When I stood to speak in our Community Meeting for Worship on Wednesday morning, I wanted to share how I thought about time, and reflect on how it's changed the way I think about our queries. I awakened on that morning looking forward to our opportunity to host the SPEAK Event with Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of Real American, a fearless memoir on growing up a black woman in America.
I also woke up feeling sick, only head cold congested, but in that way that makes me feel tired and painfully aware that I'm not at my best. On Wednesday morning the feeling made me want time to pass more quickly, so the evening event I looked forward to would come more quickly.
And then before we settled into silence, our students reminded us of our three queries: How do I listen to the truth in my inner voice to guide me? How do I honor the inner light in others even when we may disagree? How do I turn my truth into action?
And I found myself thinking about time.
No longer about how quickly I hoped it would pass, but how helpful it can sometimes be. How do I turn my truth into action, for example, becomes a different question when I add "today" or "in my next meeting" or "at home or in my neighborhood tonight."
I thought of my daughter Kyle and her inevitable dissatisfaction with the duration of vacations or reunions; she wants the long weekend we've managed to claim to add a fourth day or the the week together to be ten days or two weeks.
And thinking about reunions reminded me of "Three Minutes," a short, poignant video I discovered on Swissmiss, a design blog run by Tina Roth Eisenberg. It asks: If your family reunion lasts only three minutes, what will you do? I hope you'll take a look.
And know I'm grateful for the time you share with us at SFFS.
Saying "yes" to the god question. It’s how Andrew, Jennifer, Tracie, Yvette and I oversimplify a question we’re sometimes asked on tours, by parents considering Friends School, who ask: “So, is Friends a religious school, a spiritual school, or just a cool school with some soul?
I think the best answer to that question, to those options, is simply “Yes!” And I hope that that “yes” leaves room for you, as it does for me, to continue to explore.
As San Francisco Friends School’s tallest student, I cherish my opportunities to learn all that I can from faith traditions, including Bahá'í, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Protestant, including Quaker, as well as orientations, including agnosticism and atheism, in our community, where in many, many different ways we celebrate a sense of awe, the sense that we are part of something larger than ourselves.
My favorite lesson learned this holiday season is from Judaism, and more specifically, from Rabbi Jen Feldman of Chapel Hill Kehillah. Perhaps you’ve heard her reflection or a version of it. It strikes me as poignant for all of us as we begin a period of pause, of joy and reflection, and of renewal in preparation for the new year.
I know that the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began this year on Tuesday, December 12th and that it ended yesterday, December 20th. I know, too, that Hanukkah is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. And I know that this celebration, a festival lights, is marked by food, games, prayer, and the lighting of the eight candles of the Menorah—in order to remember how the cruse of oil that was supposed to burn for just one day lasted for eight.
What Rabbi Feldman said that has captured my attention is this: Why not celebrate Hanukkah, then, for just seven days? What was so special, miraculous about the flame of the first day, if the oil necessary for one day was already in hand?
Or was the miracle of the first day different from all the rest—wasn’t the miracle that the people chose to start the fire at all, without any certainty that the oil would last?
On the first night of Hanukkah, then, we remember and honor and remind ourselves of the will and courage required to light in the face of the unknown. As Rabbi Feldman suggests, “The first candle celebrates the triumph of hopeful action over despair and darkness.”
During these days that cause their own versions of darkness and despair, as we head toward our winter break and a new year inspired by the music of this Winter Celebration, my hope is that each of us may savor a deep breath, joy and reflection with family and friends, and renewal that animates our commitment to be sources of light in 2018.
Dear grandparents and special friends,
It was a delight to see so many of you last week at GrandFriends Day at San Francisco Friends School. I’ve received a number of requests to re-share the story I told to visitors that day; so, in case you were unable to be among the grandparents and special friends who joined us on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, imagine a winding walk from the coffee, tea, and breakfast treats in Room 234 to a packed gym on the third floor of San Francisco Friends School.
In welcoming more than 400 visitors who traveled from as far as NYC, Hawaii, and Curacao, I acknowledged my status as a student of Quaker faith and practice and shared a story from Quaker history that I’d learned earlier this fall.
In 1845, Quakers in Northern Ireland undertook an experiment in utopian community and founded Bessbrook. Their aspirations included no need for police, so there was to be no cursing, no drinking, and no gambling.
