Social Media….Social Medium

This post is dedicated to FaceBook, because it facilitated the events described.  Would they have happened without Social Media?  Possibly. But I’m glad I didn’t have to risk finding out they couldn’t.

I turn 50 this year.  Just like everyone else who was born in 1965. But it is still a special number.  The turn of a decade, the halfway mark to 100 (it’s possible… my paternal grandma was 102 when she left this place…).  But 50 really also seems to be a time of reflection.  My kids are almost grown, almost self sufficient–certainly my job raising them is near an end.  My career has gone through (perhaps) its last metamorphosis, and, like a re-design on my broodiness of the breeding years, I am inclined to gather more closely to me the people and things I treasure.  Things not necessarily material–possibly events, rituals, invaluable though-lacking-value objects…

Recently my friend popped into my mind. She’s not just any friend, she’s my best friend.  I always feel a little childish using that term, and it doesn’t really define our friendship– we’ve only known each other since high school, we don’t get to see a lot of each other, and we don’t really know about each other’s intimate lives and thoughts and dreams, and our lives have followed different paths.  But she is the friend I cherish the most for her stalwart and steady presence in my life, she is the one I asked to stand up for me when I got married, to serve as Godmother to my first born, and she is the one I think of when I think of “Friend”.  Also, the last time I referred to her as my “oldest” friend, that didn’t go well….in a hilarious way.

And so it was that I suddenly, one day, had the desire to see her, and some of our other high school friends who also live where she does, which is a few hours from our home town.  A few years ago, having re-connected with all of these past friends via FaceBook, I organized a dinner for all of us one night when I was in their town.  It turned out to be so fun and magical that it’s been repeated a few times. Because I seem to require being the centre of attention, these gatherings are called “My Dinner with Lisa”, even though one was a brunch, and no one else gets billing. But old friends let you away with that sort of behaviour.

Here is the thing about old friends…. they know how to tease you, they share your cultural references and memories of childhood, they know who you were, who you are, and have a pretty good idea of who you will be. We shared some harsh tales, and more funny ones, and got glimpses into the some of the dark bits, as well as the successful bits of one another’s lives.

I sat there, then, in my Best Friend’s living room, surrounded by our mutual friends, listening to their stories, hearing how their lives had turned out, sharing our appreciation for the childhood we had had, regardless of whether it was a “good” or “bad” childhood– it just was. I reflected on how I struggled for many years to overcome personality traits I saw in myself as flaws. Immersed in this circle of friendship, where no one cared that I sang off-key, was still as great a nerd/misfit as ever, I felt peace, contentment, ease–my “flaws” were not flaws at all– they were Me. We, all non-reformed theatre geeks, and most of them still connected in some way to film or theatre, sat together reading from a script my friend’s husband had written. It was an existential piece, reliant more on word play than actual full sentences and stage directions– and we read cold, not knowing, nor caring, how we sounded, where the story went, fully trusting his writing, the process. I marvelled listening to my talented friends bring these characters to life from the flat page, thrilled at how we all laughed at the same places, and just appreciated the opportunity to showcase our friends’ talents.

And how grateful I am that new technology exists that brought Old Friends together.

Well that won’t work

Education is like many other organizations and institutions, I suppose, where change is inevitable. However, it seems to come to us as sweeping changes, moving at a glacial pace.  I suppose it’s because ultimately, teachers are the agent of change, and like water running through a hose, information or instructional practice can be throttled down or opened right up.  If you extrapolate on the hose analogy, the end result is that the change makes its way through in either scenario, but does it gently flow over and enhance existing ground, or does it blast out under high pressure, annihilating anything in its path?

