onbruisedknees

"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Category: students

Boxed Contentment

My husband asked me a loaded question. He asked me when I will be content. And happy.  I told him I was quite content in my job before I had to leave it. At my best. Kicking butt. But I wasn’t wholly content with life. And everyone knew it. The students. The teachers. My husband was away. I didn’t have him to come home to at the end of the day. Now, I’m content in my marriage. Hold it sacred. But I am not wholly content in life. And everyone knows it.

He always wants to know if teaching makes me so happy then why am I never happy to put the newest teaching resume and application in the mail? I told him I just put in the mail an awesome letter of interest and the most beautiful recommendation letter from my former colleague and one of my dearest friends. I told him I also sent along a copy of the stunning valedictorian speech that one of my favorite students will give this weekend (and will make you rise to your feet in ovation) because it was the best thing that could ever explain the special place I come from and what I’m all about and what that place is all about than anything else could.

Through the eyes of a student. I refuse to play politics. I refuse to play them in Edwards County and I refuse to play them up north. Why? Because what we do should be all for the students. And I want special. I do. I want a special place again.

At my church back home, a lady in Bible study never specifically mentioned her prayer request. She simply asked for the desire of her heart.

The desire of my heart? To speak to people. Full rooms. Auditoriums.  Classrooms. Singe souls. Face-to-face holding a coffee mug gulping cup after cup of grace and love. Or speaking to people through a book. My truth. In writing. Helping them find their own truths. THE truth. Dreams do not simply dissipate. If I feel I was created to do something big and I cannot let it go, please do not put me in a room and leave me to peel away at yellow wallpaper. Because if you’ve read that short story, then you know how it ends. For most people, “the little things” are what breed contentment. But I’m not most people.

“God is contentment. Learn to be content in all circumstances.” Well that’s just the easy answer, people. And the hard one.  And the real one. I know. I KNOW.

She had a baby.  In “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  And in the Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan was a silly little fool who had a silly little fool of a daughter too. And sadly, they weren’t content. But I’m no fool. I know babies fill a certain void of contentment nothing else can. My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me the women I love who most want to be mothers will be mothers. And my best friend since birth? She’ll birth another miracle this winter.

I see it more for them than I do for me. Always. A few Sundays ago I held my niece through church and I adored. Adored. She smiled. Touched my face. Danced to the worship songs. Fell asleep as I kissed-kissed the top of her head.  And my preteen nephews? Hugs. When they are eighteen and twenty, I will still get those same hugs. Because I’m Aunt Melissa. Because they were already mine at baby and two. Because there are no other two boys I could possibly love more.

I looked up our baby name—the name we agreed on years and years ago. I very well could have still been in high school. I love the meaning of names. I gasped when I read the name’s meaning: “bright and shining light.” I don’t have my shining light yet. Because we are not home. Because I am not healthy. Because I dropped fourteen lbs. and don’t know why. Because my meds are switched constantly. Because my body is screwed up. Because I can’t seem to handle anything. Because I have a Master’s degree to start and finish. Because I have higher-paying jobs to land. Because. Because I’ll screw it all up. Yet somehow, if God gives her to us? She’ll be true to her name. Light. What I’ve quested all along.

And maybe my contentment. Or my green light at the end of the dock. But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the girl. Her life is not merely for my contentment. It’s for hers. Are you listening, parents? I lived it. I saw that kind of hurt in the eyes of my students.

Once, I made my Themes class give speeches about their most important message. What did they most want the world to know? I think I assigned these speeches right after we read Fahrenheit 451, a book with an obvious message. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for your message. It’s a message that got stuck in our minds and never left. Why did I assign these speeches? Honestly, I was stalling. I hadn’t finished reading 1984 and didn’t know how to introduce another novel with such huge themes. Prophetic themes. Themes of life. The name of the class.

Some of the speeches were dull. Eating right. Exercise. Being a good person. Blah. Snore. Some students rambled so much that I couldn’t even pinpoint the message. And that’s ok. Because I don’t remember if I gave them much direction and probably didn’t give them a rubric. So I’m sure I gave everyone a good grade.  But some of these students? Their props were meaningful. They spoke eloquently. They interacted with their peers. Made me gawk and gape and wonder what kind of presence was I in? These kids were geniuses.

And one speech I remembered in the middle of the night, four freaking years later because its truth literally woke me and ironically reminded me of how everything I want right now was everything he warned against.

After he spoke, I was so inspired (and he reminded me too much of the unconventional, caged-in high school-me) that I made the students (those who wanted to) run or gallop or skip back and forth down the basement hallway, loudly proclaiming the specific ways they wanted to express themselves and get out of their comfort zones. I’m also pretty sure I got in major trouble for that one. Ah, well. You remember it though, don’t you? Stepping out of your boxes.

