Sunday, August 30, 2009

A fresh start today

You can't go back and make a new start.
But you can start today to make a new end.

This is a saying that is used by people who are struggling with recovery from addiction. This can give hope to all of us when we have gotten ourselves into a jam and don't think we can ever leave this mistake behind us. We can. And each day is a fresh start on the rest of our lives.

How often do we remind kids or other family members over and over again about the mistakes they have made? "You always forget to do ____." or "When are you going to ever learn ____?" Yes, we get frustrated that learning often seems to take a long time, but it did for us when we were kids, too. It still does! And this kind of message isn't what helped us finally get beyond and grow up. This kind of message left us feeling like we would never get there. It deflates self esteem.

After a time out, or a consequence as a result of an inappropriate behavior, we can actively put this behind us and encourage the child to do the same. For ourselves, when we make a mistake, when we respond too harshly, we can apologize and start fresh today or even the next moment with kindness. Yes, children need redirection. They need our help to learn and grow. They do not need us to "bark" at them with commands. We learn too, day by day. I learn day by day, as I work on things that trip me up and keep me from being the best person I can be, toward myself and other people.

Thankfully, today is a new day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

True? Kind? Necessary?

I have been considering the question of what to say and, frankly, when to keep my mouth shut. To be honest, this is the challenge of a lifetime. I find this much easier to decide when I am interacting with strangers and acquaintances. This is difficult when I am talking about my relationships with friends, and especially family. I also know that I am not alone in this communication struggle because I hear examples from others all the time.

Why is it that many of us think we know best? That we have the answer that will solve her problem, even when there are plenty of times when we have a tough time finding the best solution for ourselves. If he would only listen to me.... yeah, as if my life is perfect and always operating smoothly!

Recently I was at a meeting where someone remarked that at work, when she wants very badly to say something about a situation that is bugging her, she sometimes has her wits about her and remembers to stop and think first before speaking, asking herself -
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Later that day, I received my daily "Thought for the Day" from Eknath Easwaran's book Words to live By, with the very same reminder. Though these questions probably originated many years ago from the teachings of a wise sage, I felt I was getting a clear message from the universe today to consider my words carefully. When put to this test, often, my best response is silence. These are very helpful questions to teach children. But even more important, they are probably best learned through example.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

14 Cows for America

I get a weekly e-newsletter called "Exchange Everyday" with info to assist early childhood educators. This story is one that must be passed on. Our children need to hear about the love and kindness and compassion offered by others so they will learn to do the same and stand with people who need support - physical, emotional, and spiritual!

Some children's books are funny, some are clever, many are not so clever. Every once in a while, one touches the hearts of both adults and children. 14 Cows for America by Carman Agra Deedy is such a book. It is a beautifully told and illustrated story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah from Kenya. Here is part of his remarkable story in his own words at the end of the book:

"I am Kimeli in this story. I grew up in a small village in Kenya.... When I was older I won a scholarship to study in the United States. Many American moms and dads welcomed me to their homes, as would their own child. Like the Maasai elders in my villag e, these people showed me kindness by taking me in and helping me get an education. America became my second home.

"I was in New York City on September 11, 2001. What happened that day was devastating. Many people were left without their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. Like countless others, I watched brave firefighters and police officers risk their own lives to save people. My warrior heart could not sit still in me. I wanted to do something to help.

"My childhood heart told me what to do: Offer a sacrifice in the way of my people. To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own. I had saved enough to fulfill my dream and buy a cow. I decided that the cow, a symbol of life to our people, would be my offering to the grieving Americans....

"I returned to Kenya the following spring and told the story of that tragic day in New York City. Hearing my story, seeing my tears, the ancient spirit of my people was stirred up. When I presented my gift for blessing, the others offered up their own precious cows. Fourteen cows were blessed that day. It was a great moment in my village. We were helping to heal people far away.

"When the American ambassador and his wife came to our village to accept the cows, 'The Star Spangled Banner' played over a loudspeaker during the ceremony. Although my people did not understand the song, they stood along with the Americans and placed their hands across their chests. Seeing hundreds of Maasai standing with him in respectful silence made the American diplomat cry. His tears caught the Maasai by surprise, and we were all swept up in the deep emotion of the moment. A connection between the two cultures had been made. We felt we had taken some of America's pain into our Maasai hearts.

"These sacred, healing cows can never be slaughtered. They remain in our care in Kenya under the guidance of the revered elder Mzee Ole-Yiampoi. The original fourteen have calved and the herd now numbers over thirty-five. They continue to be a symbol of hope from the Maasai to their brothers and sisters in America. The Maasai wish that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace."