Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11: "It's going to be a lovely day" is a statement of faith, not fact.

I had completed 10 years as a middle school counselor. That fall of my 11th year, as a matter of good mental health, I knew that if I were to have the proper attitude at work, I was going to have to choose that attitude and have it in place before I parked my truck in front of the school.
It wasn't going to come easy. On the home front, my much loved first-born son was gone away for college. I was just coming off a spiritual high, from leading a team of well over  one hundred men in an intense weekend of spiritual self-examination in a Christian renewal retreat. As often happens, when you come off the mountain top, aggravations present themselves; My first piece of mail upon my return home was a notification that my check had bounced at my son's college book store.
But the point that I was clear on was this: if I allowed the joys and frustrations of working with 1100 young men and women  in the 7th and 8th grade, their parents and their teachers, to determine my attitude, I was toast.
So, that August, during the week of teacher planning before the students arrived, I turned to American gospel hip-hop singer Kirk Franklin. He had recorded a cover of Bill Withers' most excellent song "Lovely Day" which was adapted lyrically to be a love song to the Beloved, Jesus, rather than to the beloved, your significant other. The music line had a perfect part for my bass voice, and with a bit of experimentation, I determined just where I needed to start the music so I would be singing through the rest of my commute, with the song ending as I pulled my truck into a parking place. Then, at the end of the day, I'd replay the song, so I was returned to my little family with the stresses of the work day cleared out of my mind. It was a great technique.
And that's the way it worked, every day! I would energize myself in the morning, and re-energize myself in the afternoon, and I was able to handle all the hassles that come from pulling hundreds of pre-teens from four different elementary schools, out of their accustomed relationships and making new demands on them. It worked!
And the last time I played that song was a beautiful Tuesday morning in September. September 11, 2001, as a matter of fact.
I had an awful day that day. I had developed an expertise in school crisis management, and I used every bit of it that day. I won't go into the details; you all had to live through that day and you know what you had to do to cope. As the school counselor, I had the task of helping teachers and students process the intolerable unbelievable. And finally, the interminable school day was over, with two planes into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon, and Flight 93 in a field in Western Pennsylvania.
I had been carried along by my duty, until I got in the parking lot, and then it was just me. I didn't know, none of us knew, what that day was going to mean to us, but the first thing I found out was that my discipline of singing, and believing, 'It's Going to Be a Lovely Day' just wasn't going to work. And I put away that cassette tape, stuck it into the glove compartment, and drove home in a silence broken only by my sobs.
But we all have ways of signalling when we start the process of healing. For me. that day came a year later. I had found the Kirk Franklin tape a few weeks earlier, while looking for something in my glove compartment. I wondered, even then, if I was ever going to be able to listen to the tape again. Some liquid had spilled over the tape at some point in the year, and I wasn't even sure it would work. So I decided it was time to get better, and I went out and bought the album on CD.
And on September 11, 2002, on my way into work, I played "It's Going To Be a Lovely Day" on my way in to work, and sang along with it, and let the tears come when they wanted.
Lots of bad stuff has come my way in the days since, but I have found nothing that would disprove the idea that the greatest single factor in my attitude is my choice. YMMV. Peter Grant introduced me to The Lonely Libertarian, and her Friday, August 28 blog post includes a cartoon which demonstrates my attitude toward those who ask us to cheer up in the midst of disaster, without regard for what we are experiencing. I TOTALLY understand that. And yet, I'm a firm believer that it's not what happens to us that determines our character, it's how we respond to the happenings.
And so I sit, old, fat, crippled, and loved. And today, September 11, 2015? It's going to be a lovely day.


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