Tag Archives: Adversity and Resilience

Reflections about Puzzles

Carol A. Hand

There are so many things I would like to write about but the truth is, I don’t have time. I am too busy doing something I have always loved to do. Solving puzzles.

It’s a trait that helped me survive jobs in overly politicized competitive bureaucracies. When I worked for state government, it involved mediating conflict in creative, unexpected ways. Like designing a solution for an outdated funding formula for county programs that was overly dependent on ever-shifting demographic data. When working for an inter-tribal agency, it meant figuring out how to exert tribal sovereignty over exploitive university researchers or state administrators who used divide and conquer tactics to create competition among tribes in order to limit funding for necessary services. In academia, it meant learning how to teach the most unpopular courses in ways that engaged students and provided information that would be helpful in a future I might not see.

Figuring out how to keep experimenting with more effective ways to teach research this semester is keeping me busy. Some days, it takes a lot of discipline to sit at my computer all day and into wee morning hours redesigning assignments or grading student papers with comments intended to both encourage and educate.

Interestingly though, doing other types of puzzles helps me transition between different topics, research methodologies, and styles of communicating. I am grateful for free online card games, or the digital jigsaw puzzles I can create with my own photos. (I doubt that the one posted below would be interesting, though.)

Cryptogram Wisdom

Solving cryptograms before I fall asleep helps me let go of any other puzzles that might otherwise keep me awake.

There are puzzles I don’t like to solve, though, that have to do with technology. Sadly, I have to rely on technicians or time. This week, I was locked out of WordPress. Fortunately that challenge was addressed by someone last evening. I don’t need to know who or how or why. I am just grateful that others find it interesting to solve technological puzzles.

All of this is meant as an explanation for my very infrequent visits to blogs these days, including mine. I want to let you know that I value what you all share and will return again as soon as I can. In the meantime, I send my best wishes to all.

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In case anyone is interested, I have typed the cryptogram quotes below:

“One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” (Aristotle)

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.” (Bill Paterson)

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” (Albert Einstein)

“Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, rarely taken.” (Karl Menninger)

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“Healing the Spirit …”

Carol A. Hand

As I took a moment to reflect
about the online course content
I need to develop and load today

(always difficult for someone
who’s technologically-challenged)

a thought flowed through my mind
as I looked at the cloudy sky
asking the clouds to release needed rain

Places of life and light need to survive
in times like these for the sake of all

A memory followed about the closing ceremony
for a conference I attended decades ago
“Healing the Spirit Worldwide”

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from Lighting a Candle for the Four Directions (12/13/2014)

… I was working as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. It was not an easy job for many reasons, primarily because of the enduring legacy of colonialism that continued to impose dominant cultural paradigms on tribal communities and use divide and conquer tactics to foment conflicts between “traditional” and “progressive” tribal factions. Resolving conflict was a central part of my job, and it often put me in the middle of powerful competing interests. At a particularly challenging time, I needed to travel with one of my staff to a conference on worldwide healing for Indigenous people held in Edmonton, Alberta. The conference helped me realize I was not alone. Rediscovering the candle on my bookcase reminded me of the conference’s closing ceremony.

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More than one thousand of us, representing many cultures and nations, stood in a circle within a large auditorium holding hands. Then, one elder walked to the center. She explained that the closing ceremony was intended to remind us that we were not alone. Because we were in a government building, we couldn’t use candles (fire ordinances prevented it), so flashlights would have to do. And then, the lights in the room went out as her flashlight went on in the center of the circle. She signaled to the four directions, highlighting one person from each of the four directions to walk to the center – first the east, then the south, the west, and the north. The representatives were all given a flashlight. As they touched their darkened lights to the elders “candle,” their flashlights were turned on. They were instructed to carry their light to the four directions and light other candles in their part of the circle. The elder explained that it would not be easy to keep the candle fires burning, but if the light went out, people could always return to the center to light them once again…

