Where can I go from Thy Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Thy Presence?
If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Thy hand will lead me,
And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to Thee,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to Thee.
For Thou didst form my inward parts;
Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to Thee, for I am
Fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139: 7-14
I must confess to you that I am actually quite the homebody (aka- Isolationist). I know what you’re thinking…how can that be when all I seem to write about is traveling here, there and yon. But that’s the irony in my life, I love traveling, seeing the big, as well as the small cities— and yet I am a homebody, relishing in the quiet of often being home alone. Sometimes these dichotomies clash creating internal near panic attacks.
I like traveling with my immediate family. If something were to, God forbid, happen, say like the plane blowing up and fall from the sky (did I fail mentioning that I am also a bit of a fatalist?), we’d all be together, it would be okay. But say I’m off on some adventure alone, my mind begins playing all sorts of devilish tricks on me, often times almost ruining potential blessings and the adventure itself.
I’ve always called my dad “Eeyore”, the little blue donkey from Winnie the Pooh. In that oh so monotone deadpan of voices, Eeyore always laments, “oh no, we’ll never make it” –“end of the road, nothing to do, no hope of it getting better….” That is my dad to a tee—so maybe this doomsday worry has been ingrained since my childhood.
Now this is not to say I am a negative person—not on the outside anyway. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that my glass is always half full. I try to be everybody’s cheerleader—miss polyanna positive—and I believe it all, that is– for them. When it comes to me on the other hand, the plane is going to fall out of the sky, the chain saw murderer is going to find me, my tires are the ones that will explode….the litany of woe goes on and on. No way to live, I agree with you there. How can a devout Christian feel this way you ask? —Satan always knows how to find weak spots, the underbelly, and goes for it/them every time—I’m no exception.
So a couple of summers ago I was having to fly out to New Mexico for a week of IB training for school. By myself. I prefer safety in numbers…at least one other person/ teacher I know …I don’t even have to like them. I am an independent person, on so many levels, but not all levels unfortunately—I wish I was, but alas. I’m not one to go to a restaurant alone. I do go shopping to the mall, the grocery store, etc… all the time by myself. It usually helps if I have a mission or a purpose. But to just up and go to a restaurant or even some sort of function by myself—what would I do? What would I look at? Who would I talk to?
See? Not good.
People who know me always find this hard to believe —that I am actually quite shy. Maybe that’s why I’ve always expressed myself better in writing than in face-to-face conversation. Some people see my quietness, in new situations, as my being a bit standoffish, snobbish, and maybe even arrogant. Trust me, it’s anything but…. I’m usually just silently dying on the inside.
I get all nervous. I don’t know what to say. I stumble and fumble over my words. What I do say makes me often feel as if I’m coming across as a bit of an idiot. Again, bosses and colleagues who know me would disagree, (but not those truly close dear friends, they know the truth and they still love me) but I’ve become a master of faking it—and it helps getting older as it seems to get easier. I can get up in front of a classroom of kids any day but put me up in a room full of adults and I die a slow internal death. C’est la vie.
So when it came time for me to fly solo out west, I was none too happy. I’d have to sit alone in the Albuquerque airport for 3 hours until the shuttle buses came along taking all the IB teachers, who were slowly gathering form all parts of the world, for the hour and a half haul to the small town in which we were heading for the training. Did I mention this was mid July, New Mexico, a college dorm, for a week, with no air conditioning? “Could it get any better” I Eeyored to myself.
Upon arrival at the airport, I went to fetch my luggage. There was a desk where the IB teachers could stash their luggage while waiting on the shuttle bus. I grabbed something to eat, alone. When it came time to make our way to the bus, a cute, little teacher from Arkansas spotted me. The southern accent was welcomed. She made a beeline in my direction. Introduced herself as an English teacher (I can spot and English teacher a mile away) — she thought I, too, was an English teacher. Her enthusiasm seemed to wane a bit when I told her I was an Art teacher. Plus I wasn’t nearly as bubbly or effervescent as she was…
Every principal I have ever worked for, and there have been 9, thought I was a dead ringer for an English teacher—not an Art teacher. One of these many principals told me as much. When he noticed the question in my stare, he explained that I didn’t dress like an art teacher, I actually had undergarments. Now I was really staring and wasn’t certain as to what I was to say in response. I suppose it is good thing that it must be apparent that I believe in undergarments. All I can think is that perhaps he once had an art teacher who worked for him who was a throw back to Woodstock and was an aging hippie. Aging hippies still trying the sport “the look,” not a pretty site—too much moves south and needs extra support!
