On the Greatest Virtue

Juliet Macur, the author of this recent NYT article, in an unrelated interview was asked, “What is your favorite virtue?” “Kindness,” she answered, and then added:

“My earliest memory of it is my mother taking the train to Manhattan from our house in New Jersey, toting three freshly baked loaves of bread. She would leave each loaf next to a homeless person sleeping on the floor of Penn Station.”

I sent an email to a student of mine this week to see if there was anything I could do to support her in the last stages of her teaching certificate work. From Central America, a wife and mother, Rosa is struggling to complete the high-stakes performance assessment she has to pass.

She wrote back:

“I think the only reason I will end the program is thanks to you all. Every time I was about to break there was one of you to hug me, encourage me, smile at me. Remember when you stopped to talked with Rebeca, Drew and I one day? You called us “three of my favorite teachers.” You have no idea how much that meant to me. Now every time I feel like dropping out, I get my journal and read. Stop Rosa you are already a teacher and not only that, you are one of Ron’s favorites so get it together and finish! You haven’t come so far to come just this far!”

I barely remember that interaction. My words that afternoon were a spontaneous, simple, seemingly forgetful greeting that I never would have guessed any of them would’ve remembered very long at all.

As teachers, parents, and coaches, we forget that our words, whether we think before speaking or not, whether kind or not, have lasting impacts.

In the New Testament, James (Chapter 3, verse 5), encourages his readers to “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

Think first, convey kindness, and most everything else will fall into place.

What Everyone Needs

A sense of purpose. Of being needed.

That’s what my mom struggled with the last several years of her life. Her family that had needed her for a long time, was grown and gone. Her husband, who had needed her and provided companionship for even longer, was gone too. Be especially kind to older, single people.

Teaching has always been fulfilling in large part because it has provided me with a clear sense of purpose. Administrative work I’ve learned, not as much. Having done more administrative work the last few years, I confess that I’m in a work funk, probably the result of a less tangible sense of purpose.

That’s why I did something I almost never do, saved a student’s end-of-class “thank you” from mid-December. Despite telling her in a follow up message, I don’t think she had any idea how moved I was by it.

Hello Dr. Byrnes,
Here is my final paper. I have thoroughly enjoyed your class and am very sad it is over. This class was one I could consistently look forward to every week. It was one where I could wake up on a Tuesday or Thursday morning and say, “I GET to go to Writing 101 today!’ This class greatly increased my knowledge, view and perspective of the world. It challenged my beliefs and opened my thinking to accept new ideas. Thank you for leading so diligently and kindly as you did. I count it an honor and blessing to have taken this class. Thank you.

The honor and blessing was all mine.

Like my student, take a few minutes today to tell someone how they enrich your life in small or large ways. Remind them they are needed and that their life has purpose.

Don’t Just Follow The Money

Saturday night the Gal Pal and I (and Kris and Brian) went to a concert at Traditions Cafe in downtown Olympia. When we go out, we go all out, which means some grub beforehand. Traditions concert tickets are $15. I counted about 40 peeps tucked into the small cafe. So I started to do the math because I’m always doing the math, can’t help it. Actually, MaggieZ does math, I do arithmetic. $600 divided between three musicians minus one-third to the cafe (guessing) equals $400 divided between three or $133/per. Don’t forget to factor in a few CD sales, but still less than $200/per.

And yet, all three musicians, Larry in particular, performed like it was a stadium concert with 40,000 people. His technical prowess as a guitar player and singer was impressive, but not nearly as much as the profound joy he had for sharing his gifts. The intrinsic genesis of his art was a beautiful, downright spiritual thing to observe.

And it got me thinking about whether I’d share my teaching gifts with the same committed passion if I only had a few students. And how I like to be well compensated for my time. And how I want to be more like Larry when I grow up.

Fast forward a few days to a story our local on-line paper ran on a local citizen who is doing a mindfulness workshop for local educators. Interested in mindfulness, I snooped around her website only to find a “shopping” section with bullshit mindfulness products. And her teacher workshop costs twenty Tradition’s concert tickets. I don’t begrudge her the right to run a profitable business or her desire to build wealth as a young person. Also, people pay decent money for yoga classes, but the overt commercialism and explicit selling of mindfulness, not only makes me want to run the other way, but likely turns off others who could benefit greatly from it.

