“Life changes in an instant. The ordinary instant.” – Joan Didion
When Didion wrote those words in her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, she was referring to her husband’s death from a sudden heart attack—but it could refer to any event that alters our usual, held-together view of reality.
We generally go through life with predictable routines and familiar expectations as our default version of reality. We work hard to hold on to the familiar and generally succeed. But at some point or another, we are thrust out of this comfortable place and life as we know it drastically changes. The world as we know it falls apart, and we are left without reference points and familiar landmarks. In an instant, we become aware there is nothing solid to hold on to. This realization that, as poet W.B. Yeats wrote, “the center does not hold” creates uncertainty, anxiety, and disorientation for all of us.
Buddhist nun Pema Chödrom, describes this experience as loss of “imputed meaning,” and it is a powerful reckoning; when the familiar understanding of our world is stripped of meaning, we feel groundless, unanchored. It can feel terrifying, but it can also create spaces for wisdom, for new ways of looking at the world unburdened by the ways in which we have previously interpreted it.
As Chödron points out in her book Welcoming the Unwelcome, “in a way, you’ve been making up your whole world all along. Things are just as they are, unfolding as they unfold.” But, as humans who are consistently in search of “confirmation and security,” we try to make sense of these things. Chödron’s point is we can find beauty and insight in “sitting in the middle of what’s going on and letting go of concepts and labels to the best of our ability.” We may be able to be more open and curious about whether our usual labels and descriptions have any basis in reality; being aware of this emptiness and lack of grounding, may make it easier to bear when “things fall apart.”
Moving toward painful situations can open our hearts; this means sitting still and recognizing the emptiness that we so often cover with the “imputed meaning” of stories and assumptions. This acceptance can feel unbearably vulnerable. Brené Brown describes this pandemic experience as a “massive experiment in collective vulnerability.” She defines vulnerability as a combination of “risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure.” When we are afraid, we can be our best, bravest selves or our worst selves; she points out “when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection.” There’s that word, “default,” again: let’s all try to become aware of our default settings and to see them as stories we tell ourselves, not hard truths. Then let’s sit with the feelings that follow.
Chödron says, “we can respond out of trust in our vast, open, basically good mind,” by having a friendly, open approach toward our uncomfortable feelings, by viewing our own discomfort with tenderness. She says, “if each of us can change how we look at ourselves, that becomes the basis for a culture of people who don’t give up on themselves or on each other.” We certainly need this approach now more than ever. My friend, Melinda, shared a poem by Mary Oliver that captures all these feelings we are holding simultaneously.
Don’t Hesitate (2010) by mary oliver
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.
We are not wise, and not very often kind.
And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world.
It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty.
Joy is not made to be a crumb.
I urge all of us to “give in to” joy. Or as Brown urges us, rather than opt for “scary when we’re scared,” let’s choose “awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other.” Choose three self-care actions each day; choose your own reactions to others’ emotions; choose how much media you want to consume (hint: it’s probably less!); choose to reach out to others.
I was struck by a short episode of The Daily podcast, in which NY Times technology reporter Kevin Roose notes that the internet has become kinder these past few weeks, as people come together from all over the world. The examples shared on this episode are uplifting, and I’m sure you have your own experiences of being alone together with friends, family, and even strangers.
Middle School Ukulele Elective
I have enjoyed virtual happy hours with faculty and staff, and with old friends from graduate school. I hope you will join me this week for Living Room Chats, which I am hosting for parents on the following dates and times:
- Primary – Grade 2: Tuesday, March 24 at 7:00 pm
- Grades 3-5: Wednesday, March 25 at 7:00 pm
- Grades 6-8: Thursday, March 26 at 7:00 pm
We can share self-care tips, positive experiences, and strategies for parenting during this time. I have missed all of you and so look forward to seeing some familiar faces and hearing how you are doing.
I want thank all who have expressed gratitude for the herculean efforts of administrators and faculty to move our excellent academic program to an online platform so quickly and beautifully. As a parent and administrator, I am humbled by our teachers’ patience, creativity, skill, and humor. As I told faculty and staff, they are learning to build a plane while they are building a plane while they are flying the plane. We will continue to improve the delivery of our program and welcome constructive feedback as we proceed at a comfortable pace to build upon this week’s successes. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Grade 3 Zoom Learning
As we look ahead, I remain hopeful that our time away from campus will not be extraordinarily long. However, I want you to know that, as a team, our administrators and staff are planning several weeks in advance so that we can continue to enhance our offerings and support. While some of our peer schools are making educated guesses on when campuses will reopen, I feel it is still premature to set a firm date, though it’s safe to say we will be closed at least through Los Angeles’ shelter-in-place ordinance: April 19. When we do feel more confident about dates, you will be given plenty of notice. With that in mind, I want to share a glimpse of what we are discussing and planning as an administrative team.
Administrative Team Meeting
While we have focused primarily on adapting our Intellectual elements to remote learning, we are developing opportunities to foster growth and connections in our other categories: Social, Physical, Ethical, and Emotional.
- We are identifying and curating some amazing resources to share with you to help you enjoy your Spring Break staycation. There is so much out there from free Audible books for children, to virtual art museum visits, to apps that encourage movement and fitness from home, to local hikes, to Instagram dance parties. We will sift through the avalanche and share with you some of our recommendations.
- In addition, we are creatively re-imagining our after-school offerings to provide kids with some additional (optional) afternoon engagement and hopefully take some pressure off of parents to be 24/7 activity directors. (At the same time, please give yourself permission to let things be messy and to enjoy a break from our children’s intense overscheduling.)
- Let’s discuss a grown-up book together after Spring Break! I thought it might be fun for parents to read Tara Westover’s Educated, and then we will schedule some time for a Zoom discussion. We’ll send an RSVP form out via Parent Square later this week to gauge interest.
- We’re looking at the feasibility of hosting some virtual Parent Speaker Series events and community mindfulness practice, so stay tuned for news on that front as well.
Thank you for looking out for each other. Don’t forget to put your own oxygen masks on first and, as always, keep us posted on how we can support you.
Head of School