Acorn Returns

Acorn Returns

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked, “Kevin. Where have you been? News From An Acorn has been quiet for months.” And it’s true. It’s been sixteen months since I last posted to News From An Acorn. My initial absence of a few months was intentional but then life got in the way and months just rolled along. But I’m happy to say that with this post and several new pages, News From An Acorn Returns.

My ongoing back issues intensified, which made sitting for any stretch of time just too damn painful.  (Thanks to modern medicine I’m much better now, however!) And then there was the wrap-up, retirement really, of running the Quaker retreat program for children for 26 years, (see my previous post) which culminated in a Spirit-filled celebration of my ministry among Friends in New England Yearly Meeting Sessions in August of 2013. That wonderful occasion, and all that it meant, took me months to sort out in my head, heart and Spirit.

Quakers young and not so young showered me in a service of celebration and worship with Celebration for Kevin Lee, youth retreat coordinatorsong, skits, notes and keepsakes, which were presented to me in a beautifully hand-carved wooden box. To be honest, it took me almost three months to be able to open that box and begin reading what was inside.  Talk about needing time to process! (More on this, with photos from Skip Schiel, in my next post)

Over the past year I have been transitioning from running the retreat program to staffing it, which I am especially enjoying. And I’ve been writing all of these months too, just not on this site.

Introducing Youth Workers Toolbox!

Knowing that I would likely also retire in two to three years from my full-time job as the Youth Advocate for the Town of Dartmouth (MA), I started writing, or at least attempted, to get on to paper everything that I have learned about working with children, teens, and families over the past forty years in a new blog called Youth Workers Toolbox. Doing so helped me to give and to pass on to a new generation some nuggets that would ultimately help children and teens into the future. Youth Workers Toolbox also helped me to transition from running the retreat program and in more subtle way also helped me to get my head wrapped around the fact that my thirty-year career as a Youth Advocate would also conclude sooner than later.

Youth Workers Toolbox, though never, ever done, is fleshed out enough to be a good resource for others who want to learn about the stuff they won’t teach in social worker school, or, if a person is beginning to work with young people within their faith community, etc, and they want to get off to a good, healthy start.

So that has gobbled up a year and more. All the while, however, the urge to return to News From An Acorn, which I began seven years earlier as my personal blog, kept nibbling at my heart and Spirit. Now, feeling able to back off from pouring my head into the creation of Youth Workers Toolbox, I’m headed home to my roots, my heart, and the place where I feel that my soul can sing at News From An Acorn.

And here’s a kicker…. I noticed last week that for some strange reason that my stats (hit counts on this site) not only didn’t suffer during my sixteen months absence, they actually increased! I’m not sure if I should be delighted or depressed about that, frankly. But here’s what I really know about all that. It does not matter, because I’m home.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. And thank you, just because.

Kevin Lee

Text by K.Lee.  Photo courtesy of Skip Schiel,

 

One Rolling Old River

Note to readers who are not Quakers 
Children walking at Woolman Hill

Twenty-five
years is a good, long, rich span of time to have had the privilege of
giving birth to, then running a retreat program for Quaker children
called Junior Yearly Meeting Elementary Retreats (JYM). And as the time has
arrived for me to pass the reins of leadership on to another, I can think
of no better song, in both words and tone, than "River," by Bill
Staines, that in essence captures how I feel within at this time.
 

Nearly
every line of "River," in one way or another relates in some way to
the work and ministry of all the years within
the JYM community. For certain the love and the memories I have known
down through the seasons is a song onto itself that I will carry always in my
heart that I too, "will sing wherever I go." And for that, Friends, as one rolling old river, I am forever grateful, indeed. Thank you.