Curriculum change isn’t as dramatic.  I was thinking about that recently in our talks of moving away from the “go to the computer lab and ‘do’ technology model” to the more reliance on mobile solutions that provide in-time/where you need it resources and opportunities.  As I reflect over even my own practice around Educational Technology, I can see the shifts both in content and in delivery.  In the beginning (well, not as far back as that phrase would suggest) a trip to the computer lab meant getting all the students down to the room, all logged in, and then 20 minutes spent on keyboard practice, and then some free time.  Eventually I realized that the keyboarding was much like the Spelling program, and I stopped doing both about 10 years ago (kids who are good at typing or spelling LOVE the quizzes and tests…the rest resent it, and it does nothing to improve their abilities–as soon as you look away, a kid who has his or her own method of typing runs away from home row.) And some of us will never be able to spell defiantly definetely definately definitely no matter how many times we write it out.

So we are comfortable asking our students to try something new when we are enthusiastic about a new topic or approach.  What about when we ourselves are skeptical or resistant? This is were the hose is  throttled.  I was thinking about this phenomenon (I can never spell that word right the first time either) the other day when the topic of the “Flipped Classroom” came up. Basically, it’s simply another way of delivering instruction.  I feel strongly that it fits in with our mobile learning/BYOD model.  But, like any change, it is not fully embraced by everyone equally.

In the discussion that ensued, I was reminded of a very similar attack on a “new model” some 20 years prior.  At that time, the flavour of the week was “cooperative learning”. I remember listening to a senior teacher go on about how it was a stupid model that would never work and he proved it by telling his students “Okay, you have 2 classes to work in groups of 6 to finish this project.  You will all get the same mark. Go”.  Well, not-at-all-shockingly, the project completely bombed (3 kids did all the work, 10 maybe glued a few things to a poster board, and the rest ran rampant in the classroom).  So what did that prove?

Change is bad.

I have been teaching 20 years so I know the one and only way to do it.

I can in no way improve my practice.

I can’t be forced to try something new and neither can my learners.

If I am certain it will fail, it certainly will.

I have not always been a band-wagon-jumper-on-er, but I’ve always been game to try–or at least listen–to a new approach. As I have gently been coaxing my fellow teachers to embrace technology in a variety of forms, I have seen successes and failures… and most of them were pre-determined.

Piracy? Send in the Clouds.

It’s interesting to see how attitudes and mores shift over time.  Easy enough to think about it from a generational perspective–hemlines and courting in my grandmother’s day looked a whole lot different. Some things are just as wrong today as they were then, however, like say having poor nutrition or not brushing your teeth, or robbing a bank (fear not,  I am going to tie these together). Yes, robbing a bank is just as wrong today as it was then, even though there are more ways and means to get other people’s money into your hands, it’s still held in low opinion. But what of stealing other things….what has the digital age done to our perspective of borrowing, repurposing, sharing and just taking stuff that doesn’t belong to us. Still wrong, without permission of the owner, you say?

Let’s switch on the radio and think about this for a moment, gentle reader. I grew up in the time of record players–33s and 45s. Cassettes came along, and with them tape recorders. The birth of the Mixed Tape heralded the thin edge of the wedge. For the next 30 years, the music industry reacted–no recording from the airwaves, no recording music and sharing it in any way, CERTAINLY no selling of recorded music, no charging admission to an event where music is being played unless you have secured permissions, and you know, I bet if the music industry could have found a way to get a cut on Vinyl records being sold at garage sales, they would have.

And then, while they were at least able to stem the tide of consumers getting free music (how dare they!), along came the Internets, Napster, Pirate Bay, and the nerdling next door with a USB connection to his Mp3 player….

Now, don’t get me wrong,  I’ve known a few musicians, and like any artist, I fully support them getting paid not only for performing, but for their creativity, their intellectual property, their magic which improves my life. When vinyl was being eclipsed by CDs, I replaced several of my favourite LPs with shiny new CDs. Then along came the iTunes Store, and I gleefully paid 99 cents for digital versions of my favourite songs (in some cases, representing the 3rd or even 4th time I had paid the artist for his or her work). I felt really strongly, at the time, that even though I COULD pirate music, I wasn’t going to, because it was stealing from the artists. But in the back of my head, there was a voice. I can’t remember whether or not the voice had a soundtrack, but I do remember it speaking eloquantly if not melodically about how it was the music industry was not changing with the times–the artists were, but the industry–the machinery–was not).  Little shifts, like the Bare Naked Ladies on a stick or  free iTunes downloads from Starbucks, live streaming from Internet radio… the ground was shifting, and with it came a shift in the noise from the machine–instead of shrieking about punitive actions and punishing musical thievery (oh that puts a delicious picture in my head…) the industry realized that the artists were not appreciating their “protection”, the flood gates had long since opened and completely annihilated the village below, and maybe being paid for creativity was going to need to make a shift to being paid for creative marketing.

