Dear Student Who Feels Defeated

To The Student That Feels Defeated,

You are sitting there at a table or a desk- you might be reading, writing or maybe working at something else, depending on the given day. You look up and catch the teacher glancing your way; so you try to show her with your eyes that ‘this just isn’t making any sense’. Try to send her that message. Because it’s just a mystery to you that people understand this stuff. A complete puzzle.

You watch your friends who find it so easy- math, writing, reading, problem-solving, figuring things out. They seem to do everything so effortlessly. But to you, each task just feels like one, long endless riddle- with no apparent solution.
Feels like one long, drawn-out visit to the orthodontist.

Or maybe it’s during gym class that you find things challenging. Maybe it’s music or science or French that throws you off your game. Maybe it’s after-school when you are at basket-ball or soccer or another extra-curricular club that you find yourself not measuring up to the rest of your teammates. Maybe that’s when you start to find your confidence slipping. Maybe that’s when you feel like you can’t compete.

Maybe it’s more to do with fitting in and finding friendship, or it’s that feeling of acceptance in being part of the crowd. That’s what you are missing. Maybe you just feel like you are the odd-one-out left to stand awkwardly watching from the sidelines. The person who never gets a call after school, a text or an invitation to the group chat.

And so you get home at the end of each school day and you sit at the table with a bowl of cereal and a glass of chocolate milk. And you try to make sense of the fact that you feel stupid/unliked/unpopular/incapable- while the rest of the world does not. While the rest of the world just keeps moving on. Understanding everything that you do not, doing everything you can not, and including those people around you of whom you are not- while you’re left standing on the outside.

It feels like everyone else is accomplishing stuff while you watch on helplessly, feeling useless. And while life just continues carrying on, you feel more and more defeated. More and more deflated. Cause it feels like you are the only one falling back, falling behind. Even while everyone else in the world is occupied with ‘getting ahead’- making sense of the world and everything in it. Yet meanwhile, for you- it all just feels so difficult. Life feels so hard.

And you feel so stupid.

Dear Student who feels this way, can I please tell you that you most definitely are not?

Not stupid.
Not dumb.
Not unintelligent.
Not brainless.
Not unloveable.
Not incapable.
Not a failure.

You are not.

True, you are struggling with this hard thing in your life- this mountain that seems to consume you. But one day soon, it will no longer be there. You will have climbed and conquered. And you will then be free to see life another way, from a different vantage point. One day soon you will look behind you and see that this mountain was just a small anthill. Something so small from your position, that it will almost seem insignificant in hindsight. And you will turn your eyes back around after seeing that you made it over, and see that before you is what you were waiting for all along. See that you arrived. That’s the beauty of moving forward.

Because right now, you are in the middle of living out the battle. Life is hard because it is suppose to be sometimes- it’s suppose to be hard at this time and place in your life. And quite honestly, life is hard because there are hard things to go through, hard things to understand, hard things to figure out. But these hard things are making you, shaping you, creating in you: perseverance, resistance, resolve, determination, strength and will power. For in living out the hard stuff, we come to see ourselves in different ways- realizing that the moments when life is at its very hardest are often the moments and the times when we grow and ‘become’ the best. Your time of becoming your best self is right now.

Don’t give up on that vision.

Yes, your hard time might be now. But tomorrow is already on the way, almost here. And just like every time before, you can do this. Just look how far you’ve already come. You can accomplish what you set your heart on. So go ahead- prove it to yourself.

Never forget, I’ve got your back. The rest is in your capable hands.
Never stop believing.
You are capable, you are able.
You are.

Love,
Your Teacher

Does Being Average Make you Happier?

We are finishing up supper when a knock comes to the door. It is a family friend and acquaintance that we recently hired to construct a bookshelf for us just arriving for a quick check-in about a piece he’s already built. He wonders if it fits okay over the radiator. It does. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.

