Look for the breeze
Doors slam every day for all of us. Oftentimes, when that happens, we may become discouraged, angry, disheartened, and even give up. We think things will not get any better, so why bother, just move on
When I would tell my own children that “life wasn’t fair,” they hated it. Things in life were supposed to be fair because they wanted life to be fair. Good guys were supposed to win, and the bad guys were supposed to lose. Isn’t that what we taught them? Isn’t that why they were corrected for their miscues on the one hand, rewarded for their good behavior on the other, and often forgiven for their questionable choices in the middle? That was the way things were meant to be, wasn’t it?
And, for many years, that is what I believed.
Then I spent twenty years at Hereford High School teaching eleventh and twelfth graders. Through my students, I began to understand more clearly the “life’s not fair” thing. I began to see (the time-honored metaphor) that when the door slams in our faces there is always a window that opens. In fact, when I looked deeper, I began to feel a whiff of air through that window opening. As I continued to feel the breeze, I realized that often it was a gentle zephyr, but at times it could become a hurricane or tornado. Either way, the message was clear to me.
Door slamming wasn’t necessarily a detriment, but instead an opportunity to grow. Because of my students, I learned to manage the door slamming and trust the breeze.
Carrie was my breeze
When I first began my teaching, Carrie was a ninth-grade student in my physical education class. She was rather quiet and reserved but was a dedicated student and was often a welcome support for me. My success with this class was in doubt as I had not taught that subject for many years. Health and English were my primary subjects, but my principal asked me to teach one PE class that year, and so I did. Despite my previous satisfactory experience teaching gym class, I felt pretty much like a failure, and I often questioned my effectiveness with the girls; they just didn’t like me or respect me. A door slammed frequently, and discouragement became my daily companion.
After one particularly disheartening day, I walked out of my office and saw Carrie sitting on a bench in the locker room crying. I sat down next to her and hugged her, while she told me her mother was sick—she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Instantly my teaching issues disappeared.
I held Carrie for a minute, and then she asked me if I would pray with her. Despite clear and strict federal regulations forbidding religious activity in the public schools, in a Baltimore County high school, in the state of Maryland, in the United States of America, in the 1980’s, I held hands with a student and prayed for her mother’s healing.
Carrie was my gentle, brave, and inspiring breeze. In her pain, she opened my door and encouraged me, assuring me I had a supportive role to play. I felt the breeze.
Sam was my breeze
Sam was a popular, intelligent, respected eleventh grade student who was in my semester health class. He was extremely vocal and involved in class discussions, and I appreciated his often-insightful contributions. As we began our unit on human sexuality, I asked students to do some introspection and write in their journals about their personal comfort levels and their pre-adolescent experiences in this subject. After class one day, Sam nervously approached me.
“Mrs Euker” he said, “I think your lessons are personally invasive. What you are asking us to write is our business and doesn’t need to be shared with a teacher or anyone else.” He continued “and you have no right to ask us about such private issues. I will not hand in what you are asking us to write.” I was taken aback and immediately questioned myself. Was I asking too much of my students?
The door of uncertainty smacked me in the face.
I was confused by Sam’s resistance and wondered why he was so unwilling to answer my questions. As we spoke briefly, Sam and I came to an understanding. He accepted that I would teach according to the Baltimore County curriculum, and I acknowledged that he would turn in only the work he felt was reasonable. I reminded him that his final grade would reflect that. The semester continued and we did not speak on the subject again. But I began to rethink my teaching strategies.
At the end of the grading period, Sam had earned a “B” for his efforts, and I concluded I had earned about the same for my teaching. There was more work for me to do; Sam had clearly reminded me of that.
The students left, and my new classes began.
About a week into the new semester, I returned to my classroom after lunch one Tuesday, and as I entered my room, I was met by the fragrance of a very large bouquet of flowers. On my desk sat an arrangement of radiant roses, lilacs, pink hydrangeas, and daisies. . . the bouquet was stunning. The attached note read:
“Thank you, Mrs. Euker. It has been educational.”
