A Friday the 13th Tale


Long ago, when I was too young to have the life’s experiences I do now, I thought of Friday the 13th as just another day.

I was so naive.

Friday the 13th is a  harbinger for the supernatural. A day when the doorways between death and life swing perilously.

I was a young mother raising two kids the best I could. It was a Saturday and I had promised to take them to see The Incredibles matinee.  But as usual, I tried to do too much and was running late. I strapped both of them into their seats, revved up the old Volvo, and stepped on the gas.

We were halfway down the long drive when, boom. Thud.

I slammed on the brakes.

“What was that, Mommy?” Jess asked.

Heart pounding, I got out of the car and looked under. There lay our black cat, Cuzie, matted fur around her sweet head.

I started to tear up.

“Do something,” Nick, who had jumped out of the car, ordered, a desperate plea in his voice.

Gently I scooped up the gentlest cat we’d ever had, placed her in Jess’s lap and started racing for the local vet. Both kids crooned to Cuzie telling her it would be okay in one breath, chastising my stupid driving with the next.

With shaking hands I carried her into the office calling, “I hit my cat! She’s hurt. Help me.”

The receptionist immediately ushered us into an exam room and within seconds the vet was there. He placed Cuzie on the table, and began to probe gently with his fingers. The kids and I stood by, stiff  bodied, barely breathing.

After about five minutes he declared that Cuzie was fine, but should have a quiet place to rest. “And keep an eye out. If you notice any change, call me,” he said caressing Cuzie’s ears.

Back home we placed her bed in a little nook near the back door, gave her water and a soft blanket, and stroked her back.

She mewed and snuggled down to go to sleep.

It was still early so we headed to the theater. Even got there on time.

To this day, my question remains. Was Friday the 13th bad luck for us because we hit Cuzie? Or did a black cat crossing our path on that fateful day counteract bad fortune, saving her life?

You decide.

But tell me, what mysterious things have happened to you on Friday the 13th?

***

Connection

The weight presses down. Shortening spines. And we wonder if we can go on. Then when the loneliness seems more than we can bear, an exchanged glance comes and lightens it in immeasurable ways.  Sometimes it’s when you’re sitting in a cafe musing over a story idea.  Or when a coworker says, “Want to do lunch?” A high five during Groove at the gym. Or Dog Beach sharing puppy stories. And often with soothing music in the background.

In my divorce year I was a desolate wraith, drifting from one hollow task to another. In constant pain, I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. My body moved but there was such a chasm between action and connection that I ceased to be the friend and family support I’d long prided myself on. Barely living, I began searching for a new way to define myself as I navigated this alien life thrust upon me.

After months of crying,  I swallowed my fear and forced myself out of the house to a local beach resort hosting a free outdoor concert. With the mantra. Dancing is easy. You can do this, I fisted my hands  and took two steps away from my car. Then stopped, unable to move.

I stood on that cliff staring at the diamond sea below and fought the urge to run. What if I started to cry again? Images of his hardened back came to mind. If my husband, who I trusted with life itself, didn’t want my friendship, why would anyone else? I was so full of doubts and insecurities that I was sure they flashed like a blinding lightning storm.

The tears began to well as I looked to the wispy clouds, ethereal shapes in blue that I’d so often shared with him. When we’d co-created wonder. No, I couldn’t do it. Not without my love.

Then one cirrus cloud stretched its long arms and diffused in the atmosphere. The trees rustled as I imagined a voice whispering, “Leap into the abyss.”

I took a deep breath and let it out. Shoulders back, I strode toward that grassy green where hundreds had gathered to enjoy the spring sun. Then stood on the sidelines watching. I gave one person a shy smile. They didn’t notice me. Then another. I was invisible.

A minute later, the music started to play and I remembered all the times I’d swayed to the notes. This waltz mirrored who I truly was. Dammit, just because one man didn’t see my wonder, didn’t mean it had disappeared. It was within me. But I needed help. So I walked up to group of dancing women and said, “Hi, my husband just left me and I’m newly single. Can I hang with you guys?”

“Sure!” Carol said inviting me in with hug. After she introduced me around to others with divorce stories like mine, the volume increased. That band started rocking and so did we.  Within moments we were all leaping and bouncing like children just let out to recess. And we danced round and round until the sun hung low on the Pacific.

With these accepting individuals swirling and kicking their feet, I started down a new path. A road of friendship I have been on ever since. One I continue to be thankful for. For many years now this wonderful group of women have twirled and leapt together while meeting life’s challenges.

Which come when you least expect.

Not long ago, I had another breakup and once again felt the old doubts rear their ugly head. More crying. More insecurities. More wondering who I was and where the Hell I was going.

Then I met a new friend. Experienced another time of joy.  While exploring this discovery, I expressed my thanks and said, “Life surprises us.”

To which he countered, “No, it’s what you make of it. We surprised life.”

And I nodded. Yes, by letting new people in, we do surprise life.

We absolutely astound.

