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Switching gears entirely, as I am wont to do, I’m excited to tell you all about a project I’m working on with the teachers at Fairfax. I’m not just sharing this because I find it interesting (and hope you do too), but because I’m hoping for active engagement from people both near and far.
The original Fairfax School, pictured in its historic glory below, opened in the fall of 1915. So this coming school year, our students will dive deeply into 100 years of history, with a special focus on what the school experience was like for young people in each decade. Each month will be dedicated to one decade, with the first and last months covering fifteen years instead of ten (there’s only so much time our kids are in school, after all). It’ll be somewhat (okay, very) tricky to fit all of this in given the extreme expectations placed on our students and teachers in terms of Common Core content they need to master, but we’ll do our best to align the components of this project with the various learning objectives they’re already required to cover.
The younger students will focus on concrete things, like what students wore to school, how they got there, how/what/where they ate their lunch and so on. I’m hoping for them to have as many physical artifacts to study as possible, including toys, clothing, and small appliances (cameras, telephones, radios, clocks) from each decade. If you happen to have anything that fits into one of those categories that you’re willing to share, please contact me.
The older students will look at local, national and global issues in each decade, considering how they impacted students’ lives. They’ll also focus on how public education has shifted over time, with desegregation movements both locally and nationally and the inclusion of special needs students. They’ll study technological, scientific and medical advancements, as well as the physical development of our community (hopefully creating a decade-by-decade 3D model of the homes, roads and businesses in the area between Lee, Fairmount, Coventry and Cedar). Any experts on that are welcome!
If you or anyone in your family went to Fairfax School, we’d like to have you come in to be interviewed by students, according to the decades listed below. If you aren’t local, interviews can be conducted via email or phone. For the earliest period (1915 to about 1930), we’ll take anyone willing to share their elementary experience whether they went to Fairfax or not. I already have contact info for two women who graduated from Heights (but not Fairfax) in 1933 and 1936, both willing to participate.
We also want photographs, whether class pictures or candids. We would love to see the inside of the original building as well as pictures of the demolition and construction in the 1970s. (One of my earliest memories is of watching the wrecking ball knock down the original building in 1975 or 76, shortly after we moved to Cleveland from New Hampshire.) We’d also love to hear about the transition from students or staff who attended both buildings. Any other paraphernalia (t-shirts, newsletters, concert programs, yearbooks, school calendars, work samples) that you’re willing to share would be enormously helpful.
Those of you not connected to Fairfax School can participate too. I’m hoping to arrange for a parade of cars from each decade, sometime in the spring (April or May 2016), so if you have a vintage car you’d be willing to drive over, that’d be awesome. If you have any historical expertise, whether focused on Cleveland Heights or on the world, we’d welcome your input, as well as any physical artifacts (or storybooks) that show the ever-shifting face of time.
The community, and especially all alumni, will be invited to a Living Museum celebration at the end of the school year, next June, where students and staff will showcase all they’ve learned over the course of the year. This project should be a meaningful, hands-on way to connect our current students to both history and to the community around them, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to share some of our project with other schools that will reach this milestone in the near future.
Ideas, thoughts, questions, suggestions? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or on Facebook.
September: 1915-29 October: 1930-39 November: 1940-49 December: 1950-59 January: 1960-69 February: 1970-79 March: 1980-89 April: 1990-99 May: 2000-2015 June: Culminating project
I am humbled and honored to be able to bring this event to this community and I am humbled and honored by how enthusiastically this community embraces this event. Your eager participation and your incredible generosity, both of spirit and of all things tangible, are beyond measure.
As of right now, between our online donations and the cash and checks we collected today, we’ve raised $98,673. I have no doubt that we will creep over the $100,000 mark in the next few days and even reach our very ambitious goal of $111,000 by the time the fiscal year ends in June. (That means you can keep giving, people!)
