In Thanks For Teachers Who Start the New School Year with Smiling Faces and Open Hearts

This morning I had the great pleasure to spend 45 minutes with some of the best folks in town–a small dedicated group of teachers at St. Joseph School where my sister is principal. I have a long history with this little school I attended from 5th through 8th grade. It’s where I and my children learned to laugh and write and share and reason and love, and my grandchildren will know many of these same special people, walk these same wide and welcoming hallways.

I’ve written here before about two of my favorite authors, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brian Doyle, and how both died this year way too early. I remain shocked and saddened by the loss–for their families and for the world at large. We need their big love, their creative gifting, their exuberance and unbridled joy now more than ever before.

Earlier this summer, I shared a couple of Prayers for Ordinary Things that my friend, Julie and I wrote one morning in a coffee shop. We modeled our prayers on the delightful, funny, heartfelt prayers Doyle wrote and collected in A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. Reading Doyle’s prayers and then writing my own lifted my heart still smarting not only from the disastrous election but from the rise of intolerance and hate. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how lovely the world remains. It’s called cultivating gratitude, and it’s an essential practice for me these days.

So when my sister asked me if I would lead the teachers in writing their own prayers of gratitude as they enter the new school year, I said, “Yes,” even though I knew it would require me to stand up in front of people and admit, even espouse how much I love writing and reading and poetry. Why is this so hard?

It’s vulnerability, of course. Still at 50 years old, I don’t want to be seen as a dorky poetry geek, even though I am indeed a dorky poetry geek and not the least bit cool. It’s hard to share our hearts with others. And yet, it is the most important thing we can do. This morning those teachers and their writing blew the top of my head right off. They wrote the most beautiful poems/prayers and they read them with laughter and tears and a little shyness and tremendous vulnerability.

So as school resumes, I give thanks for teachers who start the new school year with smiling faces and open hearts, who will spend the next several months wiping noses and calling out bad behavior and shining light on good deeds and listening to ridiculous and silly stories; who will walk the perimeters of playgrounds holding small gloved hands; who will chase loiterers out of bathrooms and rouse sleepers at their desks; who will stay up late grading papers and creating accessible lessons and tests and assignments that will not only stimulate eager minds but also open them to bigger and wider possibilities; who will make the hardest tasks fun and the funnest activities meaningful; who will laugh with and cry over and sometimes yell the tiniest bit at the students who have burrowed their way like small wiggly worms into their unsuspecting hearts; who will foster friendships and cultivate collegiality and model restraint and passion and goodwill and hope and joy; who are the bravest of the brave for the love they offer again and again and again against all odds to our lucky children entrusted to their great and devoted care.

In Gratitude to Brian Doyle–Prayers for Ordinary Things

Brian Doyle, who penned two of my all-time favorite essays, Joyas Voladorousa tribute to the beating heart, and Leap, died at the end of May. I love Brian’s writing, especially his essays–they are exuberant and joyful and magnanimous and funny and thoughtful and always probing into the workings of what it means to be human in a world both bewildering and beautiful.

Brian Doyle wrote about being Catholic in a way that made me glad to be Catholic. His writing helps me appreciate both the mess and the glory of the church, makes me glad for the sacraments and the ritual, prods me to hold more than one truth in my trembling hands.

Brian Doyle wrote so many things in his way-too-short life–essays, fiction, poems, and prayers–oh how dearly I love his prayers. In fact, since his death, I have taken to carrying around a small but powerful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. This little book, published in 2014, is a miracle in itself–a reminder to cultivate gratitude. The titles of the small prayers are reason enough to pick it up. Here are a few:

Prayer in Thanks for Decent Shoes

Prayers for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks

Prayer for Women Named Ethel and men Named Elmer, for We Wiill Not See Their Likes Again

Prayer of Thanks for Hoes & Scythes & Spatulas & Toothbrushes & Binoculars & the Myriad Other Tools & Instruments That Fit Our Hands So Gracefully & Allow Us to Work with a Semblance of Deftitude

Prayer of Bemused Appreciation for Handheld Mobile Devices

Prayer of Thanks for Suntan Lotion

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Last Wednesday I visited my good friend and walking and writing partner, Julie, in New Harmony, Indiana where she was attending the West of the Moon Creative Retreat led by the equally fantastic Terry Price and Dave DeGolyer (known in literary circles as Lafayette Wattles). If you haven’t visited New Harmony, you are missing out. Lucky for me, I live an hour up the road, so when Julie invited me to visit, I said, “Hells Yes!”