I struck up a conversation with this Razorback English teacher and her fellow English teacher friend from Arkansas (how nice that she had a cohort). I sat with the friend on the bus for the long haul up into the mountains of New Mexico. The Razorback teacher sat with a French fellow from Canada who spoke very little English but who taught English. Interesting.
I was very nervous about the rooming situation. My school is great making certain their traveling teachers have nice facilities in which to stay and private rooms if at all possible. My fear however was that even though we requested a private room, this is a “college,” a dorm room…. oh dear Lord. Wonder if I get some strange roommate? Wonder if I do what I say I do not do, but my husband says I do do—perhaps a light snore…dear me.
As the 3 busloads of teachers made the way in for check-in, I was fortunate and did have a room by myself. However, it was in the lower campus dorms. Not up in the pretty old gothic type main building where these Razorback teachers were privileged to stay. The lower dorms were 187 steps down, down massive stone steps, seemingly miles away from the main building and the dinning hall. It was time this Georgia flatlander got into shape, as I would have to climb up and down these stairs no less than 3 to 4 times daily! The only saving grace was that my “classroom” for training, the Art room, was down in the “gully” along with my room.
As I do not look like the typical art teacher, my demeanor is also not that of a typical art teacher. I was to spend a week with some pretty intense hard-core art teachers from all over the world. Art for Art’s sake folks. Where as I do love art, the teaching of art, the making of art, etc, I tend to be a bit more academic in my approach and not so “artsy” or freethinking and freewheeling. I am more controlled.
I suppose this is apparent upon first meeting me. I am serious no frills. Not cutesy. More meticulous and focused—not flighty or scattered. But I suppose I look more like a suburban housewife— which I am, who also happens to be a life long educator. Oh the dichotomies! My “look” does not ingratiate me on artsy folks as I come across too conservative in a not so conservative field. That’s okay. I can hang with the best of them.
I don’t remember exactly how I met them. I don’t remember if it was down in the “south 40” dorms or when I made my way to supper. But meet them I did. And I am today, the better for it. More about “them” in a minute.
On the first morning, I was up at 5. It was hot as hell in the little dorm room—nary a breeze to be had. This was the summer of the massive wildfires in New Mexico so depending on when and if the wind blew, there was foreboding in the air. Before departing for the trip I had hoped for a cancellation due to the fires but God is always a step (usually thousands of steps) ahead of my Eeyore self—thank goodness!!
I had not slept and felt nervous and depressed. At breakfast I heard that there were bats up in the tower of the old building where the Razorback teachers were staying. I felt slight vindication for my gully dorm. But later in the week we were warned to be careful as mountain lions were coming down out of the hills due to the fires and we would need to be careful at night walking down to our lower dorms. Grrreat.
During the first morning in the Art room, we sat in a large circle. We went around the room introducing ourselves. Usually in a situation like this, when you’re thrown in with about 25 strangers, you can usually spot one or two like-minded souls. Not so here. At one point I was telling one of the other art teachers about a program we had started back home for our “at risk” kids, the socially disadvantaged student—a backpack program to provide food for these kids over the weekends.
One rather combative teacher overhead my conversation and, suddenly, I hear from across the room “how, come it’s got to be the socially disadvantaged? I take offense at that!” “Are you kidding me?” I’m thinking. Here I was attempting to make small talk about a positive program our school had going on and someone across the room “attacks” me over the wording. I explain those were not my words but rather the wording my school chooses and there was certainly no denying these kids were impoverished—as a good soldier, I always make certain I follow procedure from my school, and here was to be no exception.
Things were now suddenly a bit tense and became awkward for those milling about. Great. I’ve just gotten off to a great start. I’m obviously not artsy like all of them and now they think I’m some sort of idiot. As Divine kindness intervened, later that day, one of the other art teachers from her school came over to me and told me to disregard this woman (no names as to protect all those innocents out there ☺), as she often came across like that. What a fun week this was going to be. I didn’t fit in with these art teachers and now one was wanting to spill my blood and I could be eaten by a mountain lion. Great. Plus it was hot as hell.