Actual transcripts from conversations in my house about music:

Me: Hey I just bought the CD version of “Bat out of Hell”

The Husband: How many times are we going to pay for the same album?  I wish you would just get stuff off the Internet like other people!

Me: Stealing is wrong

**********Time Passes*************

Me: Hey! the new U2 album is on my phone!!!!!  For FREE!!!!!

TH: Wow, cool– the first time we didn’t have to pay for music!

The Boy Child (stomping off, muttering): What the hell!? I don’t want U2’s stupid music on my phone!  They didn’t ask me if I wanted it…grumble….I shouldn’t have to have it….whinge….stupid free music….mutter.….my phone…grouse…..permission…….complain…..

And there we are, music-loving friend, we have come full circle… isn’t technology grand?

 

Strikes, Rhetoric and Social mediated thugilantism

So here I am, dear reader. 2 weeks into the school-year-that-hasn’t-started, 5 weeks into the strike-that-shouldn’t-have-been-necessary, 23 years into a profession I would never have guessed I would have chosen/loved/had to defend.

If you are a first-time reader, bless you, and welcome. If you know me, read this bit anyway, it’s important. Here’s the thing about teachers. My mom, for example, worked as a legal assistant.  My sister in law works as a funeral director. The husband is in the logging industry. Those people have worked decades in their jobs, too, yet are not defined by them. Me, though, I am A Teacher. We seem to rarely be able to remove ourselves from the description. It’s why when someone criticizes our profession, it’s hard for me not to take it personally.  It’s why this whole situation has affected me on a daily basis, for almost 6 months. Way back when we first heard word that bargaining was really not being successful, and the union started to call for Action, I started to speak up with one consistent message: “Please, this time, can we not do things the way we always have?  Can we please rise above it?”

Only my own actions can be scrutinized.  Have I risen above the rhetoric, the hypocrisy, the same old/same old? Let’s see, shall we, gentle reader?  Please sit beside me as we look at the evidence.  You can be the judge.

One time, a few years ago, I stood up in a union meeting when then-Vice president Jim Iker was encouraging us to pass yet another job-action vote, and said “Jim, with all due respect, I am so tired of doing the same thing, repeatedly, expecting different results. I want to write “Decertify” on my ballot”.

Years earlier, I marched down the streets of the capital city onto the grounds of the Legislature, and stood proudly beside my peers and listened as the president of the Federation of Labour called on all members to take to the streets in support of us. An emotional moment, that did not come to fruition as a general strike.

A few weeks ago I stood up at a local union meeting and encouraged my colleagues to, again, rise above it–respond to negativity with positive messages, accept ignorance as an opportunity to do what we do– teach, to remember that we are honourable and that we are standing up for what we believe is just, and right, and in the best interest of children, even if it means they lose a few days’ school, the future benefit is for them, alone. We aren’t the union thugs that the media would portray us as.

And yet…. a few months back, a coalition of BC businesses applied to the supreme court (which is hearing our case against the BC government, for the 3rd time) and asked for Intervenor status– it allows them to offer “testimony” in a sense– to inform the courts about resulting economic hardships that result from a 3rd loss for the government, should they finally be forced to pay the fines levied against them twice before. It’s about taxation and corporate philosophy and very, very anti-socialism. I’m smart enough to understand it, but passionate enough to seethe with anger at the thought. I’m already furious that elitist private schools who receive millions of dollars from their corporate alumni ALSO get millions of dollars from the tax base, and now they want to intervene in a case that’s already been found twice in our favour.