 

 

 "River" lyrics by Bill Staines:

I was born in the path of the winter wind
I was raised where the mountains are old
Their springtime waters came dancing down
And I remember the tales they told

The whistling ways of my younger days
Too quickly have faded on by
But all of their memories linger on
Like the light in a fading sky 

Chorus:

River,
take me along in your sunshine, sing me a song
Ever
moving and winding and free
You
rolling old river, you changing old river
Let's
you and me, river, run down to the sea

I've been to the city and back again
I've been moved by some things that I've
learned
Met a lot of good people and I've called
them friends
Felt the change when the seasons turned 

I've heard all the songs that the children
sing
And listened to love's melodies
I've felt my own music within me rise
Like the wind in the autumn trees

River, take me along in your sunshine, sing
me a song
Ever moving and winding and free
You rolling old river, you changing old
river
Let's you and me, river, run down to the
sea

Someday when the flowers are blooming still
Someday when the grass is still green
My rolling waters will round the bend
And flow into the open sea

So, here's to the rainbow that's followed
me here
And here's to the friends that I know
And here's to the song that's within me now
I will sing it wherever I go

 River, take me along in your sunshine, sing
me a song
Ever moving and winding and free
You rolling old river, you changing old
river
Let's you and me, river, run down to the
sea

_____________________________

Lyrics by Bill Staines

Text above video by K. Lee 
Photo: Children during "dress-up" time at Woolman Hill on their way… By K. Lee 

Note: Post title inspiritd by Bill Staines' "River" song.

What’s all this about?


QuakerOatsBox 012In addition to my work as the Youth Advocate for the Town of Dartmouth, I have also been involved in a weekend retreat program for Quaker children called Junior Yearly Meeting Elementary Retreats, or JYM. 

Beginning in September, I will retire from running the program and serve from time to time along with other staff who are also part of the program. My good friend (and a Friend, or Quaker) who runs the junior high retreat program presently will take over running both programs. The decision to step down and working through the process of transition are huge for me both spiritually and emotionally, even though I am clear that the time is right for me and the retreat community as a whole.

Hope this info helps if you were asking yourself, what’s JYM Retreats and what is Kevin talking about?  

 Kevin Lee

Note from Tortola: Snorkeling 101

Let the record show that yours truly has snorkeled not once, but four times in as many days. And like previous years, it’s pretty much wasted on me. It’s tragic, I know. But I joined in, each time this week because…I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would catch the “bug” and be all about this popular sport.

But it’s not happening.

Oh I enjoyed myself alright. And I especially enjoyed flopping around next to my fish-for-a-wife Betty Ann, who really loves snorkeling. I marvel at how much she loves it and I get as much enjoyment out of watching her explore with excitement all that stuff down under the water as I do snorkeling for myself.

Here’s why:

Let’s start with the mask. When you do these group snorkeling things they hand you a mask that feels three sizes too small, but your afraid to loosen it up for fear of drowning outright when it fills up with water upon entering the water. And let’s not even discuss the mouth piece that’s been used by perhaps hundreds of people on previous trips, and you just pray to God that they really do disinfect those things before dumping them into the hold for the next lucky guy to use.

On this trip though I discovered something new. “Swimmies,” or girdles as they call them in these parts…but who cares what name they’re known by because neither name does little to boost ones masculinity index. It’s a floatation belt that you strap around your waist to add buoyancy while in the water. Now, I swim just fine, mind you, but the running joke Betty Ann and I share is that for some weird reason, if I’m not moving in the water, I just sink. I sink like a rock, actually. I eventually come back up, somewhat, but for sure just floating around on the surface of the water is not one of my gifts in life it seems. So bring on the bright yellow “swimmie” and lets watch Kevy flop around looking for fish and whatnot. 

Next, I put on those ridiculously uncomfortable flippers and then have to walk backwards, or try my hand going forward like a duck until I stumble and crash over something. And now I’m standing on the stern’s swim platform and of course by the time I get my mask on and get set to slip into the water like Jacques Cousteau, the damn mask is all fogged up again. But I jump in anyway hoping for the best, praying I didn’t just land on some poor sucker. And at this moment I’m thinking to myself, I don’t have gills or fins so someone please tell me; Why am I doing this?

Whatever. On snorkel dive number three the whole flotilla of thrashing bodies head over to a series of caves that are supposed to be the spotcave shot.bvi for all things wonderful under the water. (I really was content to just photograph the caves above the surface, from the boat, but no, here I am too.) Now mind you, we’re one boat load of snorkelers totaling ten, joining other boats with even greater numbers per boat, and we’re all basically headed in the same direction. Not being totally smitten with the whole enterprise, I’m upright, with mask on top of my head about half the time anyway looking around for things like large boats that want to run us down, or sharks, and basically anything with teeth that could eat me. (The fish I love the most are the ones I enjoy eating, like tuna, swordfish and the like, and I just have to wonder when I’m in the water if it might be “get back” time, etc. So I’m on the lookout just in case.) Then, I see this glob of people colors all haphazardly heading towards one little cave and I start thinking this looks like the rotary on Morrissey Boulevard at rush hour in South Boston, which, if you’ve been there, can’t end well at all.

