365 Lessons-Lesson 111: Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
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I've been writing 365 Lessons on my blog Lessons from the Monk I Married. My blog was discovered by an author on this site. My book, Lessons from the Monk I Married, about my 13-year journey with my husband, a former Buddhist monk, just received representation. Here's a recent lesson from my blog: Nothing earth shattering to report. An ordinary day. Perhaps the fact that it wasn't earth shattering is a blessing. Perhaps I take for granted the ordinary days of just waking up, meditating, eating, working, teaching, writing, hugging my husband, spending time with my students and coming home to a lovely house with flowers in the garden. I use to have a student from Laos in one of my ESL classes who would come to class and say, "How are you teacher, it's a wonderful day, isn't it?" And the next day, he would come to class again with a big smile on his face and say, "Hi teacher, how are you? It's a great day isn't it?" And the next day, and the next day, and then next day............ I thought, not every day can be THAT wonderful. But when I saw his face and his eyes, I felt that he truly meant it. About halfway through the quarter, I asked the students to write about their life in their countries and their experience coming to the USA. My student from Laos wrote a heart wrenching story about escaping Laos with his sister during the Vietnam war in the 1970's. Laos was also affected by this war. He wrote about swimming with his sister across the Mekong River into Thailand. On the way, his sister lost her breath and he had to try and swim together with her, which made for a very slow crossing. Soilders started to shoot at those trying to cross the river. Many died on the way. Somehow, my student and his sister made it safely into Thailand and were placed in a refugee camp. They couldn't stay in Thailand, but did not want to return to Laos. Eventually, they were permitted to come to the USA as refugees. It was a very hard transition, but they are so grateful to be alive and have a safe place to live. After I read this story, I understood why my student said what he did every single day. One day, I approached him about his story and he said, "I'm so happy to be in your class, teacher. I'm just happy to be alive." I wonder what it takes. Does it take a grenade to land in our living room for us to realize how amazing it is just to be alive? I don't know what your circumstances are, but if you are breathing at this very moment, that's not ordinary........That's extraordinary. This is just one story from one student, but I have many students with similar stories. My students humble me. I feel like I am the student in their presence. Some of them have survived such terrible atrocities, and yet they are so grateful. They have so much enthusiasm. They are so eager to learn. The most ordinary things become extraordinary when I am with them. When I arrived at school today it was raining. I felt groggy. I was at home working on my writing and hadn't been outside for most of the day. I had a pile of papers to grade and still had quite a bit of lesson planning to get done. Somehow, the class flowed along. Near the end of the class I did a "getting to know your classmates" exercise. The students had to mingle around the room and ask present tense questions to each other like Do you have five children? or Do you like kimchi? or Do you play guitar? or Do you speak Amharic? If they found someone who said "yes," they had to write the student's name on the paper. Afterward, we talked about who they met and what interesting information they found out about their classmates and teacher. With so many different backgrounds and cultures in one room, I often wonder how my students get along so well. Some of them even come from countries that were once at war with one another. But in the classroom today, we were just people laughing, sharing and getting to know each other. When my students left, all 35 of them bid me farewell in their own way. Some said, "Have a nice evening, teacher" or "Have a nice day off tomorrow" or "See you Monday" or "I enjoyed the game in class today" or "Today was fun." It was a simple game. It was ordinary. But maybe to them it was extraordinary. I walked out of the building after class and the rain was gone. The air was fresh and had an earthy smell. It was cool, almost like fall. The clouds were high, pink and puffy...the sun had just set. I saw the moon. I got in my car. I didn't need any music. Driving...ordinary driving was enough. Two of my Asian students saw me pull out of the parking lot and put their hands over there mouths like school girls, giggled and pointed and then waved. Their smiles stayed with me all the way home.

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