Here is that fresh new year ahead of us, just waiting for us to write the stories, the pictures, the music, the learning, the relationships, the fun, the sadness, the opportunities that each moment brings for us to become a more effective human being.
You know, the one with clearer vision, intentionality, and a seeker of knowledge and personal growth. So, with great intentionality, my first effort toward clearer vision follows.
Embrace growth. Life happens. Change is required. Coping with it depends on many factors: our outlook, our supports, our characteristics, and our choices and opportunities. Moving on does not mean forgetting, but it can signal that we have moved forward toward new paths. Suzassippi did not start out to be the face of a horse named Rio–it just happened. (See “how Suzassippi became a horse.”) Some changes do not come easy, and Rio as the face of this blog has been one that has hung on since his loss in 2017. (See “Rio go rest high on that mountain.”) . I have been in transition for the past 2 years, and last night, transition involved my stepping in with Rio as the blog’s faces. It is symbolic to me that here I am facing ahead, while Rio is in the background, taking care of eating. We will hang out here together for a while; after all, some change is best done gradually.
Give ’em their flowers now. May 2018 was Mom’s 91st birthday–her first one after Dad passed over in November 2017, not long after Rio. There had been many changes in those 6 months, including the move from her home into an assisted living facility. My cousins, whom she dearly loved as the first two children of her only sister, made the trip from New Orleans and San Antonio to spend it with us. While we did not anticipate it, it would be the last birthday we celebrated with Mother. It meant so much to her, and to the cousins, and to me and Sis as we cherished those moments in that week. When Mom passed over barely 8 months later, it was a reminder that what we do now with our opportunities matters. During the years from 2012-2019, I knew that at some point in time, there would not be the “next time.” I went home as often as I could. There were times I could not go, and I carry no remorse for those. We are finite and limited, and what matters is what we do with the opportunities we have.
Appreciate what you got. There must be a special gift some people have for being able to be thankful for all things, for the opportunities and lessons they bring us. I am not one of those people by nature, but I am choosing–largely due to the experiences I have had in Mississippi these past 16 years–to cultivate the growth of “choosing what you got.” It does not matter if I like snow, or do not like snow. It will sometimes snow.
Take time for the music and the friends. While these years here have brought their share of hard times, they have also brought a wealth of new experiences. A couple of those are my friendships with my colleague, from whom I have learned so much about teaching, social work, and living in Mississippi (and who is also a talented musician) and her husband, an amazing songwriter musician. I love the songs he writes, and how he embraces making music and telling stories with that music. One of my favorite lines from his work is “I don’t want my life to read like a heart-break song.”
Seek feedback. This past fall, I taught the foundation level students for the first time in several years. Students are always anxious at the beginning of graduate school, questioning whether or not they can do it. I asked: What do you need from me in order to learn? As social work uses a systems perspective, seeking feedback has been part of my work since the first time I learned about systems theory. Feedback is what tells us if ‘it’ is working, or not. Several students commented that it was the first time in their education that an instructor had asked them what they needed in order to be successful. I am sure other teachers do so, but clearly, it is not always common to all. We cannot know how to become more effective at whatever we are attempting without knowing how we are doing. We need to know, especially when what we are doing is not working. We need to know that from the perspective of those who are involved, affected, and know what they need or do not need.
Practice with a plan. We have all heard the saying “Practice makes perfect.” It is not true. In order for practice to be beneficial, we need to practice with feedback (see above!) and with a plan, using that feedback. Feedback is best when it combines a variety of vantage points, which is also why in addition to asking students, I ask their classmate peers to give feedback. It can open up new perspectives, and also solidify that we are on the right track–i.e., “the plan.” It is easy to get blindsided, or to think we know something, but a little feedback can be a reminder that even when we might know something very well, it can be good to check in with others.
Honor the past; embrace the future. While home in October to close on my parents’ estate, I found myself sitting on the curb waiting for Sis and Bro to arrive. I have seen this building a thousand or more times during the years that little rural town was home. I always loved it, and wondered about the theater that had once been there. While it has been home to other businesses over the years, this is the first time I noted its current use. I love old buildings, architecture of many sorts, and the history of places. I also appreciate when a historic place continues to be useful. Change is not always hard, or bad, or wrong, but it does need to be thoughtful and intentional. Otherwise, we face the risk of “Preservation Fail.”
Seek and bring peace. My longtime friend Jane has always gifted me with amazing items that support important work, usually in the name of peace. The latest was ‘She brings peace’, which has an honored place on the wall next to my desk, where I can look up often and see a tangible reminder of the important work we all have to do in the name of a more peaceful and just world. (See the work of Seek the Peace.)
Seek and embrace learning. Among the new things I discovered in the past year was the work of The Bitter Southerner and learned “Why we created the Bitter Southerner in the first place.”) Always a thoughtful and interesting read, the stories they share bring greater awareness, of self and others. While you can read for free, you can also sign up for a membership to support their work. I recommend it: there is a lot more to the South than just moonlight and magnolias, and some of it is downright amazing. Go ahead, keep learning, listening, reading, and let’s all broaden and deepen our understanding this year. You know, like 2020 vision for the world.