As one year now closes and another gears up, we all take the time to reflect and reevaluate. People take the time to make resolutions which they will earnestly break within a month, maybe two if they are more committed than most.
I’m not judging…well, I am, but I’m also empathizing. I do the same, and though I could wish for better resolve, if I had it (if any of us did), we really wouldn’t need to make New Year’s resolutions.
So this year, I’m trying something different. Instead of making a resolution that I want to stick to throughout the year. I’m going to reevaluate each month, because I learned something important about myself this past year. I have been breaking the most repeated command in the Bible.
And I break it over, and over, and over again.
Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible it? I learned this recently. Right off hand, if someone had asked me this before, I probably would have said it is “love one another”. No, that’s not it. The most common command in the Bible is:
Do not be afraid.
I am not a risk taker. I make pro-con lists, I weigh the value of decisions, I look at the consequences of each moment that I live (or don’t live I guess)—and I live in fear that the decisions I make every day are the wrong ones.
And not only are they the wrong ones, but they are going to catastrophically alter the universe (or at least my universe) in some way shape or form.
Talk about some ego.
Which is why sometimes I feel like I’m stuck—frozen in this life I’ve cherry picked and carefully chosen and protecting myself right out of life or maybe even a calling.
Because we can do that—protect ourselves from something that we think will shatter us, but if we allowed it to, would actually help us. And I do that more often than not
Which brings me back to the whole resolution thing. This New Year I’m going to be less afraid, because I have dreams, big dreams and I have to stop protecting myself from them. So each month I’ll make a new resolution, then re-evaluate at the end of the month.
Because this is too important to wait till next January.
At the risk of alienating everyone sick of Frozen, I’m going to quote Elsa here: The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all [in 2015]. Let it go.
I’ve always had pretty good timing. It’s something innate. I can leave my house at different times—with the same destination in mind—and somehow always arrive at my destination right when I want to. Usually I can predict it to the minute (early, on time, late, whatever)—like a GPS, only without the condescending tone. Well, I don’t know I probably am just as condescending, I have my moments.
Good timing is my superpower.
I firmly believe that everyone has a superpower, we just don’t always embrace our superpowers, proving that we’re not so different than the heroes we idolize after all.
My students rarely see the point in studying English—the language, the literature, the class; most of the time they see it as a colossal waste of time. But what if English class is preparing them, not only for college and the future, but preparing them for life, for embracing their inner hero and for becoming a dynamic character in their own lives. What if English class isn’t really about English at all, what if it is really a training for something greater. What if it is training you to accept a call to be the hero in your own life?
Okay, yeah. That’s a stretch, but sometimes I wonder if life isn’t simply about the perspective with which you choose to see it.
I sit at a traffic light thinking about whether I should turn left or right. If I turn right I will get to my destination in 3 minutes, if I turn left it will take 7 minutes. But in that 7 minutes, will something else significant happen? Is there a reason to delay my journey for an additional 4 minutes? If there is, I take that alternate route and I arrive at my destination precisely when I said I would be there and as I am walking in, a friend of mine is walking out—in tears. Upset because she has just received the news. I stop. We talk. I offer the embrace she needed just at that moment. The moment I wouldn’t have been there for if I’d have arrived 4 minutes earlier, or 5 minutes later.
Timing. It may not be superspeed or superstrength. I may not be able to leap tall buildings, fly or time travel, but I can be the hero to someone who needs a hug, to the person who needs a shoulder, to the person who needs to get to work, who needs to talk.
And I wouldn’t even think about it that way if I didn’t have the perspective of seeing it that way. Life is a journey. We can follow our call to adventure and be the hero in our own life, or we can…not. But being passive—letting life happen to me, is more terrifying. Like being stuck at that traffic light forever.
Maybe I didn’t learn all this in English class, but I can certainly see how being passive could affect the future based on the literature, and there is nothing more human than that. We spend our lives trying to stand out and make a difference—so why not use what we learn to our advantage? How could anything be more applicable than the basic foundations of our human experiences?
Everyone has a superpower. The trick is, you have to stop being afraid of it, embrace it, and use it to become the hero in your own life.
That’s when you stop being static and you become the round, dynamic hero you’re meant to be.
I have a lot of things running through my mind on a daily basis, as I’m sure you all do. But every once in a while, just like in a great work of literature, I start to see a common thread. A theme if you will, running through each area, popping in and out like those little moles in the arcade game. They tuck their little heads out just long enough to tease you and then just when you are about to whack them, they are gone again and generally laughing manically in the process. If you’re lucky (or maybe if you just have good reflexes), however, you get one and the ‘doiiiiing’ that echos throughout the arcade is quite satisfying.
That’s how I feel when I see one of these themes—Doiiiiing. Gotcha. Quite satisfying.
