Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daily Reality

I'm sitting in the upstairs bedroom of my house, purchased this past July, watching snow blow sideways out the window. It snowed over two feet this past weekend, as has already snowed another foot between last night and today. School has been cancelled all week...it's like Christmas in February. I spent an hour shoveling snow off our porch roof yesterday to make sure that the extra weight from this new storm wouldn't cause it to collapse. Nearly everyone I know is complaining about this. Jordana and I are loving it. It's giving me time to catch up on some things...like this blog that has lain dormant for well over a year. I keep meaning to attend to it...but one thing or another always gets in the way. I was just reading some of my old posts and realizing how much has changed in the last year.

I've started working on my M.Ed. in Special Education. We have a dog. We bought a house in July. We went to Costa Rica in August, instead of buying a washer and dryer. Buying a house felt far too much like the societal norm so we had to do something unexpected to feel better about ourselves. It was a fantastic trip and it was nice to come back to a place we could actually call our own. We are the only white couple on our block, which has been an interesting experience. We live across the street from a guy and his wife who used to be very involved in "things they're not proud of" and "are very well known" in this city. They have pledged their undying loyalty to protect us. As long as we live in 602, ain't nobody gonna be messing with us because they will "throw down on these bitches". Despite the fact that they drive us crazy with their drunken arguments at all hours of the night, we love them. We took them a ginger bread house at Christmas and I thought they were going to cry. Their father, "pop-pop" spends the nicer months sitting on the front porch at all hours, just watching what happens on the block. Most days I love it here but others I am completely overwhelmed by the daily reality.

Being completely immersed in another culture can be very difficult, particularly if there are elements of that culture that are at direct odds with some of your core convictions. I am going to be completely transparent here, at the risk of sounding like a complete asshole. Before we moved to the city, I used to judge harshly people who chose the suburb lifestyle. I used to look down on people who tried to protect their children from the harsh realities of the world. I'm now beginning to understand why people make those choices. I may not agree that it is right or okay but it makes complete sense to me. It is so much easier to feel hopeful about life and the future when you are not daily having to confront the harsh realities of poverty and apathy. I have laid aside all self-righteousness that I once held about what a great person I am for the choices I have made. The reality is that it is a daily struggle to discover whether or not I can maintain some sense of hope in spite of it all. I battle students all day long, trying my damndest to help them develop skills that will enable them to be more "successful" in their future. Then, I come home and see the reality of their home life situations and completely understand why schooling is such a struggle.

My political ideals have been challenged in ways I did not think possible. Being honest about this with anyone other than my wife terrifies me because I remember how I used to judge people for adopting different views. I came into this with a firm belief in mandatory public education, and a firm desire to help students who did not see the value in education. But the current reality that I'm experiencing is that students who truly desire a meaningful education are suffering because so much of time is occupied just trying to move the class forward inch by inch. I can't even believe I'm saying this, but Ayn Rand's ideals of allowing the world to destroy itself and then rebuilding from the rubble have never made more sense to me. And here comes the real challenge. What is right in this situation? So many of my struggles are due to a complete difference in cultural values, and who is to say that I'm right? Maybe a lack of value in education and a focus on status and material value are okay. Maybe the things that cause me to lose hope for success are not the problems I'm making them out to be. Maybe my definition of success is not correct. Maybe it's okay for things to just stay the way they are. That seems to be the general mentality. If that's the case, I may just need to find a different niche because I cannot reconcile these things in my soul.

Perhaps none of this makes any sense. The reality is that 6 months ago I was incredibly proud of Jordana and I for truly living out our convictions. I have now been confronted with the reality of how painful it can be to live out your convictions and find myself sometimes questioning how legitimate those convictions actually are. How much of a difference are we actually making?

Toward the end of last year, I felt I had become fairly skilled at keeping myself focused on the things I could control...daily reminding myself of the successes, however small, I was making with my students. I feel I have gotten worse and worse at maintaining that focus and often simply find myself overwhelmed with the bigger picture. There is this constant tension of wanting to move on to something else, a simple job at which I could perhaps feel greater success and enjoy a simple life with my family while at the same time not wanting to give up and become another statistic to urban education. This is more difficult than I ever imagined but perhaps I simply make it more difficult than it needs to be. One thing is certain--I need to write more, that always seems to help with the process. This is all too much to keep inside my head.

Compounding all of this is an experience I hoped I would never have to suffer through. Around Christmas, Jordana took a home pregnancy test that turned out positive. We were blissfully excited. The next 5 weeks consisted of reading books about pregnancy, researching cloth diapers and making our own baby food, planning finances to adjust for the change, talking incessantly about how excited we were to be parents. Anyone who knows me is well aware of how much I have wanted to be a father for a very long time. We went in for our first doctor's appointment a few weeks ago ready to see our little grey ball of an alien-looking baby. Instead, we saw an empty black space. Turns out something happened early on to cause the fetus to stop developing. Jordana's body just hadn't yet gotten this message so she was still experience the symptoms of pregnancy even though there was nothing there. This was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced, though I tried hard not to let that show. The reality is that I've been quite angry about the entire situation. There are so many people in this city that do not want children, do not know how to care for children when they have them, and yet continue to have pregnancy after pregnancy. More and more children born into stressful situations, growing up in adverse circumstances, eventually coming to my classroom. Yet we, as a healthy couple, who would be loving parents, desperately wanting a child and instead we have a miscarriage. It makes me so incredibly angry and seems so completely unjust. And it certainly does not improve my outlook or sense of hope. I know that this is not the end for us and I'm sure I will be a father someday. But I was so ready. And no sentiment of "it must be for the best, God has a plan" can even come close to changing that.

I guess this is what happens when you go so long without writing. Things just sort of barf themselves up on the page and in spite of the chaos you realize how connected everything actually is. So here I am, confronting the daily reality in all its beauty and pain. I'm so thankful to have Jordana by my side, I don't know what I would do without her. She makes the daily reality that much more beautiful.

Lets see if I can keep this up better than I have in the past...

2 comments:

Jordana said...

Some qualities that I most appreciate about you is your transparency within loving relationships and, your faith in humanity. In my eyes you are a hero even during seasons in which you don't feel strong.

jonkramer said...

As I read your post over, a poem came to mind that I read in the afterward to one of McLaren's books. It's by Archbishop Oscar Romero:

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection...
No set of goals an objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results...
We are prophets of a future not our own.