And so, I vented my anger. On Facebook and Twitter, as you do. I named two local franchise operations, one a restaurant and one a grocery store, and said why I would not be spending money there again, anytime soon (and I haven’t, actually, I have maintained my own personal boycott, but I haven’t beaked off about it anymore). It caused a minor but important flurry of pro- and con posts, and I remembered my own advice to rise above it, and turned my attention to promoting businesses and individuals who showed their support of teachers and public education.

Suddenly, it seems, what I had perhaps rashly ranted about in social media months ago has been picked up by well-meaning activists. Signs being pasted on doughnut shop windows declaring that this business doesn’t support teachers, names and lists of other “offending” businesses are being circulated, and suddenly I am very, very uncomfortable.

I lost one Facebook friend over all of this very early on.  He semi-publicly unfriended me because his pro-BC Liberal stance was objectionable to me, as was my pro-properly funded public education platform was to him. And, I have probably made weary my non-teacher, non-Canadian friends who look forward to my humour, irreverence and food-porn posts on facebook (regular scheduling will resume eventually, friends).  It has been fascinating to watch this unfold. Information–and misinformation–is disseminated with lightning speed. Bandwagons are leapt onto with alacrity, and just as quickly abandoned, to shamble down the errant path and out of the light. Hitler is mentioned, often, and other tyrants and tyrannies. And in equal measure we are reminded of grandfathers and uncles who fought in actual trenches in France and Germany so that we could be assured the freedom to….. buy a coffee at Starbucks rather than Tim Hortons? Hmmmm. As passionate as I can be, I do struggle a bit with the rhetoric and purple prose posts.

Do I think Christy Clark set out with malicious intent to completely dismantle and privatize public education?  Yes, I do, actually, in my heart, think she reviles teachers and all they stand for. You need only look at the Liberal’s record of spending and corporate tax breaks to see the story.  This is all public record– the reduction to corporate taxation was  in response to the recession of 2007/8, and was necessary to stimulate the economy.  Now, it could be raised again, 1, 2 or even 5% and still be the lowest in the country, still lower than it was pre-2007. The reduction in the percentage of the provincial budget dedicated to public ed is down from 21% to 15% during the Liberal’s tenure.  Can we live without a vibrant commerce-based economy? No of course not. Can we afford not to teach children well, in preparation for their future?  No, obviously not.  Are these two things mutually exclusive?  They certainly don’t need to be.   Independent and Parochial schools are our partners, like us, they take all comers, and provide for children what we sometimes can’t (faith-based instruction, small class sizes, alternate forms of instruction–ie, Montessori). Other Private schools need not be our enemy. Some people will always believe something is better if it’s expensive. If tuition is $10 000 with a government stipend of $4000, I have a feeling those same parents would find the extra if they believed that was the best place for their children.

I don’t have any answers in this one, gentle reader. I want to go back to work and teach kids (and teachers) and live in the town I grew up in and see my neighbours be successful and see children not go hungry and buy some stuff I want and continue to give to charity and save money to travel and put my kids through university and see people who work hard and are decent human beings be successful.

It just doesn’t seem to me that that is too much to ask.

Gifts between strangers

This is a hard story to tell, and the fact that it’s taken me five years to do so is testament to that. But I’ve come to think that the reason it has taken me so long is because I want to tell it from a place of joy.  Now, before you go further, gentle reader, don’t feel ripped off if suddenly you get to a spot and think “HEY!  I totally know this story!!  SHE’S TOTALLY told it before!!” because I have, I have told bits and pieces of it over the years, but while I’ve started to, a few times, I have never fully committed the story to “paper”, as it were.

Recently, I was teaching a class in Learning Theory at a local university, and I was encouraging my learners to not disregard intuition.  I told them the story of the Lost Dog Poster and how I rarely think something is *just* a coincidence.  I do believe the universe works in magical ways.

