Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Using the Heartbeats Well

“You have been busy this past week writing reflective statements on the interactive oral discussions, finalizing college essays, drafting your digital memoir manuscript. Well, today will be different. For the next 15 minutes you can go anywhere, do anything. Well, within your mind, that is. Take this time and write freely, without any expectation that you are writing for a specific assignment. This will not be collected. You are writing for YOU. Anything goes. Just write”. This was how I opened today’s IB English class. 

Once the class selected their choice of utensil and settled into the challenge, I joined them and began to write.“You can’t transport yourself physically to another location--a tropical beach where you could lie on the warm sand listening to the sound of crashing waves--but through writing you can go there”. Despite wanting that beach, I was transported back to Friday’s keynote speaker, Kevin Honeycutt. Mr. Honeycutt is an Apple Distinguished Educator, who presented at the MAINEducation Conference, sponsored by ACTEM, the Association of Computer Technology Educators. 

Mr. Honeycutt suggested to his audience an idea that I’ve since learned can be traced back to astronaut Neil Armstrong when he said, "I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats and I don't intend to waste any of mine." Kevin Honeycutt reminded us all that we have only so many heartbeats in our lives, and therefore, perhaps we need to think,


Honeycutt was speaking from a perspective on being a teacher and working with kids. He urged us to pay attention to the moments of opportunity we have when we welcome our students into our classrooms each day. Do we smile, do we say kind things, do we laugh with our kids? Do we take time to speak beyond assessments, beyond curriculum instruction even, to show them that we are interested in them as human beings?  Yes. I believe most teachers do.  


When I heard the phrase stating that we only have so many heartbeats in our lifetime, I thought of two things. Immediately I thought of my Dad’s passing this summer. He had a heart attack that none of us were expecting. His heartbeats ran out in the late morning hours of Saturday, June 15th. We were caught off guard in losing him that day. I had counted on him being there when I would travel to visit in just a few weeks’ time. He’d been caring for Mom. He had only wanted to live one day longer than she would. The reality of him being gone has been sad to face. In my grief, it has helped me to remember that none of us knows when our time is up. Although I miss him, he only had so many heartbeats in this life, just as I only have so many in mine.

Secondly I began thinking about how many heartbeats I waste--on worry--on obsessing over frustrating situations that sap my energy, my creativity, my motivation, and my joy. Kevin Honeycutt also said in his keynote speech, “When we move on from a bad place, we may not know where we are going but we do not go back to that bad place”. He was speaking of a physical place, but the minute I heard him say this, I made a promise to myself not to “go back to that bad place” where I ruminate over situations beyond my control. Yes, I’ve wasted some of my heartbeats lately. So now I pledge: I am moving forward. 

At Mass on Sunday, Father Sam spoke of trusting that God has a plan. It’s rhetoric I have heard many times before, however now I hear of this with a new perspective. It is not up to us to understand God’s plan for anything that happens in our world and we waste so much of our resources--time and energy--trying to rationalize or justify what may NOT be meant to be rationalized or justified. Oh sure, I’ll continue to grieve and have sad days on occasion, and I’ll get frustrated by injustices the world cannot escape from, but when it happens to knock at my door, I’m not going to invite turmoil or negativity into my home to reside for any length of time. I have only so many heartbeats. 

This weekend I took time to use those heartbeats well. I talked with my college girl Sydney who was home on break. I listened to her discuss school and a possible trip to explore a new city. I texted Emma to ask her how she was handling the stressful schedule she has in costuming a show. I ran errands, balanced my checkbook, paid bills, baked cookies, and made dinners. I spent time with my husband--laughing--belly laughs, and talking from the heart. I made a deal with my son--to have him earn specific dollar amounts so he could buy that new video game--and I supervised his work as I cleaned and organized my own bedroom, the closet, and part of the cellar. I donated three bags of clothes to Goodwill. I decorated for Halloween despite the twinges of pain that I had when I unpacked a few decorations that had adorned my parents’ home last Halloween. I took time to run around with the dog outside. I gave her a bath using the hose which will soon be put up for the winter and got my jeans and sneakers sopping wet in the process. I listened to the radio. I watched a little television--shows I enjoy. I took time to look up at the beautiful colored trees and to feel the crisp air on my face. I shook off the grief that I let seep back into my thoughts at times in death’s aftermath, and I made my weekend heartbeats count. 


My students wrote for those 15 minutes, never pausing. Afterwards I asked them to share with me what that experience of writing freely had been like for them. The discussion that followed reminded me of how intuitively I teach, how my 22 years in the classroom have not been wasted heartbeats, by any means. Once again, as has been the case time after time, I went with my gut this morning and I took time to listen, to really listen, to my kids. The teens shared with me their thoughts, their dreams, their stressors, their plans of action, their To-Do lists. The discussion expanded into reflections upon what the world expects of them, what they expect from themselves, and what it is they need to do to live a life that will thrill them. And then I found myself saying it aloud, “We only have so many heartbeats in these lives of ours. What do you want to do with the number of heartbeats you’ve been given?” Several of my students nodded. One spoke up. “That’s exactly what this is about”, he said. “That’s exactly what I was writing about!” 

One of my senior boys turned to me as he packed up his books at the end of class. “This was one of our best classes. Thanks, Mrs. Walker. This was just what I needed today. Honestly. I feel so much better now”. I smiled at him and nodded. 

EVERY MOMENT COUNTS. It’s this journey--my lifetime, the moving forward, that matters...from one heartbeat to the next. To make my journey more powerful, I must always remember that as I move forward, there are other heartbeats synchronizing or syncopating with mine. My husband makes my heart beat stronger. My three children do too. Friends, colleagues, my teens at school...they all have the ability to make my heart skip a beat. I have worked hard and with purpose. I’m living well. And when I get off track and get discouraged, I need to recall that how I spend my heartbeats each day will affect how my loved ones spend theirs. Moving forward. Trusting in God’s plan. Making the heartbeats count. 

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