Monday, December 28, 2009

The work of Christmas begins

Last Saturday, when the return jet lag summoned me awake at 4:00 a.m.-ish, I worked on addressing Christmas cards and envelopes. That was a great way to use that pre-dawn time. I addressed about 90 cards between Saturday morning and Monday morning's early rising. But I realized how many of my friends did not have their "snail mail" address in my address book. In the interest of sending as many greetings as possible, I will copy my letter here for the blog-reading public.

December 19, 2009

Dear friends near and far,

This morning I landed in the United States for two weeks visiting friends and family! I decided to get right at the business of Christmas and get out some cards. Just the quick work of addressing envelopes helps me get back into the rhythms of life here in the United States and reflect on this third year teaching and working and living in Jordan.

This summer when I was doing some cleaning in my old bedroom at my parent’s house in Cincinnati, I discovered a stack of old magazines and newspaper clippings someone had stashed under my bed. Of course more time was spent investigating these new treasures (if you have ever visited our house on Montana Avenue you know we do a lot of saving and savoring of such old treasures!) than on the actual purging of ancient artifacts. But as I heaved a stack of 1970s issues of McCall’s and TAB—The American Baptist toward the trash can, a yellowed clipping slipped out onto the floor. The first thing I noticed about it was my mother’s handwriting, dating it from December, 1973. At the bottom of the poem was her charge to herself: “Remember!” The poem reads:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the king and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

I have seen the first half of the poem before, but not the second. I know why my mother loved this poem—she loved work! She loved the abstract thought of what the “work of Christmas” might mean, and she also loved making lists, setting goals, and rolling up her sleeves and doing hard, invigorating work. Of course finding the clipping makes me reflect on the “work” we all do. What is the “work” that consumes us? How does that work define us? Fulfill us? Exhaust us?

I am in my third year at King’s Academy in Jordan, and it is hard work. Fulfilling work. Exhausting work. If you are interested in reading more about my experiences there in the last 30 months, please check out the blog address at the top of the previous page. I will be publishing my 200th blog entry this week!One of the parents I most enjoy seeing at King’s Academy is Dr. Hamati. He relayed a story to me recently that I appreciated. He said that this woman he knew had never cooked a Christmas meal. And so she gathered her son and her husband into a room, and she told them this was the first Christmas meal she would prepare and she didn’t want any comment from them. She said that she was going to make the meal, and they were going to sit down and receive it, and if it wasn’t any good, then they would, without comment, put on their hats and coats and scarves and they would get up from the table, walk downtown to a fancy American chain hotel, and eat there. So her husband and her young son, without comment, nodded, and they left the room as she began to prepare the meal. Well, the time came to eat. And the young son and the husband walked into the room and waited. In came the proud mother, carrying her food, and as she looked up, she noticed that her husband and her young son were quietly at their seats, wearing their coats, hats, and scarves. Her son and her husband, they were expecting the worst. Indeed, many people in our world expect the worst. Have you read the headlines???

We teach a World Religions class at King’s Academy. Some time ago I started asking the various teachers, privately, for an uncomplicated explanation of their idea of the purpose and aim of a spiritual life (what a task!!). One of my favorite answers went, “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved.’” He went on to say that “from the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.”

I think this is what Christmas is all about—receiving the gift of love that makes us know that we are the beloved, and from that place, we go about bringing that love to others. I think that is the point of a life of faith: not who lives most exemplarily in and unto themselves, but who lives most fully and effectively and selflessly for the sake of others. So to be about the work of Christmas is to bring this love we have received into our homes, our cities, our worlds, and especially to all those who have come to expect the worst. And in this pursuit, we unleash the full potential of the gift of Christmas—the potential for good, for joy, for peace, for healing, for reconciliation, for transformation, especially to those who have come to expect the worst.

In the footsteps of Christmas, when love comes into the world in the vulnerability of a child, when light pierces the darkness, and hope is born, when you think about it, as that poet wrote, the work of Christmas has only just begun. There is always that danger to sentimentalize the cuteness of the newborn child in that manger, rather than focus on the awesome mystery of the incarnation. When we look to the incarnation of God and the profound mystery of the birth of love into the world, then we can begin to change from expecting the worst to working toward something good. So from our kneeling place beside the manger, we slowly rise to our feet, and the miracle of this birth and the glow of this gift of love stay with us, lie within us, even as we slowly step back toward that cowshed door and out into the cold January air and to the world from which we came. We begin again in this new year with courage and joy and love to set about doing the work of Christmas in all the far away and forgotten places of our lives and in the world where people expect the worst.

