Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

I have a friend and colleague who often reminds me to find joy in unexpected places. Like many of you, I am tired. Like many of you, I have been pushed to my limits.

And also like many of you, I have found moments of joy where I never thought I would.

There is something about collective adversity that brings out the best in humanity. We smile more (with our eyes now, because no one can see us smiling under our masks), we offer to help a stranger, we enjoy the company of friends and no longer take it for granted. We laugh more. These are moments that have brought me glimpses of joy in what has also been a time of great sadness and challenge.

I don’t know what you are facing today. I do know what we have all been facing this year. I don’t know if you are finding this pandemic time to be energizing and productive, or if you are so lonely it physically hurts your heart. I don’t know if this time has helped you reconnect with a partner or loved one, or if this time together has shined a light on a relationship that is just not meant to be.

True joy comes from learning what feeds your soul and doing more of that. But right now it may feel as if that kind of joy is impossible to find.

I do know that even in the darkest and saddest of times, there can be moments of unexpected joy. Maybe joy can be found:

  • finding money in your jacket pocket
  • watching a dog cock its head when you say something to it
  • in the moment your child hugs you when you are feeling sad
  • in the anticipation of something you hope for
  • in a song
  • in a conversation
  • when you try something new, even though you are scared and awkward
  • catching up with an old friend
  • meeting new friends
  • hearing the words “I love you”
  • in the moment after you let out all the emotions you have been holding on to
  • listening to a cat purr on your lap
  • finishing a project

They may be small, but I urge you to see them, to feel them, to recognize them and to let them fill you with a little bit of happiness.

Maybe finding these small and unexpected moments of joy will lead you to those bigger, soul-energizing, lasting experiences of joy. And if not, keep looking for those unexpected moments, those moments that seem ordinary and mundane but are filled with something that feels like joy for you.

What unexpected joy have you found?

Thanksgiving 2020

Like so many things in 2020, Thanksgiving weekend may look very different this year. Many of us are mourning the loss of large family gatherings, sharing a big meal together, travelling to see the people we love. Instead, we may be gathering in our smaller “bubbles” or visiting loved ones virtually and staying much closer to home.

It may seem there is little to be grateful for this year, but I wonder if maybe this is a year to be especially grateful. People have struggled; people have suffered. Some have lost loved ones and others have faced huge health challenges. Many are experiencing financial insecurity as they have lost jobs or experienced significant downsizing. Relationships have been pushed to their limits. Families may look very different.

So what could there possibly be to be thankful for?

In the midst of dark times, especially dark times that seem never to end, it is increasingly difficult to believe there will be light. But in the absence of darkness, we miss those moments of light. The other day when I was heading to work early in the morning, I saw a very bright meteor streak across the sky. It was fleeting and it was beautiful. And if the sky had not been dark, I would have missed it.

So what do we have to be thankful for? Coronavirus has taken away the way we work and live. But because we have been forced to change the way we work and live, we have learned that we can adapt and be innovative. My relationship experienced a major change in March, but because of this huge change, we have become better parents together, and better friends to one another. We can’t always visit one another, so we have learned to appreciate the time we do spend together. I had surgery in January to remove a chondrosarcoma (remember Tina?) which forced me to consider my health and re-evaluate my priorities and to genuinely appreciate the gift of my life.

What can you be thankful for this Thanksgiving? I will spend this weekend being thankful for my amazing family, who love and support me. I will be thankful for the meaningful work I get to do each day and for the dedicated and caring teachers who sacrifice their time and energy and resources to support young people, many of whom live through and overcome very challenging circumstances. I will be thankful for my health and even though I am experiencing significant pain in my leg right now, that there are knowledgeable people working to find out why and to help me continue my recovery. I am thankful for friends, the ones I have known forever and the ones who have found their way into my life.

I will be thankful that I have enough. I will be thankful that I am enough.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, whether you are celebrating with family, or spending it alone, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the moments of light amidst some dark times. I hope you will tell the people you love that you are grateful for them. I hope that you will feel pride in your work and pride in the ways you are making the world better. I am thankful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving 2020.

