I've been cleaning out a closet full of boxes that have never really been touched since we moved to the farm last July.
Among many other things I found a pack of letters I had written to my father-in-law over the years which I took back after he died.
In one from 1997 I told him about the work I was doing at that time as a substitute teacher in the local elementary school. This is what I shared:
"This past week I have been in Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade and a Special Ed Eighth Grade. What an adventure! I learned many things.
I learned that eggplants are not really vegetables, they are a fruit. (Kindergarten class was learning all about the letter V, and that's what the vegetable book says.)
I learned the value of perspective from a second grader, who when told he really should not eat paste replied very matter of factly, "well, it's better than eating boogers."
I learned to savor the first grade cheer which is gleefully shouted every morning (complete with intricate hand motions) right after the pledge of allegiance. The cheer goes:
"I am SMART,
I am SUCCESSFUL,
I am SPECIAL!"
I think we could all benefit from starting our days that way.
I also learned the tragic consequences of negative labeling in the special ed eighth grade where a sweet fourteen year old boy told me "I can't do that stuff cause I'm learning disabled" even though I had seen him do basically what I was asking in a slightly different context.
This sub teaching has been the hardest work I've ever done. It is very rewarding, but absolutely exhausting. I honestly don't know if I will pursue further work of this sort once I get to Washington, but I do know I will forever remember and cherish these experiences."
Sad thing is...I didn't remember.
Oh sure, I recall that for a short time I worked as a sub teacher when we were getting ready to move and I'd had to give up my college job. But I COMPLETELY forgot each of those experiences I described.
About the only things I remember from that job is how I completely blew reading time because I had not calculated how long it takes to get 24 six and seven year olds in and out of snow suits and boots for recess only to find a third of them have to undo it all to go pee. I remember how mean fifth graders could be. I remember feeling rather out of my element most of the time.
This reminds me why I blog...to capture the bits and pieces of my life as they scramble by. If I don't write it down, I will forget. And I don't want to forget.
For all it's confusion, chaos and complexity, this life I'm living is worth recording.
I closed the letter to my father-in-law with something that had been on one of my classroom walls:
The Rules For Being Human
1. YOU WILL RECEIVE A BODY
You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period of this time around.
2. YOU WILL LEARN LESSONS
You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in the school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
3. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, ONLY LESSONS.
Growth is a process of trial and error. Experimentation. The "failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately work.
4. A LESSON IS REPEATED UNTIL LEARNED.
A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.
5. LEARNING LESSONS DOES NOT END.
There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
6. "THERE" IS NO BETTER THAN "HERE"
When you are "there" it has become a "here". You will simply obtain another "there" that will again look better than "here."
7. OTHERS ARE MERELY MIRRORS OF YOU
You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.
8. WHAT YOU MAKE OF YOUR LIFE IS UP TO YOU.
You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you.
9. YOUR ANSWERS LIE INSIDE YOU.
The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen and trust.
10. YOU WILL FORGET ALL THIS.
11. YOU CAN REMEMBER IT WHENEVER YOU WANT.
Then I signed off the letter with "I feel truly grateful for all the lessons the universe is giving me right now. Many have been far outside my comfort zone. But each one has been a true gift. I hope whatever lessons are being sent your way are bringing you joy...even if it takes a while to find it. It's worth finding.
I'm really glad I found this letter. I needed reminding. I'm caught up in the middle of some big challenges right now. This helps me remember it's all a process of lessons. Breathe deep and keep learning. And don't forget to dance.