Letters from Sunday School

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Several years ago, I taught Sunday School for two years. I did so as I was not married, and it was apparent that I was approaching an age when it would become difficult, if not impossible, to have children of my own.

I felt that teaching the children would give me the experience of being a parent, at least for a few hours per week.

There were many great times in the class. With two to three other teachers per Sunday, we led and instructed a class of just over thirty students, ranging in age from first through the eighth grade. It was challenging to come up with lessons that would keep the attention of the young students and not bore the older students. We managed to do so and there were many memorable moments.

One challenge occurred at the beginning of the year. All of the boys sat on one side of the class, and all of the girls sat on the other side of the class. We couldn’t get them to sit next to each other, to talk to each other, or to cooperate, for the first few classes. Finally, we pushed the chairs against the walls and asked the boys to stand in one line on their side of the class, with the girls lining up on the other side of the class. Then we said, “Ok, it’s time to greet each other with the sign of peace.” We asked the boy at the head of the line to walk into the middle of the room, and we asked the girl to do the same. Then we asked them to shake hands, to say “Peace be with you,” and to walk to the end of their respective lines.

At first, the children were reluctant to do this and even laughed at it, as they were doing so, and with each other. Yet our efforts were met with success. The following week, some of the boys sat near some of the girls. We repeated this activity and over the subsequent weeks, it became a favorite time in the class. By the end of a few weeks, the boys and the girls sat together, fully integrated as a unit and team.

One activity we did was to ask the children to write letters of thanks to God. We wanted to see if our teaching was making an impact and we were curious to read what the children would write. We said that the letters would be anonymous, meaning, they should not sign their name at the end of the letter. We also suggested that if they did not know what to write, they could simply thank God for their lives. We then handed out index cards and pencils for the children to write with.

Most of the letters were sincere and touching. For example:

I love you god
Thank you for all the things you
done for me.
I love you so
so so much god
you done a lot of stuf I meen a lot of stuf.

And another:

mom will have a baby

Yet there is one letter that broke my heart in half, and made me cry when I read it:

I want to be in a safe home.

Of course, I was upset upon reading this, for it made me realize, I could not possibly know which child wrote it.

I discussed the matter with the other teachers, and we agreed that we should go to the church elder who was responsible for handling Sunday School concerns.

I’d like to say that the outcome was favorable, but I was disappointed. The church elder stated that it was “a family matter,” and “since we don’t know who wrote it, we can’t address it.” Then we were told, “Well, you know how kids are, they make things up and we have no way of knowing if this is true or made up.”

Really?

Why would a child make up wanting to be safe?

I did continue to teach for a while, but with a sense of unease regarding the matter. The other teachers and I agreed to do our best with all of the children and let them know they could talk to us if they were upset about anything. Sometimes, some of them did, but the child who wrote the heartbreaking letter about wanting to be safe never came forward.

I would like to think that this child, wherever he or she may be now, is safe and free from harm.

I will admit I do not have a strong sense of the infallibility of the church. While I possess and maintain deep faith in God, being asked to ignore another’s plight, especially the plight of a child, shakes me to the core. The church, no matter which church it is, remains an institution, founded and filled with imperfect human beings.

I hope that we, as imperfect Sunday School teachers, imparted love, wisdom, and faith to children, in our limited capacity to do so.

Calm Before the Storm

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I woke up early this morning, and as much as I didn’t want to, I headed to Target for some essentials. The snow will begin tonight around 7 p.m. and continue through 6 a.m. tomorrow.

We’ve been fortunate so far with not losing power, but the past two days have been very windy. I’m wondering if this will be the time that the power goes out.

I bought frozen vegetables as not many fresh ones were available. The usual selection of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries was cleaned out. 

Most of the almond milk was gone, too, so for the first time I bought Target’s store brand. I’m sure it will taste fine, as most of their products do.

Since today is cloudy and cold, I will spend most of the time indoors, reading. I’m in the middle of “Insomnia” by Stephen King, and “Take Joy, A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft” by Jane Yolen. Both are excellent, and I recommend them if you haven’t read either one.

During all the years I worked in Manhattan, I never thought I’d have time to read the books on my bookshelf. Now it feels like I have nothing but time and the luxury of enjoying every corner of my home, and cleaning it, too.

I’ve met most of my goals for the New Year and this month. I’ve been writing regularly on Medium’s website at Yve Laran – Medium, and I’ve been dropping weight (the annual favorite of most New Year’s resolution-makers.) Later this afternoon I’ll make some vegan soups to keep the trend going, as the word “diet” has every negative connotation under the sun! Wishing everyone a peaceful rest as we head into the beginning of February.

Relieved

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Tomorrow at noon, Joe Biden will become President of the United States.

