If I were to meet you, powerful world leader, I would
Look at your eyes, sense into your soul
Ask about your family
Want to know the story of how you met your spouse
You have a child that struggles? Tell me about him.
Where in your country serves your favorite food?
Let’s go there or get take-out.
Tell me your favorite joke. Let’s share laughter. Laughter laughs at language barriers.
Let’s go outside. Show me what is beautiful in your natural world and I will invite my senses to savor.
Let’s play. Our inner child endures. Let’s pedal bikes, go to a park, or better yet, let’s visit a preschool classroom. We’ll sit on the floor and read books with the children of your country. Let them be our teachers.
Tell me what you love about your country and what brings you sadness and I’ll share this about my homeland.
I’ll release my need to be right, perfect, and wise and instead be open, vulnerable, and a beginner.
Then, maybe we talk about the details, the agendas, the must-dos. Then we can sit in the uncomfortable chairs, in the formal rooms, in the starchy clothes, with the gaze of the world upon us.
Only after I see you as a person. Only after I touch into our common humanity.
You and your classmates were born into a period of historic uncertainty for our country and you will graduate during a time of uncharted territory. If you are a member of The Graduating Class Of 2020, your earthly life began right before or after our country was under attack – 9/11. The year was 2001. Although you don’t remember that day, I have no doubt it has been relayed to you by your parents from their unique perspectives. That moment is etched forever in our parental minds. Your parents’ recollections perhaps involve you. My firstborn son was only four weeks old; a new baby, so innocent and pure – a gift from God and a tangible reminder of miracles, the preciousness of life and all that is good in the world. In my mind, I can still see my son’s perfect baby skin and smell his new baby scent. He had smiled his first genuine smile on 9/10 – the day before the planes hit the World Trade Center. My memory of that day involves him on my lap, an old blue couch and The Today Show. I am still aware of that ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach as Matt Lauer interviewed an eye witness saying she wondered if there was something wrong with air traffic control. The fear written on Lauer’s face told me this was more than an air traffic control error and that it was not good. As parents, I think many of us had an overwhelming and persistent thought that day and in the days that followed, “What kind of world have I brought this child into?” Class Of 2020, you became our HOPE – our reminder of all that is good in a fallen world, our need to rally as a nation, to peer beyond exhausted political divisional walls and to do what was right for your future.
You’ve also lived through a major economic crisis, although you may not even know it. With good intent, we tried our best to shield you from this one. Beginning in the year 2007, our country began what has been described by some as the worst economic time since The Great Depression of the 1930s. You were 6 or 7 years old when this started, but the effects trickled on for years. Many parents and caregivers lost jobs, saw salaries and benefits vanish, took pay cuts and made career moves. It was a stressful time for so many and most certainly a time of uncertainty. Again, Class Of 2020, you were our inspiration. You gave us the drive to get creative, to think outside the box, to persevere, to love and to pray – pray that we would get through this rough patch – and thank God, we did.
When you were all babies, I recall discovering that 2020 would be your graduating year. The year seemed so far away, so futuristic, so Jetsons-like (it’s an old gem of a cartoon -ask your parents about it). 2020! It had a great sound and look – what a cool year to graduate! Now 2020 has arrived, and here is Coronavirus – a word that none of us had ever heard just a few months ago; our first pandemic. Your school is canceled indefinitely, and this is no jubilant extended-snow-day-event. This has a very different feel – for all of us. Your sporting and extracurricular events – on hold. Graduation celebrations may or may not happen. We just don’t know. My generation of helicopter parents has gone from telling you to get off of your devices and socialize as we did in the old days, to urging you to get on your devices due to “social distancing”, a term that is new, unfamiliar and just plain odd to us all. You are probably feeling so many different emotions. That is normal, allowed and OK. As frustration sets in about what you thought would be (and should have been) an exciting time in your young lives, take comfort in common humanity. You are not alone in this. This is not just a challenge for our country. The World’s 2020 Graduates are having to change their realities. All ages, races, genders and socioeconomic levels are impacted in both similar and different ways.
To The Class of 2020, you will redefine what this time means to you. You are strong, resourceful and resilient. You will get creative about how you celebrate this important transitional milestone in your life, and I have no doubt that you will inspire us once again. You came into the world doing so. How you rise together has the very real potential to be better than anything that my generation could ever imagine or plan for you.
Although we can wish this to be different, right now it is not. What is here, is here. We will deal with it together and it will pass. CLASS OF 2020, you have inspired us more than you can understand and we are so very proud of you. We love you – through all that has happened, through what is here now, and will continue to love you as you meet whatever lies ahead. -Heidi Stark, Class of 2020 Mom
Yesterday was a day of travel. What seemingly should have been an uneventful day in the travel world (do those exist?), took a turn towards eventful. I was traveling back to Ohio from Georgia, hoping to make it back in time for an event in the evening to support my husband. I knew I had a close connector, with only thirty minutes between flights at a large airport. My seating assignment was the window seat in the very last row of the airplane – the one by the toilet, where the seats are so upright, I swear they actually lean forward. It was a full flight and there was a gentleman sitting in the aisle seat next to me. I’m not a fan of confined spaces and this was definitely confined.