Never before or since have I received flowers from a student. To this day, I remain appreciative of Sam’s forthrightness and acceptance of my dedication to the sexual health and well-being of my students; and I admire his integrity and sincerity in letting me know he understood.
Sam was my honest and grateful breeze. He reinforced my conviction that effective teaching takes continual introspection and challenging work.
Steve was my breeze
One Monday morning, I was walking through the silent halls on my way to the faculty room to make copies for my classes the following day. I was contemplating my lessons and deep in thought about some concerning comments my students had made in class that day. Our discussion defined the three types of love, Eros, Philos, and Agape, and how we recognize them and respond to them. My hope was that students understood the differences and could relate them to their own lives; however their responses had shaken me. I did not believe they understood or even acknowledged what I was trying to communicate.
The door of self-doubt was closing in on me.
I was visibly upset and lost in my own thoughts when I suddenly heard a high-pitched, exuberant voice say “Hi, Mrs. Euker.” I jumped, startled at the happy greeting in the silent hallway. There was Steve, a ninth grader, smiling at me. I did not teach Steve as only upper classmen were in my course, but I taught his older brother and so I recognized him.
“Hi Steve,” I answered, tentatively.
“How are you Mrs. Euker? I hope you are having a nice day.”
“Thank you, Steve,” I answered with a momentary grin.
We chatted briefly, and as Steve and I parted, I continued walking down the hall with my step a bit lighter and an unexpected, broad smile on my face.
Steve had transformed my entire mood.
I found it extraordinary that Steve greeted me in such a friendly way. In my experience, ninth graders are a bit shy and reluctant about approaching upper class teachers, and the fact Steve knew who I was, reinforced to me how important our names are.
I thought about this positive encounter for the rest of the day, and then began using this unexpected interaction with Steve as a lesson in my health classes when we discussed how others can affect our self-concept. That short conversation with Steve had changed my entire demeanor, and I wanted my students to understand the impact a surprise greeting can have. Further, I wanted them to begin to be a “Steve” to others in their lives.
Two years later, Steve was enrolled in my health class. The day of this self-concept lesson, I stopped him at the beginning of class and told him what I was going to say. When I asked him if he remembered, he did not answer, but instead grinned and headed for his seat in the back of the room. As I recounted to the class our meeting in the hall that day, I watched Steve’s reaction. As I spoke, he smiled and nodded his head.
Steve was my happy cheerful breeze. He reminded me of the positive and fun interactions teaching affords. That fortuitous exchange has remained with me to this day.
And there are so many more students’ stories.
I now know for a fact that when the door slams in our faces, there is always a breeze through the window. If we are sensitive enough to feel the wafting air current, watch, and listen, the breeze may teach us, encourage us, or just acknowledge who we are. But we need to take the time and develop the introspection necessary to receive the gift. Sometimes, we may even be our own breeze.
My students taught me that.
If we become somebody who makes everybody feel like somebody, maybe we will be their breeze . . . or perhaps they will be ours.
A Green Popsicle
Such a laughing, dancing, chortling, jumping, singing, licking, jolly scene. . . a particularly joyful,
celebratory afternoon. And, on a Wednesday at three o’clock on a hot, rainy, mushy dismal, otherwise forgettable day. I had not seen the likes of this anticipatory din for---well---over seventy years. But then, I am 80 years old, and the celebrant was three. Does that matter?
A green popsicle
The asking, begging, mild jumping and clapping of small, chubby, deliciously shaped hands began mid-afternoon, and escalated in passion each minute that passed. A plate empty of veggies and meat was deserving of a green reward, and all in attendance knew the rule…. especially the ecstatic, twirling three-year-old who had successfully completed his gastronomical challenge—his plate was clean.
As the mother opened the freezer, the young boy bounced, with his tightly clenched fist raised in the air and chanted “Green, Green, Green.” With the icy delight tucked safely in his hands, the boy tore off the paper, and once again danced and sang as he licked his well-earned delight. Such happy commotion. I had forgotten . . .