There were quite a few highly emotional moments today that I’ll share in the next few posts, but for now, please rub your fuzzy heads, pat yourselves on the back, hug a bald person, and watch Fox 8 news in the morning (8am?) to see Braedan, already bald, and his classmate Joey, who’s shaving on the air, tell you why they do what they do.
I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart.
If you live in the Heights, you’ve surely heard a lot about Reaching Musical Heights in the past twenty-four hours. And with all good reason. Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of attending this every-four-years event where 500 4th through 12th grade vocal and instrumental musicians from all the CHUH schools performed on the world-renowned Severance Hall stage. Each time I’ve gone to this show, I’ve been blown away by the dedication, passion and talent of our district’s young people and by the commitment, hard work and willingness to collaborate of our district’s teachers. This year was no different.
There were many highlights, including watching Braedan and his elementary peers sing an adorable rendition of “Jump, Jive and Wail,” complete with a backward-leaning shoulder shimmy. But what really impressed me — and what was different from past RMH events — was the powerful and unanimous message sent from our music teachers. As the various groups moved about the stage between numbers, the teachers and Reaching Heights staff took the microphone to introduce songs and thank guests and ostensibly kill time while chairs and music stands were (noisily) shifted into place and students (quietly) filed in and out of risers. But this year, their speeches weren’t just time-fillers. They were heartfelt messages, poignant pleas to the audience members to 1) Continue to support — nay, to demand— strong arts and music programming for every child at every grade level in our schools (yes, please); 2) Take a firm stand against the excessive over-testing of our youth and the narrowing of the curriculum that inevitably attends such a short-sighted focus (yes, please!); and 3) Keep our community strong by protecting our Heights schools and approving necessary school levies (YES, PLEASE!).
Oh, I suppose there might have been some (a few?, this is the Heights we’re talking about) people in the audience who were there solely to listen to the music and didn’t want to hear anyone’s political agenda. But the reality is, there will be no music to listen to if we don’t do those three things. Our schools and our teachers and our children are under attack by forces so much larger (and so much better funded) than any of us would have dared to imagine just a few years ago. This is a dangerous time for public education, not just here where our schools have been long misunderstood and underestimated, but everywhere.
So, you know what we do? We stand up, together on a stage usually graced by world class musicians, and we sing and we play and we make beautiful music. And we do it together. In a way that says, loud and proud, “This is Tiger Nation.”
One of my favorite moments was when 2012 graduate Geoffrey Golden, the recent winner of BET’s Sunday’s Best (“the gospel version of American Idol”) joined the current students on stage. He spoke of how meaningful and formative his early years in district music programs were, of overcoming adversity and not quitting after his first failed attempt at making it on the show, and of how necessary and important music and arts programs are to keeping kids fully engaged in school. This is a young man who you might assume would try to turn his obvious musical talent into a lucrative career, but is instead an econ major at Morehouse. Economics? Ha, I love that.
After he spoke, he accompanied the gospel choir on piano and then sang a rousing rendition of, well, let’s be honest here, I don’t know squat about gospel music, but he was damn good. As he backed off the stage to thunderous applause, he shouted something twice into the microphone. People were cheering wildly and I couldn’t hear a word he said, but was told by Dallas sitting behind me: “Your work is not in vain.”
And that, right there, those six little words, meant everything to me. This was a message to parents, who do more for their children than their children will ever realize, and who do it quietly and without seeking recognition. Your work is not in vain. And a message for teachers, now blamed by conventional wisdom for all of society’s failings, who labor and love and bend over backwards for the students in their care. Your work is not in vain. And for those of us who do the volunteer work, the thankless PTA tasks and the equally thankless and sometimes reviled levy campaigning. Our work is not in vain.
We cannot give up on this, we cannot quit, even when the tide seems to turn dangerously against us. Even when public opinion is hell bent on using illegitimate test scores to measure our collective worth. Test scores that fail to adequately measure the quality of our teachers and the quality of our students. And that certainly — certainly! — don’t measure the quality of our music programs (among the best in the nation — why doesn’t that generate newspaper headlines, why doesn’t that count for getting kids “career ready”?).
