Good Things to be Thankful For

As I write this piece, I am on a plane headed to Tampa, Florida. My sister’s husband passed away and I am on my way to be with her. In all my 24 years of teaching, this is my first “Bereavement Leave” and I was able to take five days away from school. I am thankful for that.

In the days since Bill died, my sister and I have emailed back and forth a million times and talked on the phone a lot, and of course much of the conversation has been about family and about how glad we are that Bill was part of our lives. There have been some dramatic and serendipitous moments as well, which I will not share here but which I will keep in my heart forever. There is much to be thankful for.

The first thing I appreciate most today is that fact that I am thankful. The year 2010 in my family plays back like a TV soap opera, the title of which could be “Crisis of the Month Club.”  There has been a family “event” each month, starting in January when my mother-in-law broke her hip,  and continuing:  my stepdaughter annihilated her knee in a skiing accident, my diabetic brother had a series of health  issues resulting in the amputation of a leg, and so on ad nauseum. By June I felt like I had hit the wall emotionally, and still the family dramas continued.  This article is not going to be a laundry list of all that has transpired, but I want to stop for a moment and think about resilience. I have coached myself and prayed daily for the strength to do cheerfully what I have to do. I do not believe that God  has caused these tragedies to my family.  I attend a church where I feel comforted (by wonderful music as well as the spoken word) and where I get my batteries recharged on a regular basis.  If it were not for that support, and the understanding of my amazingly empathetic husband and other great friends, I likely would not be thankful for much. And so I am thankful for all that support, which enables me to continue believing in the goodness of life.

Last Friday night I had dinner with one of my favorite friends, who also happens to be my hairstylist. She has been doing my hair for more than 25 years (how great is that!) since my children had to sit on a suitcase so she could reach. We have much in common, and greatly enjoy being girlfriends.  At dinner, she told me how she is trying to write down at least one good thing that happens each day, doing this just before she goes to sleep so that her last thoughts of the day are good thoughts which will lead to good, restful sleep. She reports that it’s working so far. I, too, have tried to do something similar in my own life — to think more about the good things so the bad things won’t take up too much space in my brain.

That practice started for me in the mid 1990s, when our school underwent a major renovation. The two buildings that once were the elementary school and the high school were connected by a large addition and we became one community school for grades Pre-K through 8. Our high school had previously been reconfigured into a regional school shared with one other town. The year of the construction was a tough one. There were classrooms relocated into the gymnasium for part of the year — four of them in one open space; imagine the noise! Our very clever music teacher had no classroom that year; she constructed a backpack with a milk crate, on which she installed a stereo/CD player, and she would hike from class to class. I had to move my classroom twice during that year to accommodate the construction locations at various times. It was daunting to maintain any kind of good morale among the chaos and dust, even though we knew we would be getting a wonderful new school out of it all. My teaching partner and I decided we would try to think of the good things; we would each keep a journal and record at least one positive thing that happened each day. We failed at that first attempt; I think we were too stressed when we began and couldn’t recover in that way, but something amazing came out of it for me. I started to notice the little (and some not so little) thank yous that came from my students. At graduation that June I received a number of heartfelt notes from students who said that I had made a difference during a year that had also been difficult for them.

Of course I had to save those notes. The journal I had started and abandoned that winter  now morphed into a little scrapbook of notes from students and their parents. More came the following year, and eventually the scrapbook couldn’t hold any more, so I transferred everything to a box. Some of those notes are particularly special to me because they remind me of wonderful moments:

  • “I figured out that while you were teaching us about English, you were also modeling for us how to be a good person. Thank you for that.”

  • “Thank you for taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to succeed.”

  • “Thank you for talking with me about how I was capable and belonged in honors level classes. I’m now a top student in my high school and I never would have gotten here if it hadn’t been for you.”

    There are many other similar messages and memories in my box. I am humbled by these gifts of the heart, and very much aware that I’m not the only teacher who makes a difference. Because my students actually go through a graduation at the end of the year, it’s more likely for me to receive notes like this, in contrast to excellent and loving teachers of most other grades, from which students regularly move on without this rite of passage. In my retirement years I know that I will turn to my “Thank You Box” with an overflowing heart — and my eyes are filling up even as I write this!

    It’s all about focusing on the good, and there is much good all around us. On the way to the airport this morning, my husband and I shared a “Thank you, God” moment when the clouds in front of us revealed layers of luminescence and colors. I love the sky and I often feel great joy in the sighting of lovely and unique cloud formations.

    Forgive my maudlin tone today — it’s an emotional day for me and I hope that I can provide the support that my sister will need during the next week. We have a lot to do, and I am glad that I am able to go to her and be helpful; it’s what sisters do. And it’s good to pause and remember that in spite of the many bumps in the road, there are still many more things in my life for which I am thankful, and you, Dear Readers, are definitely on that list!

  • About harleywoman50

    I retired from teaching in June 2011, and now am enjoying the good things I never had time to do before: traveling, writing, and creative arts. I also work as an educational consultant specializing in professional development for teachers; in this capacity I teach educators about their personalities using the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Instrument). I teach a course on how to differentiate instruction using type in the classroom, and several other workshops. Life is good.
    This entry was posted in Family. Bookmark the permalink.

    2 Responses to Good Things to be Thankful For

    1. Kristen says:

      Thank you Marilyn. I have been catching up on your blogs and I love this one. Sometimes it takes a sad occasion to bring us back to what life is all about. I will be thinking of you this week as you support your sister. You are a good woman who knows what is important. In the end, it’s the memories that hold the fondest places in our hearts. xoxox Kristen

    2. Brenda Wright says:

      Hi Marilyn,

      Thank you for the poignant reminder of not only why we need to be grateful, but that it has the effect of rewriting the tragic human events themselves and redirecting the result. The tragedy in your husband’s family this past year when young Dan lost his wife and how the two families approached this tragedy was a transforming one for our community. Fear and anti-immigrant feelings would easily have taken over if it was not for their wisdom in refusing to bend under the aggressive mental suggestions of evil. Truly inspiring in this example of the power of good over evil.

      I’m sure many blessings will continue to pour forth as you join your sister in Florida.

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