Thirty-four years later, in 1879, George Bernard Shaw visited Bessbrook to see how things were going. When a reporter asked Shaw - at the end of his visit - what he thought about a community without cursing or drinking, Shaw apparently said, “Well, from the looks on their faces, it would appear that they could use some of both.” He also reported that he had seen a swan on a Bessbrook pond “looking for a place to drown itself.”
I am convinced that it was not cursing, drinking, or gambling that the Bessbrook community needed; it was a GrandFriends Day.
Whether you watched and listened or shared a story with students in class or at an advisory meeting, or sat alongside kindergartners on the floor, piecing together building blocks, you made stronger our community.
And from my vantage point your smiles would light with brilliance the darkest of night skies, and your presence made love—sometimes invisible and untouchable—seen and felt in the halls of our school.
Thank you again for claiming the time and making the necessary efforts in order to be with us. And most importantly, thank you for sharing your students with us on a daily basis. We are delighted to have them, and you, as part of the San Francisco Friends School community.
During our Meeting for Worship today, and in conversation with a colleague later this morning, I was thinking about A. Bartlett Giamatti, my first hero who wasn't an athlete, president, or my mother. He was, as you may know, a professor of comparative literature before he became Yale's President and before he achieved a lifelong ambition to serve as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. He was also a Red Sox fan and a source of insight and inspiration for me as a thinker and writer.
He was likely on my mind because of the Dodgers' win over the Astros last night, setting the stage for a World Series Game Seven tonight. And no doubt, he was on my mind because it was at this time one year ago that the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. It was also on my mind because I've been thinking about when and how I learned to let loose my clinging to certainty and perfection and instead to embrace ambiguity and falling short. That was a long process rather than quick-fix, and popping up, grounding out, even striking out, amidst occasional success at bat and in the field played a part.
I would not have danced at CFS, nor moved through our halls, classrooms, and office spaces here at SFFS as happily as I do if I hadn't learned to embrace and integrate occasions of my broken heart into my travels through life, trying to figure out how to do this human being thing. I count myself among those "simpler creatures" to which Giamatti refers in the text below.
Thanks for your patience with my desire to think aloud and for your good company this morning.
"That is why it breaks my heart, that game—not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.
Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun."
I did not plan to speak at our Community Meeting for Worship yesterday morning, especially after hearing some of our students' voices as they welcomed us and shared reflections on this year’s testimony of truth and its continuing revelation. We heard from one eighth grader who reminded us of the importance of the search for truth as our elected officials at the highest levels appear to lie to the public. And we heard from another, who related this year’s testimony to a powerful book he had just read, Animal Farm.
Yet I soon found myself appreciating the time and space that those assembled—students, parents, visiting friends, and members of the professional community—were creating and claiming together.
I remembered reading Charlotte's Web by E.B. White to my daughter Kyle and loving it. Kyle named her first pet rat—the first of many—Templeton. I remembered, too, that when Templeton died, my wife Sue and I had wondered if she might need to stay home that morning. But we soon learned that Kyle (now a faculty member of Friends School of Wilmington in North Carolina) could not imagine being anywhere but school. It was her Friends School community that she trusted. And it was her Friends School community that held her sadness and love, just as it held her laughter and joy.
As we continue to confront so much political conflict, tragedy, and loss in the news and in our lives today, I am reminded of E.B. White again. This time, it is his words that I strive to remember and have come to cherish:
“Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it?”
I felt especially grateful Wednesday morning to be in community with others holding that which is difficult, striving to do good in response, and claiming laughter and joy during our days at SFFS.
As my colleagues and I have done in the past, I would like to share a few compelling resources that I hope will help you and your family navigate the dissonance, violence, and trauma. I also encourage you to read a great recent story in The Atlantic about the power of school communities and about “a host of caring adults” that can frame and lead a path forward.
- Edutopia: ”Responding to Tragedy: Resources for Educators and Parents”
- Greater Good Magazine: “Nine Tips for Talking to Kids about Trauma”
- HealthyChildren.org: “Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events”
- Common Sense Media: “Explaining the News to Our Kids”
- The Atlantic: “Returning to Class the Morning After a Massacre”