I have taken the day off from work, grateful to be able to stay home to watch and celebrate this long-awaited event.

I was angry when my life changed due to Covid-19. That is no longer the case. I accept the changes and make the best of them. I realize that there are some things I never want to do again. That includes the hours I spent commuting to and from New York City.

I pray that tomorrow will be a peaceful transition. I pray that respect will prevail from both sides of the aisle.

I also hope that the people of the United States will focus on taking every precaution against Covid-19. I hope that everyone will take the vaccines as soon as they are available.

I look forward to the day I’ll be able to return to New York City as a tourist, enjoying a movie or a Broadway show. I’d love to go to a great restaurant, once again.

I wish everyone well as we make our changes and transitions together.

Sunday Drive

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I went for a drive early this afternoon, for a post repair and pre-inspection spin, to make sure the car is in working order. I’m happy to report that I put sixty miles on it while enjoying the balmy weather. It felt like a luxury to be “out,” even if it meant being by myself on a country lane.

On the way back, I saw a hawk sailing through the sky. I wished I could drive around forever and see more of this, but did not want to spend all day in the car. When I came back to civilization, I stopped at the gas station and filled the car with gas. It was a self-serve station with nine pumps, and all of them were full.

I stopped inside of the mart and bought two newspapers, and a bagel with cream cheese. I can’t remember the last time I read an actual printed newspaper, since I read the papers on-line.

I ate the bagel first, and then read the newspapers. After reading about multiple crimes in Manhattan, I realized I didn’t want to read anymore. I still have not set foot in the city since March 12, 2020. The city is a fact; it exists. But at this point, my mind does not dwell upon the place that it was to me for so many years. I have some very good memories of it, but anything beyond that, feels like abstract thinking. There is no going back to what it was, for some of the horrible things that I read this afternoon, and have heard from others, I know to be true.

I will be going on some more drives in the near future, to experience upstate New York. It helps to focus on the good that exists, rather than what I have left behind.

What is Malignant Narcissism?

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A definition for January 6, 2021.

Malignant narcissism provides a specific framework for analyzing recent violent events in Washington D.C. It is defined as:

“…a murderous egotism, incapable of empathy with others, that considers human destruction inconsequential if it increases personal power and glory.”

Using speech to encourage others to engage in violence is not a new phenomenon. For example, the radio station RTLM (Radio-Télévision-Libre De Mille Collines) deliberately broadcast hate speech and messages leading to the violence that occurred during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It prevents government restrictions upon speech. It does not preclude private corporations from placing restrictions on speech or from limiting services to individuals to enforce a restriction. 

Therefore, private companies, such as Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook have the right to determine if a person or persons utilizing their services need to be prevented from doing so.  

The decision to ban a person or individuals from utilizing social media services is not necessarily altruistic. Media companies enact bans to avoid litigation if someone is harmed or injured by utilizing their services.

Notably, some of the most inflammatory speeches and rhetoric of the past four years of governance in the United States were either uttered in public or through private media companies such as Twitter. The inflammatory viewpoints were not always launched on government property or from the White House Press Room.

Britannica.com, First Amendment, United States Constitution.  Accessed January 11, 2021 at First Amendment | Contents, Freedoms, Rights, & Facts | Britannica

Jones, Adam (2011).  Genocide, a Comprehensive Introduction, Second Edition. New York: Routlege.  351, 385. 

Happy New Year

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Dear Friends and Loved Ones,

I write to say Happy New Year, for I am elated if you are reading this. It means the most important thing of all. You are alive, and you have made it to 2021.

I am so grateful for you!

Launching this blog has been the ultimate leap of faith. It feels like launching a paper boat. Will it float, or will it sink? Will anyone come along for the ride? Thanks to all who have sailed through the writing.

I remember the summer afternoons I spent in a tiny studio room in Arizona, tinkering with the design of this blog’s pages. It occupied many hours and looking back, I’m grateful for that, too. Needing to stay indoors meant it was time to become creative. I thought, “There have to be other people going through this.”

“…going through this” meant: going through isolation. Going through not knowing what was going to happen. Going through the thoughts of, “Will I fall ill, or will I stay healthy?”

The most meaningful part of the year was the strength of the friendships that endured through the months of being apart. My happiest moment was a drive through the Catskill Mountains, on the way home after a weekend visit with one of my best college friends. It was late in October, and there were still enough leaves on the trees. I thought, “I will remember this as one of the best days of my life, ever.”

We still talk about the weekend because we don’t know when we will see each other again. He sends pictures of his walks and the other day he snapped a picture of a deer. How lucky to capture a moment with a creature who is timid and quick to flee.

How similar that is, to most of our relationships with each other. We are timid and quick to flee.

But not this year.

