Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Out to Pasture

I am retired from a profession where I never made much money, but for over 30 years, felt like I was being a productive member of society by educating children, promoting love of obscure grammar rules, and hiding Shakespearean insults in the district website I maintained. 

But now that I live life on a more relaxed plane, volunteering in places that make me smile, going to the gym whenever I want, and spending more than 22 minutes on lunch, I sometimes wonder if I am slacking, not pulling my weight in the cosmic load.

Recent incidents confirm to me that I still have a place in the stuff of life, albeit to a different, smaller, and simpler tune.

Incident #1: Fresh out of the nail salon with a new set of my favorite French tipped acrylics, I hurried through the grocery store before the bulk of the Friday crowd hit. I spotted a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, her 20 year old son in tow. In the year or so since I’d seen him, nonverbal, severely autistic and struggling with violent outbursts, he’d grown even more, dwarfing his petite mom. I felt a new wave of admiration for my friend and her husband for their sacrifices in keeping him at home.

She smiled and hugged me. “Shelly, it’s good to see you. We’re so wrapped up in all that we have,” she glanced at her son, “that we don’t get out much anymore.” She continued sharing that it was more and more difficult for her to calm him when he became agitated because he was now so much stronger than her. Her son, uninterested in our conversation, circled slowly behind me, making me a little nervous. He emerged within my field of vision and knelt beside my arm, staring intently at my hand. My friend stopped talking and we both became wary.

Her son rose slowly and grasped my hand, never taking his eyes from it. He turned awkwardly and put my hand on his shoulders. Not sure what to do, I held it there, waiting for him to make the next move.

He moved his shoulders up and down and back and forth, wiggling. He looked back at me, smiled, and shimmied his shoulders again, making sounds of encouragement. A look of understanding flashed onto his mom’s face. “It’s your nails! He wants you to scratch his back with your nails!” He clapped his hands as I obliged, gently dragging my nails back and forth over his back. He closed his eyes and lapsed into a peaceful stillness for the next five minutes while we continued our conversation. Later that day, she texted me for the number to my nail salon. “We’ve never seen him so calm. A regular backscratcher doesn’t do it, either. It has to be nails. I’ve never had long nails, but this is working so well for him I’m headed down to get a set.”

Incident #2: At the close of a college football game, I wandered down out of the bleachers while my husband caught up with a hunting buddy in the stands. The school mascot, a six foot tall blue javelina (think something like a wild hog) with large tusks ambled near, greeting children and adults alike who wanted a quick picture with him. A man with two little curly headed girls, perhaps four and five years old, pulled them close to the mascot. “Look! I can take your picture with him,” he said excitedly to the girls as he pulled his phone from his pocket. The older girl, eyes wide, smiled in silent awe as the mascot reached his hand/ hoof out to her.

The younger girl, though, dug her heels in, pulled back on the man’s hand and whimpered, “No, Daddy, no!” Terror drained her face even as her sister crowded close.

The man said nothing but pried the little fingers off his hand and turned his back to her to take pictures. The younger girl, now without any island of safety and with her sister firmly in the clutches of the mascot, screamed chillingly. The man paid no attention as he continued to snap pictures. Quickly, the tiny girl bolted straight for me, ran behind and grabbed my leg in a death grip. Her curls bobbed at my waist as she buried her head in my thigh and sobbed, “No! No!”

I dropped my purse to the ground and knelt as best I could with her clamped onto me and put my arms around her. I told her the mascot was actually a silly fellow inside of a costume and that he would never hurt her and that she was safe. The whole time, the man never looked back, never took his eyes off taking his pictures. By the time they finished, a weak smile broke through my charge’s teary face, and she laughed as I told her funny stories of times I had been afraid and then found out I didn’t need to be.

As her father made his way over to us, pumping his fist in triumph at all the pictures he’d taken of the mascot and the older girl, I whispered to the little sister. “Remember, Honey, you are a brave girl. You are going to help so many people in your life because you are full of courage and you are going to help them not feel afraid.” She nodded her head, sighed and let out one last sob as her father reached for her hand.

“You were such a little chicken, weren’t you?” he laughed as she put her head down.

“Actually, she is very brave, and I think you should be quite proud of her and her sister, " I told him quietly. I patted her on the head. “You remember, you are brave, Honey. You don't have to be afraid because it's right there inside of you for whenever you need it. You are going to do such wonderful things. All your life, you remember that.” She nodded her head as other family members joined them. They walked towards the parking lot and I could hear the father laughing and recounting, “She just took off and ran behind this lady and wouldn’t let go of her…”

The little girl, tightly clutching her father’s hand, looked back one last time and shyly waved goodbye.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the mascot. He held his arms open wide and pulled me in for a tight hug.