This student is in some city right now. He’s a talented playwright, a director, an actor. He impressed me from the moment I met him, and he will be famous. Brilliant.

He began his speech with an analogy and drew a street map of Lincoln Avenue on my whiteboard. Basically, he told us what drove him bonkers, and he said it with a lot of passion:

“You can be born at St. Mary’s. You can go to elementary school at St. Ben’s. On the very same street, you can attend high school at Memorial. You can go to church on this street. You can hop a block over and get your college degree from the University of Evansville on the same street.  You can have a nice Catholic wedding ceremony on this street. You can rent or buy a house on this street. You can do something during the in-between, and then you can go retire at the little nunnery place down on the very same street. And then you can die. And have your funeral. A nice Catholic wake.  On the same street.”

And that is exactly what some people do. And other than becoming a nun because I am not Catholic, I would be perfectly content returning to Lincoln Avenue. I’d happily return to teach at Memorial and then become a professor at UE (some professors in my subject matter departments are getting up there in age, God bless them). I could have my coffee every day at Coffee Cottage. And Barnes and Noble is right at the end of that long street! I could do book signings. I could browse the titles until I went blind and my fingers bled. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss. And my biggest dream ever since Ms. Felling took our class to see Twelfth Night at the May Studio Theater. Magic. I felt magic. I felt home.

I was told that if I can’t talk about a place without crying, then I have issues. I’m constantly told that Memorial is not the pinnacle of success. I’m reminded of law suits that should have been filed and of everything that was unfair and how it sucked everything I had in me right out of me and the retirement is pitiful. I’m reminded UE parking sucks, that we’re still paying on the ungodly tuition, that it is not Ivy League.

The street? It smells like sewer and it floods.

Shit. I just put myself in a box. I would live in a box. I would live in a box on Lincoln Avenue. And I would maybe or maybe not be content.

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

For My Tigers

People snicker, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing…while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional, as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins. Wrongly I have thought teaching has lessened me at times, but now I experience a teacher’s greatest euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me…It’s an almost psychotic feeling, believing that part of their lives belong to me. Everything they become, I also become. And everything about me, they helped create –from Educating Esme

Dear Almost-Graduates,

I remember our very first home room class downstairs. And for those of you not in my homeroom—I remember our epic English classes. Every. Single. One. I remember you. Every. Single. One. I didn’t always know what I was doing, obviously, but we learned. And we had fun. And I thought it was so cool both those things could occur at the same time. I was happy you were mine. Blessed. We grew a lot together, didn’t we? You taught me. And I think, with the help of genuine friends and coaches and mentors and teachers, you found the courage to become yourselves. I hope so. I hope you at least started the process.

See, my first real class is graduating college now. I have a very special chunk in my heart that belongs to them, but you were my fresh start. My joy. You made me want to drive the fifty-seven miles. You were so purposeful to me.

Without you, I went crazy. Spent fifteen months just aching.  Doubted myself and God and His plan. Spent lots of time hurting myself. Haunted by you. I didn’t know who Mrs. Kiefer was without the teacher part. Didn’t know how to be just Melissa.  Had a major, terrible, unhealthy identity crisis. I never want you to have one of those when change and transition come. And change is coming. So please let me tell you who you are. You are a Tiger. Capital T. Forgive me for being a little cheesy and running with this metaphor.

We all came to be Tigers somehow. We were meant to be. And every experience you have had in the past and will have in the future has a purpose. The purpose is so that you can help others or help yourself. God intends so.

As Tigers, we are fierce and humble. A hunter of dreams. Noble, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We might travel the country and the world, yet we are territorial of Evansville, of MHS, of home, of our tiger pack. I’m still working hard in therapy and praying hard and loving hard and learning…and slowly remembering and accepting that I am still a tiger. And you taught me how to be a fighter for all the good and right things. Ferociously, we fight.

Maybe I was too young to teach. Maybe I found too deep of friendships with you. Too many things in common. I’ve always felt a little too connected to you. So maybe it’s no accident that you are beginning something new at the same time I am starting a journey new. We can compare notes if you want. Discuss literature. Share ideas. Buy backpacks and notebooks and those nice flow-y pens. Be nerds together.

I’m starting a new school in a new place, too. I feel many of your same emotions. Excited. Anxious. Thrilled. Afraid. Are we enough? Yes. Yes, we are enough just as we are. And we have more to learn. I’m thrilled to create projects instead of assign them. I get to write instead of grade. I never have to use my mean voice!

Through the Kiefer Café’s, the quotes on the board and the door, our talks on the floor, the way I watched you struggle and overcome—you inspired me. Your drive. Your passion. Your determination. Your wisdom. You depth. Your blank slate. Your unfolding and brilliant future. Your hope. I want to write about you. And I want you to someday be able to say you are as proud of me as I am of you.