Earlier this month, this gentleman arrived in the middle of supper hour and spent the better part of the evening talking to both Husband and I about our dreams for our family room. What were we wanting him to fashion as an entertainment unit to house our most beloved pictures, books and games? At what level would we want our entertainment system to be set? What style should the framework be? What vision did we have?

As we talked, it became increasingly clear that this man cared a great deal about his work- and even more so, cared about our ideas, our thoughts and opinions. To illustrate my point, he had talked to Husband about some additional thoughts he had for this unit on the Sunday past- proving to me that if we were paying him for his time, we’d owe him for the incredible amount of thought he’s invested in considering our best options. You don’t get this kind of service from the box stores. To have him drive from town this evening for a five-minute drop-in just to check whether the piece he was building fit neatly in place, meant a lot.

In fact, it’s priceless in MasterCard terms.

Some might say that everyday people such as our retired friend who make furniture for pleasure- such as you or I, us plain-folk people: some might say we are not the ones that make this world turn. Not the ones who are the real movers and shakers. I read a quote about mediocrity lately and it said that being average should be feared- should push us to our limits, causing us to reach our true potential. Whatever that means.

To be honest, some of the most average people in my life have made the biggest impact. We don’t remember the chance encounters we have with celebrities (if we have them at all) nor do we chalk up as the most life-changing, the brief glimpses into the world of the extraordinary as the part of life that we could not live without. It is the average, everyday people and pleasures of life that we count as life’s greatest blessings.

After my last two posts on being average, I decided to share an article I found on-line and read called “The joy of being average” found at “http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/03/13/the-joy-of-being-average/  In the article, the author Sam expounds on the joys of being average, highlighting such benefits to life as lowered expectations, more safety, more happiness, less restrictions, more freedom, less pressure, among other benefits. In the article, he poses the question: should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Sam concludes that ‘no’, we should not feel that pressure- it is ours to choose how we live our lives, how we use or don’t use our potential.

I contend: there is joy in acceptance as well. I feel that in accepting that our lives are short, fragile and fleeting helps us to put perspective on things. Who are we really trying to impress? What really matters? What are the most important things in life? What decisions are the most crucial?

What really makes the difference?

Celebrity, both at local, regional, national and international levels, as enticing as it might look and seem, is just a mirage. The people behind the celebrity still have to get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.  They still live and die. And so do we.

The question should not be based on how to live up to one’s truest potential but rather focused on perspective: how can I live my life with joy and contentment? Gratitude and grace? And what non-essentials can I eliminate so that I don’t miss the boat and waste this one chance I have at truly living life well?

Being average isn’t a wasted opportunity, a shameful decision.  Living simply is not to squander one’s life; but chasing after dreams that are only a mirage certainly are.  Life is beautiful- even when it is average, ordinary and simple, and living an average life is more than admirable when we can do so with joy and contentment. When we choose to embrace the life we’ve been given, average isn’t ordinary.

It’s amazing. Truly amazing.

Average is Beautiful

I scroll daily through Facebook feeds, stalling for time in between work and school-related tasks, and every time I do, I come across compelling viral articles that are just breaking about ordinary people saying interesting things about their ordinary, everyday lives. It seems that much of what we attend to these days is not so much concerned with celebrity (while still a preoccupation, this is true); but more and more stories are geared to the every day in life.  We are somehow compelled to listen to the average person telling their story in intriguing ways. And we are interested in the telling of that story if it is done in such a way that champions the right of the individual to live their life in average, ordinary ways.

In other words, we are increasingly fascinated by people who are ordinary and embrace this fact articulately through the written word.

Take the story that recently went viral about Joni Edelman, the mother of five, who recently wrote an article titled “Being Thin Didn’t Make Me Happy, But Being “Fat” Does.” Edelman writes the article stating her happiness in being quite average- average as in being in line with the rest of the parenting populace in North America who have had their babies and are now living life with kids in tow (eating on the run). Her article defends her right to be overweight and happy as compare to being thin and constantly concerned with her image and the accompanying public perception. It seems that in allowing her weight to rise, Edelman gave up her preoccupation with being above-average. Gave up her obsession with being extraordinary.
In other words, she is now a woman who embraces her every-day, average ordinariness with absolute joy and acceptance.

