Tag Archives: Giving Thanks

Evidence of a Well Spent Youth

This morning I awoke before my alarm.  I rolled onto my right shoulder and felt that familiar ache from the base of my clavicle to my shoulder joint.  I knew once I got moving, it would loosen up.   I’m at that age where I swear I can pull a muscle while asleep.  It’s disconcerting.  Of course, this was not from one of my mysterious sleep injuries. I earned this pain the hard way.  It happened Labor Day Weekend 1998 on the Sunday before school opened. It was my first principalship and I probably should have been in the office, but I was in dire need of burning off some nervous energy.  I was going to be following probably the best principal I knew, and she was going to be my superintendent. I was feeling the pressure.   I definitely needed to clear my head and the best way I knew how was to get on my bike and ride as fast as I could.  I was 25 miles in and about a mile from my Jeep when I experienced firsthand the design flaw in my new bike pump.  It was made to fit snugly under the top tube without a clamp or strap. And it did.  For 25 miles.  And then it didn’t.  The pump slipped off the tube and fell downward as my feet, securely clamped to the pedals, came around and swept it into the chain wheel.   No longer able to rotate and move the bike forward, physics prevailed, and I flew over the handle bars.  With extensive experience falling off things, I tucked my head, hit the pavement with my right shoulder and tried to roll through.  Unfortunately, my brand-new cleats did not release immediately, and I briefly remained attached to the bike as it flew over me.  As it hit the pavement, I was drug along with it, shredding my skin from shoulder to knee.  Much to my embarrassment, this was all witnessed by two guys who looked like legitimate contenders for the Tour de France.  They were very sweet and offered to call an ambulance. I declined, brushing as much of the dirt and gravel off my bloody skin as I could.  Before riding off, one of the cyclists remarked, “Man, she’s good at crashing!”  I probably should have been offended but I am good at it. I had a lot of practice as a kid.  I take pride in only having ever broken one bone.  The bike was a loss as was my helmet (always wear a helmet!).  I unsuccessfully tried to wrench the handlebars in the general direction of the front tire in hopes that I could ride the short distance to my Jeep. No luck. I pulled out my phone to call my husband.  He understandably kept his phone nearby when I was out on the road.  I told him that I thought I might have broken my collarbone and was headed to the hospital.  I threw my bike over my left shoulder and made my way to the parking lot.

My husband has spent his fair share of time in emergency rooms and it has rarely been for him. I like having him there. He’s pretty funny when I am injured, and it takes my mind off the pain.  This time, they put us in a bay with gurneys separated only by curtains. I was explaining my accident to the doctor as he debrided my shoulder, hip and knee.  My husband was entertaining us teasing me about my propensity for falling off things.  I could hear an older couple in the bay next to us.  The man had been building something in his garage when he hit his thumb with a hammer, crushing it.  I could tell he was in a lot of pain and his wife was clearly frustrated with the time it was taking to treat him.  Personally, I thought things were going pretty quickly for an emergency room on a Sunday on a holiday weekend.  I expected to wait hours just to get in the room.  When the doctor finished the tedious job of picking the gravel out of my skin, we were left alone, and I was laughing at how ridiculous the whole thing was.  We were taken aback when the wife in the “room” next to us pulled the curtain aside and exclaimed “Honestly, don’t you think you are a little too old for this?!”  I am not sure if she meant that we were being too silly or that I shouldn’t be out on a bike. Either way, I replied, “Apparently not because here I am.”  She huffed and quickly dragged the curtain back.  We just could not help it. We broke out in laughter.  Maybe it was latent immaturity.  Maybe it was shock from the debriding.  I think mostly it was the realization that I was out doing something I loved and, even if I got hurt, I would not have changed a thing.  I hoped in that moment that I would never be to old to ride my bike.

My shoulder is not the only thing that aches, trust me. Would I like my body to feel like it did at 15?  Oh yes, I would.  Who wouldn’t?  But I have had an amazing, active life. God willing, I will continue to.  I really would not trade a thing. I have some great stories about my escapades going back decades. Every scar, every break, every ache and every pain is the story of my life. They are the stories of my courage. They are the stories of my follies.  They are evidence of my good judgment and bad. They are dusting myself off and getting back on the horse.  They are my successes and my failures. They are evidence of my well spent youth.

