experiences her life in two parts, the first act before the diagnosis and the second act, an act of loss, following the diagnosis.
We divide our common timeline in this way: before or after the birth of Christ or the common era, and I have heard others describe their lives in two parts, divided by some joyful or tragic event: the birth or death of a child, religious belief, relationship.
I began to wonder what will tie the two parts of my life together: central relationships, memories, passion for poetry, and perhaps beliefs. So what belief most strongly ties the two halves of my life together?
In the first part of my life, I was a high school teacher. I worked in education for 20 years. I loved the energy of the classroom, and I made it my goal to learn to teach every child well. I worked hard but I was not a martyr. The work was life-giving. I began in private education and moved to suburban public schools and then to a small urban school with a spectacular diversity of students—from the US and Latin America, from refugee camps in Africa, from Pakistan and Vietnam.
In the first part of my life, I also spent a fair amount of time in a small town in El Salvador that was devastated by that country’s civil war. I have been inspired by the sense of resurrection in that community.
Primarily from these two experiences, I came to believe that we need to create places of hope in our world, and that my role in the world is to build hope in the schools.
Most of my students these past four years came into high school cynical and disgusted by the waste that school was for them. They quickly responded, though, to experiences of their own brilliance.
I don’t believe in the week hope of optimism, like a cheerleader with her back to the game, waving arms energetically: Go team go. I believe in the robust hope that can serve as a foundation, like Atlas holding the world, a hope that genuinely prepares us all with the skills and spirit and strength to make a difference.
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