In another story, this time written by a girl to her former male colleague and friend, the author also defends her ordinariness in an open letter. She writes about a lunch date with this guy from her summer job in which, upon sitting down at the table to eat, he immediately tells her she “looks like crap.” The author, toward the end of the viral article writes the following words:
“I don’t wear much makeup these days. I like the feel of my skin when it’s bare; I take good care of it. I like that I can rub my eyes whenever I want, and my lashes don’t get tangled when they’re not caked with mascara. My hair gets frizzy sometimes, especially when it rains. I still have mild acne and scars from years of picking, when it used to be a lot worse. My cheeks are perpetually red, and my under-eye area dark. And it’s okay.

The world can see me as I am. I am raw, I am exposed, and society can take it all in. Go ahead and assess. Maybe I’m a one out of five. In my book, I’m a 10 out of 10.”

What is all this telling us about our the average person living life out in our current western culture?

Well, maybe average is enough. And maybe even more than this, it is perfectly okay to be ordinary and embrace life as it is, how it is, for what it is. After all, average is beautiful; and it is normal, people. It is what most of us are characterized by on any given day- days that are not-so-perfect as well as days when the sun is shining and life is beautiful. And days that are everything else in between.

There is no shame in being average: average is enough.

And average is Beautiful.

On Being Average {And Why it is Enough}

I watch her spin and turn like a beautiful, diminutive jewellery box dancer, her hair drawn up tightly in the plaited bun that I had so quickly fashioned before we left early on a bright Saturday morning. I try to capture her on the screen I hold up to the glass (for the benefit of Husband who is doing rink duty at another venue later on this day), and finding that inadequate for my venture, reach up further in between the netting to manoeuvre an angle. In trying to find the perfect vantage point, I am disappointed to see that I have missed her sit-spin. Boo. My arm is cranked at a weird angle, but this is a mother’s work: to film her baby. And to do so ‘at.all.costs’ (to her physical comfort). I train my eyes so as to not miss another thing. Daughter is my sole focus of attention. I am all eyes for her.

Later, we await results. She informs me that she has done better this year, saying it with a confident grin- a lilt in her voice. She is so eager to get her ribbon that she bounces.  I watch her chat and kid with the other skaters, not a care in the world.

Then the moment arrives. Her name is called and she is the first in her group to come forward. I continue to monitor her face for any sign of disappointment. For now, all appears well. But she has not yet had time to process and compare- to find her standing. Somehow, things change when we measure ourselves up alongside others. At least that has been my experience.
She soon takes her seat. Hands the paper over to me. And I continue to watch and wait. In time, when all the results are in, I will know better what to expect.

And then it happens.

In finding out that she has not exceeded her own highly set expectations for herself, as well as not matched those of her cohort of fellow skaters, all comes quickly crashing to the ground. I watch her fight to hold back tears as she receives the full impact of her report. Watch intently as she compares results with the others. I feel it in me- that disappointment and loss. For loss, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant it might be in the scheme of life, is still loss.

It is still a small blow to the ego.

Later, we talk over lunch. She and I, pondering life from across a coffee shop table. I order her a blueberry muffin for dessert, hoping it will cheer her up, and all the while, I try to find the right words to tell her that she is still amazing in my books. Try to find words that will affirm how well she has done. Try to help her see. I want so badly for her to be proud of herself- not just when she is a gold, but when she is also a bronze or a merit as well. And above all, I want her to never give up no matter what the results. Want her to stay the course. Want her to never measure her worth against a piece of paper.

