Sunday, February 24, 2013

Happiness (Big and Little)

I started yesterday to talk about happiness and said that I would continue through the week. So, what has made me happy today? Well, that's the question that I thought I had to answer. I figured my goal was to pile up a list of things that equated with happiness and, in doing so, prove myself happy. I see now, with a smile, that that's a foolish path to go down.

Instead of that, I want to talk about how ordinary my day was. I woke up after a tough night's sleep and got myself ready for the day. My wife and I dropped the kids off at Hebrew school and then went to Wegmans to do the grocery shopping. It will sound crazy, but I really enjoyed being there. I felt as though I was in the moment. I was watching people wander the store, grabbing the things they want to buy, and thinking the whole time about what I was doing there and what was happening at that moment. To put it succinctly, I was present to most every moment.

Then, at the checkout, I saw a young woman who attended my summer school class last summer. I was so excited to see her, to hear that she is doing well, that she got into the University of Virginia and was just in love with the way her life was going. Talking to her reminded me of some of the charms of teaching regular school with kids who end up going to college and have dreams of high achievement. This is in direct opposition with the kids I teach who have been kicked out of their schools, are often in love only with the drugs they are taking, and are estranged from almost everyone they know.

Enjoying that moment with a student helped me think about what it is I love about teaching and what kinds of kids I need to work with. And it reinforced the work that I do. I want to keep working with kids who need me to guide them toward something bigger. It also helped me understand that my larger role in education is to tell everyone I can what a load of shit the Common Core Standards (and all the tests and standardization they bring along) are. If I want to be working on something bigger than the day to day stuff of school, it's exposing the Common Core as common crap. That thought doesn't make me happy in a smiling kind of way. It tends to make me frown and worry. But that's the real kind of happiness I'm looking for, the big picture kind.

After Wegmans, I made soup and it was good. I'm a good cook and the whole time I was cooking, from the time I chopped the onion and leeks, to each time I added a dash of kosher salt, I was in the process of making soup. Later, after I had picked up the girls from Hebrew school and they had gone to a neighbor's house, my wife and I ate that soup (it was great) and watched episodes of a television show we like. It wasn't rah-rah, knock your socks off great times, but it was good and I was happy throughout.

Here's the thing: I was there for the show. I wasn't on my tablet or phone. I was watching the show and thinking about my own life as it was reflected in the show. Much as it might be difficult to believe, the show served as good literature does: it was a mirror into which I stared. Good television can do that.

And now, my kids and wife are watching something as the girls have snack and get ready for bed. I'm in the kitchen typing and thinking about the words I'm writing as I write them. I started this piece not knowing much about where it would go, but thinking that it shouldn't be a list of happiness. Has it been that? Maybe a little. But mostly, I think that it has been a record of paying attention, of focusing on moments. I have, for the most part, been focused today on what I have been doing instead of what I feel I should have been doing. And that for me is a large accomplishment.

I have a lot left to do. I'm not the man I know I can be. Instead, I'm a small fraction of that man. That said, I feel more and more as though I'm the beginning of that man and that beginnings are good, present moments are even better, and the future is something for fools to focus on. The idea is to be in this moment, to focus on the word I'm typing right now, and understand that I will always write on and on.