Together

I looked up the antonym for alone the other day and it was together, or accompanied. I have worried and stressed about being alone. I am not currently in a relationship and my ex is already living with someone else and has a new family with them. But last weekend I realized that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.

My son had has play, The Wizard of Oz. it was great fun. I went to all three shows (it’s what moms do). On Friday night we had 9 people at the show: me, a good friend from out of state who came all the way to see him, my son and his girlfriend who drove over two hours from college, a friend from work and her husband, a friend from church and her daughter and my pastor. It was such a great, warm feeling to have so many people there.

On Saturday afternoon 11 people were there: me (again), my parents, brother, another brother and sister-in-law, my niece and her husband, another niece, and a friend from work and her son. My son’s social studies teacher also came to see him.

On Saturday night I knew my ex was going with his girlfriend. I asked another friend from work to go with me. My son’s best friend since kindergarten and her mom also came. The whole weekend was great. He had so many people, there for him and I felt the opposite of alone, I felt surrounded. I felt surrounded by love, by friends, by, people and by caring.

And on Saturday night when I saw him with his girlfriend I recognized the look in her eyes. The fear and controlling that comes with spending time with him. I saw the uncertainty in her eyes of being in public with him. He could be so volatile, and unpredictable, and sometimes just down right mean.

And then I thought about how I felt all weekend. I didn’t feel the fear of upsetting him. I didn’t feel the hesitation of him controlling me. I didn’t feel the uneasiness of having my family around and having him be upset about it. And I didn’t feel alone.

surrounded

I realized that without him controlling who I spent time with and him limiting who I could be friends with, I have surrounded myself with a wonderful support system. It took some time to learn to let them in and accept the support and love from my friends, but I now realized that I am not alone.

And I’m happy.

Wizard of Oz

A student that I work with who was raped by her boyfriend almost a year ago came up to me and told me that the anniversary of that horrible event is coming up. And when she told me the date, I realized that on that date I would be sitting through two shows of The Wizard of Oz. And it made me think about the characters and what they are searching for in the play and what we are all searching for in life: a brain, a heart, the nerve and a home.

These are my thoughts for her…

A Brain

The scarecrow wants a brain. He fears he is only full of fluff and isn’t smart enough. He sings to Dorothy that if he had a brain, “Then perhaps I’ll deserve you, and be even worthy of you.” And isn’t that what brains or smarts are all about? Being respected and admired by others for our ideas. At the end of the play the Wizard gives him a doctor of thinkology degree and be begins spouting facts about isosceles triangles.

But I think the kind of brains or smarts that the scarecrow wants throughout the play is really more about wisdom than book smarts. He made a plan to save his friend. He thought about what would be the best way to free her from the witch’s guards. It wasn’t book smarts that freed her, but rather using his brains to think through a situation.

For me the importance of this kind of smarts throughout your life is essential. Thinking about possible solutions and the outcomes of those solutions helps you to make informed decisions to help your friends and to help yourself.

Having brains is also about recognizing a bad or dangerous situation, which is not always an easy thing, and finding a way to get out of it. The situation my student told me about was extremely difficult for anyone, but even more difficult for someone so young. This was her first significant boyfriend. She trusted him. She loved him. She didn’t really have a frame of reference for a healthy relationship, but she knew that something was wrong with the relationship. She knew that he was controlling and manipulative, but she didn’t know how to get out of the situation. He used her trust and love to manipulate her and get her to do what he wanted, or take what he wanted.

Abusive relationships aren’t about book smarts. Anyone can be fooled. It’s bigger than book smarts. But that’s because when you are in a relationship, your heart is also involved. And that is where the Tin Man comes in.

A Heart

We have read and rehearsed every line to the play over and over again. My favorite line to practice is when the Wizard is saying to the Tin Man that he doesn’t realize how lucky he is to not have a heart, because until a heart is unbreakable its not worth having. Then at the end when Dorothy is saying good-bye to the Tin Man he says that he knows he has a heart because now it’s breaking.