I listen to my heart and let it do the talking, while the mama voice inside of me insists that it still wants to make everything that feels wrong- somehow become right. Even though everything inside me just wants to gather her up in my arms and shout out to the world just how golden she is in my eyes. Just how precious she is to me. Just how much I believe in her potential. In the messy process, I somehow find the words to say. Find the right words. And I choose those words carefully- making the most of this opportunity so that she can truly see that there is always something to be proud of, always something to learn, and always something to strive for just ahead- out of reach, just out of immediate grasp.  It’s there.

Even when life hands you a paper that  shouts out ‘average‘.

I want her to know: an average performance or routine, while always good enough for this Mama, is no statement about who she is. Besides, average can be enough period, if we let it. In fact, it’s better than enough. Every experience can be memorable for the right reasons- if we purpose it to be so.  For in remembering both the times we’ve failed, as well as the times we’ve succeeded, we learn something new about ourselves, about our life. And the beauty of remembering is that there is always something to take-away from the memories of both experiences, no matter how humbling the former can be. There is always something to use for our benefit, no matter how much that experience might bruise the pride or wound the ego.

There is always something good to be had if we are willing to reach for it.

As I watch my daughter’s face, I know in my heart that we all can’t be winners. Can’t all take away the prize each and every time. Someone has to be first- and someone always has to be last as well. It’s the way things go- it’s the fact of the matter. That’s life. And when finding our place on the losing end, it is tempting to believe that losing is bad, tempting somehow to convince ourselves that losing is shameful and disappointing. It is tempting to fall privy to the belief that ‘not winning’ too is blameworthy somehow, so easy to fall into that line of thinking that asserts: we who have lost are somehow no longer adequate because of our rank and file. Because of our place value and status.

But of course, there is no failing in trying. No loss in second, third or even last place when one has given their best. No shame in being average, for after all, average is quite beautiful, quite normal and quite honestly what most of us are characterized by on any given day- days that are stormy as well as days when the sun is shining and life is beautiful.

Average is enough.

We can celebrate each moment and make it into something bigger and brighter and more beautiful than it was meant to be, or we can believe that failure is a sign of inadequacy.  I choose to hope against hope that there is always tomorrow, there is always another opportunity. There is always another chance to say ‘yes’ again and give life another go.

And if that is what average looks like on a good day, I’ll take it.

I watch her throughout the day- mama bear protective.  And when second and third results come up later on in the afternoon, I wonder how she will feel. And then to see the accepting, content look on her face when she places middle of the pack is priceless. In fact, it’s golden.

For this mama, that’s the moment her star shone the brightest today.

Nineteen Years (and counting)

Primitive Valentine Heart Barn Wood Wall by rockriverstitches

In light of Valentine’s Day on the 14th, let’s talk about love after nineteen years. Because, folks- this is what it looks like.

The alarm rings. Or maybe it doesn’t. All depends on whether or not he set it the night before, the alarm clock being located on his side of the bed. I am sandwiched in between Husband on one side and Youngest on the other, she having woken in the middle of the night from a bad dream. I have a kink in my neck, and an aching desire to crawl down deep under the covers and hide; but I instead scoot over the top of my little girl’s sleeping frame and find my way in the dark towards the dimly-lit stairway. I am ever the lone body awake at this hour. Soon the sounds of my feet padding down a wood staircase, the scrape of a kitchen chair, along with the relentless sound of water pelting the shower wall- all will beckon both him and the others to embrace the day.

Because this is what love looks like after nineteen years.

I am in the shower, steaming hot water running just fast enough to keep me from shivering on this -17 degree morning (Husband having purchased a water-saving shower head a few years back). I hear him in the kitchen pouring cold water into the stainless steel coffee pot, the ‘drip-drip’ of scalding water running over a premium dark roast. That coffee is for me- he having given up the stuff on which my life depends a mere two years ago. I will soon smell the fragrantly rich scent of grinds brewing, beckoning me to stop and place movement and voice on hold- even if for but a moment. To savour and breathe deeply of life’s goodness.

Because life is still good nineteen years later.

