Monday, November18, 2013
Good morning. For the past month or so, I’ve been thinking about what I want to say to you during my official Prayers Talk, as opposed to my impromptu announcements. I decided to grab a single leaf from my “idea tree” and talk with you about a few things that bother me. The Head of School who complains is not an identity I want to have. However, I share some of my bothers as a way to tell you what matters to me. It is my hope that some of this will also matter to you. Why pet peeves? Well, knowing what you don’t like can help you define your values and articulate your likes. Perhaps when faced with an assignment for an open-ended project, you’ve sat with empty screens and pages. I oftentimes find that listing the things I don’t want to focus upon helps me find the things about which I do want to spend my thinking time. So, this Prayers Talk is a talk about what I don’t like and, therein, a good bit about my values.
This idea is not unique. Many are famous and well known for their ranting. Most of you won’t remember Andy Rooney, who spoke at the end of 60 Minutes and would complain about some small item or experience. Somehow, he spun his bothers into philosophical talks. To this day, I vividly remember my grandparents, parents, and sisters listening, laughing, and discussing his words. He was at the end of the show, before, TIVO and DVR existed. Why do you think he was at the end? Right, to keep you tuned in and watching the adds at the front end. This is how TV stations made money, through the advertisements. If alive today, I imagine Andy Rooney would have a lot to say about the word “tweet” and the way in which we all need strong digits in today’s world. He’d rant with big fuzzy eyebrows twitching about no one writing complete thoughts or hand-written letters anymore; he would, without a doubt, have much to say about the cost of mailing a letter, and the loss of having to share a landline phone with family members. Rants equaled sensibility and thinking points when Andy Rooney talked. Ladies, use your strong fingers and Google him. You’ll find a YouTube video of his; let me know what you think about him. The one that pops up first is usually about bottled water and the outrageous price we pay to hydrate ourselves.
So, here is my first bother…
When my husband and I first brought our small children to birthday parties, the goody bags with party favors annoyed us. We didn’t have a good recycling program in New Orleans. Katrina, a powerful hurricane, depleted the city’s functioning. Recycling was not mainstreamed for a long time. The idea of a host purchasing, providing, and our bringing a toy water gun, bouncy ball, more sugar, or a tattoo of batman, my little pony, or whatever the party theme was to our house simply annoyed us. In real time, this is why:
The party, the friendship, the day of life, these are all gifts. The endless pieces of pizza, chicken nuggets, or Nuggies!, as our kids still call them, juice boxes, video games, bounce houses, arts and crafts, Saints Football Mascots bouncing around…etc., etc., these were also gifts. However, we had the joy of riding home, all strapped into the minivan, with tears, frustration, and coming down from sugar rushes with broken trinkets, or some high pitched “I didn’t get one!” outcry from the sibling who was brought along in the “siblings welcome” category. It was so hard to try and explain our values and remain calm with children when two to seven years old; in retrospect, I am not sure why we even tried to climb that moral hill. Really, trying to have a purposeful conversation about materialism and saving our Earth with our post-party toddlers and elementary-aged children was just plain silly. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Somehow, we would arrive home in fair form and have the fortitude to walk from the car into our home. The cat, and more recently the dog were glad to see us. Then, the post-party depression would set in. Bad moods, not wanting to take a bath, all of us needing a time out, but no time for the out would look us in the metaphorical eye. We’d throw out the party stuff, waste most of the homemade supper we cooked, and be fairly grumpy. How all of this helped us celebrate the life and birthday of a friend is still a mystery to me. Maybe it was us, but birthdaypalooza did not provide joy and gratitude for Team Evins.
I encourage us all to think about celebrating life in a way that gives back to our lives. How can we give each other gifts that do not take away from living things and the means they need to survive, enhance, and improve their lives? Take that on, ladies. Generations of current and future parents will give you a standing ovation and our landfills will not fill as quickly. Childhood obesity might even take a bit of a nosedive. However, in the meantime, you might put a few birthdaypalooza chains in a bad mood and be known as the Grinch who took away birthdaypalooza. What would happen if we reimagined childhood birthday parties? Cake, candles, music, joy; these are all keepers. It is the plastic and excess I encourage you to rethink. Celebrating life and how you share time and memories with each other as the center and filter for birthday parties is relevant to us all, in my humble, or perhaps loud opinion.