A green popsicle
As my grandson happily devoured his green prize, I witnessed how a small miracle can change a day. I thought of the utter uninhibited joy that can come from magical green licks and I wondered how my world might change because of an icy colored delight. Can adults revisit their popsicle years and experience that unabashed joy? Is it possible to go back? I wondered. . .
In a flash, I bravely headed to the ice cream store in search of a green popsicle. . . .
And, the magic of childhood.
Pay it forward
I would like to thank the kind patron at Looney’s restaurant in Bel Air for doing something that has never happened to me before.
Last week, I was celebrating my friend’s 86th birthday with several other people, and we were having a fun time, toasting and laughing and even singing ( quietly!) as we regaled the birthday girl with tales of her long and exuberant life. We were four senior citizens out for the first time since the COVID, and we had lots to celebrate.
After cocktails, shrimp dinners and several glasses of good wine, we began to wrap up our evening. When we asked for the check, the waitress whispered to me that the table next to us had paid the bill. I sat in stunned silence. She continued by saying he did not want his name mentioned, but that he hoped we enjoyed our dinner.
As we left the restaurant that night with an even more celebratory glow than when we arrived, I thought about our benefactor. Why did he treat us? Did any of us know him? Was this his MO, and did he treat people often. I will never know the answer to my questions, but I do have a renewed faith in people because of one man’s thoughtful contribution to an already happy occasion for us. If he is reading this, I hope our “knight in shining armor” knows how thankful four elderly people are. We will always remember….
And, I know I will pay it forward---when I can go out to dinner again.
As you read these remembrances of my years with you at Hereford High School, it is important to understand that you have all mattered to me. Each of you has marked my life in some way, and in doing so, has changed me in ways I could not have believed. Some of your names have escaped me ( I will be eighty-years-old next year-- yikes!), but your faces, personalities and humor have remained. You are a remarkable history in the life of this most grateful teacher. We laughed, cried, questioned, challenged and heatedly discussed together, and I loved every day----mostly.
Here's the thing about that word---mostly; it is the part of our lives that can be difficult, can escape us, upset us, or somehow make things different from what we planned. And, often, I struggled with it. . . . mostly.
In my health class, occasionally arguments, rudeness, boredom or self-doubt entered the room, and that mostly, although less fun, is where profound learning happened---for me. I even loved those days . . . mostly. Those lessons were difficult to address, but I tried to be honest with myself and make the changes necessary to become a stronger classroom leader. Mostly has been my deepest learning curve; daily growth lessons for me.
In closing, I ask you to consider what your mostly is, and how you handle that word. Mostly requires time developing self-understanding and courage to change. After more than twenty years working with you at Hereford High School, I know you can do both.
As I state in my book, Love, Mrs. Euker, Reflections on a Career in the Classroom, this teacher has learned more from her students than the students have learned from her. You all taught me; these memoirs are yours as much as mine.
The pictures I have included in this website and in the book are from my personal collection. Although I could not capture everybody, as I remembered and wrote my stories, you were all there with me.
And, of course, always remember:
No drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, high salt or high fat, eat your vegetables, love your families, love each other, take care of yourselves, I love you.
I like comfort. I want to feel good, do fun things, be warm with a full belly, be comfortable and be organized. After working for many years, often unable to have these needs completely met, I just want calm and normality. At nearly eighty years old, I think I deserve it. In fact, I expect it. It is time.
For the most part over these past few years, my hopes, my expectations, even my demands have been realized. I am hunkered down in my comfy, predictable world enjoying serenity, well-being, complacency, family, devoted friends, good food and physical ease. What more could a girl ask?
And then, my safe and cozy life, just as the lives of millions around the globe, was upended by the invasion of the body-snatchers, the equivalent of a massive shipwreck, spreading a foreboding darkness over our days, putting an end to my comfort. A killer virus invaded our world and changed everything.
COVID-19 had arrived.