It started with Macbeth. I teach it every year, but timing, as they say, is everything. So despite the fact that I talk about these things with a new group of students every few months, I always learn something new from my kids (I guess that’s part of why I like teaching) and so the material is always fresh. This week we did our Brown Bag Exam. I love this test for two reasons. 1) I love the look on my students’ faces when they realize that I’m not joking and this actually their test on the novel. And 2) I love what it teaches the students, deeper levels of critical thinking and synthesis of motif, theme, character, plot, and all elements of narrative. Watching them pull it all together is, well, brilliant. So, despite the fact that one class had to play “Simon Says” at the end because following directions was a little too much for some of them (that’s a story for another time), the test ended and I began grading them. Many of the students were focused on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s inability to ‘cleanse’ or ‘purify’ themselves of their crimes because they had been ‘soiled’ by evil and covered in blood. I love some of the comments they made. One student, who had soap in her bag said she immediately thought of the old saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth could never achieve because of their trafficking with evil. No matter how hard they ‘scrubbed’ as Macbeth said “all of Neptune’s Oceans” would not rinse the blood from his hands.
Which brings me to thread number two. In our Bible study this week we were talking about Anna and Elizabeth, as we read through Dynamic Women of the Bible by Ruth A. Tucker. This was a fascinating discussion, from some pretty dynamic women in our church. The thread continued with our discussion of Elizabeth, who becomes the mother of John the Baptist. Since our previous discussion of Sarah the month before was still pretty fresh in our minds, this connected pretty well as both women were well advanced in years when they became pregnant with their children. But where this took a turn is when we began a discussion of the purification process for women after childbirth in Jewish culture. Following the birth of a female child, a woman must undergo an 80 day purification process whereas following the birth of a male child a woman must undergo a 40 day purification process. All feminist arguments about why such a discrepancy must exist aside, we began to discuss when the process would begin given that Elizabeth was present at John’s circumcision (which occurs 8 days after the birth). If she is still being ‘purified’ how is it possible that she can be present? Well, of course, I did some research and I found out, that the “impure” period means that she can simply not be with her husband sexually for the period of 40 days after having a male child and until she goes through the Mikveh process (a period of ritual cleansing in which she bathes in a collective water—doesn’t have to be living water). This then makes her “clean”. The eight day waiting period is also because of a purity and cleansing period, which is why circumcision is done on the eighth day I believe, and is when she is able to enter the temple after undergoing a cleansing process as well (there are many cleansing processes for men too, by the way, just in case you are wondering about all this!). Elizabeth, unlike the Macbeths, brought life into the world—she didn’t take it away, yet she still had to be cleansed. I ruminated on this for days trying to figure out why my brain couldn’t let go of the thread.
And then I remembered Esther.
I’m doing a Bible study with some friends on Esther and we were talking about Chapter two this week, and my thread just got LONGER. Especially verses 8-9: “When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought into the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.”
Okay, I know what you are thinking: “Ashley, that’s not a mole, that’s a skunk. Let it go.” I know, this doesn’t look like it connects to the Macbeths or to Elizabeth at all, but bear with me. There is a thread.
In the harem, Hegai provided her with beauty treatments. Let’s skip down a few verses to 12: “Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Now do you seem my thread? I’m pretty sure that sounds like cleansing to me. And she was already beautiful to begin with, so what in the world was she being cleansed from? Maybe for Esther it wasn’t about being cleansed from anything, but being prepared for something greater. And boy did she get prepared for something…unbelievable (bless her heart).
So what in the world is happening here? Why is my life suddenly filled with stories and ideas and conversations about purity and cleansing?
Honestly, I have no idea. But, I do think it invites me to take a look at my own life and ask myself some hard questions about my motivations and self-interests. Sometimes the threads in our lives take on a theme for a reason, to point out something that need to be cleansed, to point out that we are not perfect, to point out that perhaps those slippery moles can be caught and examined.
And sometimes, it just gives us one more thing to write about.
Whatever the case may be, I don’t ignore them. Because if you ignore the threads, you’re likely to get caught on a nail and unravel. And if you ignore a mole…well, they’re worse than rabbits about multiplying and if you have them in your yard for too long—well, say goodbye to your infrastructure. Whack those moles, and whack them good. It really is quite satisfying.
I dried a pen. Yes, you heard that right. I put a pen in the dryer (not on purpose, I’m not that dumb, people), but as you can imagine, the results were pretty horrendous).
Then I walked into a painted doorway. Yes, you heard that right too. A painted doorway. Paint all down my arm. The doorway had no damage. My sweater on the other hand, DOA.
The printer at work decided to stop working, I was late to a meeting, I fell—twice (that’s not really uncommon, but it still sucked), and to be frank, I was tired all week long for no real reason.