Five years ago, my dad was still alive. Five years ago, I knew he had had a recurrence of lung cancer, but five years ago I thought I still had some time. Five years ago I was about 2 weeks away from seeing my kids with him for the last time, eating a meal with him, hanging out with him. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, as soon as I saw him that last time, but I thought I still had some.

After our traditional summer visit, when I realized how much weight my dad had lost, how laboured his breathing was at times, and heard the dreadful rattle in his too-frequent cough, I decided I’d best not wait another year to visit, and planned to come back for the long weekend in October.  I booked my flight and hotel and looked forward to a meaningful, if difficult, visit.

My flight was booked for early Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend. On the Monday before, Dad called me to find out what time I’d be arriving and what I would like to do.  I gave him the information, and said I’d fit in with their plans, but that I was renting a car, so I could drive them around, whatever they wanted to do.  He sounded…. like Dad. Thursday evening, he phoned my big brother, just to chat, and mentioned that I was coming in two days time. The very next day, Friday afternoon, the day before I was to arrive for the weekend, I got a call from my step-mother.  “Lisa…. you if you can get here sooner, come…. your dad is dying”.  He’d collapsed that afternoon, and while he did go briefly to the hospital, he had a DNR (do not resuscitate) order, and he was brought home to his own bed. My brother and sister-in-law had also gotten the call, and they decided to jump in the car, pick up their daughter, and make the drive (it’s about 8 hours from where we live, including a ferry ride).  I don’t remember, now, if I looked to see if there were any earlier flights or not or what, but I remember deciding that it didn’t make sense to try to get there any quicker, I’d only save a few hours, and my flight was already booked.  And I had my kids to think of, and I didn’t want to make a rash decision, and…and…and…. Had I made a different decision, I’d have a different story to tell today, I suppose, but there it is.

At the time, I had an android phone, and I had set it to receive text alerts from the airline.  Usually, I left the phone in my car, but this night I brought it in so that it would be fully charged and I wouldn’t accidentally forget it in the morning. At some time around 3 or 4 in the morning, 3 rapid-fire texts came in. I awoke from the sound, if I was actually sleeping, and got the phone, and revealed that, no explanation given, the airline had cancelled all my flights. I went to my computer, navigated to the site, and saw all flights out of that airport were cancelled.  Thinking it was weather-related (I would later discover that the weather had also determined my brother’s ferry was the last one to sail that night, all the rest had been cancelled).  I quickly found flights from the other airport, woke the husband, and got underway.

It turned out that a computer malfunction had mistakenly cancelled every flight that airline was scheduled to make that day.  It meant that not only did passenger flights get cancelled, so too did incoming crew flights, and all across the country, people were stranded. I wouldn’t discover this until I completed the first leg of my journey, Victoria to Vancouver.  Somehow, miraculously, that flight went… and it was the last one, for a long time. I saw the plane I was supposed to take to Penticton,  saw my distinctive zebra-striped suitcase loaded on… phoned my brother to say it looked like I was just going to get out…. and then all the suitcases, zebra included, came off, one by one and two by two. And then the announcements started.  Apologies for inconvenience. Passengers wishing to connect to Greyhound bus lines. Passengers needing a meal voucher. Passengers who had given up all hope, head to the courtesy desk.

I could have rented a car at the airport and driven the 5 hours.  I could have taken the bus. But all I could think was that a plane was the fastest way, and I had to get there. So, I headed to the courtesy desk.  This is where bizarre coincidences and beautiful stories start to unfold.