You are prepared. So light-filed, so strong, so intelligent, so passionately curious. Life might not end up the way you planned. It’s ok. God is so good and knows what He’s doing. I’m proud of you. What beautiful human beings you are.

“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Just wanted to end with some wisdom above from Mama T.

Love, Your Mama K ❤

A Thousand Daughters

Love woke me up this morning.

Love and puppies.

And knowing at work today new plants would be delivered. I could get my hands in potting soil and roots and bulbs. And knowing I might buy an African violet and eat a slice of carrot cake from Stella’s.

You must find things to look forward to, he says.

I’d paint jars sunshine yellow and make a wreath in the shape of a square. Because sometimes it’s fun to be a different shape than what others expect you to be. I’m not a circle, am I. No. I have a lot of angles. I might be an octagon-trapezoid-isosceles. Something irregular like that. (I was never any good at geometry).

Funny things happened this morning while getting ready.

The first funny thing is I actually got ready.

And the second funny thing?

The sun was shining. Full on shinin’ instead of doing its little peepshow tease. Full on shinin’ instead of acting drunk in the sky. So I actually washed my hair. Actually applied makeup. And I wrote…in my head. I never write in my head. I’m a walking ditzy dum-dum until I have paper in front of me.

And while I painted a pop of peony-pink on my lips, thoughts swirled like yesterday’s snow. Jumbled. But feels so good.

To think again.

To feel.

That movement.

You know?

I started thinking about flocks and shepherding

and the quote that says, “I’ll live as though I have a thousand daughters.”

Sons and daughters, I had. Had a door to stick post-it notes of encouragement. A whiteboard to write quotes and song lyrics. Stories to expand to life. Characters we turned into humans. Heart-to-hearts about parents and dreams and relationships and lust and love and struggle and God and hope and being who we really are. Café days where they found their voices. An avenue. A stage.

A whole big flock.

I was the young one. And so they followed me.

My heart’s kind of sticky that way.

So what’s a shepherdess to do?

I tried to find new sheep when we had to migrate.

But they weren’t mine.

They weren’t mine to tell them it’s possible to be in the world and still not of it. Not my place to give advice. To tell them what worth and holiness are most certainly not measured by.

To talk to them like young adults. Or say they should be in school. They should get to live–at least a little bit–the way they want to.

It’s not up to me. This is not the same place as there.

I don’t get to tell them what to see. I don’t even get to tell them the place to look and let them decide what they see.

So I had to back up. Back off. Back away, far away.

Then found myself in a season where my own heart had to be tended to.

In that place again–

Made to feel like my truth is just not a good example.

Not a lifesong.

Ugh, better to be fake. To be reserved. Not the wild-hearted you that danced with abandon.

Oh, but the gritty and the grace. Your own deep truth, daughters.

That’s the melody. Makes the song worth singing.

Tone down good passions? I can’t. I just find other ways. I’m sick of the way we give into the lies that we are too much. And not enough.

When love wakes me up in the morning, I want to…write. Write again.

And tell all the daughters.

I may never get to have a daughter of my own–though I have named her.

But I will write for my daughters. I will write as though

I have

a thousand daughters.

Attachment

My Labrador, Jovie, nurtures nine joyful puppies. Four yellows, three chocolates, two blacks.

I have secret names for them all–Biscuit, Nugget, Nella, Scout, Boo, Georgie, Pip, Sassafras, and Honeysuckle–just as I have human names for real children. Just as I remember every student I had by name. I cannot call the nine-day-old dogs Pup 1, Pup 2, Pup 3. I couldn’t even discipline their mama when she was a pup.

Because I wanted her to love me best. I wanted to be her favorite. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

I check on them, I do. But not every hour like husband does.

See, I’m more in awe of mama instincts. The delivery process. The bath-time licks and constant nursing. The arranging and rearranging and safekeeping and keeping warm. Instincts I don’t know if I possess because I’m so inside my own head. Because when I don’t know what to do I go into shutdown mode.

I see more of me when mama barrels out of whelping box, finally free. Poor thing needs a little space.

But as soon as she hears the yips and yelps, she returns. Puts up her paws. Waits for me to hoist  her up–back to her babes.

Mama dog is calmer now. Rests her chin on my knee. She’s a little blue. Exhausting, pouring out love. Somehow she must know six more weeks are all we get.

I can tell you which one has a little white stripe on its chest, which one looks most like its mama, which one has a tiny patch on its paw, which one is chubbiest, and which three pink noses are turning brown.

I can also say I want to be indifferent.

Because I do not get to keep.

Because with investment comes the inevitable process of detachment.

And to me, there’s not much difference between puppies and places and friendships and children and students.