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The rain I asked for hasn’t come yet
but perhaps it will if I keep my focus
on weaving life and light into the course
despite the technological challenges
I will most likely encounter …

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Monday Reflections – August 19, 2019

Carol A. Hand

Taking a moment to greet the morning
despite a never-ending list of tasks

Queenie awakened as always
to South Pacific songs
as the mini-blinds were opened
so he could view the sunny southeast vista

Pinto trotted around the block
in the cooler air seemingly unaware
of the flock of Canadian Geese
breakfasting in the park we passed

A moment more of reflection
watching the moon set

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Moonset – August 19, 2019

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and geese flying overhead in flight formation
listening to the music of crickets chirping
sure signs of the coming fall
presaged by the rising Ricing MoonManoominike-giizis
earlier this week that gave me a chance

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Moonrise – August 15, 2019

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to compare my new camera
with the iphone I often use these days
mainly for convenience

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The rising moon inspired me
to learn more about wild riceManoomin
and begin editing my book manuscript again
before I immerse myself in preparing
the course I will be teaching soon
trying perhaps unsuccessfully to balance
the ever-present tasks that need doing
before the first frosts come

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A Tale of Twin Trees

Carol A. Hand

One upon a time a family of dwarf pine trees were born
They were watered and fed in a warm sheltered nursery
Among them a brother and sister
It took years for them to grow until they were finally tall enough
to be clipped into fancy shapes that were not their nature
They were sent to a store to be sold – but the summer went by
while they waited and waited to find a home
sadly, no one wanted them
At the end of the season, a bit stunted by the experience,
they were finally put on sale – $14 for a living being
I wonder if they wondered what their fate would be?
As sometimes happens, they would not be far apart
They went home with two neighbors
but that is when their paths diverged
One went to a big home with a chemically-fed lawn
to serve as a symbol of conspicuous material success
He was placed in a fancy planter prominently displayed
But when winter came, he was left outside without warmth or water
When spring arrived, he was discarded with the used Christmas tree
The other little pine went to a modest cottage just next door
to a yard overgrown with trees and flowers and gardens everywhere
She was placed in a newly created garden where she could grow
according to her own nature amid towering pines
but the winters proved harsh – much colder than those of her past
Each spring she struggled to bring forth life on damaged branches

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Little Pine – August 2019
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Each summer, the man who bought her brother would flood her home
Washing way the soil and protective mulch with a torrent of water
from the birthday waterslide that was a new symbol of conspicuous superiority
And each year, the woman who brought her to her new home
would lovingly repair her soil and gently touch her branches
uttering a silent prayer for the little pine tree’s health and survival

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Ah, life.
There are so many differing views
about what is really important

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August Reflections – 2019

Carol A. Hand

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Pinto, Queenie (my parakeet), and I
survived another summer July
this one challenging, hot, and dry
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Trying to encourage Pinto to eat – July 23, 2019

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Garden washouts a yearly event
strategically planned with malicious intent
perhaps police intervention this year will lead to an offender’s lament
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Garden Waterslide Washout: Neighbor’s Annual Birthday Event – July 20, 2019

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Backyard visitors coming down from the wood
does with their fawns grazing in my urban neighborhood
bunnies galore and a stout raccoon roam
while paper wasps build a new home
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Bees and butterflies feast on flowers
during pleasant, sunny afternoon hours
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Transitioning to teaching the next onerous process
while bountiful gardens and harvests proceed nonetheless

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Wishing you all bountiful harvests and mild beginnings of seasonal transitions

Just Wondering …

Carol A. Hand

Do you ever find yourself in an alien space
despite doing your best to find a safe place
or feel as though you’ve lost your way
as you contemplate the predicament you’re in today?

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A Baby Porcupine caught in my neighbor’s deep window well July 27.

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 Gratefully, s/he escaped by climbing up the long board I was advised to prop on the wall by Wildwoods Animal Rescue.