Alarmed by the mounting death toll, reports of overflowing intensive care units, the heartbreaking accounts of loved ones saying their final goodbyes via FaceTime, I worried about myself and my family and friends, I was comforted by news of a vaccine that could combat the scourge, thanks to the steadfast work of many brilliant scientists. As a child, I had lived through the feared polio epidemic that raged through the 1940s and 1950s. Remembering those frightful polio years, I signed up to receive the lifesaving shots at three health care centers as soon as I could. And then, I waited to be called for my turn . . . and I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. I came face to face with comfort’s pain.
Pain waiting to be notified of an appointment, pain of knowing so many people were dying, pain in the isolation of self-protection, pain knowing others were being called for their injections and I was not, pain of feeling like the last girl to be asked to dance at the Saturday night hoedown, pain of simply being forgotten, but most of all, the pain of fearing the deadly lung destroying illness might come for me just as a preventative vaccine was in sight. Many people died from COVID, and their families struggled to find some comfort in their loss and answer the question “Why?” I prayed they would find comfort in their pain and sadness.
As with so many others. for six weeks I searched everywhere for centers that offered the vaccine, checked websites for available appointments, called health departments for the lifesaving inoculation and texted friends for guidance about where I might find what I was seeking with increasing desperation. Selfishly, I admit, my comfort was being terribly compromised, and living with the pain of the unknown was becoming my new normal. When would I know?
Miraculously, eight weeks later, on a Tuesday morning in March, nearly a year after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, I heard the angelic “ding” of my cell phone with the long-awaited email. “You have been given an appointment to receive the first Moderna anti-COVID-19 vaccine.” I was ecstatic! Along with birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and other significant moments in my life, an additional celebration has been added; the day I received my second COVID-19 vaccine.
Comfort’s pain can be disturbingly hurtful and can throw us off track as we try to right ourselves. I found that patience, faith and unrelenting detective work were the pieces that restored my comfort. Now with equal measure of gratitude and relief, I will stretch out on the sofa in my fuzzy bear slippers, with two coops of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate peanut butter ice cream, wrapped in my soft cancer-recovery fleece and watch episode twelve of Breaking Bad.
My serene, comfortable, predictable, warm and well-fed world has returned once more, and I am happy...for now.
This is a wonderful day. I have never seen one like it before
Recently, a friend asked me an initially daunting question. She said, “how have your values changed since you were young, and what do you value now?” Having a rather philosophical personality to begin with, and nearing the grandmotherly age of eighty years, I was stopped in my tracks by those ethereal concepts. I truly had no idea how to answer, so, I began thinking.
My first thoughts were of my Lord and the blessings I have received from Him. Without Jesus, my life’s journey would have been lonely and pointless. He has given me all of what I have and who I am. His love sustains me, daily. I have known that for a long time.
As I then thought of my secular life, I wondered about specific worldly values. What was important to me, and had that focus changed from when I was young girl? What was it in life that kept me going amid daily challenges?
My husband, children, grandchildren, extended family, students, and close friends, always highly valued, had changed over the years. Although continually a part of me, they were present at different times and for different reasons. They were integral to my history. So, what was an underlying value that connected me during that time? I thoughtfully considered the span of my life, and then I knew; Time was that delicate thread.
It was time that wove everything together. During each segment of my life, school, college, marriage, parenthood, teaching, I was forever juggling and searching for enough time to do what I had to do. My frustrations were causally related to the number of hours in the day. Time became my enemy----my never having enough time often disappointed others, kept significant tasks unfinished, and at times, left me unfulfilled. I worked hard to effectively master my life, and I think I did an adequate, even credible job of managing. But there was always that time thing to face . . . the never-ending hurdle.
In my golden years now, I am allowed more time; what was once an obstacle is now and limited resource. The hours in the day are not consumed by as much busyness as before, and I enjoy making the time my own. God has given me infinite options, and I am inspired. Although I cannot move as quickly, see as clearly, or think as cleverly as I once did, I still want to play with my grandchildren, connect with others, record memories for my family, and laugh uproariously at the miscues my age causes, a source of continual amusement.