At this point I’m also remembering that the skipper told us to be careful of the surf pushing us onto the rocks, and to be on the lookout for stuff that stings and bites and God knows what else. And, might I add, the skipper… he stayed on the boat. That alone should have told me something.

So into the cave I go and I remember the First Mate on the boat telling us to allow our eyes time to adjust to the low light levels. Great. Where the hell is my light? Of course I have no light. I look around and see absolutely nothing. (I thought, why in hell would any marine life want to be in a cave anyway with a bazillion human beings thrashing around above them?) Next came the surf, which did sweep us in even deeper into the cave. I look down through my mask wondering if this would be the last thing I would ever remember seeing and I see this happily crazed athletic woman diving beneath me. When she surfaces, she tells me that when the surge rolls in, I can avoid its impact by simply diving under for a bit. Right.

With that suggestion I realized that I was done with cave snorkeling. I began to swim out and to get away from banging into other snorkelers when of course a wave does hit me and rolls me onto  some rocks just below the surface, where I do get stung by something that I cannot see nor want to see. The sting wasn’t that bad, actually, it just smarted for awhile and slowly dissipated, adding to the overall wonder of the experience. (I was, however, able to cash in my sympathy card later on being the only snorkeler who got stung on the boat afterwards.)

I made my way out alongside a reef where it was quite pleasant and I did see lots of colorful fish of various sizes. Some were pretty, and others rather homely. Fan coral was waving about and things were crawling around near the bottom. It was all very nice but I thought to myself that it was something I could see in most any issue of my National Geographic Magazine, or on the Internet from the comfort of my armchair. I know, bad attitude!

Truth be known, I snorkeled for other reasons that day too. Because the unspoken ritual with these outings is when we all swim back to the boat and take off our snorkeling gear, the crew hands out ‘pain killers.” They’re not pills. These “pain killers”come in a glass with ice and some kind of concoction that’s topped off with a healthy dose of rum. They help everyone to remember what a good time that they just had.

When the skipper heard that I had gotten stung, he said, “I think that you need another “pain killer.”

Being the good sport that I am, naturally, I agreed.

Kevin Lee

Photo by K.Lee

 

Note from Tortola: Ocean Roar

We love islands. Especially those that are surrounded by ocean. Lots of ocean. And we like islands for their beauty, their people and not for golf, or gambling or poolside party scenes.

This year we’re visiting Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands andsurf at Josiah Bay Beach we’re enjoying ten days in a cabana for two smack-dab on the beach. Here, and especially this week, the ocean is reining supreme with crashing waves, dangerous rip-tides and under-tows. Even the local folks are talking about it. All day and all night, the waves are crashing loudly onto the beach, so much so that other vacationers who are staying further up the hillside have complained that the ocean’s roar has kept them up at night.

But not us. We’ve slept every night with only a wide screen door between us and the sea’s intoxicating uproar. Maybe it’s just me but I find it hilarious that people would spend serious money to come to a Caribbean island and then have a problem with the noise of the surf!

Sound though is one thing, and the power of all that water is yet another. A few days into our stay we joined a charter and sailed over to Jost Van Dyke Island for snorkeling and exploring a local attraction called the “Bubbly Pool,” which is basically a basin between two large rock formations where raging surf barrels in, that pushes hard against swimmers standing chest deep, then instantly tries to suck everything in it’s path, including swimmers, over large boulders and out to sea. Tour boats come in one after another all season long and invite their guests to give it a try.

We did that too, but just long enough to realize that the force that day seemed too strong to enjoy it without a overarching feeling of being in danger.