Given the fragile nature of a heart it’s a wonder any of us want one at all. Kind of goes against the brains because if you were smart enough, you would know you don’t really want a heart. And I definitely struggle with having a heart, and caring about others, or having the brains not to trust or love again. But I’m too much of a softie for that. I know I have a heart. Because it’s breaking all over again.

It breaks over again for my students. It is broken because someone took advantage of her trust and love and hurt her. He hurt her so deeply that there are days when she doesn’t want to ever trust or love again. And there are days when she wants that love back so strongly that it hurts for different reasons.

Having a heart is a tricky thing. When you experience love it can make your heart sing and make you smile for no reason. But when your heart breaks, it can crush you just as deeply and make you cry for no reason. And that brings us to the Lion and having the courage to love again.

The Nerve

One of my favorite lines that the cowardly lion has is when he says, “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. There’s only one thing I want you guys to do.”

The Tin Man and Scarecrow reply, “What’s that?”

The Lion replies, “Talk me out of it!”

To me this is what courage is all about. Being scared of doing something, but doing it anyway. It isn’t easy and doesn’t always make sense, but courage means standing up for what you know is right.

She had the courage to get out. It took her a while to understand what she needed to do, but she did it. She also had the courage to tell others and stand up for herself.

It took nerve, courage to get out.

She showed courage by standing up for herself.

It took love to get out.

She gave her heart over to him. But she knew in her heart she deserved more.

It took brains to get out.

She used her brains in sharing her story, as hard as it was and as much as she fought it. By sharing it and owning it, she took back the power and control he took from her.

But in the end, what I want, what she wants, what Dorothy wants, is a home.

A Home

To me the home that Dorothy is talking about is not the physical home, but the safety and security of being loved and cared for. The feeling of family and belonging. It is the basis for all things we want, a place to fit in and be loved.

Dorothy had it all along. She just didn’t realize it. Sometimes we need to look no farther than our own back yard to realize that we do belong, that we do have the brains to make good decisions for ourselves, that we have the heart to care about others and the courage to open up our heart and do what we have to do for the ones we love.

The wizard tells the Tin Man to remember, “that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” It feels good to know you are loved by others. But it takes courage to open up your heart and let others love you. But it also takes brains to know how to get in the right kind of relationship or get out of the wrong one.

You need to trust yourself and remember, “There’s no place like home.”

Starfish

There is a poem about a man walking down the beach throwing individual starfish back into the ocean. A stranger happens upon him and asks him what he’s doing. He says that the starfish will die if left in the sun to dry out so he’s throwing them back. The stranger looks around at the thousands of starfish on the beach and asks what difference it makes, there are too many to save them all. The man picks up a starfish and throws it back in and says, “I made a difference to that one.”

starfish

As a middle school principal I sometimes feel like I’m surrounded by starfish.

Sometimes it is my teachers, who come into my office, shut the door and share with me something that is happening in their life. Whether it’s a divorce, a death in the family, the illness of a family member or themselves, I hold each of these teachers as they share their lives with me. And I try to make a difference to them.

Sometimes it is parents who come to me and tell me the family issues that they are dealing with. The stories of their life that make it a challenge for their child to focus in school. I try to listen to them and help them with their challenges, even if those challenges are the school itself. I try to make a difference with them.

And sometimes it is the students who share their personal struggles. Sometimes they are in tears because of a bad grade in math, and sometimes it is because of the horror they face when they go home. But whatever it is, I try to give them perspective, time, a shoulder to lean on, and in the end I try to make a difference.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming the number of “starfish” out there. I try my best to save each one. But sometimes you can’t save them all.

I have a high school student who has recently made some very poor choices. She did things that she will have to live with the consequences of for the rest of her life. So of course I am trying to figure out why I couldn’t make a difference to her? What could I have done to help her from making those bad decisions? Why didn’t she feel like she could reach out to me, or someone else, to help her? What did I miss?

I know I can’t always save them all. But I will continue to try.