And yet, I’m still alive. I have a great place to live. I’m healthy. I’m having brunch after church with my best friends. I had breakfast yesterday with my parents and grandparents (yes, my grandfather who had surgery just a couple of weeks ago on his stomach had breakfast with me yesterday morning!) and I still managed to write 13,000+ words in Clara’s Chance (and I’ll be a toothless monkey if I don’t hit 20,000 today by gum! I had an AWESOME dream last night!). Jimmy, my aloe plant, is even still alive and kicking and growing another little sprig!
My point is this: Yes, some weeks seem to be mired in the dregs of disaster with your head stuck in a dryer scrubbing for hours (thanks Mom for helping out with that yesterday—she’s really the only reason I didn’t throw the whole thing out–yes I did consider this. I went through a whole lot of scrubbing before she fixed it. And that’s kind of what Moms do.), but your heads only in the dryer for so long. Once you pull it out, you realize how bright the world is outside and there is so much more to life than ink stains and scrubbing.
It’s a saying for a reason, but sometimes I wonder. So as a Blogging 101 assignment, I played with my header and added some widgets (well, actually I did that a few days ago) so I creeped on the Writing 101 prompt for this beauty and wrote a contrast dialogue. As it happens in the piece I’m working on now–two of my characters are about night and day difference and they are currently in conflict with one another though they have been assigned as partners in their new jobs–tell me what you think of my contrast dialogue.
“Whoa there, Princess. Watch where you’re going,” Jordan ducked out of the way just in time before I bowled him over on the sidewalk in my inattentive musing. I resisted the urge to growl at him.
“Sorry,” I murmured, stepping to the side, but refusing to defer any more. A week and a half had done little to improve our relationship. In fact, my animosity had grown as his barbs stuck further and further into my skin.
“Latte, better enjoy it now. Not going to be drinking those for a while, princess,” he pivoted and fell into step beside me as we walked toward the office.
“I’m aware,” I rolled my eyes.
“Eric wants us in the conference room this morning. We’re talking emergency protocols this morning. Think you can handle it?”
I stopped, put a hand on my hip and stared at his back. He hadn’t noticed that I stopped walking. When he did, he turned and faced me with his wide, challenging stance.
“What is your problem with me, Jordan?”
“I don’t have a problem.”
I snorted and started walking past him again. “Could have fooled me.”
“I imagine there is a lot out there that could fool you, princess.”
“See?” I stopped and turned on him again. This time pointing my index finger right at his smug nose. “That, right there. Patronizing and smug. Condescending. What is your deal?”
“Fine, you really want to do this?”
“You don’t belong on this project,” he said it simply and then crossed his arms over his chest. The sun light reflected off his head and I squinted against it, staring at the dark and powerful force he’d become in front of me. “Look at you. Naïve, sheltered white woman with no experience in the journalist field. You think you can go to Africa to save and Christianize the poor little black savage children. But that’s not the way it works, and you’ll end up in Africa alone and scared, hysterical and exhausted and then you’ll go home and all our resources and time will have been wasted on training and sending you there in the first place. It’s abominable and selfish.”
“You think you know me,” I said shaking my head and pulling in a breath to calm the anger threatening to take over. “Just because I’m not like you. I’m not a black man, and I don’t have the experience you have so that gives you the right to become the almighty judge and jury over this project. Let me just tell you something. First, I’m not a princess. Nothing has ever been handed to me. I have had to work hard my entire life and I have experienced pain and heartache to a degree that you can’t possibly imagine so I’m not as sheltered as you’d like to believe. I may be a white girl, and I may have never been to Africa, but I’m not self-righteous enough to believe I can save anyone let alone judge them as you have done to me. I barely even believe in God so I’m not arrogant enough to try to force those beliefs on anyone else.
“Second, we are partners. I expect you to treat me as such, not as your problem. You are not my boss, and despite how you feel about me, I have nothing to prove to you. “ I tossed my braid over my shoulder and stomped off down the sidewalk.
I could hear his footsteps following closely behind me, though I’d hoped he would just disappear into the earth. Maybe we were just too different.
I didn’t stop. I had no desire to speak to that arrogant, self-absorbed…
I turned. “What?”
He stumbled into me, unprepared for my abrupt about-face. Placing both hands on my shoulders, he steadied himself and me, barely keeping us both from tumbling onto the sidewalk.
“I should apologize,” he said. I could see my cornflower blue eyes reflected in the deep pools of his dark charcoal eyes, which had softened for the first time since we met. “I guess I maybe have been a little hard on you.”
“You don’t owe me anything, Jordan,” I pursed my lips. His apology, half-hearted and choked out, meant little to me. We could work together, but that didn’t mean we had to be friends. “Let’s just get to work.”
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.