Bubbling Pool of Jost Van DykeLater that afternoon we learned that just the day before a young man had died at that very spot. According to news accounts a man climbed up the rocks alongside the pounding surf to take pictures, when a not-so-random huge wave came in and swept him out to sea. Two of his companions came to his rescue, but one of the would-be rescuers died trying to save his friend who was swept out. The second rescuer, did mange to retrieve and save the man who was initially swept out, but he was badly injured in the process. As I write this piece both men are recovering in the hospital.

As much as we had enjoyed our day of being on the water, learning of that tragedy was a sobering reminder of the ocean’s unrelenting power and how it fools us time and time again into thinking that all is well when it sometimes is not.

Later that same night I overheard two young surfers talking aboutRed flag at Josiah Bay Beach the awesome waves and what beach they were headed to the next day, even with every north facing beach now bearing bright red “no swimming” flags due to the extremely dangerous surf. Of course. So the love and lure of the sea continues no matter what.

As for me, I have plans for the weeks and years ahead and will stick to swimming on the calmer south facing beaches and enjoy the surf’s roar at night for the rest of our stay.

Kevin Lee

"Bubbly Pool" photo by BVI News.com . Other photos by K. Lee

 

 

 

Quack-Quack!

duck-hunt-humor

Well, we’ve done it again. For the second time near the start of duck hunting season we have managed to row our whaleboat smack dab into the middle of a duck blind, between the now not-so happy hunters and their pathetic raft of  floating decoys, designed to attract real ducks, not whaleboats.

And like before, it was an accident…mostly. You see, our team of hearty rowers, called the Gray Buzzards Rowing Team, head out just before sunrise when darkness is still slowly lifting from the harbor, inlets and river where we row. It’s nearly impossible to spot their camouflaged little “hideouts,” called blinds, let alone being able to make out the men holding rifles, poised at the ready, on land and like today, sitting in their cute little pram.

By the time we realized that our twenty-nine foot gleaming white whaleboat, with five guys rowing and splashing merrily along, we had, without question, ruined yet another happy party of duck hunters. With little else to do but nonchalantly steer towards open water and away from the island, I thought it would be nice to share a gesture of maritime courtesy by waving and saying “good morning” to one of the hunters crouching on shore. However, though he was staring right at me, he did not return the favor.

Just what these guys were doing hunting within the inner harbor of the city of New Bedford alongside tiny Palmer’s Island was beyond me. The surrounding waterway is a busy place, with hurricane dyke workers to the southeast and fish houses, with boats coming and going, on the westward side of the harbor.

Within minutes we heard shotgun blasts echoing off of our stern. Seeing no ducks, or anything else with feathers for that matter, we imagined that the hunters out of sheer frustration may have started shooting their decoys. In any event we made our usual loop out into open water and on our return warned other rowing teams headed out to stay clear of the hunters line of fire.

As we made our way past Palmer’s island headed home, we noticed that the police with blue lights flashing had arrived on shore, a stone-throws distance from the hunters and duck boat that was trolling nearby. Someone, hearing gunshots, must have called the cops (not us!) on these guys. I know, it's shocking. Though we were curious to find out how things ended we thought it best to just keep on rowing.

Kevin Lee 

 

Round Reflection

I took this photo several years ago and for some strange reason
it has always held my a
ttention. The bowl itself was
apparentl
y well-used in its day and it now sits near a window sill at Woolman
Hill Retreat Center in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
1-windowbowl

Whenever I’m there facilitating retreats for children, which is
usually two or three times a year, I make a point of finding and holding the old
wooden bowl for a moment or two just to feel its energy and to linger on the
lessons it might hold for me that day.

Recently, as part of a day-long gathering of staff who work in
various forms of ministry within New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, we were
asked to bring something that held spiritual significance for us personally in
some way. Because I am entering a planned period of transition away from
leading a children’s retreat program that I founded twenty-five years ago
(called J.Y.M. Retreats) I am of course thinking, feeling and praying my way
through this momentous time of change.

As I began to consider what I might share with this circle of
Friends, I came across the photo of the bowl which stopped me in my tracks. And
when I settled on the idea that I would write a reflection on what the bowl
“held” for me spiritually, the following words came forth…complete, and I was
done.

