Thanksgiving: “be brave/ And be kind”

A couple nights ago, my son-in-law and I were downstairs along with my granddaughter, his daughter.

He had set the oven to heat and then sat on the couch. As my granddaughter is prone to do, she took her father by the finger and urged him onto the floor with her.

Soon, he was cross-legged with her in his lap.

I heard the oven beep that the temperature was ready so I told him, prompting him to say that his daughter didn’t sit with him as she was that often so he wasn’t in a hurry to move.

I smiled and said he shouldn’t move because before long she would hate him—thinking about the inevitable teen years of rebellion and parent/child tensions.

He said he wasn’t looking forward to that, shaking his head. I added that she’ll grow out of that also.

As I watched my son-in-law and granddaughter there in the floor, I heard the universe whisper as it always does if we are willing to listen:

This is why we are here. This is why we are here. This is why we are here …

To “be brave/ And to be kind.”

Today is my second day alone caring for both of my grandchildren; the first day a week ago included my granddaughter’s first major vomiting experience, and my grandson, only a couple months old, obliged with also spitting up on me later in the day—a two-fer.

Yesterday was the last class session for my three courses (two first-year writing and one foundations in education) before Thanksgiving break.

My classes are intellectually challenging—the writing course focusing on James Baldwin and #BlackLivesMatter and my education course never straying far from the impact of poverty and race on teaching and learning.

In the wakes of the presidential election in 2016 and then attending the National Council of Teachers of English’s annual conference in Atlanta, GA (#NCTE2016), I think my class sessions and my own view of everything have been even more intensified than usual.

As I looked into the eyes and faces of my students, I also heard the universe whisper:

This is why we are here. This is why we are here. This is why we are here …

To “be brave/ And to be kind.”

Just before my trip to #NCTE2016, a student who had driven from Greenville, SC, to Atlanta, GA, the weekend after the election to protest asked my experience with protesting myself.

Another student had asked for my perspective on the protests more broadly the classes before as well.

My answer to both included my support for the protests, but that my own approach to advocacy and activism was grounded in my professional self; I view teaching and being a writer as activism, as advocacy.

In fact, I cannot fathom how to separate my private and professional selves just as I cannot fathom how to teach or to write without being political.

“I am a writer,” I explained. “It’s the only way I know how to respond to this world.”

Speaking to the student who needed someone to understand her urge to protest, I also heard the universe whisper:

This is why we are here. This is why we are here. This is why we are here …

To “be brave/ And to be kind.”

And then at #NCTE2016, where Ta-Nehisi Coates was a featured speaker, Coates answered in a similar way about his writing and his concept of protests and advocacy.

Also at the conference, I told a friend as we walked through the exhibition hall that being a writer and sitting with a line of people eager to meet you, to have you sign your book—that must be the ultimate way to feel like a writer.

The immediate feedback of teaching—a necessarily social act—is a beautiful thing against the isolation and distance of being a writer.

But writers need that feedback as well, need to know there is an audience.

As I sat listening to Coates being interviewed, as I walked through the convention center at #NCTE2016, I also heard the universe whisper:

This is why we are here. This is why we are here. This is why we are here …

To “be brave/ And to be kind.”

I’ve never been one for holidays, the stress and break in the rhythms of life are hard on those of us who suffer from anxiety. Fall and winter holidays are even more stressful for me with the dwindling daylight and the creeping cold temperatures.

But there is certainly something about Thanksgiving—taking the space and time to give thanks—that can rise above the problems with the literal source of the holiday and the inherent problems with holiday celebrations.

Do we as teachers and writers especially need that space and time to acknowledge and appreciate all for which we should be thankful?

I think so—now more than ever.

As a teacher, I am thankful for and I love my students.

As a writer, I am thankful for and I am humbled by my readers.

With my granddaughter playing nearby and watching Doc McStuffins, with my grandson sleeping on my bed, I squeeze in time to write, and I pause to listen to the universe whisper:

This is why we are here. This is why we are here. This is why we are here …

To “be brave/ And to be kind.”

5 comments

  1. Tricia Hicks Kyzer

    This is the best read I have had in awhile. Thanks for the bravery in using words to create meaning and the kindness that softens those words and our day. You were also a very brave and kind teacher in the days of rural small town Bible belt high school English. You taught all of your students then to be thoughtful and make meaning from our words. I am 43 years old and still grateful.

  2. Scott Simmons

    Unlike my anxious friends, I treasure holidays and the occasional snow day or sick day. Without the break in rhythm and routine, I’d forget entirely why we’re here.

    Thanks for continuing to show me new ways to think and to be.

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