I can empathize with her/his situation. I know what it feels like to be caught in an alien time and place…

After the Storm

Carol A. Hand

My little dog lay in pain
suffering
slowing dying
a victim of unintended incompetence
and lack of compassion in a capitalistic culture
I could only bear witness
offering soft hands and soothing words
without the skills and knowledge
to heal him

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After the Storm – July 14, 2019

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I learned survival and healing are possible
even in situations that sometimes appear hopeless
if you are willing and able to pay enough
for competence and caring

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After the Storm (2) – July 14, 2019

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Nature doesn’t charge a fee
for the beauty she shares for all to see
She merely waits patiently for us
to awaken to our responsibilities
to care

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After the Storm (3) – July 14, 2019

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July Reflections – 2019

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I found myself wondering about the reflections I posted during mid-July in past years and decided to take a retrospective journey. For decades, July has been a time spent gardening. Watching the miracle of life unfurl from dry seeds never ceases to fill me with awe. Tending plants gives me a chance to focus on helping living creatures in practical, grounded, and perhaps, creative ways.

Foxglove – July 9, 2019

Gardening is like life in many ways. It’s not easy – or predictable either. Each of my past eight years gardening here has presented challenges to address – deer before the high fence went up, invasions by slugs during wet years, droughts in early spring and late summer, and deluges that wash away seeds that have just been planted or crush tender plants. This year is the year of the rabbits. The population of little bunnies that can get through fencing has exploded.

Still, I love the chance to work with gardens and attempt to solve perplexing issues. People are often more difficult for me to work with and I sometimes wonder why my path led me from a career in ecology to one in social work…

But back to my journey through past posts. I hope you will join me The posts reflect topics I often ponder when gardening when I have a chance to wander through time – how to find common ground in a divided world, how to be present in the moment, and the importance of relationships with others and the natural environment.

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July 13, 2014 – Finding Common Ground”

When I walked into the office of an inter-tribal agency on the first morning of my new job as deputy director of health and human services, it was clear how easy it was for people to be divided. Staff for the five programs at the time only felt ownership for their programs. They resented any expectations of collective responsibility for the welfare of the agency or tribes. They fought over which program paid for stationary and who could use the one computer. They didn’t question the appropriateness of imposing state and federal requirements on tribal communities. And in situations where staff struggled to meet program requirements, there was only censure and no help. The eleven-member Board of Directors comprised of the Chairpersons of member tribes was also easily divided, concerned only about meeting the interests of their respective tribal community. Why would it be otherwise if they expected to be reelected? There was little recognition of the needs of urban Native American populations in the state, and strong resistance to any cross-ethnic collaboration.

Looking back, I realize that at each step, I tried to find common ground among my department staff, my agency colleagues, other oppressed communities, and with funders and administrators as well. It is so easy for people who are oppressed to see others who are oppressed as the enemy. Who loses and who benefits from divisions among oppressed people? Clearly, those in power benefit from deflecting attention away from the role they play as our puppet masters. We keep each other oppressed and all too often, kill each other off while those in power profit financially and enjoy the illusion that they are smarter, more developed morally and culturally, and better fit to impose their hegemony.

Tree of Peace – by John Kahionhes Fadden, 1991 (Source)

 

Who benefits from the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine? Only those who sell their souls and the hopes and dreams and lives of other people for the illusion of personal safety and status, those who wish to exploit oil and other resources with greater ease, and those who get rich by selling their weapons. Those who lose are ordinary people on both sides. Homes and lives are lost on both sides and children on both sides grow up in a war zone that teaches them to fear and hate their neighbors for generations yet to come. We all lose from a world at war, from a world where people are brutally murdered by governments for no other reason than securing the power and privilege of the ruling class. And we all lose when generations are denied the right to develop and contribute their gifts to the rest of the human community.

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July 10, 2015 – “Draw a Monument”

It was a July morning in 2011. An odd group of faculty, mostly from the English and art departments of a university, gathered for an in-service to learn how to use art as a vehicle for unlocking people’s stories. The instructor began.