Opportunity
    Depth
        Space
            Potential

                Order
                    Gracefulness
                        Time
                            Purpose
                                Continuity
                                    Room
                                        And

                                            Light

 

In the discussion that followed I expanded on the words above as
follows:
 

Opportunity, because the time has arrived for the right person
to take over leadership, allowing me to wait where the Spirit might guide me
next.

Depth, like the bowl itself, that holds whatever might come as
the future I’m given unfolds.

Space, because there will be room to think and feel upon new
things.

Order, like the bowl itself, with its’ clear and unadorned
purpose.

Potential, for however depth and space may lead me onward.

Gracefulness, like the time-worn bowl itself, reminding me of
Grace that comes of the Holy Spirit, leading me by trust and prayer.

Time to think or not think. Time to wait and time to
discover.

Purpose to discover new ways of sharing joy and light and wonder
with those who need it most.

Continuity to journey round full-circle, complete, like the bowl
itself.

Room to wait and feel new

Light.  

 

Photo and text by K. Lee

My list of things YOU should do and not do in the New Year!

It’s interesting. The one New Year’s thing that I never do is to make a New Year’s resolution! I mean, why  state it, write it or promise it and then disappoint yourself later? (I might be kidding, sort of!) I read recently that 60% of our New Year’s Resolutions fail miserably! (See “Speakeasy) in the Wall Street Journal. ) So again, don’t make any! Then…. if my math holds out, you have beaten the odds on this.

A better approach is to ACTUALLY go do the thing that you wanted to do, that you’ve been putting off for years, like loosing the spare tire, trimming the tangled mess you call a beard (for men, mostly), emptying the landfill on wheels disguised as your car, or rediscovering and pressing the “delete” key on your computer. If you do one or two of these “doable” things, then, and only then, is it safe to say at the next house party you attend, “Well this year, the New Year’s Resolution that I made and kept was….” Just don’t tell anyone until after you’ve done it!gruffmandrawing

See? It’s easier that way.

Now, even though I don’t have any more room for improvements in my own life, I do have some things that you should consider doing….and soon! (Really, Kevin?) I hear lots of people out there whining about all the things that they need to do, should do, must do, want to do, and then, usually with some kind of stimulant in them say, I’m gonna resolve to this or that in the New Year! Right.

Can you count to ten? If you can, good. I have ten things to share…five are really no brainers, and the second five are, well, just amazing. (No, I’m not selling anything here, honest.)

The First Five will bring you more honest friends, you’ll look better and feel really smart! Honest. Would I lie to you? They are:

facebookcartoon 003

  • Please stop telling us you’re bored on Facebook. Nobody cares. We also don’t want to know what time you’re headed to bed. Okay?
  • Nobody asked me, but, here’s my  solution to the Fiscal Cliff: From now on anyone who walks into a restaurant with a date, spouse or friend, sits down and then starts texting or starts yakking on their phone will be taxed $10 bucks, period. Better yet, make it $50! How many times have we looked across to other tables and seen everyone with their phones out. What’s with that? Then we say…”I’m sure glad that I never do that!” Yeah, right. 
  • To the teens who know me and ‘wish” that they got better grades: Stop texting me at 2:00 AM…go to bed! (And mom and dad…where are you?) And, if you’re flunking this or that class…there’s this: Do you’re homework, get a “C.” Show up in class, get a “B.” And stay awake in class… you just might get a “B+.” I know, it’s a miracle.
  • And speaking of mom with the fourteen year old; Please stop trying to dress like your daughter. She doesn’t like it, and you look (sorry to break the news here…) rather silly.  It’s not that we know (or care) how old you are, we know how old you aren't  And the tattoo you got on your ankle? Fine. The one you got “someplace” else…. Really?
  • Oh Dad!  Before you surrender your noodle to the remote control god, I’msaggy pants 2 begging you, please; Consider shaving sometime soon. You’re not Brad Pitt. Never were. And the saggy-ass jeans your son wears? They were not designed for you. Sorry. You’re wider and slower and they make you look like you just crawled out of a Salvation Army drop-off bin.

    Okay, I feel better now. And if you’re with me this far, (and haven’t deleted me from your contacts yet) here’s the SECOND FIVE little nuggets to carry off into the New Year. (I’ve reformed my ways and I’m serious here…really!)

