Loss is complicated

I was driving my 13-year old son home from Chinese school when we got a text from my husband that Kobe Bryant had died.

Kobe Bryant was 41 years old. He was born in 1978, about a month and a week before I was born.

I am 41 years old and was with my 13-year old child yesterday morning, as was he, as were two other families.  Three young teenagers and 4 parents.

We are still alive.  They are not.

This was hard for me yesterday.

It is hard for me today.

Then the social media storm that I couldn’t pull myself away from because collective grief is something that both comforts me and confronts me happened.

Then the debates about whether people should mourn, how they should mourn, who they should mourn.

I’m not here for those debates, to be honest.

I’m here as a 41-year old parent of a 13-year old child.

I’m here as someone who has, in my own life, suffered from the sudden loss of the person closest to her in the whole world.

I’m here as an empathetic member of a community who sees collective pain and grief of people around me and isn’t about judging who has a right to pain, who has a right to protection from pain, who people can grieve, why they grieve or what they are grieving. I’m here as someone who is committed to holding space for all that is for those around me, whether I personally experience those same emotions or not.

It is hard to hold space.  It is hard to hold all of this and still have to organize my life, prepare for my classes, engage with the world.

So I’m writing this because maybe today is hard for you too.

Or maybe today isn’t.

If it is hard for you, I see you and I’m with you in your suffering.  This is the meaning of compassion.

If it isn’t, I see you too, and I’m so glad that you’re not affected negatively by all of this. I’d ask you to hold space, if not for the person or people who have passed, for those that are suffering in this moment, all of those who are suffering for a variety of reasons in relation to loss.

Someday, you may be suffering or in grief and someone (perhaps very well-meaning) may tell you that you’re doing it wrong, may not give you the space that you need, may try to help you through a process you didn’t ask for help through. And that will be hard, almost as hard as the situation you’re dealing with. It has happened to me and I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

Death touches us all in different ways, and in the moments that you need this compassion (whether now or later), I hope that people will hold space for you too.

Stepping into Leadership; Stepping into Community

When I was in 6th grade, I really wanted to win the middle school leadership award.  It was given to one student from each graduating 6th grade class and was basically an invitation into middle school ASB.  I was academically one of the top students in my class, had sung with the mini-6th grade chorus for graduation and was on the edge of my seat as they announced that the winner of the award was…

Not me.

Clearly, this was devastating enough to my 11-year old self that I remember it, 30 years later.  I remember this incident with such clarity because I wanted so much for my teachers to see me as a leader, as more than just the smart kid who brought in fortune cookies and egg rolls from my aunt’s Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year (I know the Chinese do not have a monopoly on the Lunar New Year, but when I was little, that’s what I knew) and got good grades.  I wanted to lead. I wanted to be involved.  And the teacher’s belief in me was my ticket in the door to participate, as I couldn’t just convince my mom that I could “walk on” to the middle school leadership team.

I pretty much have spent a lot of the last 30 years consciously or sub-consciously trying to prove that I am a leader.  It didn’t go that well for the first 21 years of my life. I mean, I did fine. I was many things to many people.  I worked hard and did well.  But, I was not a leader.

Then I became a teacher, and pretty quickly, people started seeing me as a leader.  I began leading professional development at my school site, coaching at the district level, co-directing our local National Writing Project site.

When I transitioned into teacher education, I also became a leader fairly quickly, with the core course I teach, in my department, college and in various professional organizations.

Now, I’m even a church elder, a PTSA board member — it seems that leadership is everywhere.  I am all  that 11-year old me wanted people to see. I am a leader.

But, what 11-year old me didn’t quite see was that, in craving leadership and recognition, what I really was craving was community and the belief in my contribution.

On the other side of these many opportunities to serve as a leader is the humility of realizing that while leadership holds much responsibility, it is so valued and valuable because of community.  Without a strong community, leadership can just become one more thing to do, one more role to fill, it can be empty. What I wanted as an 11-year old was to be seen as a leader, but more importantly, I wanted others to see me for the contributions I could bring, whether in a leadership role or not. I wanted to be a part of community and to contribute.

I’m grateful to so many people in my life that support me and love me as I serve and I lead from my heart and with my heart. On the days where I’d like to step down from all the things and hide under my covers, telling my 11-year old self to be happy she wasn’t selected for the leadership position, I hold my community close and they remind me why contribution and leadership are important.

That’s what I’m stepping into, in these first few weeks of 2020, into leadership, into community, into humility, into humanity.

Thanks for seeing me here.


Starting Anew (Year)

It’s New Year’s Day 2020.

This is not a new year, new me post.

This is a new year, accepting the me that always has been post.

I’ve been on an extended break from work for the last 10 days, and frankly, it’s been pretty glorious and simultaneously weirdly torturous.  I’ve gotten a few “productive” things done (some work-related, some family-related, some life-related), but really, I spent at least the first week either sick or super burnt out.

I was worried that my degree of burn out was so extensive, at the end of 2019, that I wouldn’t want to write again ever.  And I have a lot of writing projects ahead in 2020 so I was really not about that non-writing life.  But, I also could not bring myself to be about the writing life or the academic life.  I was just so tired and so defeated that even my usual achievement-oriented, grin-and-bear-it, just keep moving, always-grateful self felt completely exhausted.

A few days ago, I really started to worry.  I was still tired.  I still had a hacking cough.  I still felt like 2020 was coming for me and I wasn’t ready.

I felt really lost.

I felt like so much of 2019 and the latter part of 2018 was about a search, a search to figure out who I am, who I should be, what my legacy will be.

I felt like whatever I might find at the end of that search would lead me to the realization that I was failing miserably despite trying so hard all the time.

I felt like I was climbing a constant sand dune that was sinking faster than I could move forward.

When I have felt similar feelings in the past, I usually bury them (or distract myself) by getting back to work — even though I am exhausted because there is always more work to do.

But this time, I just really didn’t want to do that.  What I wanted more than anything was just to stop feeling like such a failure, all the time.

At some point, maybe gradually, maybe suddenly, I realized that I am not my feelings.  I feel like a failure, somewhat regularly, but I am not a failure. I mean, objectively, it’s pretty clear that I’m not a failure.

I fail. I mean, we all fail from time to time if we’re trying for things that are challenging, but failing doesn’t actually mean I’m a failure unless I make it mean that.  And even when I do fail, I’m loved.

This all may seem extremely basic, but sometimes the simplest things are the most profound when they come at the time when you most need them.

So it’s a new year, a time to start anew, a time to learn to accept who I am, to reconstruct an identity not grounded in success as self-worth, to try with my whole heart, and know that either I’ll succeed or I won’t, but it doesn’t have to define me.

And the year starts with a blog post.  It’s a hopeful sign of what’s to come.