Granted, it’s easier to take my advice to be like Larry and not just follow the money all the time, when you have some money. But whether you do or don’t have money, nonstop selling becomes habitual, meaning the extrinsic overwhelms the intrinsic until one’s work contributes very little to the greater good.

I’ve referenced two PressingPausers—Kris and MaggieZ—whose loyalty to the humble blog I greatly appreciate, but I’m thinking about a third who shall remain nameless because that’s the way he’d want it. Check out this other article from our same local on-line paper, “Puget Sound Honor Flight Recognizes Veterans One Flight At A Time”. When I first saw it, I immediately skimmed it for my friend’s name, but somehow he didn’t make it into the article. The fact that no one is watching him get up at 4 a.m. to drive to Sea-Tac Airport monthly, or watching him sometimes accompany local veterans on the actual flights, or watching him attend board meetings, makes all those activities much more meaningful.

Larry didn’t need much if any money. All he needed was a small group of people to share with. Same with our esteemed, third PressingPauser. All he needs is an appreciative veteran or two to share with.

 

 

 

Who Are You Drafting Off Of?

Like a lot of introverts, my need for solitude sometimes seems insatiable. Yet, I’m keenly aware we are social beings and that we need others to accomplish much of anything and to have any meaningful shot at genuine happiness.

Even though you won’t find me in the Nisqually Delta with binocs, DSLR camera, and ginormous lens dangling from my neck, or listening to bird calls on my iPad, I enjoy watching the birds we share our new spot with. Yesterday’s airshow was especially good. Two bald eagles took turns nipping each other (foreplay?) while a cormorant glided by obliviously . I also can’t get enough of watching geese and other migratory birds fly by in small, medium, and large “V’s”.

Migratory birds draft off of one other for the same reason cyclists do, to save about 25% of their energy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also also benefit somehow from the social aspect of flying together.

Are you an investor, if so, are you “flying solo” or are you drafting off of someone more experienced, knowledgeable, and successful? Like this person. What about as a person, are you drafting off anyone to be a better human being? Or maybe, like me, as an educator, parent, and older person, you’re doing your best to, like Nairo Quintana in the picture below, “lead out” others in need of a positive example.

20175944-355979-800x531.jpgPhoto: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Postscript: I love this pic because even though Quintana is working at least 25% harder than Contador and company, he’s totally in control, meanwhile, everyone else is struggling mightily to hold his wheel. If only I had grown up Boyacense.

Adult Onset Seriousness

Playfulness is a wonderful attribute. One I’d like to revive.

Last Thursday afternoon. Lunch swim workout in the books. Walking across Foss Intramural Field back to the office. One of those perfect, sunny, 60-ish, post summer/pre-fall September days in the Pacific Northwest that you wish you could bottle. Frisbees filled the air.

Somewhere between young adulthood and adulthood I stopped playing frisbee. I used to be a SoCal legend in my own mind. At SoCal beaches my signature move was to huck it way above the waves like a boomerang into the onshore wind and then, hours, minutes, maybe 15 seconds later, catch it to the delight of hundreds, my girlfriend and a few other friends, myself. I don’t think our frisbee even survived the recent move.

Somewhere in adulthood I stopped playing, not just frisbee, everything it seems. Yes, swimming, running, and cycling can be child-like activities, but not the way I tend to do them. I train. I have distance and time goals. And tiny gps-enabled computers and apps that tell me how far, how fast, and many other things in between. Yesterday I ran home from church, 7.5 miles in 56 minutes and change, for a 7:30/m average (first half, downhill). At one point, I saw two good friends walking the opposite direction. We said “hello”, and even though we haven’t talked for a month, I kept going. You know, the average pace and all.

Hell, I don’t even PLAY golf anymore. And I’m not alone. Do any adults ever think “What a nice day, I should ask the rest of the office to chuck the frisbee for awhile.”? And yet, nothing is more natural for young adults on college campuses than to stop and play.

How to cultivate a playful spirit? What might my swimming, running, and cycling look like if I approached them as play? What about other non-work activities?

Before you suggest low hanging fruit like mountain biking, you should know I sometimes struggle staying upright even on intermediate trails. With that caveat, I’m open to any other suggestions.

What do you do, if anything to maintain a sense of playfulness?

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No Men, No How

When you look up “privilege” in the dictionary you see my picture (same thing with “handsome”).

So it was only a matter of time until the universe started evening the score:

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Is this just the first salvo in a war against me and my fellow “non trans male identifying” brethren? If you see me cycling around town all by myself looking sad you’ll know why.