Saturday, November 29, 2008

Heartfelt Reunions

Wednesday afternoon I had the chance to spend an hour on the phone with my friend Tamara whom I have known since graduate school, ever since a professor suggested we commute together to our student teaching placements at the same high school. Though neither of us were thrilled with the suggestion, we decided to give it a whirl--out of our mutual respect for our professor and in the interest of saving hard-to-come-by gas money. We have been friends ever since. Because she lives in the Pacific Northwest, a 3 hour time difference, it is sometimes difficult to schedule time to talk. When she is settling down after dinner with her husband and children, I am usually already in bed. But Wednesday, as she waited for her parents to arrive for their holiday visit, we had a chance to talk. I made a martini, she poured a glass of wine, and we talked and talked, as easily as we did on I-93 while sipping coffee from the Dairy Dome. We shared holiday greetings and caught up on the latest.

Yesterday, during a getaway to Philadelphia with her husband, my dear friend Deanna called. After a shaky start (at best) as residents of the third floor of Mesick Hall at Simmons College, Deanna and I have been very close. She had hosted Thanksgiving for her family and close friends in Baltimore, where she lives, and I had texted her to see how things went. Initially she replied via text, then called while her husband was checking emails in the hotel business center. We had just spoken earlier in the week, but we customarily talk at least once a week, and--as with Tamara and Jill--every holiday deserves its own special call.

Jill is my oldest friend; we have known each other since we were 12. Thanksgiving morning she called while she was preparing turkey to take to her sister-in-law and I was getting ready to leave for my family Thanksgiving at my cousin Henry and Dawn's. Jill lives in California now, and sometimes we go months without talking (that darn time difference again!) but every year, religiously, we speak on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We also made plans to speak at greater length over the weekend, which we did earlier tonight. For an hour we caught up on things big and small and called each other sis, as we had become accustomed while she lived here and we shared families.

While on the phone with Jill, I remembered that it was our 25th high school reunion tonight. Happy reunion, Jill said. You too, I replied. For Jill it would have been three thousand miles to travel to attend and therefore excusable to skip the trip. For me it was only five miles, but it was a journey I could not take. I would not take.

I live in a world, come from a town, where people and their worth are measured by houses and spouses. And I am not willing to stand--again--in a restaurant in awkward silence with old classmates because they don't know what to talk about when I reveal no, I'm not married; no, I have no children: no, I rent. Who cares that after I graduated high in my class and delivered the senior commencement speech I went on to college in Boston and spent a decade of my life finding professional success there, that I have been on business trips to some of the greatest cities in the US and have traveled to Europe on my own subsequent to my decision to give up expense accounts to teach high school instead? My twentieth reunion was not a great experience. Tonight, I chose to honor myself, as I learned to somewhere along my spectacular journey. I stayed home.

Tomorrow I will talk to my friend Amy, affectionately referred to as "the new Jill," my new, local BFF whom I see every day at work and go out with for dinner and drinks (sometimes just drinks) about once a week, and who knows and understands me the way Jill and Deanna and Tamara do. At the end of the weekend I will have reunited with important people in my life--friends and family near and far--on the phone and in person, and I won't be teary anymore about missing my high school reunion.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Morning Joe

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a time to be reflective about family and friends and food on the table, roofs over our heads...but this morning, like so many mornings, I was thankful for coffee.

For the next four mornings, I can wake up when my body is ready, not when it hears the alarm. I am looking forward to the luxury of 4 days of sleeping late and lounging around this weekend. But even with those four days on the horizon, this morning was not any easier to face. Rather, I hit snooze, and stayed in bed while I listened to my coffee maker gurgle and spit and waited for the smell to waft up to my bedroom loft.

One of the best investments I ever made, my most affordable luxury, is my coffee maker with a timer. Although I schedule a half hour each morning to sit and have coffee while I watch the news, it is a luxury to step out of the shower and smell the coffee, or to let the scent nudge me awake before I get out of my comfy, cozy bed as I did today. It is worth the five minutes it takes at night to get the pot ready not to have to wait ten minutes in the morning for my perfectly brewed coffee.

It's nothing too fancy, just a Krups with a timer that makes consistently good coffee. Well, I guess I get some credit too. The combination of the cone drip filter machine and my ability to measure the right amount of coffee--so that I'm not over-extracting grounds and setting myself up for weak and bitter coffee--makes a great cup of coffee and renders most coffee I have in other homes not enjoyable. There. I said it. I don't generally like coffee at other people's homes, especially if their coffee machines have basket filters. I learned the cone lesson back at C&B and have owned nothing but simple Krups or Braun since then. If that makes me a coffee snob, then so be it. I accept that. Hotels and restaurants usually brew up a good cup too, but if not for the caffeine jolt I so desperately need in the morning or sometimes after dinner, I would pass on coffee elsewhere--especially if skim milk is my only option. Blue milk in coffee just isn't right.

I guess the good news is most mornings I wake up in the comfort of my own home, with my Krups just downstairs, half and half in my fridge, and a variety of mugs that feel just right in my hand and against my mouth to round out the experience of my fragrant morning brew. For all those things (and countless others) I am thankful.