This photograph was taken on my iPhone in 2014 at the Tour de Blast ride up Mt. St. Helens.  It was my birthday ride that year.  We didn’t go all of the way to the top but we went far enough up to scream “Weeeeeeee!”  as we raced all the way back down. There were no emergency room visits that day.

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Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

Rub Some Dirt On It

Let me just say at the outset, I know that this story is going to reveal with lights and sirens the unhealthy relationship I have (or had) with my Jeep, Angus.  Yes, I named it. Don’t judge.  We were together for 10 years.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrecked Angus.  It was the one and only snowy workday morning of the winter.  I think snow is the most beautiful type of weather. Snow makes my heart happy. If I know it is going to snow overnight, I hop out of bed extra early in the morning to look out the window hoping for a thick blanket of white powder.   I am cheerful when I get the ‘two hours late’ phone tree call.  When I was teaching, I even made my freshman science students do a snow dance whenever the forecast called for snow.  I convinced them that I had learned the snow dance in Alaska.  (Freshman are gullible and generally willing to do silly things.)

I left my house a little later than normal hoping some of the ice and snow would clear. School was two hours late and my daughter was snuggled up to our two boxers.  She didn’t wake up to say goodbye.  The boxers had the decency to make eye contact but made no effort to move from their revered and toasty spots.  Just as I was leaving, my husband texted me to tell me to avoid the Lowell Rd.  It is a windy road cut in a hillside along the valley and my preferred method of getting to work. He knows how much I love to drive on country roads.  I have put a few icy miles under my wheels.  I went to university in Fairbanks, so I know how to get out of a spin.  I had a lot of practice.  Until this fateful day though, I had never been in an accident.   I was driving well under the speed limit, gearing down as I approached the stop lights.  I gave everyone lots of room.  When I came to a small dip in the road, I hit a massive patch of ice.  You always hear that your life passes before your eyes in these moment.  Time definitely slowed down drawing out those terrifying seconds.  My first thought as my rear axle whipped around behind me was “This is gonna leave a mark.”  I grabbed the gearshift so hard one of my fingernails popped right off my pinky finger. It all happened in slow motion. My glasses flew off my face and hit the windshield. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my coffee cup exiting its holder in the console and splashing across the passenger door.  As I traveled across the other lane of traffic, I briefly made eye contact with the wide-eyed driver of an oncoming car. Fortunately, I slid right in front of him. I hopped the curb taking out a fence and landing on a power pole.  I sat there for a moment at a loss of what to do. The glass on the passenger side was shattered and through the gaping hole I could see a little snow-covered lake.  It looked serene and I was so grateful I was not submerged in it.  The 911 operator was very patient with me.  Once she determined I was not hurt, she said “No one is coming for you.  There are just too many injury accidents.”  That should have been my first clue as to just how lucky I was.  I wasn’t hurt.  Not a scratch. I did not hurt anyone else.  But I was rip roaring mad.  I put Angus in 4 low, pulled us off the fence and headed home.  I was standing teary-eyed in the driveway staring at the crushed hard top and dented quarter panel when the wrecker came to tow him away.  Even though my insurance company was unbelievably helpful, I still felt like I wanted to throw a temper tantrum worthy of a nap-deprived three-year-old.  “I don’t want a rental car! I want my Jeep back. Don’t tow Angus away!”  Eventually I got a grip.  That lasted just until a man whose title is “Total Loss Evaluator” called.  (What kind of title is that! Why don’t they just call him the Automotive Grim Reaper?!)  In my defense, everyone kept telling me the Angus could be rebuilt.  It never occurred to me he was never coming home again.  I’m not proud to say it, but it is the truth:  I moped. I whined. I complained. I hate buying cars. Angus was everything I wanted in a Jeep.  I didn’t want to deal with finding a new one.