A text is sent at 10:17 a.m. Daughter has an away-game and has forgotten about it. She needs money for supper. Husband messages to say “I have prep next period, but no cash.” I am scrambling, having left my own classroom with working students to then, minutes later, take the phone call (I will not have yet read that above text): only to find out that Husband is on his way- and do I have a bill for him to snag and then be on his way? Within ten minutes, I meet him in the school corridor. A kindergartener has asked me to zip her coat, but I can see Husband making quick time as he takes long strides toward me. I leave him to complete the stubborn zippering on this little one while I run off down the hall to find my purse. I can hear a female teacher behind me saying something about his prowess at being a jack-of-all-trades. Because he is.

Even all of nineteen years later.

We make eye contact over supper while the kids banter and squabble and then settle into the regular pattern of being together- that pattern we’ve established over the fourteen plus years in which we’ve been parenting. His eye catches mine when something funny is said, or maybe it was something surprising. His eyebrows slightly raise while a slow smile forms at the corner of his mouth. I smile too. Because it seems we just know why these supper-hour conversations are so precious.

And I admit- I have gotten use to seeing him there, elbows resting on either side of his plate, hands drawn together in a clasp. He is always there- at the head of the table. Solid, dependable, unwavering in his commitment. I grab a bowl of corn and divvy it out to the two at my end and then manoeuvre the remains of the dish toward the other two at his end. He spoons the vegetable onto each plate, making sure the rest of the table gets fed, while I grab a bottle of bar-b-que sauce from the fridge. For those who just can’t do without.

Nineteen years is enough time to know the rhythm and flow.

And there are days when the cords of wood have been dropped off- two truckloads one after the other, days where we make steady time, moving in silence beside one another until the last log is stacked. Days when we pass each other in the kitchen as he heads one way and I go the other. Days where we wonder what we ever did before we had cell phones, texting and e-mail exchange. That’s how it is with us, nineteen years later.

But on most of those days, you’ll find us here, growing hearts. Building our home. Sharing the load in taking turns with homework, piano practicing, dishes and cooking. He, doing the vacuuming each night while I stay on top of the endless laundry. It’s not a glamorous life, but it is ours. And there is a lot to be said for that. It is a life we both know well enough to know that we’ve been given something good. In fact, it’s golden.

Nineteen years and counting.

Because nineteen years of staying in when we felt like backing out, holding on when we sometimes wanted to let go, giving over when we maybe wanted to give up- can make a person appreciate the years that much more. It is just the way of living sometimes. It’s certainly our way. Because for nineteen years, we’ve had time enough to know that we’ve got something beautiful, something worth striving for, committing to.  Something worth cherishing.

Nineteen years is plenty.

I crawl into bed and reach for the light. And beside me already sleeping is the man that stayed by my side through nineteen years of everyday, honest living. Through it all. And while nineteen years might not be a milestone for anyone else, in our books it is long enough to understand what true love entails.

It’s also short enough to wonder what the next nineteen will bring.

Because They Are Worth It

I am walking down the hall, getting ready to head for home, having arrived at the end of yet another day substituting in the school system. As a new teacher, I am young and eager- believing that I have the world by the tail. Believing that I can really make a difference. As I round the bend in the corridor, making my way towards the stairs, I can hear his angry voice even before I see him. A veteran teacher, yelling at a student. I wonder at all the commotion, but soon find myself right in the midst of the upheaval as the pair- teacher and student- are right in my line of vision. Right in my path.

I immediately feel uncomfortable. This is awkward, listening in on a rant. As I am the only one privy to the exchange, I quickly become aware that the teacher is railing on the student for holding up the school buses. The student looks quietly at his shoes as he scuffles along, even slower now that this altercation has held him up- all while I try to pretend that I am invisible. And yet, the teacher will not let up, not stop the steady stream of verbal abuses that flow freely from his mouth as he expresses his disgust for this student’s tardiness.

There is no mistaking the loathing in this teacher’s voice. I can tell, from these briefest of moments as I awkwardly manoeuvre my way out of the unfolding scene and out of the school: this teacher does not seem to like this boy. His tone, revulsion and absolute disgust indicate such to me, an observer.