Six Month Fatigue

In Ontario, Covid-19 numbers have been on the rise. Social circles are being made smaller, and masks are required everywhere.

I am tired. I do not enjoy this “new normal”. I wear a mask everywhere I go – at work, in stores, while picking up my coffee at Tim Hortons. I want to spend time with people without having to sit two metres apart. I don’t enjoy the awkward moment when someone puts out their hand for a handshake.

But I also know that we need to keep doing these things. We must stay diligent. We need to keep doing the things that are not comfortable to keep protecting our vulnerable friends, family members and neighbours.

And let’s not forget to be gentle with ourselves. We are grieving. We grieve the loss of our predictable world. We grieve the freedom we felt. We grieve not having to check if we brought a mask to work. Many of us are grieving because we are not able to gather with our loved ones for Thanksgiving. It feels like 2020 has taken away or changed everything we knew.

It is easy to feel fear, or distrust, or judgement, or apathy. These are all normal feelings. Let’s also remember to have compassion, to respond with wisdom and to stay diligent.

Sometimes in 2020, everything feels unpredictable. What is predictable is that grief is not linear. Grief affects us all differently. We may feel that we are feeling hopeful one day, and struck with hopelessness the next. We may embrace our new lives one day, doing what we need to to move forward, and the next day long so deeply for our lives to be what they once were, that we consider going back to our old ways, even when we know it would not be good for us or for others.

Yes, we are tired. But we have hope. Yes, we miss our world the way it was. But we have seen so many wonderful examples of what our lives and our world can be. Let’s not lose sight of the hope and the good. Let’s keep looking out for one another. Let’s remember to have compassion and understanding – with others and with ourselves.

We will get through this – together.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay connected. Be well.

Consider the Lobster

No, I am not talking about making choices on a menu. For me, that would be deadly. But today I would like you to consider something about lobsters that I find fascinating. First, please take a moment to watch this video, narrated by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski.

https://youtu.be/cjlYWyRs5gs

Discomfort…we don’t like it. What do we do when we are uncomfortable? Most of us try to find comfort again. Most of us try to ease the pain of discomfort by distracting ourselves, by numbing or by trying to change the thing that is making us uncomfortable.

We are living in uncomfortable times. I have yet to meet a parent or teacher, or anybody really, that feels completely comfortable with any of the options available to us for returning to school in a few weeks. But here we are…we can’t simply pretend it isn’t happening. No amount of distraction will keep us from having to face the realities of a pandemic in our world. So what can we do?

We can consider the lobster. The signal for the lobster to grow is discomfort. The lobster’s shell is rigid and will not grow with the lobster. When the lobster has outgrown that shell, and feels discomfort, it sheds its shell and it grows. While it waits for the new shell to grow, however, the lobster is very vulnerable and needs to seek protection and safety in the rocks.

So what does that mean for us? Well, for me, it means that whenever I begin to feel like I have outgrown what I know, what I believe, how I am living or thinking, or who I spend my time with, I feel discomfort. When I feel stress or there is change, I feel discomfort. When I feel like I have outgrown something, or I have experienced stress or adversity, I have, traditionally, tried to stop the discomfort. But I am learning that if I lean into the discomfort, if I get curious about why I feel that way, if I shed my rigid ways of thinking and am open to growth and to something new, that yes, for a while I feel vulnerable and exposed. But during that time, I grow and build a new shell of protection – the skills and tools and relationships and a new understanding that give me a new perspective in the world.

So as we move into a new school year, or as you are navigating life’s challenges – relationships, jobs, finances, choices for your kids, etc. – remember that discomfort is the signal that we need to grow. Let’s lean into that. Let’s get curious about what we can learn and how we can grow. And lets seek protection in those relationships that feel safe and which allow us to grow and be vulnerable as we are growing and changing.

As Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski says at the end of the video we watched tells us, if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.

And please remember, parents, that this decision isn’t easy and whatever choice you make for your kids out of a place of love and their best interest, is the right one. They, and you, will grow through this experience.

Be well, my friends.