Until then, despite the uncertainty and upheaval, I had kept my emotions in check.  Talking to my brother helped, knowing he was there with Dad, telling him I was on my way. But I had to get there. The Vancouver airport is pretty well laid out, but there are areas that are confusing.  Finding the correct courtesy desk is one of them.  I realized it later, but instead of heading to the “Send us your tired, your poor and huddled masses” desk, I ended up at the “I’ve misplaced my sable-lined toilet seat warmer” First-Class passengers-only desk. But all I knew was I needed help, and there was no line, and the 2 smiling ladies asked me what I needed.  I blurted out “My flight to Penticton was cancelled and my dad is dying and I have to get there and I don’t know what to do.”  And of course burst into tears. “Oh how awful” said one of the kind ladies, and before she’d even finished her short sentence, the other one had me bundled into a chair behind the counter, had taken my boarding pass, and spoken into a phone.  Next, she wheeled over a golf cart and off we went, zooming  through the airport.  How I wish I could have enjoyed that moment as much as I enjoy the picture of it in my head. She passed me over to another employee, who took me back through security, got me a new boarding pass for a new flight, this one to Kelowna, as the Penticton flight was not going to happen, but this would at least get me less than an hour away from Dad. I noticed various stickers and codes added to my boarding pass, telling me that I was now a Priority. The First Class Counter lady was my first gift.

Down in the departure terminal again, I received my next gifts. No one, myself included, was convinced I would get on the Kelowna flight, so I phoned and bought a ticket on another flight with another airline flying just a little later. I didn’t tell the second airline my story, but as I fumbled about for a pen to write down the confirmation number, a stranger sitting a couple of chairs away handed me hers. She was my second gift. I completed my call, returned her pen, and thanked her for her kindness. I explained why I so desperately was trying to get where I was going.  She said “Well, don’t worry.  If they can’t get you on this flight, I’ll tell them to give you my seat.” I mean really.  She had been sitting chatting to two young nurses, and as they couldn’t help but overhear my story, the one young woman asked where my dad had been hospitalized earlier that fall.  I told her, and it turned out that she not only had done shifts in that ward, she knew the head nurse who had been in charge of Dad’s care, to whom I had spoken on the phone not a month earlier. The young nurse told me that my Dad would have received the best of care from the senior nurse. She was my third gift that day.

My fourth gift was a little harder to recognize.  And this is what I love about the universe.  I heard my name called, and stepped forward to the check-in desk. In line ahead of me was a very polished, high-heeled, well-coiffed, highly agitated young woman. I could see she was also anxious about getting on this flight, and so we chatted briefly.  It turns out that she grew up in Kelowna, and had moved to Vancouver some months earlier to take a job with a law firm– her first as a practicing lawyer. When she arrived at the airport that morning to discover her flight was cancelled, she burst into tears, afraid she might not make it home until the next day, ruining Thanksgiving weekend. Now, I’m not going to lie uncharitable thoughts did cross my mind, some of them beginning with “Wow, Princess!”, but as they say, grief does interesting things to you, and I was in a very Zen frame of mind, already aware of and processing the gifts I had received that day.  And so it happened that we all made it on to the flight, and I was seated next to the young lawyer.  I thanked the kind pen-lady and the sweet nurse for helping keep me together, and off we went.

The flight is less than an hour, and the time was spent mostly in silence, though I did tell my seatmate why I was traveling, and she told me that she was going to write a strongly worded letter to the airline on her company letterhead when she got back to the office on Tuesday.

The rest of the story unfolds both predictably and mysteriously, and is filled with more priceless gifts. I arrive at the Airport, collect my suitcase (how miraculous that it caught up with me, yet it did),  the car rental agency to honoured my reservation at this airport without issue, and I set off for my final visit with my dad.  I had stopped calling my brother earlier in the day.  It was obvious each time we spoke that things were going more rapidly downhill. I let him know I was on the flight to Kelowna, and then turned off my phone.

On the drive, I started to think about the people who had shown me kindness that day, and was grateful. I thought about whether or not I had made the right choice, but like a horribly depressing retelling of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, I don’t think any other choice would have changed the outcome.

I pulled into my Dad’s driveway by 2:30pm. My original plan would have had me there by 10:00am.  My brother had arrived around 1:00am.  He told me later that when they first arrived, they thought dad knew they were there, that they felt a slight pressure from his hand, a change of expression on his face. Those were their gifts. When I walked in the door, I didn’t know what awaited me. “You made it!” was the first thing I heard, from my step-sister’s husband. She and he gathered me into the house and said to go straight through to Dad’s room.  He was still alive.

