I do not profess to be a religious man. A man of faith, yes? But not a man of religion. I could dive into my reasons but that is not the purpose of this reflection nor do I believe this is the proper space to have that discussion. Maybe another time in another place.
There are, however, three words that have consistently presented themselves to me during this pandemic. Three words taken from The Serenity Prayer written by the American theologian, Niebuhr (nee-bur), around 1932. Despite various renditions curated by various groups for their unique purposes, all centralize on three concepts.
Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.
I recently took my daughter to pick up her high school graduation items. It was a surreal experience as we drove along a nearly empty roadway through the school’s campus to various stations returning books and collecting items. Aside from the handful of teachers at each station, there were no crowds, there was no cheering, there was no … celebration. And, nearly as quickly as it started, it was over. The whole process lasted maybe 5 minutes.
Four years of high school. Four years of studying. Four years assignments and exams. Four years of late nights and early mornings. Four years culminated in five minutes.
As we drove away, my daughter sat in silence. When I asked if she was okay she replied that she never imagined that this is how it would have ended. She had held onto a feeble hope that maybe, somehow, this would all go away and that she would have a real graduation. After all, she had already lost prom and senior banquet.
I drove along contemplating how to best respond. Knowing my initial logical response void of emotion would only make the situation worse, I kept quiet while I attempted to formulate the right words. During that time, those same three words returned.
Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.
With them in mind, I delivered a response. I don’t know if it was the right one. I don’t know if it could have been better. She gave me that smile, you know the one. “Thanks Dad, I know you’re doing your best.”
So I will do my best to share those words with you. I know that there are other seniors out there dealing with the same frustrations, hurt, confusion, and sadness. I know that there are adults experiencing similar emotions for their respective situations. This is for you.
Serenity, the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.
Seek to find peace in your troubles by letting go. I know that this is easier said than done but when you attempt to control the uncontrollable, you will find nothing more than additional stress. Accepting this fact is not easy. I know. As a leader it was one of the toughest lessons that I had to learn.
A story I share is one when I was still in the classroom. I was attempting to teach a lesson to a group of students who were particularly talkative that day. Few were paying attention and I was quickly growing aggravated. At some point, someone decided to stick a small piece of chalk into the automatic pencil sharpener resulting in a persistent drone. I attempted to remove the chalk by tapping the sharpener on the desk. Nothing.
Chatter, chatter, chatter. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Tap, tap, tap.
Nothing. I tried again. Harder this time.
Chatter, Chatter, Chatter. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Tap, Tap, Tap.
Nothing. I tried again. Even harder this time.
CHATTER, CHATTER, CHATTER. BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ. TAP, TAP, TAP.
The students stopped. The buzzing stopped. The tapping stopped. I had smashed the sharpener on the desk.
I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had allowed my emotions to take over. I focused on something over which I had no control. And I failed myself and my students.
I encourage you to reflect on your situation and categorize the various aspects as controllable or not. What you will quickly realize is that a majority of the external factors are uncontrollable. You cannot control what others think or do. You cannot control the passage of time. You cannot control the outcomes of your actions. Your best hope is to influence.
What you can control is how you respond to situations. You can control your thoughts and actions. You can control your beliefs and attitude.
Find peace in focusing on those aspects over which you have control.
Courage, the ability to do something despite the presence of fear.
Fear takes many shapes and forms. It is present in many situations. It has the power to control us. It is imperative, however, that we find the means to not only face our fears but to overcome them.
For so many right now, there is a huge fear of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect in terms of this pandemic. Are things going to get better? Is it safe to begin reopening? Will we be returning to a sense of normalcy?
My daughter has been sitting on a huge decision. Should she attend Purdue or IU. She has been accepted to both. She has wonderful opportunities at both. She has friends that will be attending both. Outside of distance, the two are virtually identical. And yet, she has yet to make a decision. Why? Because she is scared. She has no idea what the future holds. She was accustomed to the fairly predictive nature of high school. This is different.
Stepping into courage is the first step of battling fear.
I sat on my podcast for years. I was scared that nobody would listen. I was scared that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skill sets. But as I listened to other educators, I slowly grew more confident. I can recall listening to Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pedagogy and finding episode 130 – Tips for Starting a Podcast. I started getting excited. This sounded very possible. Then I started listening to Tim Cavey’s Teachers on Fire Podcast. I found elements of myself in nearly every guest and started realizing that I too had something to share. Then I connected with Mike Earnshaw from the Punk Rock Classroom. He and his co-host, Josh Buckley, shared their experiences from their unique perspectives as punk rock educators.
That was it. I sat down. I started recording. And now The Counter Narrative Podcast exists. I have no idea where this will go but I challenged my fear by stepping into courage.
Wisdom, the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
Both serenity and courage rely on wisdom. You need to be able to identify situations over which you have no control and those in which you need to step into courage.
Wisdom requires experience. Knowledge in the absence of experience is little more than facts.
Unfortunately many students, like my daughter, have not yet had the opportunity to gain the wisdom that comes from making mistakes. Instead, they must rely on family, teachers, faith leaders, or others to guide them in the right direction. Even as adults we do not always have wisdom and must rely on the counsel of others.
It is a humbling experience to admit that you do not know and even more so to ask for assistance. It means that you are vulnerable and thus you should seek out this advice from someone you can trust.
In time, you will gain enough experience to differentiate between those situations in which you need to let go and those in which you need to step forward.
For all of you reading who are experiencing times of difficulty, know this. It is okay not to be okay (thank you Traci for that one). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
What is not okay, however, is to give up. Giving up is not the answer.
Find peace with those things that you cannot control. Find the courage to deal with those things that you can. And find the wisdom so that you may know the difference.
Until next time.