Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Soul of the Feet

I was folding laundry this morning and was pretty relaxed… I was day dreaming and mindlessly folding and sorting UNTIL:
I reached the bottom of the pile and came across the same age-old drama I encounter every time I fold clothes!
WHERE did the matches go to the remaining socks at the bottom of the basket?
I mean seriously… WHERE?
I know people have talked about this before and comedians have built entire stand-up routines around the question. But have scientists taken the time to actually study it? Has anyone every written a Master’s Thesis or has anyone ever statistically analyzed how many socks disappear over the course of one’s lifetime? Is there a Bell Curve from household to household and if there is, where does my family fall on it?
We (my husband and I) have a system. Well, before I continue I should actually say "he has a system" because he is actually the one who does laundry more often (bless his heart). No- ladies- he’s mine! It took me years to get him to the point where he felt like he needed to take over, so back off.
I gave up on it almost completely (laundry) a year ago – when I turned 40 – I just stopped doing it (laundry). You see, I realized laundry made me feel like I never truly accomplished anything. You see, with laundry, I will never catch up and have it all done and I don’t like that feeling. I have actually fantasized about drinking two pots of coffee in the morning and doing a laundry marathon all day… washing everything I can get my hands on… folding it all and putting it away… then I would put the kids to bed and strip naked to wash the last remaining load of clothes from the day and any towels from the bathroom floor. At about 11:00 pm I would be done and then it would feel GREAT until the next day when everyone would wake up and (God forbid) get dressed. Then there would be dirty clothes again! And oh… my kids will be climbing out of bed wearing dirty pajamas, wouldn’t they? Sigh…
You know? Admit it… you have the same fantasy.
You don’t? Well, at least do you end up with socks that don’t match at the end of folding a load of laundry? Come on now… good… thanks… I feel better…
That brings us back to the "sock system" I mentioned before. We have a bag that hangs in the closet and whenever the person who is folding (usually my husband) comes across a mismatched, lonely, independently- minded sock, it gets set aside. The bag of other mismatched, lonely, independently-minded socks get dumped onto the bed and the socks stare at each other like a bunch of wallflowers at a junior high dance with Journey music playing in the background. They then get matched together if indeed there are any matches and the rest of the mismatched, lonely, independently-minded socks get shoved in the bag with the other ones.
I must say that it boggles my mind how many mismatched, lonely, independently-minded socks we have!
Where do they go?
Now, I had a very philosophical moment this morning as I sat with my morning cup of coffee (yes, just one…not two pots…) I let go of my laundry fantasy when I turned 40, remember?
My husband and I were discussing death (how cheery) and where we believe the soul goes after a person dies. Now scientists have discovered that the soul possibly has a weight – something like 21 grams, I think. So it is possible to say that the soul leaves the body at the moment of death. Over the ages, people have said that when you die, your body goes to heaven and you play harps and meet up with all the people that died before you. Or, if you made bad choices during your life, you go to the hot place and are faced with examining your life and feeling really bad about yourself. Heaven and Hell are one explanation for where a soul goes. I have spent most of my adult life sort of ignoring all of those thoughts because I didn’t feel like thinking about it. There is somewhat of a reprieve from thoughts of death from late childhood until a person lives through their twenties and thirties… but all of a sudden thoughts of death and the afterlife (or whatever) come creeping back. I am about half-way done with my journey on this earth (if I am lucky) and now I have little children of my own who are beginning to ask me questions about what happens after a person dies.
The parenting thing is easy in the middle of the night when they are hungry or teething or need to have a diaper changed. The toughest part of parenting is when they go out into the world and start to see they don’t know things and start asking questions. I feel in control of the Christmas, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy thing… I preface every discussion with the word LEGEND> that way, I am off the hook and no one can ever turn around and blame me for lying. I made sure that the cookies and milk were consumed on Christmas Eve. When we were out of town for Easter, I did what any good mother would do, I made my children write a note to the Easter Bunny to tell "him" where we were. It is sick isn’t it?
It is especially sick because I KNOW these things are not real. I am raising my children to buy into the whole legend thing… for what purpose? I have to say… I’m not sure. But it’s fun. It’s fun for me and fun for them… it is a magical time in a child’s life when there are presents under the tree or a quarter from the Tooth Fairy (am I cheap?)
But when I am faced with the possibility of talking about what happens after death, I am not quite sure what to say. I – believe it or not- draw a blank and am unsure of how to answer the question about "where" someone goes when they die.
