In the summer of 2013, as I delved deeper into the challenges of accepting my incurable neurological movement disorder, I was introduced to a healing center in Minneapolis. One of the classes they offered was a nine-week course called “Renewing Life”. It sounded just right for the place I was in, both emotionally and spiritually. This would be a place where I could check in with others who were facing struggles similar to my own. A place where we’d read about and discuss issues like resilience, getting stuck, reframing our minds and learning to put our needs first. A place I looked forward to going each and every week because I finally found a group of people who understood what it’s like to have an invisible disease. Most importantly, it was a place where I felt safe. This was my new beginning, and we read an amazing poem by John O’Donohue called “For a New Beginning” that you will be reading interspersed between my thoughts in the next two posts. My new beginning prompted me to want to offer others new beginnings, as well, and a safe place for them to do it. You know the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, for almost a year now, I have been immersed in that saying, learning new things about myself each time.
You see, last December I allowed an acquaintance from the healing center mentioned above to move in with me until he was able to get back on his feet. He needed help immediately. I had the space. He needed the chance to create a new beginning. I was able to provide a safe place for him to do that. To make a long story short, by February, this living situation had turned into a disaster. He poisoned one of my dogs due to his negligence (fortunately, Morey is okay now) and had become abusive verbally. Since I didn’t know him very well, I didn’t know what he was truly capable of doing. Everything was everyone else’s fault, and he took no responsibility in the role he played in creating his life situation. Needless to say, the police got involved, he threatened to sue me, and my dystonia was off the charts. I vowed never to invite anyone who wasn’t a friend into my living space again.
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
Why did I invite him into my house to begin with? I’m not the kind of person who would typically do this, and it took a lot of soul searching to reveal the answer. Eventually, I discovered that because of my disability, my career wasn’t able to show me my worth anymore. Teaching workshops, being a union rep. for many years, and being awarded grants definitely provided that feeling of worth I so desperately needed. I had always gone above and beyond to be the best teacher I could be. My students and their parents deserved it! While teaching full-time, I went to school for two more certifications in education, in addition to my Master’s Degree. I applied for every opportunity to expand my learning, which is how I became involved in the Minnesota Writing Project. And as a result of the MWP’s month long Summer Institute in 2008, I was inspired to work with a fellow colleague who also attended the SI with me. We proposed the starting of a literacy group for teachers who were interested in reading texts on best practice for writing. Our school district was very supportive of the idea, and it became our desire to improve the teaching of writings or every teacher in our schools. Since the elimination of the state writing test at the elementary level, we knew that writing wasn’t even being taught in some classrooms. We also knew we were heading into uncharted territory, which was exciting. My colleague and I were actively involved in facilitating the group and providing access to workshops that would enhance all of our knowledge in the area of literacy.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
We also formed partnerships between the University of Minnesota, The Edina Education Fund, The Minnesota Writing Project and the Edina Public Schools to form a cohort for the Critical Literacy and Writing certification at the U. Our hard work paid off. Eighteen staff members were given the funding for 15/18 of the credits they’d need. Even more importantly, this was the first time the U of M agreed to take their classes off campus and into the buildings of a school district. After opening that door, the U of M has continued offering this off-campus learning for other districts in the metro area. Even now, I am still active as a Teaching Consultant for the Minnesota Writing Project. I just need to monitor what I can do based on my health status.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gay promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
As you can see, I had a big part of my life invested in my career. Certainly, I was proud of my accomplishments and am excited to know they continue to positively impact teachers and students today. So it’s easy to see why I had my worth wrapped up in my teaching. When I went on long-term disability 1 1/2 years ago, I felt like I needed to do something to prove I was still worthy. This is why I believe I offered help to this first person who lived with me for a few months. What a huge “Ah-ha” moment I had as I thought about this. I didn’t need to DO anything to be worthy. I am worthy and valuable in this life because I exist, not because of what I’ve done. It was a tough lesson to learn, especially because the worth that I had attached to my role as a teacher was ultimately what led to my cervical dystonia diagnosis. And the wheels on the bus go round and round…always full circle.
Stay tuned for the hopes in “New Beginnings: Chapter Two”.