Monthly Archives: February 2022

Cheers to those who bring light into our world

Mons Belfroi sending love to Ukraine

Most of us are living a surreal but sort-of normal reality (or is it?).  Life is going on as usual, Covid restrictions are shedding away, and, despite the cold, Spring is coming.  That said we are all fully aware of what is going on in Ukraine.  

Imagine hearing your ministry of defense urge residents to make firebombs to help protect their home.  I repeat:  people, like you and me, are being asked to defend their city.  Perhaps the people of Ukraine have prepared for this, but if you were to ask Joe and me to defend Mons, we’d fight with Jupiler cans, wine bottles and hours-old baguettes.  That sounds like an insensitive joke, but I’m being serious.  We, like our Ukrainian brethren, do not know the first thing about military might. 

And yet the people of Kyiv are using whatever they can find (including weapons supplied by their government) to hold their city.  When needed they retreat to basements and subway tunnels for refuge.  I said a little cheer for them this morning when I saw in the headlines that despite Russia’s enormous military advantage, Ukrainians still have their capital city.

On Thursday, the first email at work that I opened was one that told me a former Ukrainian student and her family were safe. Everyone who’s had the pleasure of working with her let out a sigh of relief because she is one of the students you remember long past retirement – the child (now young adult) who pushed her elders to teach more because we wanted to feed her insatiable hunger for knowledge.  She’s a hardworking, incredibly bright, proud soul who lit up when given the chance to share her country’s culture.  Through her I learned that Ukrainian heritage goes back eons, and their passion for democracy is as strong as it was with America, way back when we wanted the same. Her love of learning and her desire to promote all that is good with humanity motivated me to push harder, to do better to prepare tomorrow’s leaders. 

I work at an international school on a NATO base.  Many of my students come from countries that border Ukraine, because borders are man made, many have relatives and history well into territory at war now.  We’ve also had students from countries that ally with Russia, students I also adored, and it is their faces I see too (and I do not want to see harm come to their families either).  All of my students have a parent who in one way or another is associated with NATO.

The stress among these kids now is palpable.  Throughout our time together they’ve shared bits and pieces of their homes, their passions, their fears.  Their stories stick with me, and like the stories from students before them, they remind me of the many different layers that make up our species.  Some of our kids will be going back to their countries, so that their parents can do what it is they’re expected to do.  Other kids will join us, so that their family members can do what they need to do.  War is work.

I want to hug them all and tell them that everything is going to be okay, but they deserve more than a lie and something that will make me feel better.  They deserve a world where we don’t destroy one another for someone else’s version of power, but we just haven’t gotten to that point yet.  

Teaching and learning is also work. We have the next week off, but when we come back, despite whatever the next few days brings us, we will get back to work. We will escape into the words of those who saw the world before us and see what we can glean from them. We will make our connections, and we will find what light we can. They will take all of this and use it to become the adults they are growing into. Some of them will grow into public figures who will make the decisions that none of us feel we have any control over. If the teenagers they are today reflect the leaders they will become then I still have faith. But, we still have a lot of work to do. We adults have to model critical and objective thinking (and decision making), we have to model a desire to compromise, we have to model progress despite our setbacks and, yes, idiocracy. We have to want to build for all versus destroying to gain for a few. We have to get over ourselves and face our damned fears and bouts of superiority. We are all woven from the same thread, which takes off into our unique styles and patterns.

Of course a world without war seems impossible. Winning independence against an empire was impossible. Flying was impossible. Being able to breathe underwater? Impossible. Shutting down entire economies to fight a virus was, at one time, impossible. Why should figuring out a way not to war be unreachable? If my hormonal, moody, and sometimes lazy teenagers can continue to do the work despite all the horrors that are happening too close for comfort, then so can we adults.

Peace, or maybe that’s too lofty, how about cohesion is work.

Salty Sunday Cerebrations…

Welcome to the land of rain, fog and dreary days sans le snow. To be fair we did have sunny weather yesterday, which Joe and I used to stroll the streets of Brussels. The wind and rain came back last night. It was so windy, it sounded like we were sleeping in an ocean-front apartment. It is the perfect day to sip and stare with the Olympics playing in the background. I’m snuggled up on my yellow, window-seat chair too lazy to clean or read, so I figured what the hell? Let’s try to write something.