I wonder how the boy feels.

Over the years, I have thought about this boy. Thought on this situation as a whole. Wondered what I, an inexperienced, young female teacher should have done. Could have done. But more than this, I have thought about that boy. Wondered whatever became of him.

Wondered.

I wonder, do we ever pause to think about him? That little boy (girl?) that puts us as teachers in a tailspin each and every day. Do we stop to think about what makes him tick? Think about what he cares about? Have we ever stopped to contemplate his developing person, complete with those infuriating boyish ways? I wonder. Do we take time to sensitively consider that boy who drives the teachers mad, makes their hair turn prematurely grey. I wonder if we ever stopped to think about who he really is underneath all the bad words, infuriating manners, cold stares. I wonder, have we ever stopped to really think about him- as an individual? Lingered momentarily to see him for the person he really is inside all that childhood clutter?

I wonder.

Do we know that he collects hockey cards by the dozen? That he loves to watch his Grampie fix stuff in the old back shop? Do we know that he has a subscription to Lego magazine? That he never uses a pattern, his mind too bright for that. Do we know these things?

Do we know how very much he worries about being put on the spot? That he fears being asked questions? Fears being called out each and every day for things he knows he shouldn’t do but can’t help doing anyway? Do we know? Know that he goes home and thinks about his days too- wonders why life has to be so hard.

Do we know?

When I was first expecting our oldest child, I remember wondering what it would be like to be a parent. Wondered what it would be like to have a child, hold a child, feed a child. Raise a child. What would that child look like? Be like? Act like? Would I love them at first sight? Would I be able to do this? My reasons for becoming a parent were varied, but largely I became a mom so that I could open my heart to love another human being. Little did I ever realize how deep that love would grow.

Rewind backwards.

In that same line of thinking, as I sat in the university lecture hall for my first class of the Bachelor of Education program, I remember the professor that day talking to us about our reasons for becoming a teacher. Ideals like making a difference and leaving a legacy were certainly discussed, but I don’t remember any talk about care and love ever being raised as important indicators of teaching excellence. My reasons for becoming a teacher- for choosing the teaching profession were also varied, but largely I became a teacher for more self-serving purposes than those reasons for why I became a mother.

Little did I realize back then that I would one day see caring as the ultimate criterion for how I carried out my life’s work.

The children and young people that come to us each morning with such varied, interesting, colorful lives- complete with behaviour issues, medical concerns, mental and psychological complications, social and emotional hang-ups: these are people. People that someone loves very deeply, somewhere. And yet, when they come to us in the school system, somewhere along the line it has been decided that when educating incoming teachers, we are off the hook when it comes to learning how to care for our students. Caring does not play prominently in the educational configuration of upcoming teachers. We either learn it along the way or we forgo it all together.

Recently, a young teacher confided in me that they were surprised at how much caring was involved in being a teacher:
“They don’t teach you this stuff in the Education Program,” was what the individual said.

And while that might be true, the fact of the matter is that most of our students need to feel a sense of our caring interest and engagement from us as teachers so as to move to the next level, academics. While some students might learn something from a teacher they don’t think likes them, many will not. It’s like anything in life, we are willing to give our best to the ones we believe see that best in us.

Caring counts.

And until we start to see people for who they are- unique, complicated, beautiful human beings, our world is just going to continue to live out the same old problems. People who are unloved as children often become unloving adults. People who are uncared for as children often become uncaring adults. People who experience a deficit of compassion, grace, kindness, mercy and forgiveness as children- while some might overcome the obstacles, many go on to exhibit the same lack of such as adults. We learn from those who model for us. When that example is a good one, the opportunity for success is greater.

Isn’t it time we started seeing everyone for the possibility and potential for good they have as individuals? Especially our children?