As we head into 2021, let’s become bold in drawing closer to each other. It looks like there will be plenty of time to do so for the next several months.

I’ve decided not to watch the Times Square ball drop, for the first time in many years. Instead, I’ve decided to celebrate by continuing to enjoy being alive, every day.

That is my sole resolution for 2021.

The Magic of Frost

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I went for a walk earlier this afternoon.  I put on my winter coat, a hat I crocheted, and my warmest winter gloves.

I never thought I would say this, but I have missed the snow, and I have missed the cold weather.  I never knew how much I would miss it, until I spent June, July, August, and part of September, indoors, every day, when I lived in Arizona.   The temperature soared to anywhere between 100 and 110 degrees every day, rendering it impossible to walk outside for more than a few moments. 

If the temperature dropped below 90 at night, I’d go for a two-hour walk.  I’d begin at 9 p.m. and walk until 11.  My cell phone, earbuds for listening to music, and a large water bottle were my only company. 

Now I remember all the summer songs when I listen to the top songs of 2020 on Amazon music.  There are certain songs that I hear, and I recall the houses I walked by during those long evenings.  It brings me back to the thoughts I had, of not knowing what would happen or if I would see my own home again.

There was a house I wanted to move into.  There was another one that I wanted to visit, simply because it had a balcony, and the person living there put a couch with big fluffy pillows on it.  I thought, “That could never happen where I live in New York.”  The pillows would be moldy or gone because someone would pinch them.

There was even a house that I dubbed “the naked house.”  I walked by it one evening, the shades were up, and a man walked into the kitchen.  It was obvious he was not dressed.  I was glad the kitchen counter hid his vital bits.  His wife walked in behind him, and she was not dressed either.  She walked up to the fridge where he was looking for food and hugged him.  I felt like I should not have seen them but was glad I did.  I felt their love and it felt like I was not alone.

This afternoon, it was cold to the point that not many people wanted to walk outside.  I was grateful.  The traffic was not moving.  Cars were stuffed with people and their shopping bags.  I went to the garage to start my car and to take it for a few turns around. 

I’m not shopping for the holidays, or for holiday dinner.  This is a conscious choice.  I’ve decided that everything I need is at home.  I’m happy to listen to music, or to pick up a crochet needle to work through the yarn I accumulated during the years I commuted to Manhattan – too busy working to work on being creative.

I never thought I would say this, but I will.  I don’t miss the shopping, the cooking, the baking, the gift wrapping, the decorating, the drinking, the ball dropping and the frenzy.  The stress!  It was all so stressful, and seems so pointless, now. 

The tiniest things make me happy.  The hiss of the steam heat when the radiator warms up my bedroom.   Watering my plants.  The scent of the dish soap as I rub the sponge across the pots and pans.  If I didn’t have a laptop, I would think that I was knocked back a hundred years to 1920.  A few years after WWI and not yet entering the Great Depression.

Even if I despise the reason for the turn back in time, for this holiday season, I celebrate the simplicity.

Micro-winning

Photo by Author, Yve Laran

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy with work. I’m also engaged with the daily fight to stay alive in the face of Covid-19. It feels weird to write that I’m fighting to stay alive, but in fact, that is what it feels like, as it may for many of us.

I was angry during the past few weeks during the few times I left home to go to the market for non-perishable food or to take care of the car. Yes…the car is now with me, on the east coast. I had the car shipped back a few weeks ago and it arrived just before Thanksgiving. It’s now safely garaged and will remain so during the cold months ahead.

Why was I angry? 

Despite wearing a mask every time I’ve left home since March, whether in AZ or NY, there are still people in my neighborhood ignoring that over 200,000 people per day in the U.S. are becoming ill and thinking that it’s okay to go outside without a mask. That’s why I’ve been angry, and that’s why I’ve written so little. Instead of remaining angry, I’ve decided to focus on what I’m able to control, in my home environment.

I now focus on “micro-winning,” which is celebrating the smallest of small victories, no matter what they are, and no matter what I’m doing. This afternoon, before a work meeting, I did two loads of laundry, and either folded up the underwear or hung the rest of the clothing in the closet, before it could become wrinkled. I switched out the towels in the bathroom and put the dirty ones into a new pile of laundry.

Another micro-win is concentrating on listening to books or podcasts on Audible. I used to focus on reading whole books in a few sittings, but now I celebrate listening to one chapter at a time as I work on other things.

Crocheting is one of the best micro-wins of the past month. I have taken the scraps of yarn that I’ve accumulated from various old projects and have begun to stitch them together in the blanket that you see in the photograph, above. I crochet when I am listening to audiobooks, and both activities together are soothing.