I am grateful for this new time. And so, my focus, my worldly values today are different. And now, Time is my friend.
There is time for work and a time for love. That leaves no other time
The gift of words
This was an interesting and quite different Christmas---for most of us. COVID reconfigured our
traditions; our celebrations were distant, untouchable and at times sad and lonely. Many were
wondering when we would ever return to our normalcy, and if we did, what will that life look like. Turns out, that wondering may last longer than we expected. The COVID19 has a nasty cousin.
Selecting gifts for each other was especially confusing…shopping in stores was dangerous, so many of us bought online. Amazon trucks could not move fast enough; the yellow smile was seen everywhere, and often drivers and customers became fast friends. It is reported, that if some drivers did not deliver to a certain house for more than a few days, they would stop anyway just to check on the family’s wellbeing.
I was no different than most. Although I shopped early (my hyperactive personality dictating my
behavior), I was not happy about the purchases I made. Maybe they were a bit trite, too expected, or inappropriate, but my excitement was held at bay; my usual anticipation of Christmas giving was just not there. But I soldiered on, mostly for my children and grandchildren.
Two weeks before Christmas day, my son, Keith, who lives with his wife and two children several hours away, told me they would be celebrating by themselves this year; they were afraid of spreading the virus. Although I understood, part of my heart sank. Keith went on to say that he was sending everyone in the family the same gift, and that we were not to open it until the pre-arranged three o’clock family zoom meeting on Christmas afternoon. He wanted us to open his gift all at the same time, and he wanted to see us when we did. I promised I would honor his wish and that I would pass his request on to the rest of the family. Keith repeated several times how much we were going to love his present. In farcical, sibling rivalry with his older sisters, he said he would again be the favorite child when we saw his present Apparently, he had slipped down the rung of favorites sometime that fall, and he was certain that would be rectified on Christmas day.
When Christmas day came, all our family, sisters, aunts, children, and grandchildren were eagerly awaiting the three o’clock zoom. When the bewitching hour arrived, and we were all ready, my son said “OK, you can open now.” As we simultaneously tore the paper off our treasures, we sat in stunned silence. We each were given a book of poetry entitled Slopes, with a pen and ink cartoon drawing of four skiers flying down a hill over numerous moguls. At the bottom of the slope, leading the way, was daughter, Sadie, pigtails flying, then son, Bear, airborne with baseball hat on backwards, Mom, not far behind, ponytail askew, and at the top of the slope was Dad, looming tall and protective.
At the bottom of the cover was written: A collection of poetry by W. Keith Euker
I was stunned. I did not quite understand, so I said “Keith, are these some of your poems that you collected?” After a momentary silence he quietly said “No, Mother, I wrote them.”
He went on to explain that he had written most of them during the last several months while
evaluating his current state of navigating his Slopes. Many of the poems were about his wife, his children, our extended family, nature, and his career. As I read his gift later that night, I was struck by the power of print. Simple words can ease anxiety, calm hearts, and provide bold affirmation of our innermost thoughts. They are a confirmation of how we see others and ourselves and enable our thoughts to manifest into reality.
They can also make Christmas, Christmas.
Thank you, son, for reminding me.
Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet them than your acquaintances will know you in one thousand years. - Richard Bach
When we are young, we sometimes overlook the truly significant things that happen to us. We live our lives taking for granted what we consider the usual, and continually look towards newness and excitement. We forget and we move on. As we grow, sometimes if we are silent and pensive for a time, those usual things become our basic substance; in recognizing them, we can be appreciative, and if that happens, how lucky are we . . .
Many years ago, when I was a young girl, I was passing the warm, pre-autumn afternoon on my front lawn fighting with the inner workings of my prized two-wheeler trying to fix my bike for the hundredth time. As my lack of success became quickly apparent and my twelve-year-old patience waned, I threw the bike down in disgust---my way of dealing with pretty much anything at that point in my young life.