    • Sometimes we need a boost, a nudge, a boot in the rear or whatever to stay inspired and creative. Trust me, I know. I follow a site called 99U, formally known as 99% (until the Occupy Wall Street movement got rolling!) Anyway, the site is loaded with great ideas in text and video from all over the planet. Check it out. You’ll be glad that you did.
    • As parents, educators and youth program facilitators, we worry about the safety of children and teens on the Internet. Tons of people are out their claiming to be “experts and authorities” on all things Internet….but few really are. Furthermore, much of the media hype out there does more to frighten than help parents protect their kids online. By far, one of the very BEST sites to help parents protect their kids and get real honest answers is Wired Safety. The volunteer organization was founded and is run by Parry Aftab, a cyber law attorney, and the site is chock-full of to the point info for parents. Every parent out there and every adult who works with kids for a living should know about this site.

     Okay, now back to you… and making you feel better, happier, more fulfilled. Our lives are full of  “must-do’s,” “running late,” “keep the boss happy,” and “be here and be there” demands on our time all day. Then we turn on the news and it just gets worse. So let’s try this. No, I can’t fix anything for you…I can only work at fixing myself…if I’m lucky! But, with a new year coming, we can do something for ourselves that’s cheap and easy, by doing one new thing for ourselves, and making an effort to try and round up joy, goodness, and something good for our ears and eyes once a day. I’m serious. Here’s what I suggest:

    • Start one new little project or thing that’s just for you. Write it down and tape it on your bathroom door. Put it in your calendar, and don’t let the world pry it away from you in one of a hundred ways that happens! What we read and see and hear over and over can and likely does have a huge impact on our emotional and spiritual health. (No Sh- -, Sherlock, right?)
    • Have a look at these three Web sites that actually inspire and make you feel better about things:

    Stop by The Happiness Project founded and run by Gretchen Rubin. (And/or get her best selling book by the same name.) Everything there is worth the read. For example, I started off this article by being playful at your expense regarding New Year’s resolutions, but the author has a great little piece about how to make a resolution that’s useful, practical and attainable. Read it right here.

    waterfaucetFind a source of water and if possible, get near it. Yup, that’s right. And if you don’t live anywhere near water (but most people do, btw, and that’s no accident either) pay attention to the water you do interact with, from showers, baths, washing dishes, etc. Do you think people wash their cars on weekends just because they want a clean looking ride? Not really. Check out a piece I wrote called The Healing Power of Water on my other site called Rise This Day.

     

  • If prayer, meditation and spiritual reflection is something that helps you, but you rarely find time to do it, stop by Sacred Space, a site run by Jesuit priests in Ireland.  I’m not Catholic, but I find that what they offer there is pure and honest stuff and I’m always better off for having stopped by.  

  • Sun444_coverNot in to organized, mainstream religious stuff? Then consider a subscription to The Sun Magazine. I’ve been getting this monthly mag for years and it’s full of creative, inspiring stories, poems photography and my favorite, a page full of quotes that follow a loosely knit theme. You can get a good feel for what the publication is like by visiting their Web site. The Sun has no ads…none, and is supported totally by reader subscriptions. It’s been around since the dark ages of the 1970’s, somehow surviving when other mags died off.

     

    Okay, I’m off to consider my own list of things to finally do in the New Year. Just don’t ask me what they are…until next year! That’s it my friends. Have a safe and prosperous New Year! Your comments below are always wellcome, too. Thanks!

    Text by Kevin Lee
    Water faucet pic by K.Lee

     

     

     

  • Hope Notes

    sing your little hearts out

    It was a quiet residential neighborhood until half-past noon when they came from near and far in search of one last spot to park. There were parents pushing strollers, grandmas pulling grandkids in little red wagons and great-grandparents pushing walkers. From each direction they streamed and funneled through the doors like it was Carnegie Hall on opening night.

    Except it was a little elementary school in the quiet town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. There were no tickets. No “Right this way sir, you’re in section C, row eight, seat five.” It was the all-school Christmas Concert in the gym, with metal chairs as scarce as parking spaces. We, until moments ago, were home workers, store clerks, executives, laborers, and fishermen, but now, elbow and shoulder together we were comrades in waiting, staring in search of little faces that light up our world.

