Monday, April 6, 2015


     I was a teacher for over 40 years, and I loved every minute of it. I’ve been retired for over eight years, and I still miss it. During my tenure as an educator, I spent a lot of time studying how we learn, and I am still amazed at how much there is still to learn by any method we can. This morning, as I sat listening to the beautiful music arranged, directed and executed by our beautiful choir director, I was moved to tears. This amazing woman is not just talented and dedicated; she is a breast cancer survivor. I watched her direct the choir, her arms conducting the singers in the steady back and forth rhythm, like making angels in the snow. What struck me, though, was her shaved head. Normally, she has tresses that go far beyond her shoulders in layered curls. For her to appear in front of hundreds of people bald was a statement in courage and humility. She knew no one would judge her, and she knew she was in God’s house, so, I assume she deemed her wig superfluous. It was. I asked my vain self if I could have done that. I don’t know. Maybe not. She made a choice, however, when she looked in the mirror this morning, and she chose courage over coiff. Learning by example.
     Our minister posed the question:  “Who are you when your ship is sinking?” We all know who we are when things are good--kids behaving and getting good grades, house in order, career going well, family healthy, finances intact. But who are we when the going gets tough? Good question. I remember a colleague of mine praising me for always smiling and being upbeat. She called me “strong.” I had cried enough tears to sink a ship that year, so I was flabbergasted when she used that adjective and said as much. She said, “I don’t know how strong I am. I have never been tested.” Hmm. That gave me pause. We never know when we are going to be tested. Sometimes we see it coming, and other times, we are blind-sighted. In either case, it’s how we react that threatens to define us. What I’ve learned is that when that time comes, I need to do everything I can not to let it define me. I need to look around at people like the bald woman above and tell myself, “If she can do it, so can you.” Sounds simple. It isn’t. Learning by a random compliment.

     The minister, who is leaving our congregation after eight years, quoted a colleague who said, “Don’t live in the past. Focus on the present and trust that there is more good to come.” When we first came to this church, there was a wonderful minister who spoke eloquently with no notes. He even walked among us speaking. We were so impressed. When he was transferred a year later, we said, “Oh no, we liked him so much. What will we do now?” We left the church for a while, seeking another where the message would inspire us. Then one day, we returned to the same church, and Father Bob, the new minister, was speaking. He was reading his sermon, and I thought to myself, “Oh, my gosh. He doesn’t even have it memorized, like Father Tim.” Little did I realize then that Father Bob would bring me to tears every Sunday for the next six years with his messages of strength, courage and humility. He reads every sermon. I don’t even notice anymore; I’m too busy processing his beautiful message, and often taking notes on the program. I was expecting what “used to be,” instead of focusing on what was and what would become a wonderfully inspirational journey with this man of the cloth who certainly found his calling. Now that he is leaving, I trust that there will be something, someone new to inspire, teach and enlighten us. I will not look back, but I will be thankful for his spiritual guidance and inspiration. Learning by a gifted orator who inspires his way, and learning not to be quick to judge.

     On this Easter Sunday, I get the “good student” award. I learned to take a second look at vanity and to ask myself what it serves. I learned that no matter what happens to me, I must try not to let it define me, and I learned that looking back serves no purpose other than to know that there is a forward, and it will be good.