“You have two minutes to draw the first thing that comes to mind for each of the words or phrases I mention. Don’t worry about technique. That will just interfere with your ability to tap what is most important to you.

“Draw the ‘safe place when you were a child.’ Draw ‘pressure – the pressure you feel from all of the demands that you deal with in your life.’ Now, draw a ‘monument.’”

For me, the images I drew that day were all linked to nature, to the natural world. That has always been my source of balance and solace in times of challenge and uncertainty. And now, as nature is threatened ever more by forces of exploitative disregard and destruction, it’s hard to hold on to a sense of hope and peace some days.

Unlike my colleagues, I didn’t draw an edifice of marble or concrete, I drew a tree – a living monument of what helps us survive on this planet. If Jared Diamond’s (2005) thesis is accurate, could it be that one of the final death knells for societies is the destruction of the forests that blanket the earth and give us all oxygen to breathe?…

Beloved Willow – injured in June 2015, removed in May 2018 due to fatal injury

 

As I work at grueling physical labor,
I watch my thoughts and feelings,
I sweat and swear,
Laugh at myself and my struggles – and find peace,
Sometimes present and other times floating in memories of past times and places,
Talking to plants and earthworms,
To the robins that are watching
Eagerly waiting to explore the earth I’ve just uncovered
And swatting at mosquitoes (I’m sorry to say)

I arise the next morning knowing there are still new jobs to be done. There is no ego or allure of fame and fortune involved. I know what I am doing will not save us from the future, but it gives me comfort to know that around the globe, people are tending the earth with hard work and loving care. Living simply and breathing love into the work we do whatever it might be – it’s what we can do for ourselves and the future of our grandchildren and our world.

“Actually, while it won’t be easy to reduce our impact, it won’t be impossible either. Remember that impact is the product of two factors: population, multiplied times impact per person.” (Diamond, p. 524)

The trees and the gardens we tend and the love we breathe into the world around us are the most important monuments we can leave.

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July 10, 2016 – Reflections on July 10, 2016

Sitting on my back step a few days ago
A musical voice drew my attention
“Oh you’re so beautiful, you make me so happy.”
I peeked through the fence and saw my neighbor,
turning away from the fence to walk home.
She talks to the flowers and plants in my gardens
and always touches my heart with her lovely spirit.
I ran out to invite her into the yard
She already knew about the geranium –
another neighbor rescued it from an early death
and left it as a gift early in the spring
What more could one ask of life than friends
who share the love of life and beauty?

Sara’ Gift

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July 9, 2017 – Reflections about Being a Parent and Grandparent

When my daughter was born,
my view of the world forever changed.

Life was no longer something I peered at
from a safe distance
I felt it deeply – glowing in my heart
Powerful, shifting emotions
forced me to realize how precious
and precarious life can be
Holding each of my grandchildren for the first time
intensified my sensitivity and commitment
to do all in my power to be a loving presence
Watching them as they grow
amplifies both joy and pain
celebrating their accomplishments
suffering when they encounter challenges

Self-portrait by my granddaughter – July 7, 2017

 

Sometimes all I can do is
to simply try to be a loving presence

 

My granddaughter’s portrait of her Ahma – July 8, 2017

 

In times such as these it’s not easy
to believe the future holds bright possibilities
Let our hearts awaken and glow
with celebratory joy

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July 12, 2018 – Awakening Slowly

Awakening slowly
after a stormy night’s
seemingly dreamless sleep
frequently interrupted
by the urgent sound of rain
pounding on windows and roof
accompanied by booming thunder
that shook the house
to its very foundations
yet resting unafraid
and rising gently
to greet the day
gardens transformed
overnight

July 12, 2018

other awakenings grace my days
encountering random kindness
in unexpected places like the city bus
as a stately elder gentleman
reached across the divisiveness
so prevalent here today
to bring kindness and comfort
into the lives of others
and graciously dealt with
rejection from those
effectively conditioned
to fear difference and joy
I couldn’t leave the bus
without thanking him
in the only words
that came to me
“Sir, you are a blessing to others”