Friday, November 14, 2008

School Supplies

Every day, at least once a day (usually once every class), a student will ask me to borrow a pen or pencil, for something with which to write (although they tend not to be as grammatically astute--or polite). I have learned to take an extra breath, to walk away as I inhale deeply, so that my head doesn't spin as I shout how can you come to school without a pen or pencil?!?! These kids, high school kids--who might be asking me to write college recommendations somewhere down the line, who drive cars nicer than mine, carry purses more expensive than mine, use cell phones higher tech than mine--come to class without writing implements. I can't wrap my mind around it. I just don't understand. And it's more than being the equivalent of showing up at the bank to do your banking without bringing your paycheck that perplexes me.

One of the best days of summer for me when I was growing up came toward the end of the summer, when my sisters and I went school supply shopping. We'd get binders and pocket folders and filler paper and pens and pencils and colored pencils and small notepads spiral bound at the top in which to write our assignments and anything else we might need, anything else that might be on sale and on display at Bradlee's or Caldor. I can't imagine if there had been white-out pens or sticky notes then, and as many color coordinating items and doo-dads as there are now. I probably would have traded a pair of allotted Levi cords or Earth shoes to get more school supplies instead.

I sometimes I wonder if I was destined to become a school teacher, given my love of school supplies. All those things we didn't have then, but have now, are somewhere in my classroom or my purse. I color coordinate everything and am often the brunt of a jibe when I am spotted pulling a red sticky tab out of a selection of tabs in a planner insert and placing it on a sheet of paper that will ultimately end up in a red folder. Each of my classes full of kids who come to school without writing implements has its own color--usually primary. Purple is my general work color. I correct in purple (and only in purple) and use purple folders for attendance sheets and lesson plans, for my to-do folders (photocopy, file, revise, etc). I even have a lavender Filofax, which I coveted in Europe and eventually ordered when I got back home because I couldn't get it out of my mind. Indeed, I believe the writing was on the wall, or in one of the many notebooks I have filled and saved in my lifetime, that after exploring other careers, I would end up in a classroom.

The other day, when I was cleaning out my top desk drawer, among Trident gum wrappers and stale Breathsavers (no one wants to be the teacher with dragon breath), I came across a red pencil-tip eraser. I haven't used one of those in years (having gone through a phase when I used mechanical pencils with extra long erasers in twist-up chambers). I was so excited I put it on a number 2 Dixon Ticonderoga that wasn't in need of it, as I silently promised not to lend it to any students, who would neither appreciate it nor make a similar commitment to hold on to it for dear life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope and Common Ground

Today I am hopeful. I cast my ballot for Barack Obama, and have been emotional about this historic election all day. This morning, on my way to work, I welled up when I saw lines at a polling place at 7 in the morning. This afternoon, I was moved by how many voters brought their children with them to be a part of history. It comes as no surprise to people who know me well that I plan to be within earshot of my TV all evening and intend to keep my clicker next to my pillow once I decide to call it a night (in the interest of being able to function tomorrow at work).

One of those people who know me that well is my friend, Candyce, who is also hopeful, and whom I have known for 20 years (give or take a few), since our days in Boston. She lives in Arizona now, and has for years, with her husband and two sons. Characteristic of many long distance friendships, our communication waxes and wanes. As quickly as we can fall out of touch, for no other reason than life gets busy, we can get right back in the swing of friendship with a simple phone call or email because one of us sees Rehema Ellis or Gwen Ifill on TV. Yes. You see, we are all proud alumnae of Simmons College, where C and I first struck up our friendship.

C is in DC tonight for a conference so we are primed to be in the same time zone, ready to text back and forth as the election returns come in. It is certainly a great opportunity to be in DC on this exciting election night, but for C it is also particularly auspicious. The historic nature of the election is personal. Unlike me, C also shares with said respected Simmons-alum journalists, Rehema and Gwen, being African American.

Kind and generous in spirit, C has happily stepped beyond the role of friend to help educate me about some matters related to race. In her company I have witnessed insidious and lingering racism, and have been tempered by her grace and dignity. She has never presumed to speak for all black people (and I learned early on that it would be ignorant for me to ask that of her), but has shared with me some of her own experiences as a black woman--as a black girl growing up in Springfield, Mass; a college student and young professional woman in Boston; as an established professional, woman, wife and mother in Tempe, Arizona. Likewise, she never asked me to speak for all white people or presumed I espouse the divisive and racist ideas of some, but she has asked for my perspective as a white woman.

Before we talked on the phone, I texted C this: I keep welling up all day. I can't imagine how you must feel.
She replied: Girl, I can't think. I'll call you in a few.

Clearly, this election season was a perfect opportunity to reconnect with C, for us to share our perspectives, to embrace this time and learn from each other and the behavior--if you will--of Americans. Tonight, she is excited and nervous--about Obama winning as well as losing. I am too. We both agreed we have a long way to go, but Barack winning will be a measure of the progress we have made, and will provide that extra glimmer of hope that we need to move forward still.

I shared with her a story that I heard a pundit tell this morning about a friend of his, an African American who returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam the day Martin Luther King was assassinated. When he arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston, in his uniform with a purple heart, he could not get a white cabbie to drive him back home to Roxbury.

"Can," I said, "I hope that man is still alive today and celebrating this day in his heart."

"I wish that too," she said.

What Candyce didn't say, but I know is true, is that she wishes her mother and countless other quiet heroes, as Obama described his grandmother after her passing yesterday, were here to celebrate too.
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