Friday, December 25, 2009


It may be the most daunting announcement and mysterious promise of the entire Christmas story: those angels proclaiming peace.

We crave it, and yet it never seems to appear.

Two weeks ago today, on December 11, a particularly stressful day (even though Fridays are officially off days, I spent 8 hours with the hardest working people at KA—the class deans of the office of Student Life) doing work that a highly-paid administrator should have done (‘nuff said). At one point I walked over to the refrigerator for a Diet Coke in Sheena’s apartment and a magnet caught my eye. The black-and-white magnet read:


It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

--Unknown writer

I grabbed a post-it note and quickly wrote down this intriguing conceptualization of peace.

Later that night I googled this saying—having never heard it before, and on a website, someone shared the greater context of this definition. Here is the fable I found on the internet:

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.

But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest - in perfect peace.

Which picture do you think won the prize? The king chose the second picture. Do you know why?

"Because," explained the king, "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”

--- Author Unknown

This conceptualization of peace resonates with me as I find myself consumed by the pressures and challenges at KA. As a teacher and dorm parent, there are many times when there is noise, trouble, and hard work all at once! Yet, I do often find peace, knowing that this is part of the process of growth and transformation in this young school. Working in Jordan is generally far from an easy or trouble-free process, but as I take the long view of what we have accomplished in the last thirty months, and the students I have met, I find that mysterious peace. I am able to be at peace knowing that I am doing what I was meant to do, and that everyone involved will grow through the problems we are facing. Cultivating a confidence about my abilities to manage and overcome the obstacles allows me to feel at peace amidst the challenges that arise.

Of course, life wouldn’t be very interesting if everything was quiet, trouble-free, and effortless. We may wish at times that this were the case! However, our triumphs are gained through the more chaotic and difficult times. When noise, trouble, and hard work fall upon us, how we perceive it and react to it makes all the difference. The challenge is to learn how to be at peace inside ourselves, even when things around us are far from peaceful.

As I age, I realize even more clearly that life is a process and not an endpoint. We revise and revise and I keep in mind my dear 95-year old friend, educational philosopher Maxine Greene, who loves the phrase, I am what I am, not yet.

On this Christmas evening, with the chaos and noise and hard work of the holiday winding down, I am left with a marvelous calm, an understanding that I hardly have all the answers, but yet a serene peace that we are making a difference in a few people’s lives.

God bless us everyone…and Merry Christmas. Peace to you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Seeking the “Holy Grail”

The device of the quest is one of the oldest and most durable in literature. Indeed the annals of fantasy and entertainment are replete with great examples of searching/seeking/craving the hopefully-not-unattainable. Everything from Camelot to Dan Brown, Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl, from Ross on Friends to the venerable Don Quixote have dreamed the impossible dream and set out to find whatever the holy grail is to them.

Yesterday did not start out to be a quest per se; yesterday was to be the 2nd annual Christmas Visit to Cincinnati by platinum friend Tracy. Obviously it is not as revered a tradition yet since it is only the second annual, but still, it was an exciting day on that, my second full day in Cincinnati for Christmas vacation. Last year Tracy drove the 150 miles and we attended Jack and Emma’s school Christmas concert, enjoyed lunch at the Art Museum, and then on a tip from Cincinnati magazine, tried a place downtown, “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul,” that promised heavenly pies and cobblers. Oh, oh, let me tell you. This is the Cobbler of Your Dreams. We ordered the peach cobbler, and since Flo’s had no seats in it, we decided to take the serving for four back to my house to share with my father. When we got in the car, I decided we should at least taste the cobbler, you know, make sure it was okay. You. Can’t. Believe. How. Good. That. Cobbler. Tasted! Sadly, only one or two bites remained for my father.

When this year’s newly christened annual rite was planned, we definitely sought a return trip to “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul” for the best peach cobbler I could remember.

Tracy arrived around 10:00 a.m. yesterday for some visits to a handful of my Cincinnati family and friends. We got caught up in the visiting, so when it was nearing 2:00 p.m. I steered her car toward the downtown Cincinnati area so that we might eat cobbler and lunch and cobbler and soon as possible. We didn’t remember the exact address, but we vaguely recalled seeing the courthouse out of one eye and a statue of President James Garfield out of the other eye.