I may be out to pasture, but there's still plenty to do in that pasture.

58 comments:

  1. So, there is, Shelly and you're doing it well. And sharing it so beautifully with your blog friends. Thank you! Reminds me of that quote from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

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    1. Linda: That quote is one of my favorites, so so true on many lovely levels. Thank you~

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    2. I haven't heard that quote, Linda. I really like it. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Hi, dear Shelly! I'm surprised the little girl's father didn't shout "STRANGER DANGER!" like that mother at the Grand Canyon! Even so he is drumming into her head the notion that she is cowardly. Repeated often enough negative reinforcement writes a script that the girl could follow all her life. I hope your message got through and helped offset the damage her daddy was doing.

    The first story had me wondering what was going to happen. At first I though, "Did the autistic boy want a dance partner?" I wonder what would happen if Shady approached a woman in the grocery store and asked her to scratch my back! :)

    Shelly, hear me. There's not a single person who knows you that would ever doubt you are pulling your weight in the cosmic load. You have influenced countless lives and continue to do so. The ripple effect of your teaching and your good deeds is making the world a better place for all of us.

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    1. Shady: I was seething by the time that man left. I wanted to shake him, to shout at him...but I knew with someone like him, it does no good. I can only keep that sweet little girl in my prayers. And thank you, friend. We all do what we can, including you, and it's that collective effort that makes this a pretty good life.

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  3. I hope that somewhere in that little girl's memory, your voice stays to comfort and reassure her that she is, indeed, brave and has much to bring to the world. Though you may not be contributing to the world officially as a gifted teacher, you are still that wonderful teacher reaching out and sharing love and wisdom in totally new ways.

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    1. Dr. Kathy: It is my fervent prayer that the sweet little girl will not only have my voice, but others in her life who will reinforce who she really is. I have never punched anyone, but that father would have been a perfect first candidate. And thank you for your kind words. I am finding retirement wasn't really the ending of a road, but the on ramp to a new highway.

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  4. A charming heart-warming post. Often it's the little things we do in life that have the greatest impact. You will ALWAYS be a teacher, and more importantly you will ALWAYS be a wonderful and caring human being.

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    1. Stephen: Those callings with are born with, like you and your art, are just things we can't retire from, so true. And thank you.

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  5. Sounds like you are enjoying your retirement and SHOULD! Everyday is a gift. every.single.day. Love your stories.

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    1. Christine: Oh my goodness- I LOVE it! It is a gift in all ways!!!

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  6. Out to pasture? More like outside the fence and free to roam and go where God leads and needs your particular gifts. I think all that changed is the scenery and schedule. You have so much to offer.

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    1. Nonnie: Free it is, truly. At first all that freedom was a little overwhelming, but I love it now!

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  7. they can take the teacher out of the classroom but they can't take the heart out o fthe teacher

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    1. Vanilla: Spoken by one who knows that truth well!

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    2. That really was "spoken." I dictated it to my wife's phone. Surely glad to be back to a keyboard!

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    3. vanilla: My phone can't understand my accent, so yours came out much better than mine would have!

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    4. And I am glad you have your keyboard back. That would drive me nuts.

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  8. Janie: Hugs, my kindred-hearted friend~

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  9. I want to hug you, too. What Shakespearean insult best suits this guy?

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    1. Chicken: Hmmm,..maybe “Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee,” from All's Well That Ends Well~

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  10. Wait now, what? Shakespearean insults hidden in the school district website?! Do tell :)

    I love what you did for that little girl. I could punch people like that dad, too. Bad parenting brings out the beast in me.

    And very interesting about the autistic boy calming down during the back scratching. Now there's a good mom, noticing what helps and being open to it.

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    1. jenny_o: I would bury them in the legal notices section, which no one reads. It was fun to think about.And the mother of the autistic boy is a FANTASTIC mom. I hope both those kids will have many good things happening to them in life.

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  11. I am so moved by your stories today that I have tears in the rims. To tell the fearful child that she is brave is a total redirection. Not reinforcement of the shame of being a "chicken" or a "scaredy cat." It's the exact right response to comfort those who are afraid. Your patience and intuition with people you encounter continually helps me reconsider my responses when I am out and about, and also guides my internal narrator. I think about what you might do in a situation, or how you would see someone with compassionate eyes. You don't really know the strength or the power of your example and the impact it's having, but I am so grateful and blessed to know you and to call you my friend.

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    1. Jenny: This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, my friend. I think it applies to you, also.

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    2. You bring such light to so many, including me!

