In this era of living socially distant, accepting the “stay at home” mandates, and realizing that facemasks are the newest fashion accessory, I’ve made it a personal goal to study, read, and observe reasons why society has reached this point. In my lifetime, as with most Gen X’ers, I have witnessed and felt the impact of several historic moments. I was born in the summer of 1968. Upon my entrance into this world, I was entering what Smithsonian Magazine calls, “The Year That Shattered America.”
My birthdate, July 16th, places me quite literally in the middle of that year. A few months before my birth 15,000 Latina/o youth marched out of classes in Los Angeles demanding better education conditions. A little over a month after my birth, the Democratic National Convention convened in Chicago, IL., forever remembered for National Guardsmen clashing with the activism and protests of anti-Vietnam War individuals. The Summer Olympics that August provided one of the most powerful images of the Civil Rights Movement when Tommie Smith and John Carlos rose their gloved fists in the air to bring attention to issues surrounding the African American communities of the United States (which their actions stripped them of their medals). As a someone who falls into the Generation X label, life for individuals born around this time has largely been marked by a life somewhat out of balance.
Fast forward to crucial moments of my personal development. As one of few Mexican American families living in the working class suburbs of Dallas-Ft. Worth, the lasting effects of racism and discrimination marked a good portion of my youth. In elementary school, constant messages from my peers made it known is was “different” (usually the ideas from their parents, I assume). In junior high, I started to realize what it meant to be “not rich”, as the competition between junior highs in my area largely was discussed in the lens of socioeconomic status among the students. If you went to Euless Junior High, likely you were not one of the “preps” commonly found at Harwood Junior High or elsewhere. My school was not theirs. Then in high school, a historic national tragedy occurred: the Challenger Shuttle explosion. As with most of my peers, I was at school that day. In fact, I still vividly remember that moment. I was in chemistry lab and the room next to us, the honors chemistry class, was watching it live. As someone who at that time was fascinated by the space shuttle (I even had pictures of the shuttle and astronauts on my bedroom wall), I really wanted to watch that launch since that was the one with the Teacher in Space program. While doing my lab work, I recall the teacher next door coming into our lab and talking with our teacher. I sensed something was up when I heard the students next door talking and I heard someone say “No!”. A few minutes after, that is when our teacher informed us that Mr. Norris, the teacher next door, would talk to us. He came in our room and rather straighforward said the shuttle was in an accident and that the news was trying to gather all the information. He then told us students that it looked like the rockets blew up with the shuttle attached. My world was shattered.
Other events have occurred in my life, including 9/11 and Hurricanes Ike and Harvey. However, I focus on my birthdate and the shuttle explosion because I feel it frames what our youngest individuals might be experiencing, especially those in K-12 educational levels. Life is uncertain at this moment for them. Their routines have been disrupted for a “new normal.” Children under 10 years old likely have “COVID-19, “virus”, and “pandemic” now as part of their still developing vocabulary. In my reflections during this time, this particular week I have placed deep thought on the development and health of children, youth to young adults about to enter their college years. When I was sort of in their shoes, I remember feeling a bit lost and sometimes scared. Even in those dark days in my life experience, I try to balance those dark days with moments that allowed me to break through to still develop into the person that I am today. I see myself as an person who values empathic care, collaboration, and social justice. Notice that anxiety, fright, and uncertainty are not part of my profile. My strengths largely are a result of moments – those actions and little acts of courage and care – provided to me from individuals I know and frequently random individuals who pop up to do something just when I needed such action. In this COVID time of our life, we need to pay attention to when those small acts of courage occur and understand how they provide hope – for you, the community, and the world.
