"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Goodbye EF "Seattle" (Says Matt With Air Quotes)

My organization’s Olympia school markets itself as “EF Seattle” because of the more recognizable and alluring name for potential students from afar. This has been the basis of an ongoing joke in my classes over these last two years, in which I mock yet sympathize with my students’ plight.

Many of them become annoyed a few days after arrival when they realize their school is not really all that close to Seattle. Some usually get annoyed by the rain too. But then most of them make great friendships and, in the end, get over it.

So, haha, students reading this blog…one final jab. J

To all my students over the last two years, I write to say thank you. This is a blog post for you.

As those of you who are currently at our school already know (and for those of you who’ve come and gone since I started here in September 2010 who don't), today was my last day of classes.

I’ll be spending the rest of the summer giving most of my attention to my wife and newborn daughter, before moving in mid-August to start a PhD program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

And I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to you all. It’s the nature of EF that there is a lot of turnover here, and so I’ve met and quickly said goodbye to a lot of people in the last two years. But I have not forgotten you.

No, I remember you all very fondly. My first “cohort” that included Almabrok, Ana, and Ewelina. Then Suhail, Aimen, and Marcia. Manon, Sergio, and Oh. Bo Ram, Sam, and Andres. Anna, Santi, and Roy. Mohammed, Motoko, and Chase. And all of the rest of you from General English and SPIN classes who I’ve omitted here for the sake of brevity…not because you aren’t important to me. J

Thank you. You’ve all been a part of my story, and have played a role in my own formation as a teacher and as a person—some of you due to being excellent students and great representatives of your countries, and some of you, for, well, being students who challenged my patience and self-control and poise and graciousness...I'm thankful for you too. J

Thank you for helping me grow as a teacher. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, skill and confidence when it comes to teaching both English as well as teaching in general.

Thank you for your willingness, especially you advanced students, to engage some challenging topics and have your opinions challenged and worldview expanded by one another.

Thank you for laughing at my jokes, which certainly feeds my ego but also makes the classroom much more fun.

Thank you for your praise, attentiveness, kindness, responsiveness, and thoughtfulness.

Thanks for playing Arthur’s favorite game—and doing it with such enthusiasm and excellence, once you got over your initial groaning. J

Thank you for expanding my own understanding of your respective cultures—for challenging my stereotypes and for enriching my life by exposing me to that beauty that is inherent to plurality and diversity and uniqueness.

Thank you for letting me challenge you in ways outside of English alone by letting me push back on your opinions and give you new ways to think about things.

Thanks for helping me grow in character. My goals in meeting with you every weekday extended beyond language instruction; I sought to model excellent character, seeking to display virtues like compassion, restraint, humility, tact, justice, patience, and flexibility, among others. I sought to show you what you might call respect, devotion, sacrifice...or maybe you'd just call it what I call it: love.

You’ve helped me grow in love and in all of these others areas, for sure, and I hope that I’ve at least in some small way made your life better by "living well" in your midst. Please forgive me for the ways I’ve failed and done you more harm than good.

Thanks for the great memories. As I said to my students today, I’ve just gotten used to goodbyes and accept them as inevitable. They make me sad, but I’m at peace with them. At least there’s Facebook; that’s actually quite comforting.

But there’s always hope, and I am one who hopes deeply, about and for many things. So…I hope our paths cross again—all of you, those with sunny dispositions eager to soak up new insights from our classes and those who I kicked out of class for being “naughty”, as we might say of a child.  J 

I hope we meet again…in this life or the next. It’s a hope not based in wishful thinking alone, I don't think, but in anticipation of what I think the future really does hold for us all.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It Takes a Lot to Make Me Cry

It takes a lot to make me cry. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in the last 15 years. Four. A total of four times.

I don’t feel like "stoic," "heartless," "cold," "devoid of emotion," "shallow," "indifferent," or "numb" are really fair descriptors of me—words that might be associated with a non-crier. For whatever reason, the way I process situations doesn't usually involve tears.

Though to correct myself, I guess I do cry quite frequently, but not because of sorrow, stress, anguish, frustration, heartbreak, etc. It doesn’t take much to get me to laugh until my face is tear-soaked.

In fact, I just cried a few days ago from laughter. I’m not sure the humor of this really translates outside of Joann and I (that is to say, perhaps you had to be there), but in response to the question posed by Joann: “Did you meet your Dad at home or at the service center today?” I responded quickly and instinctively by saying, “Mug.” Actually, it was more drawn out like, “Mmmuuuuuhhhhgg.”

Why? I was thinking about how I’d just given my dad a “Grandpa mug” for Father’s Day when Joann was asking the question, and out came this nonsensical utterance. LOL. I’m laughing yet again as I write this, much like Joann and I erupt in laughter every time one of us brings this up. So yeah…maybe you had to be there. J

Anyway, I remember fairly well why I cried in each of these four instances. The first was when I was 15, a freshman in high school. My mom pulled me away from a school function and took me to a park, then proceeded to tell me that my childhood best friend had just killed himself. Unable to cope with his depression any longer, he jumped off of a bridge.

I not only wept tears of sadness, hurt by the permanent absence of my friend, but probably tears of shock and confusion. I had no clue at the time (though it made some sense in retrospect) that he struggled with such things, and had never experienced something so horrifying and confounding. No more heartbreaking news than this have I ever been given.

