Sunday, July 29, 2012

July...a difficult month

July is my least favorite month of the year.  Interesting that at one time it was my favorite, but now it only brings memories of my son's illness and ultimate death - 1 week before his birthday.  My Croy would have been 16 last week.  July 22nd was a very rough day.

I have been working on a paper for grad school this month and according to my major professor, with a few edits, it could become the first chapter of my dissertation.  It has been a very difficult paper to write.  I submit the first few pages here:

Making Sense of Memoir – My Personal Pursuit of Purpose
By:  Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT

Maxine Greene (1997) so eloquently writes what I deeply feel,
…fore the loss of my daughter not so many years ago, is one that leaves a hole in the center of what I am trying to compose.  It leaves a hole that cries out to be filled.  And it may be this loss that keeps me moving in search of myself, my woman-self, that makes me sure now it was not a “waste of time” (pg. 34).

When I first read these words, my heart froze and I was rendered breathless.  I have been reading about Maxine Greene for years and was familiar with her writings about the importance of empathetic teaching.  What I hadn’t realized was that Maxine had lost a daughter and suddenly, I felt a connection to her on a deeper level.  Her words mirrored my feelings, the feelings I have been harboring since July of 2008 when my 11 year old son Croy died at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta Georgia due to a “pharmaceutical mathematical error” (Dr. S, 2008).

“Memoir begins not with event but with the intuition of meaning” (Birkerts, 2008, p. 3).

How does one possibly begin to make meaning out of something so tragic?  This is the fundamental question that I ask myself every single, day.  Maxine Greene, a philosopher and art teacher, is an inspiration to me as she works through this, making meaning out of her life through her work.  As the philosopher in residence at the Lincoln Center, she played a role in developing arts programs for educators that promoted imaginative living and social justice.  Her views on the power of arts to reimagine and recreate the world are why I find myself wanting to know more about her and including her work in each paper I write.  Greene (1988) often wrote about the behaviors and actions of caring teachers: “the caring teacher tries to look through students’ eyes, to struggle with them as subjects in search of their own projects, their own ways of making sense of the world” (p. 120).  A caring teacher cannot dictate or lecture to her students.  She must help her students imagine a different way of living, in connection to each other and our communities.

John Maxwell (2004) wrote an entire book called, “Make Today Count”.   It’s a fun and easy read, and pretty powerful in its message. One thing that really stuck with me while I was reading it was a paragraph titled, Have a Purpose Worth Living For (p. 25).
Nothing is better than perspective for helping a person want to do the right thing.  When you have something to live for, not only does it make you desire a long life, but it also helps you to see the importance of the steps along the way.  Seeing the big picture enables us to put up with the little irritations.  It’s hard to find motivation in the moment when there is no hope in the future.  A sense of purpose helps a person to make a decision to change and then to follow through with the discipline required to make that change permanent.  I found that to be true after my heart attack.  A friend who spent a lot of time with me during my recovery saw me pass on desserts time after time – something that was not characteristic of me – and finally he asked, “Have you lost your craving for desserts?”  “No”, I answered, “but my craving for life is greater”.

When I consider my lived experiences and how they inform my life, specifically the ways in which I am living my life as a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend and a teacher, I think a lot about the journals, books, articles and papers that I have read over the past few years. I crave to better understand.  I also consider these readings to be a part of the data that helps to inform my “Art with Purpose” curriculum, an innovative approach incorporating service learning to visual art learning which aides my students in discovering how to make deeper connections between their personal learning and art making. I want to ensure that my students have early and plentiful opportunities to recognize how, and perhaps more importantly, why, it is imperative to “make each day count”, in other words, to have a rich and relevant purpose.  As Maxwell and I have both had life changing events occur in our lives, my hope is to transmit to my students and my daughter through various service learning activities that will ultimately aid them in better understanding that in order to make each day count they often must open their eyes and step outside of their comfort zones, stepping into the shoes of another.  I used to think that I lived this way; that I lived with empathy in my heart for others, but it wasn’t until the death of my Croy that I was forced to step out of my personal comfort zone and view the world through a new lens.  When I consider memoir as a research tool, I must first consider my story, Croy’s story, and appreciate that in telling it, the purpose for this curriculum and this dissertation and ultimately, this life I now live, begins to have significance.  Sven Birkerts (2008) writes, “apart from whatever painful or disturbing events the memoirist recounts, their deeper ulterior purpose is to discover the nonsequential connections that allow those experiences to make larger sense , they are about circumstance becoming meaningful when seen from a certain remove” (p. 8).
July 22nd 2011:
Today Croy would be 15. Today Croy is 15. He is just celebrating in heaven instead of on earth and again, my heart cracks open.
I wonder what your party theme would be and who you would invite?  Would we have another pool party for your birthday or would you be more mature and want a girl/boy party?  What do you look like now that you are a teenager?  I feel your hugs – I feel your smile – and I try to smile through my tears. You are “my big boy” for real – my Croy – what do I do with these emotions, these rips that I feel tearing my heart open?  And again, I can’t  b    r     e     a          t               h                      e.
(personal care page journal entries, July 2011).

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