As I was considering how to solve this world-shattering, pre-pubescence problem, I heard a voice say “Susan. Is that you?” I looked up and there in front of my house, stood Joyce, a new student in my sixth-grade class. Because she lived on the other side of the neighborhood, I knew she must have been walking for some time. I wondered why she was here. She said “Susan, do you know me?”. I said, “Of course I do—you are the new girl in Mrs. Atkinson’s class. You had your ‘What I did over the summer’ essay posted on the bulletin board.” In my academically competitive persona, I knew who she was. My essay had not made it to the prized place of honor, but hers had. “Why are you here”, I asked.
Joyce explained that her Mother had suggested she take a walk around her new neighborhood and try to meet some friends. Because she had just moved the previous June, her summer had been decidedly long and lonely. Now that school had begun, Joyce was more confident and was trying to fit in. Somehow, her journey today had led her to my street, and she had recognized me.
Even in my agitated state I liked her right away and was happy she had stopped to talk. We stood there for a while just visiting, and when my Father came out to see what I was doing, I introduced him to my new friend. He suggested that the two of us walk to the local soda shop for something cool on this beautiful, hot, fall day. When he went into the house, he returned several minutes later with fifty cents for each of us to purchase an ice cream treat. My new friend, Joyce and I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon chatting and licking our deliciously unexpected delights. I was sorry when Joyce had to leave, but it was getting late, and her Mother would be worried. We waved “good-bye” knowing we would see each other again, soon.
That first meeting happened sixty-five years ago, and here’s the thing; we are still devoted friends. Over the years, we have celebrated birthdays, weddings, the births of our children, work promotions, Christmases, high school reunions, as well as grieved divorces, the illnesses and deaths of our parents, husbands, and close friends. Now, when we meet for lunch from time to time, we reminisce about that fortuitous ice cream and bike meeting so long ago. We share our current stories, laugh, cry and hug….and tell each other “I love you” before we part. Neither of us remembers when that deep affection began, but it is present now; because we are silent and pensive, we know the significance of us.
On my front lawn that fall, we somehow knew right away. A simple walk led to our lifelong journey.
How lucky are we!
The Presence’s Present
The Presence’s Present November 21, 2020
It has been a difficult year. We all could add our 2020 personal woes, but what good does it do? As my sister always says, “It is what it is, so deal with it.”
I hate that expression.
As a society we have lost jobs or seen our companies go under, missed birthdays, weddings, graduations, and other important family occasions, witnessed our students trying to learn from their bedrooms, laptops perched precariously on their laps, unmotivated amidst the loneliness of “unsocial gatherings,” watched helplessly as a torrent of hurricanes joined the despair, and turned even more cantankerous and nasty electing leadership to promote our “Great American Dream.”
The COVID 19—the presence’s present . . . wrapped in a face mask, accompanied by hand sanitizer and distance.
As the holidays near, we are told not gather to celebrate the beginning of our country, the birth of Jesus, Kwanza, Hanukkah, or any other significant events. What are we to do? We do not want to be sick, and we certainly do not want to infect other people, but we need some speck of inspiration, hope, or happiness.
Last week as I was driving through rural Greenspring Valley with my college aged granddaughter, a sophomore in college who was sent home the end of September and has been learning online since then, we were discussing some of these discouraging, weighty issues. Suddenly, she became very pensive, and after a few minutes, she said, “Mimi, the trees are a present that 2020 gave us after the year we’ve had.” I looked at her quizzically. She continued by directing me to look out the window of the car. As I did, I noticed the unusually gorgeous colors of the many trees in the valley—bright oranges, deep red and, sunny yellows among the dark browns. How could I have missed this profusion of nature’s glory, this declaration of promise amidst the pessimism of the ordinary?
We both continued enjoying this breath of beauty until we reached our destination. A momentary respite from our self-sorrow and a time-honored lesson that lifted us from ourselves and reminded us of gratitude. Later in the day, we enjoyed the same elegant landscape on the car ride home, but this time we smiled in appreciation. Life continues revealing small miracles, if only we pause to see.
The presence’s present. . . wrapped in sunlight, blazing splendor, and hope.
Thank you, 2020.