I’ve closed out both of the two recent Heights Coalition for Public Education forums with the same words, the last in a list of ten action steps, and I think they bear repeating:
Stay. Stay engaged, stay informed, stay involved. Stay in our communities, stay in our public schools. These institutions are the cornerstones of our democracy. Moving away, pulling out, or otherwise giving up will not make these problems go away. Work with us to overcome the challenges and to celebrate our successes. Stay, stay, stay.
Your work, our work, is not in vain.
I know I have readers spread out over the country and even (a few) over the world, so I apologize for the hyper-local nature of the upcoming blog posts, but home is what’s most important to me and this stuff needs to be said. If you care about public education in your own community, keep reading and always feel free to take my insights and use them as you see fit in your own education-equity battles.
Our school district has a bond issue on the November ballot to fund much-needed renovation and repairs of the high school and two of the three current middle schools. This is Phase 1 of what will be a two-phase ten to twelve year project that will impact all eleven buildings and all 5,500 students in the district. I have worked on this issue for two years and believe it is deeply necessary.
As with all contentious political issues, confusion, misconceptions and misinformation abound. I’ve been busily crafting a counter-argument to the most common concerns and have finally decided, in the interest of time and space and in order to get things published by our local media outlets, (most of whom have 200-word limits) to break this down and address them one by one. I will post every other day for the next week or so until I feel all angles have been addressed. And I ask you to please SHARE every one of these updates: Repost them on your Facebook page, tweet a link, email them to your undecided friends, colleagues and neighbors. Even if you don’t live within the CH-UH boundaries, if you know a single person who does, share share share. Information is our best weapon.
I do not claim to be the repository of all knowledge and facts regarding this issue, but as a member of the Lay Facilities Committee that recommended the plan that the school board ultimately approved and as an active member of the steering committee for Issue 81, I do know what I’m talking about. And I obviously care deeply about the future of our communities and especially our public schools.
So, with that long intro behind us, I present the first common complaint about this bond issue: Why are the buildings in such bad shape and whose fault is it? Has the administration ignored the needed upkeep, thus creating an ever-growing backlog of work?
The buildings are in bad shape because they are nearly one hundred years old, plain and simple. If anyone is to blame, we can only point the finger at Mother Nature and Father Time. Maintenance and upkeep is done every single day on every building by a team of dedicated custodians and laborers, whether they’re repairing a leaky roof or ensuring that classrooms are heated. The “backlog” list which is often referenced is not a static document, sitting untouched on a shelf. It is constantly changing and every single time an item is completed and moved off the list, another new item is added. The piece-meal, patch-work quilt of maintenance we’ve relied on for the past four decades simply isn’t enough anymore. It wastes tax-payer dollars on expensive and inefficient systems and doesn’t give us anything better for our efforts. We need a massive overhaul of our buildings and Issue 81 will give us that.
Most of us live in old homes and know that maintaining them is an unending process. I am a good homeowner, but my house just turned 93 and we feel its age every day. We recently had a pipe burst in our second floor bathroom. Naturally, it leaked, causing damage to the wall and ceiling in the entryway below it. To replace the pipe, the original plaster and lathe walls and ceiling had to be broken into and then majorly repaired. This was both expensive and time-consuming. Did it happen because we were somehow irresponsible? Were we mismanaging our money, turning a blind eye to obvious needs? No. It happened because my house is old. Period.
Our schools are old as well. The eroding and corroding electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems at the high school can no longer be subjected to band-aid repairs. The district has some funds, from a 2002 improvement levy, designated for the constant upkeep of its buildings. Any other discretionary funds the district has had over the past few years have been diverted away from maintenance to use for innovative and necessary academic programming. That is why the so-called backlog never seems to shorten. Our crews are like gerbils on a treadmill, constantly running but never reaching their destination. The time is now to do one, big, bold renovation to fix these problems for the next fifty years.
