Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20, 2011 ~ Day 101
A Reason For All Things

I spent three lovely hours with an old high school friend this morning and at one point in our conversation we agreed that despite how challenging life and parenting can sometimes be, everything is happening just as it is meant to.

Even though we can't always see *why* things develop as they do, there usually turns out to be a deeper underlying purpose. Happily, with the passage of time these reasons may become clear.

Last night I shared a story on this blog about a university instructor ("The Writer") who hadn't crossed my mind once in the last fifteen years. In retelling the story of his fiction writing workshop and how it affected my decisions and ultimate life path, I had the opportunity to re-examine a particularly pivotal incident from the distance of a few decades.

Later ~ after publishing my post ~ I happened to be folding laundry on the couch and began to think even more deeply about everything I had described.

For the first time I made a mental connection between how wretched I felt that day while my story was being workshopped... and the way in which I myself created - years later, as a teacher - an aspect of the writing process for my own students that I called "Positive Peer Critique". The PPC was a key element of my self-invented technique for writing instruction. It consisted of a form given to each reviewer that would be critiquing a student story. The form was divided into three sections:

(1) Which character did you like best in this story? Give your response in complete sentences using specific examples.
(2) Which event did you find most interesting in the story? Make sure to include thoughtful details and explain why the action was meaningful to you.
(3) Please give three positive suggestions to the author for ways in which they can improve their story. Make sure to use positive language, e.g. "I like your story and think it could be even better if..."

I created the PPC at the age of 21, just three years after the demise of my own aspirations to be a writer, and it functioned as the core of the writers' workshop model I used with hundreds of students Grades 1 through 8 over the course of a decade.

I can't believe that in all of these years it never once occurred to me before last night that I must have invented the PPC specifically to prevent any of my own students from ever experiencing the misery during a story workshop that I had gone through myself. I wanted my students to love writing and never dread the moment when it was time to share their characters or ideas with the rest of the class. I yearned for each and every one of them to feel valued as a writer, and to develop confidence in their own ability with words.

I couldn't see it at the time but today I can say without question that my failure as a student author led me to help many others to grow as writers; and I was surely a better equipped and more sensitive teacher for having personally experienced humiliation in a writing class.

The beautiful, beautiful thing about this is that at least three of my former students have gone on to become writers. These three women ~ now in their early twenties ~ were third graders when I first began to teach. I was lucky enough to work with them daily for two years until I returned to graduate school.

One of them now lives in Manhattan and was recently published in Harper's Bazaar... another is working full time on a novel, and a third wrote to me two weeks ago to tell me that out of all the teachers she studied with in her life I turned out to be the most influential. (Such a massive, humbling compliment.) She is a poet and has now decided to pursue a career as a creative writing teacher and contacted me to ask for advice about teaching. (I told her to lead with her heart.)

So when I look back over the past 17 years, the pattern at last becomes clear!

The Writer and my own failure --> led to my intense desire as a teacher to make sure that my own students believed in themselves as writers and learned how to give and receive criticism with grace --> which led to the growth of these same students into devoted writers/published authors...

I can see it!

I can finally see why all of my steps and missteps along the way were necessary! There WAS a larger plan in action, much greater than any of my own personal desires or dreams. I was meant to participate in some way in the development of these three outstanding writers!

This epiphany is SO comforting.

We live in a world that frequently feels overwhelmingly violent and chaotic... all too often I find myself clutching my hands in despair over the bumpy ride. This past week, for example, watching events unfold in Japan - it is quite easy to feel lost and depressed about the millions of lives that are shattered there... the thousands of lives that are lost.

I wonder if someday, many years down the road, it will be possible for the Japanese to look back upon the triple-whammy of their heartbreaking devastation (earthquake-tsunami-possible nuclear meltdown) and see some greater plan... some larger cosmic reason to give meaning to a tragedy that currently feels quite senseless.
  • What if the nations of the world decide to greatly improve the safety of their nuclear technology... or even turn to solar and wind for their power and shun nuclear energy altogether?

  • What if, thanks to their terrible sacrifice, scientists learn how to predict earthquakes and tsunamis... thus saving the lives of untold millions of future children?

  • What if, thanks to the incredible front-line video coverage of the disaster we get such a clear understanding of tsunamis that communities will be designed and built in the future to withstand their sudden onslaught?

There are a million possibilities and of course this is all conjecture. There will be no way to know if any deeper good will come out of their disaster until adequate time has passed and we see what the world is left with on the other side.

I would like to believe though, that good WILL come of their recent nightmare. I do believe, strongly, that all things happen for a reason.

I've spent a long time searching for answers to explain why bad things happen to good people of all ages; I doubt I will ever come up with an answer that my brain or heart can live with. I no longer pray to *understand* why events unfold as they do... instead I pray for the strength and inner peace to accept the 'unacceptable' and give warmth and love even in the face of unspeakable sorrow.

It's a true joy then to compile evidence in the world of a larger plan which brings meaning to unexpected losses and heartbreak.

The Writer (and FAILURE) led me to become A Teacher ~
Teaching led me to return to My City ~
My City led me to My Love ~
My Love led me to these Three Children ~
Three Children are leading me...

...toward FAITH! :-) and a new life, whatever it may prove to be.

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