I arrived in New Harmony in time for the West of the Moon Reading at Sara’s Harmony Way. The abundance of talent, spirit, and soul in that room blew me away. I love readings and the chance to hear original poetry, fiction, and essays in a small venue. Dave and Terry have created something spirited and soul-tending in their creative retreat.

After the reading, Julie and I got a bite to eat, and then we went back to the hotel where we started pulling books out of our bags, and guess what–we were both carrying the little book of prayers by Brian Doyle. It shouldn’t have surprised me as this sort of thing happens all the time with Julie–we are forever reading the same book at the same time without knowing it. We often have the same books in our to-read piles. Just two weeks ago, Julie sent me a book I had been wanting to read but had yet to buy.

We laughed sitting there in the small room holding the same small book in our hands.

The next morning, as we drank coffee and tea back at Sara’s Harmony Way, we decided to write our own little odes to Brian Doyle’s uncommon prayers. I thought I would share the exercise and our prayers here. It’s fun. If you give it a try and would like me to post your prayers, I would be delighted. I plan to write a few more myself.

Here are the instructions for writing Prayers in Thanks of Ordinary Objects:

  1. Set your timer for five minutes jot down a list of ordinary objects.
  2. Look over your list and choose one.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes or as long as you like and write a prayer of thanks.

 

Here are the prayers we wrote that morning:

A Prayer of Gratitude for Cloth Napkins by Julie Stewart

Thank you for cloth napkins, the washed softness of them on my cheek when I wipe away the errant dab of mayo. For providing a home for my daughter’s outgrown calico dresses, so that each time I pick you up from your place at the table, I touch her childhood again, what she was wearing when we sat outside on a blanket sharing a bowl of popcorn and a grape popsicle, the meal that consoled us earlier that day I had thrown a sippy cup at the wall and popped off the top and spilled grape juice, staining the white wall purple. Thank you for being small enough that I could salvage the section of fabric that remained unstained. Thank you for folding yourself up, crisply ironed, so that each time I retrieve you, it is like starting again, a new day, a change to nourish myself and clean my face of any messes I leave behind. Thank you for nestling the knife and spoon, waiting to meet the fork that stands guard on the left. Thank you for being square, for having sharp edges and straight lines, when so much of life is complicated, for being able to be folded in half once and then again to make a neat rectangle, but when life gets fancy, for being able to become a flower or fan, for being both beautiful and useful, the true measure of thing’s value. Thank you for coming back to the table again and again, never letting yourself be tossed away because life got a little messy.

A Prayer in Thanks of Spoons by me

Thank you for spoons, for their slightly ovally cupping. For their perfection in soup and sauces, for the way they make tasting easy, the way they hold liquids aloft and towards your lips, for their scooping and stirring and scraping. For big spoons and wooden spoons and plastic spoons, for those tiny spoons covered in a soft material that changes colors when the food is too hot—imagine a chubby baby without a spoon in his little curled up fist–eyes poked out, food not eaten if there were no spoons. Wait, imagine ice cream, yogurt, creamy tomato soup, oatmeal, milk shakes, banana pudding without a spoon, imagine iced tea in need of a little sweetening without a long handled spoon. Think of hot gravy, steaming in its boat on Thanksgiving without a sweet ladle to puddle it onto mashed potatoes and corn. Oh good glory to spoons and the way they feed us. The way we take their image into our beds, the way we shape our bodies in their likeness to hold each other close. Oh spoons.