The plane sat motionless at the scheduled take-off time. We were informed by the pilot that we would be grounded at least another twenty minutes before take-off would be occurring. Gathering clues from my reading material, my seat neighbor asked me if I practiced yoga. I told him that I am an instructor and learned that he and his wife are yogis as well. This led to stories, which led to laughter; so much laughter that I was starting to sweat (which is lovely on a crowded, cramped, delayed airplane).
What could have been a miserable time period became quite enjoyable. I told my new friend, Tim, about the event I was in hopes of getting back for and about my brief time frame to make my connector. I also told him this, “Five years ago, I would have probably been a mess over this. Right now I’m not. I have my yoga practice to thank for that.”
Yoga has helped me cultivate the skill of being less reactive and more intentionally responsive, especially in situations out of my control. Life is packed full of these challenges. Like anything, mindful responsiveness takes practice and awareness. I don’t get this right all of the time, but I know it’s been an improvement in my life. Had we not had that delay, I might not have exchanged words with Tim. I may have gone about my reading and he would have continued with his work. I would have missed out on meeting someone that I enjoyed talking and laughing with. I would have missed out on connection – not the connection of a flight, but something more important – human connection.
As it turns out, there was no problem in making it in time for that connector, as it got delayed not once, not twice, not even three times, but FOUR times. Now I wondered not only if I would make it back in time for the event, but if I would make it back that same day. The airport was crowded and people were in close quarters (again). Still, I found myself content. Even happy. I was able to find joy in the small moments that were unfolding around me. In this madhouse frenzy of an airport, with people running back and forth, I was smiling – on the inside and out. Out of the chaos of the day, I made a connection with another human being who walks on this planet, and I was reminded of my appreciation for a practice that has given me so much.
I also made it back in time (barely!) to support my husband.
I taught three yoga classes today and inspired by my day of travel, I encouraged my fellow yogis to think about this as they practiced –
“What has your practice opened up for you?” I then phrased this a bit less passive – “What have you allowed in and cultivated from your practice?”
The older I get, the more I realize that life is full of surprises; wonderful unpredictability, twists and turns that we could never expect. Thank goodness. I find myself especially grateful for outcomes resulting from situations that my younger self would have said, “NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS” to.
My teenage self could not get out of Bryan, Ohio fast enough. I went as far away as I could while keeping in-state tuition- Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (Go Bobcats!). If you draw a diagonal line from the northwest corner to the southeast corner, that was my route. I found my second home in Athens. I still love it and visit when I get the chance. NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS would I be coming back to Bryan. I had my eyes on the big city and all that big city life offered. With graduation approaching, I still had not landed my metropolitan dream teaching job. Time was ticking and my Dear Dad told me over the phone that there was an opening back home for a preschool teacher. He had picked up an application. Initially, I told him I didn’t want the application, but eventually went ahead and filled it out, because, well, I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I got an interview, which was both informal and brief and was offered the job on the spot. I hesitantly took the position with the intention of staying in Bryan for one year, saving some money, then moving to….ATLANTA! That never happened. Instead, I (re)met my husband (who is wonderful), we got married, had two sons and 25 years later, I’m still in the Big B. Thank goodness. It’s been a wonderful place to raise a family and the best part is the close proximity to BOTH sets of grandparents for us and for our boys. My boys have relationships with four incredible grandparents who they get to see on a regular basis. I did not have this growing up and I am so thankful for their bonds.
When I took that first job, I took it on the condition of heading back to college. It was a job in special education and I had no special education degree or interest in that route. My degrees were in regular education only. I would be teaching at an integrated preschool. Again….NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS… But, wow! It didn’t take long for me to realize that children with special needs are pretty amazing. I absolutely loved working with that population and found the work so rewarding and fulfilling. I have so many students over the years that taught me way more than I could have ever taught them. They inspire me to this day with their drive, their fight, and their willingness to keep going even if the cards are not stacked in their favor (side note… my first preschoolers are now 27). And the parents….if you want to see a picture of selfless, unconditional, devoted love, I’ll show you a parent of a child with disabilities. The fact that I was able to be a small part of a collaborative team with these parents and children is one of my life’s greatest blessings.
I decided at the wise age of 7, to become a teacher. I never wavered from that path throughout the years. I spent about 20 years in the classroom and it was incredible. NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS did I dream I would leave, but I did. NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS would I have ever thought I would start my own business, but I did – six months ago. I’m often asked if I miss teaching. It’s a quick response. No. I don’t. Because I am still teaching, just in a different capacity. I’m wired with every fiber in my being to teach and I’m still doing that. I’ve learned so much in these quick six months and I know the learning will continue. I’m a lover of learning (translation – geek) and learning comes in many forms and dimensions. Some learning has been fun and exhilarating. Some learning has been tough. I’ve lost support in places I thought it would always be and I’ve found support in places that have surprised and delighted me. I think that’s the fantastic part. The not knowing, the being open to the possibilities that life has in store for us, the sheer joy of life unraveling in its mysterious ways and finding a path that we couldn’t have planned ourselves.
I’ve never had a blog, or put my writing out there into the world. The vulnerability scares the BLEEP out of me. Will I actually post this??? NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS! 🙂
I’d love to hear about your NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS. Share yours with me in the comments!