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The Sound of Silence

Are you unnerved by silence? I have been for years. I could be really funny and blame that on the fact that I have kids or the fact that I did band for so many years. I was never traumatized because of or during silence, so it isn’t anything that has happened in my past that caused this. I just don’t like total silence.

I have always heard people talk about meditating or praying and doing it in silence so they can hear the response, and I tried that, at least 2 or 3 times. I used to get so frustrated with myself because I couldn’t do “the thing” correctly. I have finally, at almost 40, figured out why I don’t like silence. You see, the problem is that I am one of those people that doesn’t like to pause. I genuinely like to be busy. It makes me feel alive. It helps me to know that i am doing something that is contributing to my world.

I can remember many basketball games with the UT pep band or UT Alumni pep band where the arena has gotten totally silent and someone, usually a trombone player, screams, “Awkward silence!” We all laugh and noise starts back up but, for me, that brings a sense of relief. It is like I can breathe again.

The strange thing about this is that I also love to be at peace, with not a lot going on. My favorite places are out on the boat in the middle of a cove or on my back deck listening to it rain. I am writing this very blog post sitting outside under the awning with the fire pit going and listening to the rain while I wait for the sun to rise.

If you turn the sound on, you will hear what I’m hearing.

So, if I don’t like silence, why do i crave quiet? I think I have finally figured out why the quiet brings me such peace. I actually crave the stillness. Yes, I love to be busy, and I love to work and think, and I actually love to go and do the things. However, when I can sit and just listen to the small sounds around me, I can work on things (like writing a blog post), recharge my personal battery, appreciate the amazingness of where I live, and, for just a small moment, find my peace.

In the Southeastern United States, many of us are living in areas that have entered into “first fall.” Now, if you aren’t from around here, we have multiple seasons (all 4 of them actually occur here) but sometimes those seasons decide to come and go like a pendulum swinging. First fall is a wonderful time of the year when the days are finally getting cooler (the high on a sunny day has gone from being in the 90s with 85% humidity to a lovely forecast of 71 today with rain stopping around noon), the air starts to get a little crisp, if you live near the mountains, you wake up to see lots of fog, and, oh yeah, it’s football season. For me, although I love summer and spending time on the lake, and I love Christmas with the glitter and glitz of the holiday decorations, Fall and Spring are my favorite times of the year. You see, these are the seasons when I can really sit outside and enjoy my version of silence.

So, why did I write all of this? Because sometimes, what we are needing in this hectic and crazy world is just the sound of silence. Whatever that is to you. For some people, it is true silence, and that is wonderful. For others, it is the sound of animals rising to greet the day or their sound of silence is waterfalls or traffic sounds. Sometimes it can be the sweet sounds babies can make or the peace that comes from watching a movie or listening to music with family.

I think the word silence could use another definition. I think, perhaps, silence is not just the absence of auditory noise, but perhaps the absence of the “noise” that goes on around us continually. Maybe, just maybe, the silence that we are looking for is much less about actual sound and much more about pressing pause on the world around us. For now, try to find your silence, no matter what that sounds like, and take a few breaths. There is nothing more vital than that at this moment in time.

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Taking Care of You

Weary, exhausted, tired, and worn out. These are all words I have heard in the past week from some of my students who are teachers. These aren’t the only thing I have heard, though. Disconnected, stressed, alone, anxious, overwhelmed, and spinning are also words that I have heard from these same students. Amazingly enough, not only are my students who are full-time teachers expressing these sentiments, my undergraduate students are using some of the same words and phrases.

I have lost count of how many times a student has been in my office in the past week worried about a family member, or how many teachers I have talked with that are concerned about the lack of engagement in their classrooms. A small group of us had a conversation the other day about it feeling like our students aren’t really “awake” for what is going on in class, even when they are right in front of us and doing an activity.

It would be easy to throw a Bible verse out there during these conversations. Matthew 11:28 comes to mind as one that may typically be said to someone with these feelings. I mean, I do work at a Christian university, so that would be a perfectly acceptable response to my students and colleagues.

Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

I just don’t have the heart to give that as a response right now, though. I still believe it, but right now I don’t even know that we can find the rest He gives because of all the other “stuff” and all the noise coming at us from every direction. I think He is trying to give us rest, I really do. Man, it sure is hard to stop and listen, though.

I started this semester with huge hopes, big goals, and a ton of thoughts about how this one would be different. This semester was going to be the one where I stayed on top of grading, thought more out of the box (I mean, we are all still teaching in a pandemic, so out of the box has to happen, right), and even managed to plan ahead more in an attempt to work less when I am at home. We are now 5 weeks in, and instead of those thoughts towards greatness and student engagement, I am starting to have the same feelings my students are having.

So, how is it that my own children in middle and high school, my undergraduate students, my graduate students who are also full time teachers, my doctoral students that I am still advising, and my colleagues are all saying and feeling the same things? There has to be a way to stop this, right? There has to be a way for us to all start to feel like we are on the other side of this thing and we finally have it figured out. Oh, how I wish that was what this blog post is about. I wish with all my heart and all my soul that I had the secret for us all that would make this year be everything we had hoped for when we were all so excited to see our students and colleagues again.

If only that was what I was here to tell you

So no, I don’t have the answer that will make everything right again. I honestly am struggling just as much as everyone else. And while I can’t make it all go back to “normal,” I can give you a couple of ideas that should help things feel a little better.

So, here it is, my list to take a little bit of the edge off of this crazy year, whether you are a student or a teacher, or both.

1. Schedule some time each week (at least each week, but it would be great if you can find something each day) for some self-care. This doesn’t have to be something huge, maybe it is 15 minutes outside drinking coffee in the morning before everything gets rolling. Perhaps it is a short yoga flow (I kind of like Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube for short yoga stuff, but I’m not very bendy) or a workout (I like to lift the things – can’t right now due to a back issue but, if that works for you, own it). Perhaps it is 30 minutes before bed with a good book, some music, or even practicing your own instrument. It can be any number of things, just spend some time that is solely yours. I know this is hard, but it will absolutely change your day, that I can promise.

2. Eat somewhere other than your desk. I set a goal to stop eating lunch at my desk about 3 weeks ago. Some days it has been a quick 15 minutes with a co-worker at a table in my office, but I have managed to not eat lunch staring at my computer screen in my office. I have even had some working lunches, but always away from my desk. If you can get out with a good friend or co-worker and actually leave your job for a few every now and then, that is even better. I have a co-worker who is my person at work. When either of us are overwhelmed, all it takes is a text that says Queso date and we immediately find a day within the next week to do lunch at our favorite local Mexican restaurant. It is nice to be around someone who isn’t depending upon you for anything other than nice conversation.

3. Give yourself some grace. This may be the most important of the three things. We all had expectations for what September of 2020 was going to look like, and I am betting it doesn’t look like any of our expectations. I’m pretty sure no one got it right in 2015 when they were asked where do you see yourself in 5 years. There are things in this world that we cannot control. Trust me, as an admitted control freak, I get that this is throwing us for a loop. It is ok that we maybe haven’t hit every goal we set for the week or checked everything off the to-do list for the day. For most of us, the work can, and maybe even should, wait until tomorrow. Unless you are putting off some life saving emergent procedure, cut yourself some slack.

For many of us, our energy banks are depleted, ideas are slowing down, circumstances seem overwhelming, and the world seems to be closing in around our heads. I “gently reminded” a co-worker today that she is no good to anyone if she isn’t taking care of herself.

This isn’t my normal thing to write about, and I promise to get back to good old sarcasm and crazy educational stuff next time. I just felt like maybe this needed to be said tonight more than anything else I could say to you.

So, until next time:
~Remember that everyone is trying their best
~Give yourself and others grace
~Choose joy in the morning when you start the day, it won’t keep crap from coming throughout the day but it will help you deal with the crap that happens.