I entered the room, and saw my dad surrounded by my family. Quickly we greeted each other, and they shifted seats to allow me to be at the bedside-hand-holding chair.  I took Dad’s hand and said “Hey Dad!  I made it!  And Steve says hey… and the kids say hey…..” and then I stopped babbling, realizing that those messages weren’t going to be responded to with anything other than gasping, but still-regular, intakes of breath. His hand was cold in mine. His circulation was shutting down, blood flow leaving his extremities.  We sat in silence for a moment, then I recounted my tale of travel, my brother and sister-in-law recounted theirs (no less fraught with stress than mine, as it turned out), and we just closed the circle of family and let my step mom know we were there for her, too.  She had practiced as a registered nurse until she retired, and so had been allowed to provide hospice care.  The attending physician called while I was there, and made sure all the meds and supplies that were required were in place. Her daughter went out to pick up a few items before the drugstore closed, and that was another gift–being allowed to just be there.

After an hour or so, my brother and his family decided that they needed to get to a hotel and get their heads down.  At that point they had been up for almost 36 hours.  I said I would stay for awhile, and then head to the hotel to get checked in so I wouldn’t lose my room. How silly the irrelevant things we worry about when we want to be distracted from life. “We’ll just tell them you are coming later tonight.  They’ll hold your room”.  This was my next gift, my big brother taking care of me, and because of that, allowing me to receive the most valuable, most important gift that day.  One I cherish as a privilege and an honour to have been given.

Later I calculated that I had been at Dad’s side for two hours, with my brother and sister-in -law and niece, and then with my stepmom, as she administered pain medication, and at one point held the phone to his ear for a friend who called and wanted to offer Dad a prayer. And then we heard her son-in-law in the next room pick up one of Dad’s guitars and start to play.  She went out to sit for a minute and enjoy the gentle music.  And in that brief span of time, two hours after I had arrived, 5 minutes since Flo left the room, with his beloved music playing softly in the background, Dad gave two quick gasps of breath, and then there were no more.

I have no experience with the dying. My husband had given me some advice before I left, that I not imagine it is like in the movies, there are no startling bedside revelations, no deathbed secrets revealed, just, hopefully, gentle sleep.

And so it was. “Flo” I called my step mother….not sure if I was right… and then of course I was “Flo!” I called again, and she came back in with her daughter, took one look at Dad and knew he was gone. Her words then, spoken with such conviction, strength and faith were also a gift to me: “Thank you. Thank you God.” Her love for my dad was great enough that she could be thankful he was not suffering, despite not wanting to let him go.

The rest of the weekend was spent in all the ways that one expects to spend days after the loss of a loved one. Gotten through.  Endured. And with occasional moments of joy in the form of a memory or a laugh.

When I flew back home Monday evening, I reflected on all the gifts I had to bring home with me, and the delicious irony of it being Thanksgiving.  As we were just about to board, I saw the last passenger come through security. It was the young, high-heeled lawyer, happy and replete with her weekend amongst her family.  She saw me, and made a beeline for me, and as she asked me if I made it in time, had I gotten to my dad, I realized the meaning of her role in this story– I was her gift. I was an example to her of what to value.  Not to be absorbed in the irritation of being late to Thanksgiving dinner but realizing what a difference 2 hours can make.

I was able to give back to one of my gifters.  A few years later I was in Vancouver airport again, going to a conference or something, and as I waited in the departure area, I recognized the first lady who helped me, the one who bundled me into the golfcart and made sure I got on that flight.  I came up to her and started with “I don’t know if you remember me but I wanted to thank you for your kindness a couple of years ago….” I didn’t get very far into my introduction when she assured me that, yes, she did remember me very well, for just a few years prior to my dad’s passing, she had lost her own dad, and similarly had to make a grueling journey to the deep South, and understood how important it had been for me to get there. And she thanked me for letting her know.

And yet, I am the thankful one.

A typical summer visit.... in earlier, happier years
A typical summer visit…. in earlier, happier years