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July 18, 2018 – Reflections about Divisive Nationalism

Greeting the cool sunny morning
listening to the joyous music of birdsong
deeply peaceful yet unable to drown out
the drumbeat of nationalism
that threatens to destroy us all

It’s our own consumption and complacency
clinging to old myths of benevolent exceptional empires
that keep us from seeing shared humanity
on an earth with no dividing lines
except for scars left by exploitation and war

It matters little which kleptocrats rule
when we choose to see others as an enemy
rather than to listen deeply to the heartbeats
of a planet we are entrusted to lovingly tend

“Earth Day” Flag by John McConnell, Wikipedia

 

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Today, I will visit Pinto, my little dog, who’s in the hospital recovering from an operation.

Pinto – July 13, 2019

Maybe I’ll have time to edit my manuscript and pull a few weeds, too, grateful for the gifts of beloved companions, a small relatively peaceful space on earth to tend, and the responsibilities to still care for others. I will continue to do what I can to build common ground in a divided world without compromising integrity, to be present in the moment despite the pain that sometimes brings, and to nurture healthy relationships with others and the natural environment by walking softly on the earth.

A Heartfelt Thankyou

Carol A. Hand

I don’t think I ever told you
how much your support and kindness
meant to me during my graduate studies
You taught me so much more than research
with your kindness and artful diplomacy

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You showed me how to teach
and stayed the course as my advisor
through so many changing research topics

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The one thing I regret is that
someone other than you
is handing me a symbolic diploma
in the photo of my final graduation ceremony

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I would guess that your humility keeps you from knowing
that I only attended the ceremony to honor you
on behalf of all of the Native American students
you mentored who were not as fortunate as I
to survive the grueling process you mastered
walking between two different worlds
with a kind heart and joyful spirit intact

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All I can say is chi miigwetch, dear friend
I will do my best to honor your gifts
by sharing what I learned from you
with others I encounter on this journey

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for G.D.S. with deep gratitude and love

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Remembering Rita

Carol A. Hand

It has been weeks since I have had time to post and April has flown by. I have had brief respites to simply observe beauty.

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April 18, 2019 – Early morning moon

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April 13, 2019 – Crossing the Bong Bridge from Superior, WI

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I have also made it a priority to spend time with my daughter and grandchildren when possible.

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April 21, 2019 – Watching a creative and masterful performance of Cirque du Soleil with family

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April 28, 2019 – Sharing Sunday brunch

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Mostly, though, I have been working on the two classes I am teaching this semester.

Saturday, as I prepared for the macro practice class I co-teach with a colleague, I was lost in a stream of consciousness moment when one thought lead me down a path of memories that didn’t seem to have any logical connections other than my long life. As I put skin cream on my legs after my shower, I noticed my right knee once again. It’s still a bit puffy despite the decades that have passed since it was injured when I was taking care of Rita. Thinking of Rita always reminds me how precious and unpredictable life is.

Rita was a tiny woman when she contracted the brain cancer that was killing her slowly despite operations, radiation treatments, and medications. Medications caused her body to become bloated and stimulated her appetite. By the time I was hired as a home health aide to help care for her during the last year of her life, she had gained a lot of weight. She needed assistance with self-care and walking. She was often lost in another world of thoughts but she did love to eat. She would often joke about the meals I prepared. Cooking has never been something I liked doing, but I tried my best.

I was warned to remain emotionally distant by my employer. “She’s going to die no matter what you do, so don’t get attached.” Despite the warning, I discovered something that has stayed with me when I teach. I learned to care about her deeply and let her know I cared in many ways even though I knew our time together was limited. I knew I couldn’t do anything to cure her disease, but I could bring “soft hands and laughter” into her life no matter how long or short it was meant to be. I would sit and listen to her talk, cook things she liked, and take her on excursions when she expressed a desire to get out of the house even for a moment.

