Carol A. Hand
Yesterday morning I had a bit of a scare. One of the first things I do most days is turn on my computer. Then I make my morning coffee, hit the play button for my birds’ favorite CD and remove their cage covers. Next, it’s time to take my little dog out. By the time I finally sit down at my computer, it’s always ready for the next morning rituals, checking email, the news, and WordPress.
But yesterday, the screen was blank when I sat down. No blue background with too many icons, only a black screen. After rebooting, a message appeared. Windows could only fix the problem by going back to an older version. Any new programs would be lost. I had just uploaded a draft of the last, belated assignment for Writing 101 on my blog – an interview with a friend. I wasn’t sure if either the draft on WordPress or on my computer would still exist if I approved the operation, but there were no other options that I could think of as a technophobe. After what seemed like hours, the blue icon-filled screen once again appeared. Both documents had survived.
Relieved, I made final changes on the post and published. Next, I began the tedious process of copying posts and saving them on a flash-drive, one-by-one. It’s something I haven’t done for a while. As I went from post to post, backwards in time, I became aware of all of the sentimental poems and posts I’ve shared recently. I still see my attempts at poetry as trite and sentimental, but I share them nonetheless. They do come from deeper reflections and a peaceful loving place.
As I went from post to post, I wondered if my almost-embarrassment over these sentimental posts had anything to do with my years in academia. One particular experience came to mind. It was the only class I “failed” as a doctoral student. (The “BC” assigned by one of the faculty who led the class, The Social Psychology of Emotions, was changed to a “C” by the other co-teacher – a failing grade at this level.) I remember the class well. To say it was boring is inaccurate. It was soulless. The readings, lectures, and class discussions never really touched emotions at all.
I had hoped the course would help me be better prepared to design an intervention for men who were caring for wives with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. During my initial interviews with male caregivers, many cried and mentioned how they often contemplated assisting their wives with suicide and their own. They felt hopeless and alone. Yet I also learned that these were taboo topics to raise during class discussions. The “C” instructor would scowl and her face would become red and rigid when I spoke about these observations and experiences. She would quickly guide us back to research that had little to do with felt and expressed emotions to the science of physiological reactions.
My time to speak came with the presentation of our final papers to the class as a whole. Although I did find other students’ discussions of physiological and brain changes associated with excitement and risk-taking behaviors interesting, their research didn’t provide any practical solutions for dealing with people who were suffering. I made a conscious decision to try to touch people’s hearts in my final paper and presentation. It was, after all, relevant given the focus of the course on “emotions.” I researched caregiver loss and grief and read the following poem aloud as part of my presentation (posted in an earlier essay).
Photo: By Jnana Hand
Comes the Dawn
(by Veronica A. Shoffstall)
After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.
As I read the poem, I sometimes had to pause to control the tears in my voice. There were tears in the eyes of all of my classmates, and even in the eyes of instructor “BC.” The only one who remained tearless was instructor “C.” Her customary scowl appeared and deepened as I read. She did feel emotions, after all, but not ones that would earn me a passing grade.
Gradually, I’m learning to trust the words that flow from my heart, but it hasn’t been easy. As I look back, I realize that it is my heart that has motivated me so often to use critical thinking as a tool to come up with practical solutions to address suffering and oppression. I’ve consciously chosen to do so even if it made me vulnerable to criticism for being unscientific and sentimental. I don’t think that choice is likely to change in the future, and I don’t think it should.
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