But back to “them.” I met two really wonderful women. They too were “living” down in the gully dorms. One was a younger teacher, in her early 30 from Ohio. She was an English teacher. The other one was 60ish, a French teacher at the American Boarding School south of London—England of all places. Like I say I don’t remember the exact moment we met, but it was a blessing—an immediate blessing, but one that was to be long term as well.
The three of us would meet up after classes for lunch and dinner and would all walk up together for breakfast. Which depending on the type of shape one was in could be relatively quick and painless or long, halting and laborious. The girl from Ohio was actually in the room next to mine. The three of us also signed up for the side trips the school had arranged. We spent an afternoon traveling to Taos and another visiting an Alpaca farm—which I loved as I’ve always thought I wanted to raise an alpaca or two.
The school provided social activities in the evenings. Some times it was a causal wine and beer “social” (for teachers!!, can you imagine?!), other times it was a cookout. There were naturally occurring hot springs located on the campus frequented by students, trainees, and some rather rough locals. One evening, about 6 of us from the Isolationist dorm (that’s what we came to call the gully dorm since we all sought to room alone), donned bathing suits along with towels and took off for an evening “soak”. To see a bunch of varying aged educators, in bathing suits (not always a pretty site) and wrapped up like Romans in togas, traipsing along the side of a road in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, in hot pursuit of hot springs in the middle of a hot July, was a sight to behold.
My friend teaching in England is actually German. She is married to a man from Finland. Their children were born in France while she was living there studying for her degree. One teacher asked her what language does she dream in and she replied with a smile, “it depends on the dream”. I came to love this woman.
She was an old hat at IB as she’d been teaching it for years. She is her school’s CAS director as well. That’s the teacher who oversees the required creativity and service component to IB. Her school works with an organization in Romania and Rwanda, which is working to end the myriad of orphanages in these countries by networking, and slowly, child by child, getting these kids adopted.
During the course of the week, the three of us leaned a great deal about one another. The three of us had all lost our moms when we were much younger. We had families that were at different places from one another’s and we shared the ups and downs of school.
And we also enjoyed “tea” time—or perhaps it’s the mere ritual and time-honored tradition teatime evokes. A moment of civility in a most non-civil of times.
I’ve been enjoying teatime since I was in high school. It’s just that I finally timed it correctly when I eventually got out in the real world working. Everyday I’d come home from school; I’d immediately put the kettle on. I prefer mint tea or green tea—caffeine likes to keep me up at night. I take mine with honey and milk. The small window I afforded myself to enjoy my cup of tea was precious, as it was about the only thing I ever did for myself…affording myself one small luxury in my hectic day. It provided me with some serious “detoxing” time from school and provided a nice transition to coming home, shifting gears, beginning supper, being mom and eventually wife. A sanity saver to be sure,
My German friend from England, it turned out, had a travel kettle. She took this thing with her everywhere. I knew at this moment, this woman was special!! She told us that when she and her husband were first married and had children, money was always tight. Many a trip the kettle provided a quick cheap meal of hotdogs. I never thought of a teakettle as a hotdog cooker—ingenious! Great for pasta as well she added. What a hoot!
This trip was to be no different. She pulled out that little travel kettle from her suitcase and instead of having happy hour each afternoon at 5, we’d all gather in her room around 4, or whenever we got out of our afternoon sessions, for tea. We smuggled tea packets out from the dinning hall, along with milk, honey and a few cookies. Watching a bunch of 30 to 60 year old woman sitting around a hot college dorm, with their smuggled contraband, enjoying a sophisticated afternoon of hot tea was a quite a sight.
It is in such moments that real conversations are had and real friendships are formed.
The school had enlisted the service of some of their boarding students as summer staff. These are IB kids from all over the world– Africa, Gaza, Israel, India, Iran, etc. One of the boys from Africa, who was our “hall monitor” (it’s funny, a 17 year old boy from Africa is hall monitor to a bunch of old women from all over the world), told the tea ladies his story.