We must use the opportunities we’ve been given to care for one another- in spite of our frailties, issues, problems, behaviors and less than savory actions. People are people, and children will be children. But those same children who might drive us senile on any given day (this goes for our own flesh and blood too!) still need to have the best start possible given to them by the teachers entrusted with their care. Teachers who empathically use the opportunities they’ve been given to show those children they are worth it.

Because they are.

What We Choose to Leave Out

Thirty-some years ago now, I lost my only first cousin on my mother’s side. He died in the hospital, left to await his burial in a emergency room sink- the decision of a hospital staff weighing the costs of rescuing his mother or saving him. They chose his mother, desperately trying to keep her alive as they worked on the injuries she sustained to her head. Those injuries, the result of a tragic car accident. I cannot even begin to process why there had to be a choice, for I am sure if this had happened today, both would have been saved. It has been the one question I have come back to time and time again over the years.

Why?

The baby’s name was Jesse. And when I think of him, I wonder what he would have looked like. What he would have been like had he lived. Wonder what it will be like to see him in Heaven someday.

One sweet day, wonder will become reality.

This past Christmas, some distant friends of friends (distant cousins of friends, I should really say) lost a beautiful baby girl. She died in-utero. Her given name was Zoe, which is of Greek origins meaning ‘life’. The mother and daddy were devastated, and as a testament to their daughter’s brief life, they decided to post on social media pictures of her wrapped up in the softest of pink blankets.  Their beautiful baby girl. Her little lips pressed like rosebuds between the page of a beautiful book, only one short chapter of her life written for this life. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the picture capturing her infantile innocence- such perfection. Such beauty in a tiny, perfectly formed baby.

And such devastating loss.

While I ached at the grief evident behind the scenes of this precious baby’s picture, I couldn’t help but wonder what decisions must have been weighed in choosing to share publicly with the world at large the thoughts and emotions these parents were experiencing, along with the very emotional pictures of their deceased daughter. I can’t even imagine what this was like. But I know that when I saw the pictures and read the words that this parenting duo wrote to accompany their daughter’s eulogy, I was extremely touched. It moved me to know what they were feeling, and I felt a response within me to care for them and their situation.

I have been thinking about life and how we document our day-to-day experiences. Thinking about how we often frame our lives so that we are perceived in certain ways when presenting the details of our stories to the larger world around us. I have been thinking about what we include in our stories, our life narratives. And I have also been reflecting on what details- what information, facts and particulars- we leave out in the process when it comes to the final product.

Within the field of qualitative research studies, there is a branch of research called auto-ethnography- research that situates the Self in a particular culture or setting. I happen to be currently pursuing this field of research for my M.Ed. thesis study. Within the very broad spectrum of what constitutes auto-ethnography, there are categories of narrative (story-telling), one of which is called writing-stories.  Essentially, these are narratives that one would write after the fact to explain the context of a story already written. Within this category of inquiry, there is a sub-genre of writing-stories called microprocess writing-stories, a genre of a narrative that concerns itself with the process of selecting what to include and what not to include when writing about oneself in the cultural backdrop that individual is situated. When invoking this form, what is studied is what happens ‘in process’- what we choose to include or not include- before final edits have been made. Revisions that have been decided via a momentary decision, hands hovering over the keys, perhaps ‘finger on the delete button’ are what this form is all about. It concerns itself with ‘behind the scenes’ looks at the decision writers make before they hit the literal or virtual send button.

Lately, I have been writing my own narratives with raw vulnerability. Trying to share as honestly as I can about who I am, where I am, what I am, why I am and how I am. Trying to not leave out any of the details that would explain me to you- even though that delete button looks so very safe much of the time. Being that I am not an island unto myself, this kind of writing can get tricky- especially as we are all social and relational beings prone to include details about how our lives intermingle with the significant others we love and care about.

This vulnerability-thing can complicate things when your story is also tied up in someone else’s story.