 

(photo by David Stroup)

The author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. Laurie Woodward  co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

 

 

Peace Weaver Poem

 

We are the weavers of children

Whether they are wading, treading, or drowning

Each child is reaching out

For lifelines to pull them from their semi-fluid perceptions,

Yet many find flimsy ribbons braided with Achilles tendons

That split, then disconnect buoys

As they struggle in turbulent effluent.

 

Sometimes suspension bridges splinter

And they hang mid-air over purgatorial precipices,

Bodies flailing and thrashing.

 

And so we come,

The weavers,

Bringing strong cordage and twine of seraphic gossamer

To silence their cries and give them hope.

And when we set to work,

The floundering souls reach out for lifelines.

 

For we know the secret.

We have only to pluck the hairs from atop our heads,

Begin intertwining them with gentle words of a peaceful future

And thus create:

Blankets to keep them cool on hot summer days

Or safety nets for acrophobic trapeze artists

 

With loving words we

Spin arks to race arid currents,

Or create buoyant suits that deflect each incoming wave,

But we must remember

To continue weaving at our numinous looms,

And make our fingers deft

To find places where weft meets warp

And make fibers of

Ethereal clouds to moisten parched radices.

 

When our eyes grow weary of patterns too subtle for children to see,

Or when aching backs and cramping forearms make for troublesome twining

Even when our hands become bloodied by sharp sutures from the unknowing

or the insane,

We must endure

We are the weavers,

Intertwining and intersecting,

Spinning fibrous cable that children cling to

That they will wrap round their waists

Before plunging into cavernous incarnations

To discover,

In the depths,

A reflection of the future

A reflection of themselves

A reflection

Of the peace weaver they can become.

Supportive Environments

I was chatting with a young lady recently who was very excited about a new job opportunity. It was in the medical field, paid well, offered training and provided excellent benefits, in many ways the dream career choice.

Fast forward two months. This woman has now gone through training with top scores, learned the medical procedures to gently administer care to patients, and is ready to begin as a full-fledged practitioner. But there was one problem: her co-workers. None of them had kind words of encouragement, offered assistance, or comforted her when she was distraught when a patient died. On the contrary, these employees reported her every little mistake and tear over the suffering patients to the management.

Net result? She quit. She could not work in an environment with no emotional support. And that business lost a big-hearted individual who brought smiles to people in extreme pain.

I, on the other hand, work in a school where the staff respects and supports each other. We share lesson plans, behavior strategies for challenging students, exciting innovations and most of all empathize with each other when times are tough. For example, when I recently had a neck injury, my co-workers jumped in to help out my substitute, offered assistance, and sent me kind get well wishes. It honored me to be part of a group that truly had my back.

Now I’ll admit, teaching is a rewarding job in and of itself. Daily you see young minds growing and that is quite different from dealing with people in pain. Still there are things that we have done that I believe help to build teams.

  1. Staff meetings with team building exercises. Some are goofy, others are to provide new information but we often work in groups to achieve a task.
  2. Leaders who acknowledge the challenges of the job and affirm the successes.
  3. Release time and stipend pay for staff development.
  4. Inspirational seminars.
  5. Administrative support for challenging students.
  6. Administrators with an open door policy.
  7. A no bullying stand.
  8. Outside gatherings for happy hour, lunches, beginning/end of year parties.
  9. A social committee that sends flowers, cards, and gifts to new parents, and ill or grieving employees.
  10. Most of all, our school encourages us to be friends.

Creating Peace Zones

Copy of dj ambassador

As I read over articles about key thinkers who advocated peace in the classroom I immediately began to examine my own practices. When was I modeling peace for my students? How could I go further? Where could I implement new strategies that kept a balance between learning, calm, and honoring the child? I still am processing all of these ideas but have found inspiration in Dewey, Freire, and Montessori.

Montessori advocated a learning environment that followed the interests of the child. In Montessori classrooms children are given choices to develop their intellect, moral sense, and fine motor skills. As a former Montessori teacher, I found that facilitating good choices is a healthy way to help children learn to self-correct behaviors. Not only is it peaceful, but it is empowering for the child. I use Montessori language in a traditional setting to help children make positive choices with phrases such as, “You may walk,” or “I’d like to remind you all to use gentle voices.” 

To take this further I created a zone for peace. It contains a bulletin board with a small display beneath. At the top of the bulletin board is a poster of Dean Bernal swimming with JoJo the dolphin. In the center are three posters. One says, “What do friends do?” The second says, “What do bullies do?” The third, and most important asks, “What have I done to resolve conflicts peacefully today?” Below these posters is a small table with the Peace Cards I designed and discipline cards. Peace cards are index cards where children write and draw positive choices for conflicts. After creating the card the child has the choice of keeping it as a reminder of good choices, adding it to the class box, or sharing it with the child he/she has had a problem with.  

My discipline cards also have a positive component. During the first week of school, my students write their names on the back of a 5″ by 7″ cards with drawings of those things that bring them joy. That way, whenever a child needs redirection he/she is reminded of those parts of him/her that are unique. If a child does need disciplining they fill in three columns on the opposite side: date, problem, and what to do positively  next time.

I have found having Peace Cards next to discipline cards creates a place for children to feel calm. It is here that they know they are safe, respected for their individuality, and empowered to make good choices.