Gradually, Rita lost her ability to walk and spent much of her time in bed. Toward the end of her life, when I was helping her move from her bed to the wheelchair she had to use at that point, she had a seizure. It was heavy lifting for me at the best of times. I weighed at least 30 pounds less than Rita. As I was lifting her that day, her body went rigid as she shook with powerful spasms. It wasn’t possible for me to lift her back on the bed or help her flex into a sitting position. With my arms wrapped around her body, all I could do was lower her gently to the floor, injuring my knee in the process. With gentle hands and a calming voice, I helped Rita relax and was finally able to get her to help me lift her into the wheelchair.

She lived far longer than predicted. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to be with her until the end because I planned to move soon to another state. When I let my employer know I would be moving a month in advance, they fired me immediately and brought in another aide. The family was angry and asked me to stay and hired me themselves to fill in the hours when the agency aide was not with Rita. I agreed to help as long as I could.

When I arrived for my first shift, I heard the new aide yelling. I peeked into Rita’s bedroom and saw the aide roughly slapping a washcloth over Rita’s face. At that point, Rita was in the final stages of her disease. She required total care and was unable to speak. I walked in to help the aide and let the family know what I witnessed. Within a week, Rita was gone.

Although I grieved her death, I knew that I had done the best I could to make her last year as kind and comfortable as possible. I realized that spending time with Rita was a gift. Being present in the moment and caring about others are especially important in times of transition. It lessened my sadness about loss.

My knee remained painful but surviving childhood abuse taught me how to function despite physical pain. Later, I learned that the injury resulted in “knee effusion, or water on the knee.” Although it was bruised, swollen, and stiff, I was still able to walk. A supportive, flexible knee bandage helped reduce the pain although it took more than a year to fully heal. Decades later, it’s still a little puffy but usually works just fine.

Perhaps my Saturday morning reminiscence about Rita was triggered by a frightening experience on Friday evening. I fell asleep curled up in my rocking chair, exhausted, after teaching the second to the last research class before the end of the semester. I awoke with painful cramps in my legs and was initially unable to walk. It was a frightening reminder of how unpredictable life can be. Thankfully the pain subsided quickly. (Next time I’ll take naps elsewhere!)

Reviewing student papers has meant hours of sitting in an uncomfortable chair, first reading original sources to make sense of student papers, and then, hours on the computer grading and commenting to help students learn how to read carefully and write clearly.

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April 16, 2019 – Grading…

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Like my experience with Rita, grading has been a mixed blessing. In the process, I learned a lot about access to safe, drinkable water around the globe. Someday, I hope I have time to synthesize what I learned from the kaleidoscopic assortment of research studies my students explored. The process of reviewing many different vantage points about the crises we are facing, however, reminded me to keep things in perspective.

One third of the world’s population is without access to potable water or sanitation at the household level (Cumming, Elliott, Overbo, & Bartram, 2014). One third! And we continue fracking, spewing out plastic garbage, pouring more toxic chemicals on farmlands, and building yet more weapons. I am so grateful for the opportunity to play a role in raising student awareness about these issues. Grading has also left little time for me to write or visit blogs. That is unlikely to change in the next few weeks before the semester ends.

Next semester I will have the privilege of working with the same group of students. Throughout my years of teaching, I have remembered to be mindful of the lessons Rita taught me.

Be present in the moment and care about each student.

I only have a short time to spend with each cohort of students before they move on with their lives. All I can do is my best and hope they will learn what they need to know while we are together so they are prepared to face a challenging and uncertain future with the ability to think critically and respond with caring creativity.

Work Cited:

Oliver Cumming, Mark Elliott, Alicia Overbo, & Jamie Bartram (2014). Does global progress on sanitation really lag behind water? An analysis of global progress on community- and household-level access to safe water and sanitation. Plos One.

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