Come to the high school this Wednesday, October 16 at 6:30pm for a tour and see the need with your own eyes. You’ll have the distinct pleasure of visiting the boiler room, which reaches 110 degrees in the winter, viewing the Pit of Death from which we pay someone to remove the pigeon carcasses twice each year, and braving the moldy, mildewy locker rooms below the pool. The buildings are old and they are falling apart, with no one to blame but time.
The need, my friends, is real.
We are in our final days before the clippers start buzzing and the hair starts flying. And the ticker on our event page showing how much money we’ve raised keeps moving moving moving ever closer to our goal. Our 60 shavees and 5 hair donors are now at over $25,000 and seem to be raising more than $2000 a day!
But of course, that’s not fast enough and it’s not beyond me to make one final push on behalf of my children. They are each about 75% of the way towards their $2500 goals and with just a few extra donations could reclaim their first and second place fundraising spots. Braedan’s page can be found here and Austin’s here. I know there are many children you all know who are shaving so if you’d rather put that money down on someone else’s head, that’s perfectly fine — it all goes to the same place, after all. But, while I know it seems easier to just give a general donation to the event or to a specific team, the kids really do love to see their own dollars raised go up. So if you could just pick one, even one you may not know, especially if they’ve raised very little, and give in honor of Austin or your school or anybody you wish to acknowledge, that would make the kids feel so special.
There have been a few really sweet things that have come out of this experience, as always. The little brother a shavee handed over some carefully saved up bills to his mother and was concerned about how to split them up among all the kids he knows who are shaving. His mother assured him it was easy to divide that twenty (doesn’t look easy to a 6-year old, of course) and took the time to make small donations on the heads of about six or seven Fairfax kids. The kindergarten teacher of a preschool friend of Austin’s highlighted how this child’s sacrifice reflected the IB learner traits of being caring, risk-taking and principled. She sent this message home to parents and the following day, all the little students brought in handfuls of change and crumpled bills to donate.
There’s also a father-son shaving team engaged in a head-to-head (get it?) battle to see who will raise the most money. They are both well over $1,500 and a mere $25 separates them as of this posting. If the father wins, the son has to clean his room. And if the son wins, he gets to write on his dad’s head with a permanent marker. I don’t know about you, but room cleaning seems mighty boring so I’m rooting for the son.
And tomorrow, I will go to Fernway School in Shaker to speak to their kindergarten and first grade classes about cancer and St. Baldrick’s in honor of that school’s shaving team. Then in the afternoon, I get to speak with the three kindergarten classes at Fairfax, which is really something because not only is Austin allowing me to do such a thing, he actually asked for it! And on Saturday morning, the preschool/day care center of my nephews Van and Hill is hosting a pancake breakfast to raise funds for St Baldrick’s. So, yet again, we are moved and touched by the broad community support we’ve received so far.
And now, there are just four days left. If you’ve been planning to make a donation, NOW would be a fabulous time to do it. And if you want to bake treats for the bake sale, just let me know. I’m requesting St Patrick’s themed goodies, but anything will do.
Of course, you are all welcome to come and cheer on our shavees on Sunday afternoon. We’ll be at the Cleveland Heights Community Center from 1 to 4 pm and I guarantee you’ll have fun and be plenty inspired. Heck, you might even decide to hop in the barber’s chair yourself!
There were many times over the past five years when I was struck by the incredibly kind — and often completely random — outpouring of support we received from our community. Moms I’d never been introduced to would offer me tearful hugs in the hallways of the preschool. People I hadn’t seen in years would drop meals off at our house. Old friends my kids had never met would offer to babysit or take Braedan on an outing when we were in the hospital and I’d have to politely turn them down because no way was I shipping that boy off with anyone he didn’t know. People would tell me that they think of us every day and pray for us every night and cry for us, wish for us, hope for us. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but think, “Really? You do?”