This past week, I had a Zoom class meeting with my wonderful doctoral student-scholars in my class HEDL 7374, The College Student. This class discusses student development theory and scholarship on the impact of the environment on different facets of individual development. In the Zoom meeting, my students and I conversed for two hours on how COVID19 is impacting our student learners – now and possibly in the future. It was a thought-provoking discussion. Students discussed the mental health issues we have yet to understand in a post-COVID world. In terms of learning and social interaction, we discussed how anxiety and uncertainty will likely be a characteristic associated with learning skills in the post-social distance classroom. These are heavy topics that worry my student-scholar educators. However, the conversation was not all gloom. Without my prompting, I was pleased to also hear how these educators also believe these students will carry with them a legacy of hope. Hopefulness that this next generation will be leaders who will adapt to rapid change. In fact, one student is already labeling the next generation as “The Adaptables”, almost akin to superheroes. Another student shared that these students will value hope, community engagement, and activism since today’s K-12 learners will likely remember those “moments” where their class, their neighborhood, and the nation united to share the experience together – “we’re all in this together” is a frequent motto they are hearing and will remember. This same student brilliantly summarized this feeling when she said the following qoute: People don’t remember days, they remember moments.
What a beautiful way to capture this hope! We still do not know how long our quarantine will last, despite actions to slowly lift our “stay at home” requests. When we get through this, what will we remember? I agree with my student. I hope I don’t remember the number of days I stayed close to home. I hope to remember neighbors finally waving to each other asking “how are you doing?” I hope to remember the workers at my local grocery store who reminded shoppers about social distancing inside the store with a tone of care and even lightheartedness and humor to calm any anxiety of customers. I hope to remember my virtual “happy hours” and reunions with friends near and afar. These are moments that lasted seconds, a few minutes, or a couple of hours. All share one common trait. You don’t remember the exact day or date during this crisis. You just remember that it happened. And that is all you need to make you feel hope.
Last week, my scholar-brother texted me encouraging me to listen to one of his favorite podcasts, OnBeing. In his text, he mentioned that the episode featured Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl Rast. Brother David’s interview discussed how to include gratefulness in our daily lives. In my previous posts, I mentioned my new love and scholarly activity on studying the writings of St. Benedict and applications of The Rule, his guidelines for creating and cultivating monastic community. Seeing my friend’s text caught my attention immediately and I promised him I would listen. Br. David’s interview was titled, “How to Be Grateful in Every Moment (But Not For Everything).”
In true Benedictine style, the title reflects the thinking and direction of Benedictine culture. It is what draws me in my learning of this Order. I value the idea of using every day to find time for deep introspection and observing the gifts found in the ordinary. But Br. David reminds us to not go overboard – “but not for everything” – for life isn’t about finding an abundance of riches, it’s about being respectful of what is provided to you and that to reach for higher levels of gratefulness, you have to provide continued work to sustain the goodness in your life which has to include prayer (or deep meditation or thought). I listened with joy to this podcast and I encourage to take one hour of your COVID19 day to enjoy the wisdom and knowledge only monks can bring. Also, Br. David’s voice can calm any bad day you are having – it is a true monk voice. It is a lovely episode and it made me a fan of this podcast!
In researching more about Brother David Steindl Rast, I visited his website, Gratefulness.org. In my exploration, I came across this exercise he developed that allowed me to reflect on moments that help me create gratefulness in my life. The exercise Br. David asks us to practice for grateful living is called The ABCs of Grateful Living. Seeing how simple it was for my weekly reflection, I tried it out. Quite simply, he calls it “a game.” You use the alphabet and for each letter, you put the first word that comes to your mind that you are grateful for in your life. Here is my ABCs for Grateful Living;
A – Activism. I am always amazed at the courage of activists in our society. They truly are needed at this time and I am grateful for such role models.
B – Beer. I’m sorry, not sorry, for having this on my list. I love beer. If Br. David can have food items on his list, then so can I! I especially love a well made craft beer. Hefeweizens and wheat ales in particular. Maybe I can have a beer with Br. David. I will be so grateful for that!
C -Celebrations. Especially now when celebrating something is done virtually. Celebrations are events where you value your human connectedness. I am grateful that many celebrations will be occurring soon once this passes.
D – Dogs. Our pets now more that ever our important in our lives. They are more than companions. They comfort us. They are non-judgemental (most of the time). I’m biased, since I am a dog lover!
