Driving home tonight from training at the Next Step where tonight I finally finished a forty-hour training to become an advocate that answers hotline calls and otherwise helps relationship violence survivors, the fog and rain was all that greeted my headlights. I could count the cars I passed on one hand. Sometimes when I drive around here, with the ocean and trees all around, I think I live in the most beautiful place on earth.
I do. On a field trip last week with my 6-8th graders to Machias, the schoolbus rounded a curve. The blueberry barrens have turned so red with frost and winter approaching that I just stared in awe. The red is something you can’t imagine, a new place on the spectrum. I look forward to weekends where I can go for long walks in the woods (with my bright orange hat and vest because it’s hunting season) and fall in love with the moss and woods all over again. The stars and moon can always take my breath away here.
But driving home, it wasn’t the fog or the sea-smells that were on my mind. It was the training and the people here, all I am learning, and that is the most spectacular beauty. There are good and inspiring people everywhere you go in life, maybe you just have to seek them out. I have fought some serious loneliness here and not because there haven’t been friends and people I love to hang out with. It’s been because I haven’t had my people, you know who you are. The friends and family I have in North Carolina and New York and Maryland. I have found myself in a chair in front of my fireplace some nights and wanted nothing more than to be “home.” Yet, tonight, I felt home.
Every morning, I wake up and it’s either going to be a pumpkin or a blueberry coffee day, depending on what’s in the pantry. I wake up and I go to tutor in the elementary school where I am both needed and appreciated. I am in love with these children. I have begun to say, if you are looking for a hug, work in a school. The kids brighten my day, frustrate me, enlighten me, and love me. At the end of the day, after tutoring and sometimes paperwork, I help with afterschool enrichment and I play. I connect with kids and get a workout running bases in a kickball game or floor hockey. It’s the light of my day, the seven hours I spend working with them and the few hours I work planning programs for them.
The inspiration is not just in the hugs. It’s in getting an “F” student to become at least a “C” student and when he approaches me at recess because he wants to get help on homework instead of going out on the playground. His own perogative. My jaw dropped the first time he stayed in during recess. It’s when the kid who doesn’t care about school gets excited about a science experiment I do with them. I told my little sister on the phone last week, it’s watching for the light in their faces. For them to be excited about learning, or planning something so fun they forget they are learning and just enjoy. The light that goes on, it makes me so happy and proud. It makes me love them all the more, though I love them all the time.
The job is not without difficulties and I struggle when I see my kids hungry, tired, or just apathetic. I wrap each day in hope all the same. The job has been an adjustment, from simply navigating how to live on welfare and meager paychecks to being far away from my friends and family. But I have adjusted, diving into trainings in Machias on child abuse and trainings in Ellsworth on domestic violence, calling my neighbor to go for a walk to the beach, entertaining my co-workers at my house, writing my book, and rationing how much time I spend on Facebook. I realized that Facebook was contributing to my homesickness– that I would see everything going on where I used to be and what I was “missing out” on that I forgot to be in my own life. When I went on a technology break for two weeks (no cell phone, only landline, no facebook, and no gmail), I felt so much more whole and present in my everyday life. And the amazing thing was that everyone supported my effort. Friends started calling me on my landline (which doesn’t even have an answering machine) and parents knew that I wouldn’t answer emails. Christina forwarded me a link that reminds me so often of the terror of technology in our lives. I have become more free by limiting it in my life now.
Yet, tonight, I decided to blog for the first time in months because I always feel that I have something to say about Thanksgiving (yes, it’s taken me this long to get to the real point of this post). As many know, I worked at at camp this summer that costs like $10,000 a summer to go to. The children were from privilege and it showed. I would buy them candy or do something nice and they’d complain that I hadn’t gotten the right kind of candy or why didn’t I do something nice for them more often? I loved these kids, I did. They made me cry sometimes but I loved being their mom and putting them to sleep every night, playing them songs, seeing their souls, helping them through homesickness. But the contrast now is that I am working with kids who mostly are below poverty level. If I say I’m going to bring them candy, they are so excited they can’t focus on their schoolwork. It doesn’t matter what kind I’m going to bring. The gratitude is present in their lives everyday.
As some know, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Last year, in honor of Thanksgiving, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Tar Heel saying we should recognize our privilege and give thanks, stop complaining. This year, I am even more adament about my sentiments. I think about my little sister who came back from working in orphanges in Nepal in April and still gets sick to her stomach at the insane consumerism in our culture. We worry about the next iphone when people are starving. Some days, my own students are hungry. That’s what was missing in my girls at camp. They were so lucky, they complained about what they didn’t have. All the time. That’s not to say those who are struggling don’t complain. Everyone needs to vent. I do. But when we find something to love and appreciate in our existance, no matter how small, that’s where magic happens.
Thanksgiving was created for all we have, for the gratitude that can mark us, grow us, make us realize that life is not a burden but a blessing. Food, family, and warmth of community, that is Thanksgiving. Here in rural Maine, we are doing a community Thanksgiving dinner at the organization where I work. It is for those who maybe can’t put a turkey on their own table. I will be in New York but I am baking something for it… because I have always had something on my table for Thanksgiving. I have always had everything on my table. Could I imagine not having that? Could I imagine not having heat in these cold winters, much less food. The needs are compounded in many lives. In 2010, I wrote about a volunteer experience with Warmth for Wake, where for the first time I saw the poverty in my county in North Carolina. With Thanksgiving approaching, I am ever more grateful for the privilege I possess and how I’ve been so blessed. I just hope everyone would do the same and remember that your life is a beautiful thing. Never take it for granted and love it and those in it.
Happy Thanksgiving:)) Every day.