I’m almost getting there though because I thought about it all day.
So here goes: I’ll try to communicate to you where my thoughts have gone and what I will say the next time I am asked about WHERE a person goes after they die. I began to solidify my theory when I noticed my son’s friend’s socks today. He (my son’s friend) is a five-year-old twin and he has a two-year-old sister and a five-month-old brother. His mother is a woman who is always smiling and has her priorities straight. She allowed her son to go out wearing two different Halloween socks in April. Some women couldn’t do that. (I can- could – would- have done that…) and I appreciate that someone else has my same issue with mismatched, lonely independently minded socks and with dignity and a smile, she wears her house’s sock dysfunction on her sleeve (well, actually on her son’s feet). I watched him wear his socks with pride. I also watched as the two-year-old toddled around without shoes (but still) in her white socks. That is living! That is great!
I thought of another friend of mine who just puts all her socks in one basket… her daughter wears socks that match or not… without care or concern.
My theory is this: the way we deal with socks relates directly to the way we choose to live our lives. The way we choose to live our lives is all that matters because for now… we are alive. We live the way we are comfortable living. We don’t know about death and so it should not enter our mind while we are living life and wearing socks.
Some people roll their socks into little balls and pile them neatly in the dresser. Some people only buy white tube socks because matching them up is never an issue. Some people throw any unloved socks away. I have a friend who calls her grandmother a "sock Natzi" because she will take entire bags of socks and spend hours finding matches. I asked if I could mail her a box of our mismatches to Albany. She would probably rewash our socks too. They are definitely not pure whites, try as we may.
I have even attempted to roll socks around themselves before putting them in the wash hoping that they will remain soul-mates through the entire cycle. Nothing seems to work. They separate and disappear much to my dismay all the same.
I’ve told you my (our) system. We are living. Really living and because we can’t always find matches for our socks, I consider that to be evidence of that.
And until we are not, we will try to match the socks up and be as patient with the ones who don’t because that is the system we have created.
And I wanted to share the final aspect of my theory with you… with all my thinking about socks and souls today I think I’ve figured it out: I think socks and souls weigh about the same. I think they weigh about 21 grams. I think that when we die we actually go to the same place that all the socks go when they disappear from the dryer. They go into the cosmos and float around and wait for somebody to match them up. Which proves that what happens to the soul is that is gets reincarnated. Souls float out there and wait for the right old shoe to house them, or in other words… the perfect life that they are meant to live. Souls hang out there in the darkness of the universe just like the socks inside the bag in our closet. Perhaps the universe after all is just one big back that holds all the waiting souls. Their time will come too, as soon as someone decides to take the time to match them up so they can fulfill their purpose.

You Can Ring My Bell

Three years ago when I rang the 209 year old cast iron school bell to call students in from recess… it broke. I don’t even remember what day it was, but it will always be in my memory as if it happened only a week ago. I pulled the rope, and much to my dismay, it collapsed at my feet. I can’t explain the feeling, except it seemed telling of something that was bigger than my two-room schoolhouse in rural Vermont. It was a sign of things to come.
Since beginning my job at the tiny schoolhouse in 2003, I have always taken pride in the fact that on top of the building is a cast iron bell. I have always found it amazing that it has been ringing to bring children into the school for over 200 years. Every time I rang it, I felt proud to be the teacher in my school. To me it was reminder that things used to be made well, and that quality lasts a long time.
Well… that may be true or it may not. I always looked at the bell symbolically. Every picture we see of a school never shows a big building with long hallways and tiny square windows. It always shows a little red schoolhouse with a bell on the top just like the school I teach in (well, except my building is white). I felt immediately grateful to have my job and talked about that gratitude with anyone who would listen.
First of all, I believe in the tiny corner store and not the mega-Walmart. It stands to reason that my philosophy of education would be the same. My students and I are like a family. We love each other dearly and act like we are related most of the time. I have been called "mom" quite often and I think I reach these kids more effectively than I would with a class of 30 or more. It is intimate and close in the old room with wooden floors.
So, was I aware of the fact that my job was too good to be true? On that fateful day when I pulled the rope and it broke, did I realize that the school would prove to be an uphill battle that I would have to wage every year that I chose to teach there? I didn’t know at that time… but I sure know now.
The story of the closing of the schools in the small towns of Granville (150 years old) and Hancock (209 years old) Vermont is a very complicated story. I could begin at the beginning and try to tell the whole thing, but it would be a novel… not a blog. Here is the cliff-noted version of what I believe is happening: the towns are in the process of dying and everyone is experiencing grief.