But in getting back to the issue of how we choose what to include or not include, it is very interesting to me that social media has given us the freedom to share our lives with one another in ways we never could have done in years past. Take Facebook, for instance. Just today, I was given a front-row seat into the experiential world of a dear friend as she shared very private details about a medical procedure she was undergoing. She not only included text, but she posted pictures as well- opening up her private world to the rest of us to view with no holds barred.

I am in absolute awe at her candour. For I consider this an act of truthfulness – to bare oneself to the public, not fashioning a self that has been contrived, but presenting the ‘real deal’ as who she is behind closed doors. This is honesty at its most vulnerable. Some would call this bravery- but I am more inclined to see it as unabashed sincerity. We do not see this kind of authenticity very often in terms of public interactions. We like to hide behind our façade so as to protect ourselves from injury or pain. We have very little trust that other people receiving the details of our story will handle us with care.

Not everyone can do this- live so openly. Nor should they. We all need to live with the decisions we make, and if we make decisions that end up with us feeling uncomfortable and uneasy, we know that those decision were not the right ones to make in the first place. But what I sometimes observe in people is a feeling of discomfort- an awkwardness that some people have, with others who decide to be honest about the details of their personal lives. This is apart from sharing about one’s own life- it is more about judgement calls we make concerning what other individual’s share about their lives. For there are certainly people who are uncomfortable about the whole issue of forthrightness and openness, people who do not agree with others making the very personal decision to be honest and open about who they are when using direct and public avenues of sharing such.  But on both sides of the coin, this is an individual decision to make and live by.  Again, we are all different in how we approach sharing life revelations.

But what can be difficult for the one doing the revealing, as that honesty requires a great deal of vulnerability, is criticism.  For the one on the sharing end, to deal with criticism for your efforts can be very disappointing and disillusioning.  Not to mention disheartening, as you have stepped out on a limb to reveal the very personal workings of your innermost being.

What this all comes down to is a decision: deciding that in sharing, there is a greater gain for the effort than there is in losing one or two people’s approval. One cannot possibly please all people, so the decisions made about what to share in public venues must therefore please the one sharing so as to be worth the effort.

I believe there are many benefits to gain from sharing one’s life in open, direct and forthright ways, as can be done in blogging formats or via social media, but I will highlight two here.  One is a personal benefit and the other a public one. Firstly, we benefit personally from sharing with others our stories because we open ourselves up to the possibility of caring, responsive relationship being enabled through the sharing process.  When we share, others often share back creating a responsive, relational circle of care.  When we feel cared for, we are able to share more, growing our hearts in the process.  This does not always work, but when it does, it is a beautiful thing.

And secondly, others benefit from our sharing by way of the fact that we start to chip away at the stereotypes that accompany secretive, hidden stories.  We take away the shame, the horror and the feelings of humiliation of carefully guarded stories by making the issue at hand accessible  No longer a secret, its power to reduce, discredit and disgrace is lessened.  We are no longer at the mercy of the secret- we have taken its sting away through our telling.  This serves to help others in that the feelings of awkwardness at ‘not knowing what to say’ quickly vanish.  You are allowed to now say because you have been given permission to do so.

We live our lives as a testament to the person we were created to be- not for the purpose of pleasing other people around us. What we choose to include or omit, choose to revise and edit- these are decisions for us to make as individuals. And if the benefit outweighs the loss (with no harm done), we know we have made the right decision. But more than this, when we make the decision to share our lives- the beautiful, the bad and the devastatingly brutal, we also allow others the opportunity to experience empathy and care as a result. Through sharing our stories with one another, we open ourselves up to responsive relationships that are founded in care.

What we include to say or not say, says a lot about who we are. And how we respond to others in their vulnerable moments also speaks volumes about who we are and what we believe. When we embrace one another and allow for understanding, we learn from each other. And we come to understand just a little bit more what it means to be truly human. What is means to be both dichotomies: vulnerable and fragile, brave and beautifully strong.

Underneath it all, we are all just people. Just people.  And when we share our stories, we grow in understanding of each other. Grow in love and empathy and compassion. For in sharing, we come to be more caring.

Care that grows each time we share.