But then tragedy strikes elsewhere and I totally get it. The shoe is on the other foot as I find myself thinking day and night about the woman who lost her husband completely unexpectedly a week ago. I’d known her a tiny bit when our oldest were babies and then I’d seen her at the grocery store every now and again. And then our kids were on the same baseball team this spring when, suddenly, she’s on my mind nonstop. A widow just my age. With three little kids. So I offer to pick up her boys and take them to baseball practice even though I barely knew their names a week ago. And I sign up to deliver a meal. And Mark asks me to run by her house to make sure her lawn doesn’t need mowing.
And then there’s another family we know, whose son is slowly dying after a brutal ten-year battle with cancer. And I find myself sharing their story and getting choked up as I repeat over and over again how damn hard they’ve fought. How endlessly long and endlessly hard they’ve fought for all these years . . . and now there’s an end. So I obsessively check their Facebook pages for the latest news, glance down their street as I drive past like it will tell me something. And I wonder — am I just being nosy? Is this rubbernecking at a car accident? But I feel such a strong need to know so I can … what? Drop off more food? Send a card?
I understand now. I understand how you all felt — both hopeless and hopeful, a little bit guilty for your curiosity, for taking such an intimate glimpse at another family’s suffering, and yet consumed by it. I know why you followed us, sometimes quietly, with such consistency, for so many years. I understand the cookies and the muffins and the casseroles and the coffee. I feel the drive to give that tearful hug. I get it. We all just want to do something. We want to somehow ease the paths of those in crisis. We wish that they could take that huge chunk of sadness they’re forced to bear and break it up into tiny, more manageable pieces. That they could pass off those pieces to their friends and neighbors and, yes, to mere acquaintances and probably even total strangers. We could all handle just one small piece of their sadness, that wouldn’t be too much. We could just quietly hold on to it for them, to lighten their burden, and maybe trade a little piece of our own strength or joy or peace.
We can’t, of course, but we can want to. That wanting is worth something. It was worth something to me at least. And hopefully it’s worth something to them.
Friday was Austin’s last day of preschool. Ever. So, of course, here’s the obligatory playground photo, along with his previous two Last Day photos:
It’s bittersweet to leave St. Paul’s since it’s been such a major part of our lives for the past six years. Braedan’s first official day of preschool (after a good two weeks of orientation) was September 21, 2006 … the day Austin was born! So, from that moment to this moment and for every insane moment in between, we’ve been members of that school family. It has spanned all of Austin’s life so far and hopefully the entirety of his cancer, start to finish. It was only fitting that he ended two days after being declared officially and most definitely cancer-free.
As I think back over these past few weeks, I am awed, as I have been so many times before, by the kindness and intense emotional investment of all of you. Your tears and your hugs, the very thoughtful gifts (the dragon-slaying StoryPeople print from the Sweeneys and the key chain featuring my double rainbow image from Becky being my top favorites), your messages of hope and sadness, faith and joy, sustained us through this otherwise heartbreaking experience.
Knowing that you’re out there and that you care so deeply about us, about my child whom some of you have never met, means an enormous amount. I regret that I am never able to properly thank you, but know that I feel you and am fully aware of you. I read the name of each “Like” on my Facebook updates with gratitude and satisfaction (and sometimes surprise). In fact, as Mark and I sat out on the porch last Wednesday with our champagne, we both had buzzing phones in our laps, constantly updating one another with the latest messages of love and relief.
I loved that my brother told me that every time he went anywhere on Thursday or Friday, he was greeted with high fives and hugs, random people congratulating him on his nephew’s good health and even shouting it from the side of the road as he drove past. This has been such a community saga in so many ways, as you’ve followed along beside us for all these years, crying with us, wishing with us, celebrating with us.
(And speaking of celebrating with us, we are going to finally throw a big-ass party and everyone is invited. But we must gather our strength first!)
