The things we teach


Say you lived in a household where delicious baked treats were often kept under a glass dome on a pretty plate on the dining table. Say you ate the last treat–maybe it was an iced cinnamon roll from a can, maybe a lovely fluffy homemade biscuit. Would you then place the glass dome back on the plate of crumbs and leave it on the dining table?

No. I am sure you would not. You would place plate and dome in the dishwasher or at least the sink. 

Just needed to get that out.

Teaching kids things they don’t necessarily want to know or think about is pretty much the central premise of parenting. They would like to pee blindly in the general direction of the toilet and watch tv until they are bleeding from crossed eyes. But we can’t be doing that.

There are lessons I plan to teach my sons, and there are lessons that we just happen upon–conversations we have because of things we witness or read or hear on the radio or see on television. Last week we overheard someone yelling at a customer service person in a really rude, entitled way (happening a lot lately) three times. Twice out in the world and one time at the front desk of our building as we were leaving for the day. That third time I felt a particular responsibility to speak up, because I’m a resident in this building and that’s not okay. When I processed what was happening I had already walked out through the lobby so I turned around and went back in. By then the man who had been yelling was leaving so I let the receptionist know (loudly) that I was so sorry and I’d be happy to let building management know. When I came back out, my little son was hiding behind a pillar. “I didn’t want that man to yell at me.” Oh man. Being a kid is so hard and confusing. Forget it. They can leave the plate and dome on the table. 

Lately, it seems, the kids are a little bit scared. They worry if I’m late coming home, if I don’t answer their phone calls immediately. There’s a slight tilt of panic, a waiting for disaster. It’s pretty awful, actually. What’s even worse is that I’m just realizing it now, as I’m writing this far away from them. It’s a scary time, it’s a time that I can’t teach them about, because I don’t fully understand it myself. But I got Upstream, Mary Oliver’s collection of essays in the mail this weekend. And there’s so much hope in it.

In groups this week, we’ve been considering ourselves and our wounds and even our fears as precious and deserving of attention, of devotion–like children we love. It’s hard, but learning this sort of devoted attention to yourself is the most important skill you can develop if you’re to keep moving forward, keep getting up and getting better. The forgiveness and the cherishing and loving of self, the listening to the whistle of wind blowing through the cracks, the holding together of brokenness, the gentle examination of the tender tissue that surrounds wounds. The best place to listen to yourself is outside. Go. Pay attention to the changing leaves starting a carpet on the ground, the smell of the earth, the webs of spiders. How many of the Earth’s cycles around the sun have you witnessed? How many of your own cycles through light and dark have you survived? What are the signs you have learned to listen for? Teach yourself what you likely already know, orient yourself, fill your pockets with what you need to renew your resolve on your journey. Your opening line: “Teach the wounds…”


I’ve been really digging this song for the past week or so, and it was played in the most amazing yoga class on Sunday. I took that as a sign that you should all hear it too, if you haven’t already.

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