Wearing Masks? Back to School? A Call for Compassion and Wisdom.

It has been nearly a month since I have posted. Like many people, parents, teachers and school leaders, I have been struggling. We have been living in unusual times over the past five months and as I look around, I am amazed at how much our world has changed. Even as our province begins to open up little by little, we are far from being “back to normal.” We wear masks in public, and look with suspicion upon people who do not, without knowing why they are not wearing one. And now, in the midst of all the changes we have faced, another is before us…do we send our kids back to face-to-face learning.

I am not here to tell you what you should do. I am not even here to tell you what we, as a family, have decided to do. What I am hoping to do is to remind all of us that this is a time to act, not out of fear and judgement, but with compassion and wisdom.

I read a story recently about a family asked to leave a Disney store in London when their six year old child, a child with autism, struggled to wear her mask properly. The London bylaw is clear that a child under 12 who is unable to properly wear a mask, and any person with a disability or medical condition which would prevent them from safely wearing a mask is exempt from the requirement. I do not wish to argue about the bylaw. I wear a mask. My children wear masks. This family wore masks. What I wonder about is where was the compassion and wisdom on the part of the store manager who sent them out of the store? Could he or she asked how they could help, rather than making the judgmental assertion that just because they know someone with autism who was able to wear a mask, this six year old also should? When the family told the employees about their child’s difficulty with keeping the mask on before they even went into the store, could they have found a way to support the family instead of saying it was okay, only to change their response when the child did exactly what the parents indicated? Acting out of fear and judgement hurt this family…hurt a child.

Someone close to me is unable to wear a mask for health reasons. While in a store she saw a friend standing in the check-out line. She said hello and the friend not only didn’t return her greeting, but turned her head and actively ignored her. That kind of judgment is harmful, especially in a time when connection is needed more than ever. People who are unable to wear a mask for medical reasons already feel conspicuous and often guilty, and to ostracize them makes them feel unworthy, separated and alone.

Right now families are making tough decisions about whether to send their kids back to school for face-to-face learning or to keep them home and support them with virtual learning. Neither decision is easy. Neither choice feels like a good option right now. There are problems and shortfalls with either decision. As a principal, I am engaging in conversations with teachers who are feeling uncomfortable and others who are yearning to return to work. All of them are prepared to welcome students back, to support them, to help them through the fears and the lasting impact the past months have had on them.

I recently shared our family’s decision with some people and was met with a lot of questions. Some were legitimate information-seeking questions, and others felt very judgmental, like they were questioning whether or not I actually care about the physical and mental well-being of my kids. Understand, these are not bad people. These are not people who are generally super-critical. These are folks who have legitimate concerns and who care about me and my children. When we act out of fear, however, and project that onto others, we lose compassion. We lose wisdom.

This is a time for compassion. When the pandemic began, I saw so many acts of compassion and empathy, and it was heart-warming to see how neighbours and strangers showed kindness, helped each other out, checked in to see how their more isolated friends were doing. As time goes on, are we losing that? Are we heading back to our former lives and forgetting about the few good things that came out of the pandemic, like a better understanding of our shared humanity? When your friends and family share with you that they are struggling to make a choice where there is no good choice, are we quick to tell them what we think they should do? Or do we show compassion and offer to listen before responding with “that is a tough choice to have to make, but I know you will make the right one for you and your family.”

Now is a time for wisdom. Yes, we need to be cautious. Yes, we need to be concerned about one another and keeping each other safe. But we need not be fearful. We do not need to react out of fear. We need to make wise decisions for ourselves and for our loved ones, while also considering that sometimes other people are doing what is best for themselves and their families. Can we assume that people have good intentions until they show us otherwise? Can we recognize that people are struggling in this new reality and offer empathy and support?

Let’s not lose what we gained through this pandemic. Let’s show up for one another. Let’s offer to talk through the difficult choices ahead together and respect others’ decisions. Let’s not make parents feel worse when they are trying to help their child wear a mask or when they decide to send or not send their children back to school.

More than ever, we need to stand together, support one another, keep each other safe, stay connected. We will get through this.

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