Work has been busy; life has been good. Last weekend we whooped it up in Lille with friends.

LOL where we stayed at a cool hotel.
And played darts at a cool bar with lyric neon lights

Next weekend, Joe and I are going to Tongeren where I hope to find an antique something or other to buy him for his birthday. And then the weekend after that my daughter and her little heathen arrive for a three-week visit. I’m so excited about this. We have all sorts of family fun planned, plus our cherished Mama/Daughter couch/wine time. Fingers crossed we even get a snow day or two, but that hasn’t been our reality yet this winter.

Mostly though (when I’m not working or exploring my corner of the world), I find myself sipping and staring and wondering what tomorrow will bring: Something I imagine we all find ourselves doing during February, that time post holidays, pre Spring and summer fun.

One of the perks of my job is that I bring someone else’s words to life and try to make them relevant to the souls in my room, who are still trying to figure out what to do with their today yet alone contemplate tomorrow. In teacher talk we do this via our essential questions. My 9th graders are reading Elie Wiesel’s Night, and I began the week asking them how we are witnesses to history and messengers to humanity. Our conversation wasn’t earth shattering, but it did the trick, and we made the connections we needed to make, etc. etc. But, I keep finding myself pondering the question. What messages are we sending to our future selves? And are we listening to those of our beforeigners (haven’t watched that show, but LOVE this word)?

Among we teacherly types, the essential question is more along the lines of WTF? We’re astounded to see so much censorship taking place and so much I can’t even think of the right terminology here, so much finger pointing, so little reflection going on. Critical thinking is not taking place where decisions about what and how to teach seem to be taking place. It feels like open discourse is quickly becoming a dinosaur.

There is no hidden agenda in exposing students to multiple views and to the stories of our past, and, yes, that includes how we have manipulated those histories with our words. There is, however, a very blatant agenda when you conceal or sanitize the uglies that are part of our story while vilifying those who do not fit your mold of what is right and what is wrong. To not explore or discuss what makes us uncomfortable is to establish a norm that is akin to burying our heads in the sand while the world around us continues to blow up — or progress without us.

I’m lucky, in my school, I am still allowed to teach a novel about the holocaust, one that eloquently brings forth the questions we need to ask ourselves, and, yes, it also shares the horrors of what we can do to each other. I’m also teaching Catcher in the Rye to my 10th graders, which addresses a multitude of our uncomfortable complexities — issues basically rooted in concealing a truth versus addressing it — and having my 11th and 12th grade students use literary (also called critical) theories to analyze text. [Disclaimer: I don’t teach critical race, but I do teach post colonial, and when it comes time for students to choose their own theories to analyze text with, I would not deter a student from using critical race — caps not included, so that I can remind folk these are methodologies/lenses/NOT official mandates or calls to action]. And while, as of today, there is no pressure for me not to teach these things, I worry that one day in my near future there might be. History has taught me where that kind of censorship will lead. Perhaps what I’m reading and discussing with my colleagues is merely just hype, but the fact it’s even making news is a concern. It is the year 2022, and I find myself closer to 1984 than I care to think.

History has also taught me that where’s there’s strife, there is eventually growth. We need to be challenged to grow. So perhaps where we are now is a mere ripple, and we will resolve this and go back to moving forward. And yeah I know that while I’m warm and well fed (and read) nestled on my comfy chair, the drums of war are beating, the effects of climate change are doing their thing, and winter is not coming for some of us (despite us wanting it to snow so badly lol). It is the way of our lives — we move forward, backward, then forward again, until perhaps we don’t. The good news is living is taking place and despite the uglies, there is always good in that.

And that, my friends, is way more than you wanted to know of what goes through my head when I’m lazy on a rainy day.

Please don’t let me be the fat lady in the window. Thanks Fernando Botero for art that makes me giggle (although not at this painting) and ruminate at the same time, and to Mons for exhibiting his work.
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