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  12. Hi Shelly. When I read this, it is clear to me why you were such an amazing teacher and why it was your calling. You have an incredible heart and you are always looking out for other people. The world needs more Shellys :)

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    1. Optimistic: I really do think most people would have acted as I did. Thank you, friend~

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  13. Life is in the little things that make big differences. That little girl will always remember you and what you told her. You're her angel.

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    1. Carol: I so hope she has some adults with compassion and sense in her life.

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  14. God bless you for what you did for that girl. It's painful to watch parents acting stupidly. Fortunately, my school-teacher wife taught me early on to support and encourage our sons and never demean or disparage.

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    1. Secondary: You've been taught by the best!

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  15. These examples remind me of the saying, "It takes a village." As a parent, I so appreciate when a friend can find a way to calm my child by doing something I hadn't yet considered, or when a stranger shows compassion in a situation where I fall short.

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    1. Amy: It is so true. I know so many times I've appreciated others in my kids' lives. I hope that dad was just having an insensitive day and that he's normally not like that.

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  16. I can't see myself or my mum ever being out to pasture but if we where we would find something to do and a child to care for because that is who we are

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    1. Jo-Anne: I know you would, my friend, and I love that.

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  17. Isn't life good enough at beating the sense of wonderment and self esteem out of our kids, without the help of jack-ass parents, like that guy? Shelly, your work will never be done. Probably because you are so darn good at it. Maybe it won't be at school, but you are still needed out there.

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    1. Pat: There are just some parents I wish I could shake some sense into. And thank you- it really does take a village!

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  18. Oh, Shelly. You are one of the good ones. Just by being yourself, you make the world a better place.

    Pearl

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  19. Oh my, I had such a tear in my eye by the end of this! I guessed the sensory input in the first one, but not the second. I guess I couldn't believe that the dad would continue with his photo taking!
    I get how you feel ,being a fellow young ('cos we are!) retiree, I sometimes feel I'm slacking too. But then my 14 yo bounds in and I remember what I am here to do.
    There will always be a place in the universe for you Shelly. xx

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    1. jazzygal: Yes! Our teens are always going to keep us from going to seed- I hope I have enough energy to stay the course! I hope you are feeling better, my friend~

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  20. Hi Shelly! I'm so glad I stopped by tonight to check in on my blogging friends. What wonderful stories you share. But I have a question: Are you real? I'm starting to think that you are an angel here on earth sent to uplift all who are fortunate enough to come in contact with you. Or who get to read your blog. Thanks for what you do! And enjoy your "pasture". :)

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    1. Felt Family: So good to see you!!! I've missed your blog- love seeing your pics on FB. You are so sweet- and thank YOU for the huge amounts of good you do. Give your sweet boy a hug for me- still keeping him in prayers!

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  21. I am blogging over here now! http://wwwendlessways.blogspot.com/

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    1. Christine: Yay!!! I'm headed over there now-

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  22. You did good in both instances!!! You're brave, worthy of being a proud, beautiful soul.

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    1. HOOTIN ANNI: And you are so brave, too, my friend!

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  23. OH, the mascot hugging you got me in the end....tears falling! Oh, I loved those stories! I saw you had a post the other day but did not have a chance til today to come read! The simplest thing, like nails--wow. God works in mysterious ways, doesn't He? Gosh, you will never look at your nails any differently. Might have to grasp your hand when I meet you and put your hand on my shoulders....I can just see it!! ( love my back scratched!!--I'm always asking the littles to do it!) I'm anxious to find out if that boys mama getting her nails done, if it works out for them!!

    And that little girl, oh, my...wow, good thing you were there, you notice things other people don't. I love that about you.

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    1. Jamie: I'm going to be so excited to meet you all that if you want my nails to scratch your back, have at it! I can't wait, seriously, to get to see you all! Texas is gaining such a great family!!!

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  24. Dear Shelly, I suspect the time that we can do good for one another never ends. That there are always opportunities and possibilities to reach across the space that separates us from others--to bridge the gap--and to touch lives and to be touched. The wonder always is that we somehow recognize the opportunity. And you do. Peace.

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    1. Dee: You are so right- as long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to practice goodness and kindness on one another. And you have some of the keenest vision I know in spotting these opportunities and acting upon them.

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  25. I adore you--and not only for being a tremendous human being. I love that you are a writer who knows all the lessons of Everything are present in the small interactions that make up daily life.

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    1. Joecelyn: Ah, my friend, then the adoration is mutual. I only wish I'd had you as a writing teacher when I was in college!

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  26. Two amazing stories. I am sure you don't have to confine yourself inside work to play your part. More and more I realise that everyone has their role to play in the human story.

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