E -Excellence. Not like 100%, Grade “A”, type excellence. I’m talking about just being someone who excels at what they do knowing that they will be always learning.
F -Family and Friends. Of course, family and friends are my life. This letter requires a double-scoop of gratefulness!
G – Goodness. I know it sound close to gratefulness, but you can provide such without being a good person. And you can’t appreciate it if you yourself to not value goodness.
H – Help. Everyday I believe has an act of help. Either you help someone or you ask for help. What a wonderful act of gratefulness when you provide or ask for help.
I – Inquiry. The lifeblood of my work as a faculty member is inquiry. As an inquisitive persons, I am grateful that I have a career where I am ask to ask questions!
J – Justice. We need more justice for those who seek it. Justice is what makes us a civil society. I am grateful for those whose work everyday involves justice – lawyers, judges, and such.
K – Kids. While I do not have kids, I have often thought about kids in this time. I am grateful that what I see as an adult, kids see this as a new world, open to exploration and new journeys. Let’s hope that in the end, they will be our next movers and shakers.
L – Life. The first word that popped in my head. Let’s appreciate life more. Now especially.
M – Music. My music taste goes across all genres. I find peace in songs that are considered “goth”, but whose lyrics express desire for human connectedness. But I also love a good dance tune, especially EDM.
N – New Order. Okay, it’s the name of my favorite band. Their music excites me. Their music makes me dance. Their music brings back great memories. The music you love should provide these.
O – Officers. Anyone in leadership. Anyone who is asked to serve in such roles. Two of my family members are police officers. Knowing that officers can bring about certain perceptions, I know my brothers are in this work to truly serve and protect, not to harm. Officers are leaders. Anyone in leadership I am grateful for and admire.
P – Peace. Peace is a goal. An ultimate goal that we should be grateful to strive for each day.
Q -Questions. I also found questioning to be one of the most powerful human actions. Asking for more information, more knowledge, more facts is something we should value, not dismiss as “fake”.
R – Running. Running, while being a physical activity, brings me peace. Especially when done in the morning surrounded by nature.
S – Students. My calling was to teach. To teach, you need students. Students are in the classroom to learn. To learn, it is the most crucial act for someone’s development. I take that seriously and I am grateful for everyday I teach.
T – Timeouts. One thing I will leave this era with is the value of taking timeout of the day and week to reflect. Our society has been rushed for too long. We need to slow down and I am grateful, that while I wish it was under different circumstances, for having more timeouts.
U – Understanding. Letting someone know that you understand their story, their challenges, their needs. Let’s be grateful for those people who take time to hear us out.
V – Vaccine. I know that there are heroes working tirelessly creating a vaccine for COVID19. Once one is developed, we will be grateful for the names connected to the creation of such a lifesaving testament to serving humanity.
W – Weather. In another life, I think I was a meteorologist. In fact, it was my major during the first two years of my college years. In weather, you can still find some beauty in the strongest of storms. Weather, I feel, represents all of life’s cycles.
X – Xtraness. I made up this word. LOL. This letter is tough. I’ll see what Br. David’s response was. Anyway, let us be x-tra during this time. 🙂
Y – Young adults. College students in particular. They are my reason for being. I value and I am grateful that my career involves such an important population. I am glad that I can hopefully mold and impact young adults in their lives.
Z -Zen. Again, this “stay at home” routine has provided a good amount of Zen moments, just moments where I am allowed to ask myself, who am I and how can I make a difference. It could also just be watching the clouds go by. Something I should have noticed before.
The above list was created in 20 minutes. Not a great amount of time, but that is all it took. After this post is published, I’ll go back and fully read my list. It is just one moment of my day where I will be able to see where I am in my journey of gratefulness. The exercise will also allow me to use such philosophy to see my life as a fulfilling moment that gives me joy and appreciation of the simple things in life. My life, and everyone’s life, is a bit off balance right now.
Time to take 20 minutes to add gratefulness in our lives. Brother David does it when he’s waiting at the dentist office, why can’t we do it when we are in our homes and before we flip the Netflix on?
For that, I am grateful. Onward.