An Inspiring Life

I recently completed reading John Glenn: A Memoir.  This hardcover book has sat on my bookcase since I bought it and read it when it was published in 1999.  I re-read it now because, twenty years later, I didn’t remember much of what I had read the first time around, and I wanted to see if this book should continue to remain a part of my permanent library taking up valuable shelf space.

From a reader’s/writer’s perspective, the book showed me what not-to-do.  I found myself skimming through parts that contained too many details, felt like too much information, and only served to delay the story.

But I’m still glad I read it. 

John Glenn, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, could have easily lived his life resting on his laurels, boasting of his accomplishment as the first American to orbit the earth.  But he didn’t.  He continued living and learning.  He served as an executive for RC Soda, and later, served more than twenty years as a United Sates Senator.  And then at the age of 77, returned to space as a member of the crew of STS-95 onboard the shuttle Discovery.

I think the biggest takeaway I got from reading the story of this special man’s life is that you don’t have to let one thing define you.

That’s the message I want my son to know and truly believe in his heart.  That he doesn’t have to choose just one thing to be “when he grows up.”  There aren’t limits to what he can achieve and there should be no limits to what he aspires to try.

 

My Backbone

Last week, I wrote about my similarities to a frog and specifically this line:
“… and when the going gets tough, you show your backbone.”

So this week I’ll write about another Backbone.

I recently completed reading Karen Duffy’s memoir, Backbone – Living With Chronic Pain Without Turning Into One.  There aren’t many books out there by and about people living with chronic medical conditions (though I’m working on my own) so I was instantly intrigued to discover this one.

Generally, I read to learn, to gather information, or to be entertained.  With Backbone, I read to find comfort and solace that someone else out there “gets it.”

This week, I’d like to share with you some of the take-aways, the things that stood out for me while I read:

“I’ve learned a lot from my illness.  In some ways, it has been a gift.  It’s not a gift I would have picked out for myself, but when things were easy, I didn’t realize how tough I was.  When you live with a chronic illness, you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

“Millions of us, people with cancer, lupus, MS, Parkinson’s, sarcoidosis, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, cystic fibrosis, and many other diseases will live for years with invisible but persistent illness.  Whether it’s the miracle of modern medicine or the luck of the draw, we are fated to have to find a way to live for decades with an incurable condition.”

“The ability to walk without pain is a gift that we don’t have anymore.  Being able to walk with pain and not give up is a superpower.”

“I would not wish a life with chronic pain on my worst enemy.  A painful life-altering event is one of the top fears for most of the population.  We who are chronically ill deal with what most people fear every single day.  We know our complaints are not moral weaknesses.  We find resilience, we adapt, and we figure out a new way to live.  We have guts.”

 

Thoughts On Marriage

Hourglass – Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is the latest book in my “just finished” pile.  Ms. Shapiro’s memoir is an intimate look at her eighteen-year marriage.  She writes of honeymoon memories, family struggles, financial worries.  

Basically, she writes about  her marriage.  Not the wedding; because marriage isn’t the wedding; it’s everything that comes after.

From Ms. Shapiro’s book:

“How do you suppose time works?  A slippery succession of long hours adding up to ever-shorter days and years that disappear like falling dominoes?”

“A shared vocabulary – like a soundtrack to our lives – so familiar that we hardly even notice which of us is speaking.”

“I cannot bring myself to even idly wish any of it – not even the most painful parts – away.  Eighteen years.  Change even one moment, and the whole thing unravels.  The narrative thread doesn’t stretch in a line from end to end, but rather, spools and unspools, loops around and returns again and again to the same spot.”

Eighteen years for her and her husband.

Nineteen years for me and my husband.

Forty-three years for my parents.

 

The 5 Hardest Things I’m Learning To Say

I recently completed reading Kelly Corrigan’s memoir, Tell Me More – Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say.  The book has an interesting structure; the author uses 12 different phrases as springboards for her personal stories. 

Among Ms. Corrigan’s “12 Hardest Things” are the phrases “I Don’t Know,” “I Was Wrong,” and “Tell Me More.”

It got me thinking, and inspired by the book, I’ve come up with a list of the 5 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say.