The second time I cried must have been later that year, when I was 15 or 16…and is kind of embarrassing. I’m tempted to omit it. These were pouty tears, an expression of frustration and disappointment. I was essentially grounded for staying out too late one night without informing my parents. This grounding prevented me from hanging out with friends the next night, a night I was really looking forward to. I believe it was my annual tradition of launching water balloons at trick-or-treaters…that’s what Brad, my accomplice, tells me. So I cried and pouted. Poor teenage me. So naughty.

The third time I cried was more reasonable than the second, though I do feel slightly conflicted and cynical about the cause of the tears now. I was 18, attending a Christian youth event at Memorial Coliseum in Portland. There were bands and a very dynamic speaker. I don’t remember the message precisely that the preacher delivered, but given that the event was called “Acquire the Fire”, it was likely intended to motivate young Christians to take our faith more seriously, live our faith more devoutly, with more passion, etc.

I was very moved, and went down toward the stage to pray in a spirit of surrender and determination. I was sincere, and I really do think it was a profound moment for me, even if I don’t remember precisely why anymore. I will admit that I’m a bit suspicious these days of Christian events geared toward “saving souls” and making more “passionate Christians” that are enthused and emotional but not necessarily actually better off or better for the world just because they're more enthused and emotional. Especially considering how manipulative those kinds of big events can feel.

Regardless of these reservations, I remember it being a powerful night. I was so moved that I wept, and stood with Brad (he’s been there a lot for me) for several minutes weeping in his arms, followed by uncontrollable laughter. Though the nature of my emotions that night are a bit foggy to me now, I was obviously moved. We jokingly referred to that experience as my “sloshed in the Spirit” moment.

Since that day, I hadn’t cried for over eleven years. That is, until two weeks ago.

Many who are reading this know the basic story by now. My wife, in her seventh month of pregnancy, began to show some strange symptoms, most of which we attempted to deal with through natural methods…rest, chiropractic treatment, supplements.

Things began to worsen...rising blood pressure, pain in her rib area, numbness in her arm and face, excessive bruising, vision spots. We suspected something called pre-eclampsia, but weren’t sure, and began to feel nervous by the ambiguity of our situation. We realized we needed to take more extreme measures, and so left Olympia a little over two weeks ago to check into a Vancouver hospital, planning to stay overnight to be observed and assessed by a doctor the next day. After taking some tests upon arrival and getting the results, the doctor came back and spoke chillingly and directly: “It’s not good.”

She explained that Joann had HELLP, which had led to a dangerously low platelet count, damaged liver and kidneys, and put her at serious risk for stroke, seizures, blindness, and even bleeding to death. Being that the only cure for HELLP is removing the baby, the doctor told us we needed to have a C-section immediately. Even as she spoke other doctors and nurses were swarming into the room, preparing Joann for surgery. As the doctor outlined the risks of both her condition and the surgery given her condition, she again emphasized that death—of Joann and of baby—was a real possibility.

As they prepared Joann, I made a few phone calls to her family, and then my own. As I spoke to my mother, trying to explain what was happening, I choked up, and was unable to get my words out. When I went back into Joann’s room, another wave came over me and tears came streaming down my face. I was scared. The urgency, the shock, the danger—it all overwhelmed me.

The thought of losing either wife or daughter—scared the sh** out of me and I just lost it. The tears did feel good, I guess…to get that release. And it was also good to know that Joann was secretly enjoying the moment, even though she hurt for me; she had never seen me cry and wished she could have caught some of my tears in a dixie cup as a souvenir.

And now here we are. Clara is healthy and growing, albeit with the help of doctors. But she's getting "A-pluses" from her doctors and is on the right track to eventually be released. Joann is rapidly recovering and feeling better and more like her old, pre-pregnancy self every day. Though it wasn't our plan, at least Joann's pain is gone, and the stress and fear of the unknown are gone, and our baby is safe. All three of us seem destined for a happy, healthy future. And while life in a hospital is not the optimal place to call home, it works for now. The personal pizzas in the cafeteria are good and reasonably priced.

I haven’t cried in the last two weeks, though I have felt some new emotions that I couldn’t really experience until two weeks ago. Daddy emotions. It doesn’t take much for Clara to move me. The best part of my day is “skin-to-skin” time where Clara and I just sit together. I talk to her, sing to her, make faces at her, but mostly just stare and smile. I helped make her. I will help grow her, nurture her. Protect her, care for her, advocate for her. Make her feel important, empowered, whole, loved.

My heart aches when I think of her and how much I just want to keep her safe, make her happy, instruct her in such a way that she finds the fullness of life that I feel today when I look at my wife—alive, recovering, smiling, with me and not away from me—and when I look at my daughter, and feel like this is the pinnacle of human existence: being with the ones I love so deeply that the thought of losing them can literally bring me to tears.


PS...I suspect more tears will come...I imagine I'll cry with Clara one day. Maybe when, as a teenager, she comes home in tears because some boy broke her heart (I'll kill him). Or maybe when in Jr High, some girls bully her (I'll kill them). Or maybe even sooner, when she falls off the playground slide (I'll kill the slide designer). Or even more immediately, maybe when a dog barks at her and scares her (yep...I'll kill the dog). I got your back, Clara. And I'll cry with you, if I can.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Then Everything Stops...

...and a lot of my life--ambitions, concerns, obligations, goals, interests--seems insignificant in comparison. I'm not sure I'd ever been as scared as I was for that hour or so early yesterday morning, nor so immersed in the present as I have been these past two days. I am grateful that my girls are alive, considering this reality seemed truly threatened. This is it, I think; this is as deep and true as life gets. I told Joann today that I feel primitive, thinking that this is what it might have felt like to be a hunter-gatherer: few ambitions and commitments other than health, survival, community and care.