A Beautiful Afternoon with Southern Maine Writers’ Project

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I grew up in a large, loud Irish Catholic family. My siblings and I ran the streets with neighborhood kids from all the other large, loud Irish or Italian Catholic families. But I no longer practice the faith that I was raised in. It’s odd to think back on how central our faith was to us as kids. Catholic school, church several days a week plus the big deal Sunday mass, school uniforms, sacraments, holy days…all of it. It was all central to our family.

When my brother died,that faith broke open wider than the Grand Canyon. I began to have doubts. While that event from my childhood wasn’t what undid my faith, it was the beginning. So it was odd that yesterday, sitting through a memorial service in a small Christian church, the reading of Psalm 23 moved me: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. This psalm was the favorite of the woman who’s life we were celebrating. Her daughter was in my class last year. I was honored to have been invited to be there; yet incredibly sad to have watched her struggle this past year as she realized her mom was slowly leaving her. 

I am in the second half of The Fall Institute of the Southern Maine Writers’ Project. After 2 weeks of meeting this past summer we were to follow up with 4 Saturdays this fall. I was supposed to be there for a full day yesterday. It was the day of my final presentation, my Teacher Action Research Project. It was a big deal. I love this institute and so I care, a lot. I love the community of writers that I get to spend time with. To me we feel like an extended family. We are all as different as can be but we all care about each other and we all care about helping our students share their thoughts and feelings through their writing. I was ready for my presentation. I was excited to share what I found and what I didn’t find. The title of my project was, Can Quiet 5 Help Relieve My Students’ Writing Anxiety?

Let me back up a bit and explain that Thursday evening I got a text from this little girl I taught last year. The text gave me the time, place, and directions to her mom’s memorial service that was to be held Saturday, the same day as my presentation. Of course I knew what the right thing to do was. But it would have been the 3rd missed class this fall. I never miss classes. But this fall there have been a number of family health issues that seemed to surface on the days we were to meet. I emailed my professors, again. Explained the situation and my concern over missing yet another class. “Go,” was the reply. “Of course you need to go and be there.” She, of course, was right. I needed to be there. A kid doesn’t text you a message like that for no reason. The email ended with, “Come if you can when you get out. We’ll figure it out.”

During the service I watched as this family struggled on so many levels. It was heart wrenching. When I left to begin my hour and a half drive to class I forced myself to switch gears and focus on the upcoming presentation. A cup of coffee helped. But the whole time I was driving I was wondering what on Earth I was doing. I was in a fog.

When I walked into that college classroom I felt like I was home. To see everyone sitting there focusing on the presentation before them was instantly calming. The two young women presenting are amazing new teachers. I admire and respect them so much and was so glad to be there for their presentation. Then it was my turn. I couldn’t do what I had planned. And yet, they all cared. They all focused like what I had to say was the most important thing for them to listen to and think about at that time. They turned and talked with each other and had amazing ideas. They wrote and shared wonderful thoughts. And then the magic happened. When I was done and cleaning up they each walked over to me, one at a time, and silently gave me an index card telling me how wonderful the presentation was and what specifically they liked. I forgot about that ritual. I forgot that we honored each other with such a beautiful and simple action.The fog lifted and I was back, back amongst friends who refresh my soul.

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