1.  I Need Help.  Not an easy one for me, at all.  I’m used to being in charge, used to being independent, used to being able to handle everything and anything that comes my way.

2.  I Can’t Right Now.  It’s not easy for me to back out of plans or to tell my son I don’t have the energy for a bike ride.

3.  I Need to Rest.  In my head, resting (and it’s extreme – napping) means there’s really something wrong with me.  Anytime I nap, I am sick.  Really sick.  Throwing up, feverish sick.  I am like the Energizer Bunny: I just keep going.

4.  I’m Scared.  I do try to keep it all together, keep my fears in check, not let my emotions blur my logic.  But it’s hard.  Each year seems to bring with it more tests (many of which I’ve never heard of before until it’s time for me to schedule one).  And each time, I’m afraid of what the test will reveal.

5.  No.  A plain and simple reply to a multitude of requests that I don’t want to do, or don’t feel like doing, but do anyway.  

 

And you, dear readers?  What are you learning to say?  Feel free to share in the comments.

A Tribute to Teachers

 

Though I left my teaching career five years ago, there are still many aspects of teaching I really miss.  There’s a special sort of magic that happens when you connect with a child, and that’s why I still enjoy reading about teachers who love teaching.

Recently I read Phillip Done’s memoir Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind – Thoughts on Teacherhood, and I’d like to share with you some of the passages that stood out for me.

“What exactly is a teacher anyway?  A lot of different things.  Teachers are like puppeteers.  We keep the show in motion.  When we help children discover abilities that they don’t know they have, we are like talent scouts.  When we herd kids off the play structure at the end of recess, we are like shepherds.  Teachers are like farmers.  We sow the seeds – not too close together or they’ll talk too much.  We check on them every day and monitor their progress.  We think about our crop all the time.  When we see growth – we get excited.”

“Teachers are word warriors.  All day long we explain, correct, examine, define, recite, check, decipher, sound out, spell, clap, sing, clarify, write, and act out words.  We teach spelling words and history words and science words and geography words.  We teach describing words and compound words.  We teach synonyms and antonyms and homonyms, too.”

“Teachers try everything short of back handsprings to get their students to quiet down and pay attention.  We flick off the lights, clap patterns, hold up fingers and wait, change the level of our voices, count up to three, count down from five, set timers, brush wind chimes, shake shakers, bribe kids with free play, and seat the boys next to the girls.”

“I was in Teacher Mode.  It turns on automatically whenever children are near and goes into overdrive when it senses busy streets, mud, gum, or bloody noses.”

“Of course nothing has changed like technology.  A bug was something you brought in from recess to show the teacher.  A desktop was something you scraped dried Elmer’s glue off with your teacher scissors.  Hard drives were on Monday mornings.  Viruses kept you home from school.  And cursors were sent to the principal’s office.”

Now it’s your turn, dear readers.  Feel free to share any school memories or teacher anecdotes of your own in the comments section below.

This Is Marriage

Joyce Maynard’s memoir, The Best of Us, is heavy.  Physically heavy at over 400 pages.  Emotionally heavy in its subject matter.  From the back cover:  In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met her soulmate.  Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  As they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a true partner and to have one.

The book was beautiful, and raw, and powerful, and honest.  It touched me and moved me so much so that after I had to return my copy to the public library, I went out and bought my own.  

This week, I’d like to share with you just a few of the passages I tagged while reading:

I look back now on that day as one of the moments I discovered a small but significant truth about marriage: that it is in the act of surrendering the old, familiar patterns and all the things a person believes to be immutable that she may discover a new kind of beauty.  Something better even than her old way.”

Not all at once, but gradually, over the months, another revelation came to me: None of that other stuff, much as I’d loved it, was what made a marriage.  Not restaurant dinners or romantic vacations.  Not walks on the beach or visits to the wine country in the Boxster.  Not oysters and martinis or moonlight over the Bay Bridge.  This was marriage.”

But the larger truth is, I am here.  This is not the experience I wanted, but as with every other experience in my life, I do not intend to sit this one out, or to pretend for one moment that it isn’t happening.  This is my life, and at the end of the day, I don’t want to miss a minute of it.”