    And in they came, pint-sized bundles of life and energy clipping and clopping and trudging in high tops, flats and Uggs one class at a time, well rehearsed and pumped for singing their little hearts out…well most of them anyway. It was a highly organized cattle drive, with teachers swishing them in on one side, while their coworkers headed them off from careening off of the end of the stage on the other…

    Fermata symbol…One week later…

    …I began writing this little story, content to capture the simple pleasures of one American school at Christmastime, played out in every town across the country. Little did I know that it was just three days before the tragic events unfolded on December 14th at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And like so many, especially for those of us who work directly with young people, I was not only shocked and saddened by the carnage in that little town, but sickened in heart and spirit. For over a week I could not bring myself to return to this piece. newtown banner

    Anyone who has dedicated their life and career to working with children, be they teachers, counselors, youth program directors or coaches, take seriously the monumental trust placed upon us to guide and guard from every harm the precious lives of the children in our care. It doesn’t matter if they’re six or sixteen years-old, in a classroom or bunking in a camp cabin, at the Y or on the basketball court. You know, we know, that their care and safety, no matter what, matters more than grades earned, games won or paychecks in our pockets.

    And when the worst of the very worst had happened in Newtown, we cried along with our nation, but for some of us, we were there, emotionally, in every horrid moment each time we closed our eyes thereafter because that one unspeakable horror was one that we’ve trained and dedicated our lives to prevent from ever happening. And we know too that in addition to the children lost that day, the adults who also died, lived their lives to honor every child with every breath they took and would do so even again if they could.

    So it was right and fitting, four days following that national tragedy, that I attended a second grandchild’s school concert in another school across the same town.  The format, even the musical selections would of course be nearly the same as the first concert. That is, until the school’s principal,  Amy Hartley-Matteson, welcomed everyone, then spoke carefully above younger ears and said, “after such a week,” with pause and emotion in her eyes, said that, “we were in for a special treat.” And right she was.

     

    Americana School Image

     

    I found myself breathing in every step, gesture and note sung and played by every child in every class, from kindergarteners to fifth graders. I was struck by their very presence and boundless expressions of joy and happiness, and their many excited and nervous waves to their parents and grandparents in the audience. And we smiled and waved back too, beaming with joy, and for many of us, pushing that joy through the awfulness of what we knew had unfolded for people just like us…just like our children…in a state too close for comfort.

    But these children here and now came to sing and play and deliver the very spirit of Christmas to all of us, and that they did.  Each child in whatever note and tone that emerged with gusto and love gave us back the purpose to believe and have faith in what their tomorrow will bring. And bring it they did!

    Now that, that was Christmas.

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    Kevin Lee

    text and photos by K.Lee   

    Helpful Resources for Coping with the tragedy in Newtown CT

    I have received a number of inquiries, questions and comments from parents who know me in one capacity or another regarding the tragic shootings in Newtown Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012. The following is what I have been sharing with parents and teens who have contacted me:

    Parents: Honor the emotions and real questions that come from your children, and resist saying or telling them more than they have asked about or what they may need to know or hear right now. It's important to be honest with answers, especially with older elementary aged children, but don't go overboard. When beginning a conversation, "zipper questions," such as, "so what do you know," or, "what have you heard," or “How does all this make you feel,” are good places to start.

    I believe that it is helpful to continue to affirm what we know as a statistical fact, that schools as a whole are safer than many if not most other places, and that your child will be taken care of and kept safe by the adults in their respective schools. To say anything less only instills fear, uncertainty and worry that does not add to their safety or emotional well being.

    Monitoring media intake of children right now is especially important too. And most experts recommend not allowing younger children to watch any of the video coverage of the tragedy at all. Better to slide in DVDs for watching movies or playing games that are appropriate for their age instead.

    We too, as adults, benefit by apportioning our exposure to the endless video and first-person accounts on cable TV of the shootings. Doing so through osmosis can help our children, too. Print media is often a better place to get the facts, which is important, and then tune out in a reasonable time and go do something else.

