Sometimes when in times of trouble

My husband walked out of my life the week school started, and my mother passed away 10 days ago. My siblings are bickering, my son is depressed, and I am overwhelmed by sadness and grief for all that I’ve lost this year. I still wake up at 3:00 am in a panic about finances. Oh — and I’m teaching full time in a public school in the midst of a pandemic.

But one thing I’ve experienced has been a huge source of comfort: female friends. Neighbors, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances have reached out to me just to talk, go for a walk, bring a meal, flowers, offer to feed the cat, hug me, say how much they’ve been thinking about me, offer condolences, or lend an ear.

“You will always find people who are helping,” children’s TV host Fred Rogers famously said. I’ve always been the one doing the helping, so it feels a little awkward to be on the receiving end of so much caring support. But I am enormously thankful. I think I’ve even made a couple of new friends.

It’s taken me decades to learn a lesson that many women know from their earliest years of life: Women will support you if you show vulnerability and express a need. Why did I wait until my 60’s to open up? Talking about hurt and pain is a way to ease it. I so appreciate everyone who has reached out to me these last couple of months.

Tribute to my mother, Ruth Christ Sullivan.

This I Believe

In the 1950s, journalist Edward R. Murrow hosted a weekly radio series inviting listeners “to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life.” In class this week, my students listened to several “This I Believe” recordings (one of my favorites is Be Cool to the Pizza Dude) and answered questions about what each one was really saying.

Inspired by Amanda Gorman’s profoundly moving poem delivered at the Inauguration on Wednesday, we examined several spoken word mentor texts. Students were then tasked to write and record their own pieces.

Below is my own sample “This I Believe” that I gave students:

I believe in the power of trees and nature. Trees change with the seasons even as they stay in one place. They reach for the light while spreading deep roots. A stand of trees is stronger together than a tree standing alone. Just like humans. Trees clean our air. They provide food and shelter for wildlife. They rise strong after adversity. We can learn something from trees. 

I believe in the healing power of outdoor exercise. While rowing on DC’s “forgotten river,” the Anacostia, I can see abundant wildlife: bald eagles, osprey, beavers, turtles, deer, and the great blue heron. This river was once a polluted dumping ground, but now has come back to life with rowers, kayakers, and boaters. The river provides a different perspective of the city I love, and makes my life joyful. The Anacostia River is a story of faith and action. 

Heading outdoors has gotten me through this pandemic. The allure of rowing or hiking motivates me to finish my work, shut down my laptop, and silence my phone. I can visit with old friends outdoors, where we can exercise, walking 6 feet apart. We can sit around a fire pit at night and stay together even though we’re sitting far enough away. Friends outdoors are still friends. 

I believe in democracy, especially these days when it has been under attack. I have faith in people to tell their stories – and in journalists who tell the stories of others. I have faith in family and believe we should help others. I believe music can help soothe us in difficult times and lift up our spirits. 

I choose to go forward in optimism knowing that the sun always rises in the east, trees stand steady in the wind, and rivers flow to the sea. We have a responsibility to preserve our natural environment for future generations. Finally, I believe in the power of nature to heal us. 

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb” inauguration poem