This round, if you can call it that, was interesting because it was the only time in all of our years of cancer that I felt like it was truly unfair, the first time I ever felt like, “Why me? Why us?” I know it sounds crazy that I hadn’t ever said that before, but — as much as I hate childhood cancer and as much as I’ve raged against its presence in our lives — I also know that it exists and someone has to get it. Someone has to hear those dreaded words, “Your child has cancer.” So I always sort of figured, “Why not me?” I saw no reason I should be exempt from being dealt such a hand. I’ve been given so much, am fortunate in so many ways … why shouldn’t this be my thing?
But this last time, I finally felt this just isn’t fair. We have done it. We fought, hard, and we succeeded. Austin does not, did not, deserve to have to fight this battle yet again. It would have been too much. It would have been, for the first time, completely unfair.
As my brother said, it just felt (for lack of a better term) karmically wrong. Like it just shouldn’t be. And, of course, lucky us, it wasn’t. It isn’t.
At the Family Connections benefit a few weeks ago, right in the midst of our darkest days, a friend told me that I so deserve to have the universe treat me with kindness. Of course, we know that the universe just doesn’t work that way. Bad things happen to good people (and good things happen to bad people). And suffering is not fairly or evenly distributed. But I agreed with her. I really believed at that moment (and in this moment) that the universe should treat me kindly. That I deserved it.
And most of all, more than anything, that this boy deserved it:
And this (toothless) one too:
First of all, as a follow-up to Halloween, yes, Austin did wear his rocket ship costume and, yes, he did indeed love it. He was racing around shouting, “Intergalactic! Intergalactic!” We did have some wardrobe malfunctions though, due to tripping on the flames as he climbed people’s steps. And twice, we needed to borrow staplers from random houses to re-staple him into his costume. Next year, I’ve vowed to let him wear a much less cumbersome one so they can really run. But I’d certainly say that a good time was had by all:
And now, I apologize for the extreme local-ness of this but Cleveland Heights is abuzz with excitement over the upcoming weekend. Our high school’s nationally recognized and award-winning musical department will be performing The Sound of Music four times, a production that includes more than 600 students from all eleven schools in the district. (There are two full casts so 600 kids aren’t performing each night.) We happen to be going to the show on Saturday night which just happens to be the same night and same time and same location as Heights High’s first ever playoff football game, following our team’s undefeated season.
Needless to say, it’s going to be a bit of a scene out there. Between the sold-out show and the sold-out game, the district is expecting more than 5000 people (and hoping none of them plan to park a car there!). Mark was able to get some tickets to the game, so he and Braedan are going to that instead while Austin and I are bringing two families of potential CHUH students to the show.
I’m not sure if the diaspora of Heights readers know this, but this year every school adopted the Tiger as its mascot. There has been a big push over the past few months to cultivate a sense of unity and pride in the district as a whole instead of in each individual school. As you might imagine, there’s been some resistance to this, especially from the middle schools who each have their own sports teams and colors and logos. But over the past few weeks, as the levy campaign has kicked into overdrive and as the music department has begun advertising its shows and as the football team (and girls’ soccer team) have been racking up win after win, there is a renewed sense of pride in the community. People are really coming together, celebrating the successes of each student, club, team, event, building as their own.
It reminds me of our trip to the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The German team was doing well while we were there, having advanced a few rounds despite some heavy competition. The German people and media kept talking about how this was the first time they had felt free to come together and wave their flag with such pride after its long and tortured history of national pride gone awry. After all, nationalism in Germany turned into Nazism in Germany. In 2006, when reunification was still fresh in the minds of many, this opportunity to rally around something, even something that may be considered trivial like a soccer team (not that soccer teams are ever considered trivial in Germany) was truly meaningful. On a smaller scale, it feels that way here, right now. We have something to cheer for. In fact, we have many somethings to cheer for. And cheer for them, we are.