Crocheting teaches me patience. When I’m not working on the blanket, I work on crocheting lace, which requires working with a much smaller needle and cotton thread. If I miss even a few stitches of the pattern, I wind up undoing what I’ve worked on, to begin again. Each time I do this, I learn a little more about what women did a hundred to a hundred fifty years ago, and what a fine art it was for them to create something from nothing more than a stick and a piece of string.  

During the times I am tempted to go out, I open up my laptop and spend time looking up vintage crochet patterns. I’m becoming grateful for the hobby and the distraction of looking up patterns, downloading and saving them for future projects.  

These moments are a welcome respite from when I speak with my family, friends, and co-workers, as we all remain concerned regarding how we will endure through this challenging time. Someone asked me a few days ago if I am okay with staying inside and I said “Absolutely.”

I’ve done the math. If I remain inside for 12 weeks of weekends, then it’s 24 days, total. I think my life is worth 24 weekend days of sacrifice, and it’s worth it for the neighborhood I live in, as well. In the meantime, I’ll put those 24 weekend days to use in filling them up with micro-wins, no matter how tiny.

Insomnia

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This is one of the mornings when I woke up at three in the morning, unable to go back to sleep.

I tried. It was cold, so I turned on the heat. I fell asleep with the light on, so I turned it off. I was on my back, I was on my side. I hugged an extra pillow. Nothing worked. After an hour and a half, I caved. I got up, turned on a lamp, and booted the laptop.

I pitched a new publication yesterday afternoon on Medium, and checked my e-mail. I was added as a writer. I opened the story I wrote yesterday afternoon, and edited it. Then I submitted the draft to the new publication.

When I wake up like this, there are two things I think about. The first is my ex. I wonder how he is doing in the middle of this pandemic. What is he doing, and what is he thinking? This thought lasts for 60 to 90 seconds, because we’re not going to get back together. I don’t want him to know what I’m doing or thinking.

Then the thoughts telescope to what I’m doing next. I’ve decided to stay in New York for the foreseeable future, as Covid-19 eclipses the possibility of safe travel back to the apartment I rented in Arizona. Eight weeks has made a difference. I traveled through Denver airport two months ago, and with the spike in Covid-19 cases, it’s not an airport I’m willing to travel through now.

The greatest comfort is being back in my familiar home. Things I never thought of are the simple things I think of now. I know where the paring knife is. The books I’ve collected are in the same place they’ve always been. When I’m not working remotely, I’ve been taking them off of the shelf, and reading.

Yesterday afternoon, I found my copy of “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. This is how old the copy is: The paperback cost $9.95. I remember attending one of her readings in New York City. She autographed the copy, and two other paperbacks.

I wonder when it will be possible to go to readings again.

My final thoughts are of how I will navigate the next 8 to 12 weeks of autumn into winter. Little by little, it’s like the ant who gathers grains and carries them back to the underground nest for storage. I’ve been making a list, and purchasing the requisite items. Gathering twelve weeks of aspirin, over the counter allergy medicine, a first aid kit, cleaning items, and non-perishable food in the event of a lockdown or being unable to get to the grocery store.

I also think about the peripheral items I may want to have: batteries for the smoke alarms or the radio, and candles if the electricity goes out. I have stacks of matches from Hurricane Sandy several years ago.

It feels strange to think of all of this, but it’s making the best use of time on a sleepless night.

My Sixth Grade Crush

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In the continuing spirit of sharing stories from the past, I wrote this in 1991, and the crush’s name is disguised:

My Crush on Dave Mulroney

My first vivid memory of a terrible crush was on Dave Mulroney. I was so crazy about him. I thought he had beautiful eyes. He had sandy brown hair and a lilting voice.

I would call Dave up on the telephone all of the time, almost every day, just to hear his voice. How his mother never cared about it, I’ll never guess. Perhaps she was amused that someone had a crush on her son.

Dave was smart, like me. We were sometimes put in the same study groups during our classes from grade school.

One time in the fourth grade, Mrs. G. came around and looked at our papers as we were writing. She told me not to scribble out what I had written, and to put one neat line through something if I didn’t like it.

Dave said, “Yeah, she put a thousand lines through it!”

When we were in the 6th grade, Mr. S. formed a photography class. Dave and I were chosen to be in the class. I used to love being in the darkroom, except for one time when I had just started to go through puberty and had body odor, and knew that Dave smelled it. I felt pretty bad, until he hinted that he kind of had a crush on me, even though he also said he liked other girls. T. was with us and I knew he was jealous, but I didn’t care.

* * *

My adult self reads this and thinks: “Yve, why were you calling him up on the phone all of the time? That’s the way to drive him away! Didn’t you have anything better to do?

Reading the following is the ultimate horror: “He hinted that he kind of had a crush on me, even though he said he liked other girls.” Oh Yve…he’s stringing you along, he’s a player! Forget about him!