Next up in my rants are false praise and the era of trophies. I am sure you are familiar with the practice of miniature and grand trophies given out to youth for league sports and the likes. There are numerous articles about this relatively new, 30-year-old trend. I put this in a similar bother category as the birthday party favors. You were able to sign up for and be a part of the team. Here is a chance to learn about life, working with others, not always win, and exert yourself for the sake of knowing how to try and be your best, which is a fairly important life skill. Such experiential learning is a gift that adults don’t think is enough for our youth. So instead, we beckon to you and falsely soothe your appetite for external recognition with false trophies to place on your mantle, in a box, or left in the car. Maybe you missed every practice. Perhaps you spent the majority of time crying on the gym floor. Some of you may not have been played during the season. However, the adults in our society decide to grant you a small trophy as a way to feel great about your experience and remember the joys of the meet, match, practice, or team experience, even if you were a bad sport or a non-player. If a math problem, I would have trouble finding how this is a balanced equation.
I don’t know about the other adults in the audience, but the days I am able to give it my best, even have some fairly profound victories, I don’t get a trophy! Sometimes, I don’t even get a wave, thank you, note, or smile. Most days what I get is the satisfaction that I call the toothbrush test. When I am brushing my teeth at night, can I say that my getting out of bed, being away from my family, pets, and hobbies helped make the world a better place? Did I give it my best, learn from any mistakes, and help someone else have a growth opportunity? Did I get a laugh from or with another? Did I make a difference, large or small? Did I give gratitude? If I can find the yes moment to these questions in the small chunk of time I am cleaning my chompers, than I had my metaphorical trophy moment. Ladies, real life doesn’t always or usually give you stuff when you do well and feel good. Instead, you will find you high five yourself. Find your moments! It is when you let the person beside you go first, have the parking spot, enjoy your smile and encouragement, share a solution, or simply say “hello” when you are giving and getting the real trophy. Once again, no landfill needs to be filled when you are “done” enjoying the material form of gratitude for showing up and doing your best. Consider a time so far this year when you dug in, participated, and gave it your all. I hope that warms your heart, fuels your drive to go for it again, and prepares you for the day ahead.
I get it, the mini trophy and a party favor are, in isolation, not big deals to get worked up about with all that is occurring in your lives; however, they are part of the larger conversation I am having with you as head of SPSG. Find the joy in each other and fill your party favor bag with treasures that can be written down in a journal, shared on a blog, pasted in a photo album. The stuff is not going to bring you joy, and this time of year, as we begin to think about Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Kwanza, Christmas and other “gift giving” dates, I ask you to pause. Take a healthy RISC. Show RESPECT for our Earth, have the INTEGRITY to think beyond the unwrapping, groom an opportunity for SPIRITUAL GROWTH - as you walk our divine campus give gratitude and feel connected to a bigger force of nature, be CREATIVE and show your gratitude and love for each other in a way that costs time and emotions.
Maybe it is just me, but after unwrapping and recycling the paper, when I am done finding a new spot for unwrapped stuff, I can feel a bit empty and maybe a little sad. However, the notes, photos, and memories of spending time with those who matter in my life warm my soul and when I give in these ways, my toothbrush test goes very well. Just to put it in perspective, the party favors from my youth or my children’s early days didn’t make it in the move from Atlanta to New Orleans, or New Orleans to Baltimore; however, you better believe my journals from middle school onward, my treasured “nice notes” from students and school families, boxes of letters to and from my family members, and all of our photo albums did.
Let us pray-
Dear Lord, during this time of holiday readying, let us remember the truly holy in our lives. Let us hold each other to our best and find time to join with those in our lives through written words, spoken gratitude, and shared experiences. Let us help those who are not as fortunate as we are, remember those who are experiencing loss, pain, or who are not with us anymore. Allow us to give grace and gratitude in ways that will be everlasting. Amen.