    While young ears are listening, I suggest that now is not the time to engage in outspoken dialog with other adults about the pros, cons and political ramifications of gun control and gun violence, where God was, or wasn't, aspects of school security and psychological profiling of "could-be" offenders, all of which is swirling about on Facebook, TV and other social media right now. There will be plenty of time for those important discussions in the weeks and months ahead minus the understandable raw emotions we all feel at the moment.

    Because of the sheer number of deaths and the fact that so many were young children, the carnage has become a national tragedy and has gripped the hearts of people everywhere. It may be helpful for us, as adults and as parents to understand and expect that numbness, sadness, anger and fear will be present within ourselves and our children in the days ahead. Making meaning of death is never easy, and making sense emotionally of such a horrific act for ourselves is near impossible. Finding ways to honor the lives and memories of those lost, even if by remaining aware of the funerals and prayer vigils in Newtown, can help, with time, to bring some sense of closure for us as parents and for our children. Everyone will hear about "how it all happened," but parents can help their children who may be most affected to process too by sitting with them and explaining how the Newtown community comes together, grieves together, and honors the lives lost with funerals and memorial services. This is what we do as people the world over and for whatever reason, it helps, and moves us closer to healing.

    Families connected to a faith community may find solace and comfort in both worship services and by the pastoral care that may be available through clergy and other faith leaders. This is an important resource not to be overlooked, which is available to both parents and children. (And, for those in the New Bedford area, there will be a special service honor and pray for those killed in Newtown on Monday, Dec 17 at 7 PM at the Grace Episcopal Church in New Bedford.)

    If this kind of support is not useful to you or if its unavailable, do consider speaking with a professional, especially if you find that you or your child continues to be impacted by this as time goes on. I tell parents and teens all the time that if we have a toothache, we go to the dentist, but when our hearts and minds are hurting, we keep thinking that it’ll go away. When it doesn’t, getting therapeutic help, like seeing the dentist, is what we need to do.

    Having responded to in-school tragedy in our community many years ago, and having served on crisis teams over the years in area schools, I'm confident to say that parents can take some comfort in the fact that many teachers and most school officials have received training on how best to respond, and what information to share and not share within their school communities. Schools with good in-house sources of support for children and teens are, in my view, excellent places for young people to receive support following such a tragedy because their school is their community, first and foremost. Some parents are understandably hesitant to send their children back to any school after a school tragedy, but it's really the very best place for them, too. Parents with specific questions should always feel empowered to speak directly with their respective school officials.

    One of the challenging variables here is for young children riding the school bus to and from school for the first few days following a highly publicized tragedy. It is hard to know and impossible to control what other students might say that your child could overhear. It's important for parents and after-school care providers to provide time and to listen closely and get a feel for how their child is doing upon arriving home after school.

    Teens: Here's what I've shared with a number of teens over the past few days:

    • Be gentle with yourself, this is hard stuff to make any sense of. Talk to your parents, a counselor in school, a teacher who you know who will listen and help.
    • When horrible things like this happen, it can make you really sad, angry and sometimes scared too. These are all natural feelings. Journaling and writing poetry helps some teens. Doing artwork helps others. Consider listening to music that you find soothing, that helps you chill, and avoid head banger music that's angry, and super loud.
    • Be careful online. There's lots of people pushing their causes right now on Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr. Some are angry, others have their facts wrong too. Everyone wants to do something, right now, it seems.
    • Remember that when we discuss things like death and violence online that some other kids out there have lost loved ones too, and all this is really hard for them to handle. If you're their friend, reach out to them privately and let them know you're thinking about them. It really helps.
    • It's true, nothing can bring these people back. But what you can do is this: To honor the lives of those lost, consider doing something that helps others in your community. There are lots of ways to volunteer and help others, you just have to do it! It can help you to feel better too.
    • Keep in your head that it's never okay for anyone to think using guns to commit violence is okay. If you see or hear of anyone, anywhere "talking stupid" do yourself and the world a favor by telling an appropriate adult right away. It's always import.
    • Remember, talking with a parent, your parent, is still (usually!) the best thing you can do first. They're old (!), they've been around forever and believe it or not, talking with them can help you to deal with all this. (Teens who know me can always contact me too, of course!)

    I have included a few good online resources that parents might find useful to read.

    American Psychological Association: 

    National Association of School Psychologists:

    National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

    - Kevin Lee

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