He had come from a very poor family and was raised by a grandmother. He was a street-wise kid spending his time hustling on the streets for money— but he had shown great academic promise. He won an opportunity of coming to the United States to this particular IB school. He wanted to be able to go back to his home, creating a non-profit operation that would work with the street kids helping turn them around. My German friend from England thought that we should take up donations and give our “hall monitor” a small start for his dream. And so we did.
For a week that I was dreading, I departed a better person with some new-found friends. My plane was scheduled for an earlier flight than what the school’s shuttles were scheduled to run. I had to catch a ride with another teacher who had rented a car who also had an early flight back the Pittsburg.
Four of us relative strangers took off for the 2-hour ride back to Albuquerque. I had told my Isolationist cohorts good-bye that morning at breakfast. We were to take off for all different parts of the globe, but we were taking a bit of each other along on our various journeys. There were new ideas, new approaches to old problems and new contacts. I was sad saying good-bye.
I got to the airport only to find my flight delayed almost 2 hours. Are you kidding me!? I could have waited on the shuttle bus! I made my way over to a seat to proceed to wait when I suddenly spy a flight to Atlanta leaving within 10 minutes. I make my way up to the desk to inquire if there are any seats on this particular flight still available. I explain to the Delta rep that I’m a teacher and have been at training for the past week. Turns out this Delta rep was a former principal and wants to always help a teacher. She put me in first class. Oooo, really?
“But my luggage, my luggage, I’ve already checked it.” “Oh don’t worry, I’ll get it flagged and it will make the flight.” I was skeptical. I don’t have good luck with luggage. The year before, my aunt and I were coming back from Rome, both of our bags went on the carousel in Rome together– my aunt’s luggage arrived in Atlanta– my luggage went to New York. I wasn’t too certain now that my luggage would met me in Atlanta—but I was excited, first class—Ooooo!
The airport is now packed; they call my flight and ask all first class passengers to board. “Excuse me, please, I need to get through”—such a nice opportunity this is…. all the while my luggage looms in the back of my mind. I don’t “do” carry ons as I tend to over pack. But this is first class and I have a window seat, and a free drink—Ooooo!
I arrived home in Atlanta 2 hours early. I make my way over to the luggage carrousel. Round and round the luggage goes, where is Julie’s, no body knows. Are you kidding me??? I take the shuttle to get my car and finally head home, luggageless. The lady at the window where I was to pay for my car felt sorry for me when she asked about my trip and why I didn’t have any luggage—she gave me a discount. Delta promises they’ll deliver the bag to my house the next day…I’m getting use to that with Delta.
Fast forward to Christmas.
I sent my German friend in England some local honey, organic teas and other goodies as a Christmas gift so she may recall our New Mexico tea times. I too receive a package. It’s a travel teakettle! I too can now have either a civil cup of tea or a hotdog whenever and wherever I want one—Oooooo!
Fast forward to the Great Retirement Adventure—
When my German friend in England learned that I was going to be on her side of the “pond,” mid Fall, she made plans for a quick escape from her world in order to fly out to meet us for a weekend in Prague. That is true friendship. I don’t know when we’ll see one another again—there is hope for maybe this summer sometime. I hope so—either way, I still have a dear German friend, who is married to a Finn, teaching French in England, to kids at an American Boarding School who does charity work in Romania and Rwanda. And dares to dream Big! Such a big world just got a little bit smaller,
And the moral of this little rambling tale, besides being the fact that I am probably more like little Piglet, the fretful little pink one, rather than Eeyore the negative blue one, is that no matter my fears, worries, my self-deprecating ways, I am fortunate and blessed that my loving Father, has known me when…
“My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyse have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Thy thoughts of me O God! How vast is the sum of them! Psalm 139
This Omnipotent Creator, this blessed Father, looks upon me, lowly little ol’ piglet me, and loved and loves me, even before I came into being me. It is so very hard grasping the depth of such Love. He always knows best, He will always know best, unto the end of my time and of the time of Existence— Maybe one day I will learn, trusting Him with not only the big issues of my life, but with the small fears, frets, troubles, worries and the occasional lost luggage. Praise be to God! Amen!!