I didn’t realize it, but some bright woman named Betty Smith (Vermont Public Radio) pointed it out to me. Thanks Betty. The town (for purposes of simplicity, I will focus of Hancock) and its people are grieving the loss of life in the village. Things aren’t growing, progressing, and improving. There was a time when rural towns in New England were actually thriving. In certain places now, however, the opposite is true. The complicated part is people are experiencing stages of grief at different times and these people are interacting and making decisions about things in the town (like the fate of the school.)
Just for your information, here are the Stages of Grief:
Shock and denial
Pain and Guilt
Anger and Bargaining
Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
The Upward Turn
Reconstruction and Working through
Acceptance and Hope
I don’t live in the town, but I love the town, so I know I am grieving along with everyone else. I tend to see the potential in things and have energy and hope to push things in a direction as much as I can. For example, I don’t see peeling paint on an old building… I see that it could be repainted a lovely color. I don’t see the collapsed foundation of the old building at the corner of route 100 and route 125. I see that it can be lifted up and repaired. I see that someday it can be a pizza place. It’s called "Hope."
Not everyone looks at things that way. It takes all kinds of people to "make the world go around" as they say. There are the "Dreamers" and the "Non-Dreamers", there are the "Get-its" and the "Not Get-its." I don’t know which side of the fence I am on… but I am definitely on some side of the fence. I will say how I feel and I don’t ever hold back. I tried on many occasions to get the bell fixed. Three people said, "Oh. The bell is broken? I can fix it."
But no one ever fixed it. They had intentions… good ones I might add. But intentions aren’t reality.
After the town meeting in March, when I heard that the school was going to close, I felt many things: I felt very "Angry"… "Sad"… "Reflective"… I danced eagerly around the 7 stages of guilt as if on stage at a third grade recital. My dear friend Trina (a school board member) suggested that we contact "The Story" which is a show by Dick Gorton on National Public Radio. See link of program:
She explained that maybe it would be cathartic for me to talk about my feelings. Boy, was she right! I went onto the radio and told "My Story" and it was therapy. I talked about being a teacher in the city vs. being a teacher in the country. I talked about my wonderful little school. I talked about the joys and pitfalls of teaching. It was a half-hour and was broadcasted on April 2nd. I don’t know how many people heard it, but some people actually reacted to it by e-mailing their thoughts. I felt incredible comfort from strangers who noticed the value of my two-room school. For a time, I didn’t have to feel loneliness and helplessness. It was wonderful. One man called me at home and gave me ideas for rescuing the school by bringing broadband and small business development to the town. Thanks Dan of Chicago!
One gentleman in particular reached out to the little community of Hancock, Vermont in the simplest, yet most powerful way. The day after the broadcast, there was a message on the school answering machine from a guy named Ben. He said he had heard the broadcast all the way in Virginia. He said he would be going to Maine in a week and on the way he wanted to come and fix the broken bell.
And he did. Ben came to the town of Hancock, joined us for lunch, rented a room at the local hotel for the night, and made some little children incredibly happy by fixing their antique school bell.
He did this for free. He did this to be nice.
It cost him money.
He also said as he heard the broadcast, he had been driving along and sort of daydreaming when heard Route 100 mentioned. He knows Route 100 because a child, he used to ski in Vermont. He has fond memories of the place, obviously. He also appreciates history and values antiquity.
When it rang for the first time after three years of inactivity, I was moved to tears. You can ring my bell! And in the words of a local woman (who attended the school house as a child) "If the school closes, at least it won’t go down broken!"
People are nice. People do go out of their way to do kind things. This man was a random person! A stranger! As he left, he said "I guarantee my work for five years. If that bell is broken in 4 years and 360 days, I do hope you’ll call me to fix it. It won’t stand. It can’t be broken. It’s just not right. And this school better be open if I have to come back!"
You know what? He is one of the "Get-its"… one of the "Dreamers"… and he’s the best kind of stranger because he knows how to share his gifts.
And as far as where I am in the stages of grief: I am on the "Upward Turn" stage. Some random contractor from another place helped me "Work Through it" because he performed some "Reconstruction" on the bell. I now have "Hope" for the future. Even if the school does not stay open, I think I will be better able to "Accept" it because I didn’t feel alone and the bell didn’t have to remain broken.
Thanks Ben.