So, in order to further that feeling of belonging to something special, I tried to buy “Tiger Nation” t-shirts for my kids. I have one, as our PTA was selling them in adult sizes. And I know some of the other schools’ PTAs have sold them for kids, but the district had run out and I was getting frustrated, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. So, thanks to Logos on Lee (owned by a Tiger), I ordered 100 youth-sized black short-sleeved t-shirts with “Tiger Nation” in gold lettering across the front, (20 each of extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-large). They’ll be ready Saturday morning and I will bring them to the levy lit drop distribution in the parking lot near the Heights football field at 10am. Then I will sell them near the main entrance at Fairfax from 10:30 to 11:30. After that, you’ll have to send me a message and come get yours at my house.
They’re 7 dollars each, which is what I paid for them, so I won’t make any profit at all. I just want to see another hundred kids showing their Tiger Pride on Saturday (or any day!). Let me know if you want me to save some aside for you. Or, if you happen to be a member of that great Heights diaspora, I’m more than happy to send you some.
Hear that tiger roar.
Life continues to move forward in the most normal way. Austin had a chest CT today and it was the first time in the past two years that any procedure went more quickly and easily than anticipated. We’d decided to try it without sedation since it would be so fast and he didn’t require any IV contrast. We brought him down to the basement of the hospital, to a room he’s been in dozens of times before but has never seen because he’s always been sedated. Well, this time he and Mark, who met us on a lunch break from work, were playing catch with his new bouncy ball while we waited. First patient up was Austin’s beloved stuffed Cookie Monster so he could see how it all worked. Then our little guy was on the bed, strapped under the “seat belts,” with Daddy on one side of the scanner and Mommy on the other, both holding his hands. The woman working the machine talked to him through a microphone, telling him to smile and “Say cheese.” Assured he looked handsome, the whole thing was over in two minutes. Mark and I actually laughed and said. “See? This is going to be a piece of cake.” If only.
We should get results from the scan this afternoon, which we fully expect to be negative (heard that before?). And probably more news and recommendations in the next few days.
So now he naps and I am back on the computer, getting my digital therapy through writing and reading your responses. The outpouring of love and support and kindness has been, yet again, overwhelming. Many of you have apologized, either for not knowing the right words to say or not being present to do specific tasks or for feeling paralyzed with sadness and fear. Please, no apologies, people. You are out there and we feel you. There are no right or wrong words, there is nothing specific anyone can do to ease this path for us short of just being there, wishing for us, hoping for us. That is what makes it bearable.
You tell me that I’m strong and then I’m strong, you tell me Austin’s a fighter and then he fights, you tell us we’ll survive and we survive. It’s good enough, what you do. Reading, wishing, hoping, praying, crying, sharing, whatever, it means something to us, even if we never have the chance to tell you one by one.
I got a message today that talked about the sharing of grief, and how other people were willingly shouldering some of the pain and the fear for us. It’s like a big trade-off: friends and family and perfect strangers stepping forward and saying, “Here, give me some of it. I’ll hold on to your pain and your fear and your sadness and in return, you can have some of my strength and my energy and my hope.” A give-and-take, you are doing your part too.
I’m not particularly militaristic. Well, I’m not at all militaristic, but the battle analogy is just too apt to let go. We are preparing for battle yet again and our army is gathering behind us. Some of you will be on the front lines, engaged in the day-to-day combat. Some of you will be behind the scenes, cooking and cleaning (literally!). And some of you might just be the old-school colonial-style drum majors and trumpet blasters, rousing us for battle, cheering us on, creating enough noise to drown out the heart-thumping fear.
And you all have signed up for this, volunteered. You could walk away, say, “No way, I can’t even follow that story anymore. It is too damn sad.” But you don’t do that. You keep coming back for more, re-enlisting, another tour of duty. And you put yourselves at risk, right in the crossfires, because the more you read, the more you care and then you too stand to lose. I gave our babysitter an out the other day, told her she didn’t have to do this if she didn’t want to; she could cut her losses before things get too ugly. But she refused, stood her ground, right here beside us, wedged between Braedan and Austin, ready to go wherever this road takes us.
Austin’s Army is gathering, standing behind us and around us, ready to fight.