In the midst of this crisis, my life went on – another clue as to how lucky I was.  I was visiting a school (which I had driven to with great annoyance in the three-bedroom SUV I rented) when I noticed a staff member carrying a very large wheeled back pack, certainly too large for a child to carry. I asked her what it was for as she stacked it among 15 others of the same style.  She told me that the backpacks were filled with food by the staff and a local church for children to take home for their families who had no food on the weekends.  The students were bringing them back that day so that they could be refilled for the next Friday.  It instantly brought tears to my eyes to think of children going a weekend without food. But of course, they do. Not just in my home town but all over this country.  The staff member shared that the children were so thankful every week and that they had a much greater need than they could fill each week.  I felt so ashamed to have made such a production about a Jeep.   I wasn’t hurt. I did not hurt anyone else. I had insurance.  I could afford to buy a new Jeep.  While I was standing in my driveway in the snow staring at my totaled Jeep, there was a child waiting to pick up a backpack of food for his or her family.  My dad would have told me to ‘rub some dirt on it, suck it up and do the right thing’. He would have been right.  I should have spent my outrage on something that really mattered like kids who have real needs they have no control over.  There are so many needs in our communities. None of us can do everything. But each of us can do something.  I bet your local school has a program like this one.

 

The photograph below was taken in 2011 in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.  When I visited, there was a group of the grandchilden (though hardly children – quite old themselves in 2011) of the men executed for their part in the Easter Rising. Just being in this place, I felt the full force of the sadness and suffering these walls held.

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Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland
1/200 sec., f/5.6, 100 ISO, 55 mm)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

Gratitude: It’s not just for Thanksgiving

Twenty-nine years ago, I was a student teacher in my home town.  As you can imagine, I was so enthusiastic.  I vibrated with idealism.  I waltzed into my first Biology class ready to dazzle them with my knowledge, certain that I would hold their attention easily for 55 minutes.  It was science after all. Who doesn’t love science?  It’s magical and slightly gross.  That is the equation for holding a teenager’s attention.  Ah the idealism of youth – mine not their’s.  Needless to say, teenagers are not easily impressed.  I was a mere five years older than most of the seniors. And at that moment, I was extremely happy my youngest sister had graduated the year before because it was clear to me I was going to have to talk to a parent (or 150 of them) and the thought of calling my dad (or any other dad) to extol the mischief of his child made me want to go to back to graduate school to study ornithology.  Birds rarely heckle you or so I am told.

That fateful day came when the Assistant Principal broke the news to me that I would in fact be calling some parents.  She was a little rough around the edges which I liked I because I am a little rough around the edges. Though she was direct, I could tell she wanted me to survive student teaching (I told her about my ornithology idea).   She gave me the best advice that day. She told me for every negative call I made, I had to make a “happy call”.  As soon as I was done making that first painful call and make no mistake it was painful, I picked a student who was working hard in class and I called that parent as well.  Ironically, I got the same reaction from both parents upon hearing that I was the dreaded teacher.  They didn’t actually say “ugh”, but I could tell they were thinking it.  But once I started talking about how hard her son was working in class and how much I appreciated him, it was obvious she was ecstatic.  I could tell I made her day, maybe her whole year.  Who doesn’t want to hear how great their kid is?  I learned that day that gratitude is exponential. By appreciating that one student, I made one parent very happy.  She obviously expressed her gratitude to her son who in turn was very happy and that made me happy. Also he literally told everyone.  I made a point of thanking Ms. Harkey for making me do it.  I kept making those “happy calls”  throughout my career.

I was reminded of this today when I received a very nice thank you note. I could tell this person put some thought in writing the note and was grateful.  I don’t think I really did anything special but that note sure made me feel special.    At Thanksgiving, we are reminded to be thankful and show gratitude.  We should be thankful – for the big things and the little ones.  We should be thankful more often for sure.  I think gratitude comes easily and it is so obvious for the big things:  health,  healing, gifts, security, births, weddings, love and grace.  Sometimes we even know without a word or a note, that someone is grateful for us.  Take the photograph below, for example.  A new mother with her beautiful, happy, healthy child.  You can see how much she treasures the simple act of holding her giggling girl. She does not need to write a note or say a thing.  That child knows.  And anyone looking at her knows that she is grateful for this gift.    Sometimes, though, we do need to take the time to say thanks.  We need to write a thank you note to someone who maybe didn’t really do anything special but it was something kind or helpful. The world is full of complaints, conflict and crisis.  Make someone’s day.  Their appreciation will likely make your’s.  Your thankfulness will be exponential. I can pretty much guarantee it. I know. I thanked four people today.  It felt great!

DSC_6259Gratitude
(1/250 Sec., f/5.6, 640 ISO, 55 mm)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2017.