The plan was to wolf down the cobbler/lunch/cobbler and head to some festive Christmas-y Cincinnati things, sights like Krohn Conservatory with the largest poinsettia display in the Midwest, the iconic train display downtown (another “largest in the Midwest” boast attached to the promotions), the Nativity scene at the dubious Creationism Museum, the Hilton Hotel gingerbread display (guess how The Cincinnati Enquirer trumpeted this one…wait for it…yes, “the largest in the Midwest” claim!).

We park the car near the courthouse, near where we remember the scene of great wolfing in the First Annual Christmas Visit to Cincinnati from Tracy. We find the storefront, and oh, okay, there is a sign in the window announcing that “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul” has moved two blocks away to Vine Street. We run down the street (umm, before we actually got the address, our craze for the cobbler so great I just saw the words ‘Vine Street’ and whisked Tracy down the street headed for the scent of perfect cobbler.

It was getting colder but we knew that the mouthwatering cobbler was near so we could fight the wind and cold. We turned onto Vine Street, walked a little ways, and didn’t see any sign brandishing the name of Flo. Where are you “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul”????

I realize that we walked away so fast from the sign announcing the move that we didn’t even check the street address on Vine Street—we just made an about-face and headed the two blocks away to Vine Street. After several blocks of wandering on Vine Street (by the way passing at least a dozen respectable places for lunch!) we headed back to that sign near the courthouse.

I add more money to the parking meter and we get the address as 915 Vine Street. Back down the street we go…

We get to the corner and start to go right instead of the left that had yielded no “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul.” We see that we are in the 1000 block of Vine Street. Wait…that should mean we passed “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul.” But…we didn’t see it. We retrace our footsteps back to the promised land of 915 Vine Street but it is not called “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul.” No matter. This must be the place of the Holy Grail of Cobblers. We go into the place called “Mayberry,” and it smells great. The menu up on the wall looks great and it seems to be a bohemian, gourmet sandwich kinda place. Hmmmm…

Flo of the “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul” was definitely not a “Mayberry” kind of denizen nor would she look right in a bohemian, upscale-y sandwich shop. (This place probably even added the –pe to up the ante in prestige and be a “shoppe” instead of just a shop.) I see some great lunch items, and by this time the little hand was firmly lodged on the 3. But Tracy said, “Johnny, I don’t see any desserts on that menu.” Tracy is a pretty fearless woman, but I detected a note of worry in her voice. Where was the cobbler? Did they rename the place and hide the cobbler? Where is that peach cobbler???

We asked the woman with the asymmetrical hairdo about the cobbler. She didn’t know from cobbler. I said, “The sign around the corner, near the courthouse, it said that ‘Flo’s Plate Full of Soul’ had relocated here.” I shot her a pleading look that certainly indicated a pressing need for the cobbler from Flo’s.

“Oh, right. Yeah. Well, they moved from here. We’ve been here for about two months.” Surely we would give up the quest and plop down for a fancy smoked or peppered something with roasted something on ciabatta. “Do you know where Flo’s moved?” I pressed for the information.

“I think they moved out on Reading Road or somewhere,” she answered, not understanding the gravity of this twist in our journey.

We hightailed it out of the I’m-sure-it’s-nice-Mayberry-cafĂ©. Someone else would have to take the menus in her outstretched hand.

Tracy was right on it. She called Information in Cincinnati. There was no listing in the Cincinnati directory for “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul.” We fast-walked back to the car and she got ahold of her GPS and punched in the information we had about “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul.” Nothing matched the data.

What should we do?

I remembered that Flo had started out at the grand, old Findlay Market downtown a few years back. We maneuvered the car through the downtown streets racing over to the old market stand (the Findlay Market dates back to 1844 for you history-curious people out there). We almost collided with a mini-van in the parking lot, but I don’t think it was out of my mad dash for the cobbler—I think it really was the other’s guy fault.

We search throughout the Market (I do take a break to buy a couple of pounds of ground chuck—Tracy laughed at this—but hey, a bargain is a bargain, even when you searching for the Midwest Grail, you gotta be aware of the bargains around you) and there is no stand. Every trace of “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul” seems to have vanished. We give up the search. Reluctantly. But we are really hungry for lunch now.

I decide that we should treat ourselves to the delectable chicken salad croissants at Servattii Pastry Shop on the west side. This is a mini-quest, not as dramatic, crucial, or heavenly as The Cobbler, but it will be good.

Of course when we arrive at Servattii’s, as the clock yawns toward 4:00 the petulant child behind the cashier whines, “Look at the sign on the window. The deli stops serving at 2:00.” Enough! Enough! We need lunch. Tracy confesses she didn’t eat breakfast before she hit the road that morning for the 2nd annual Christmas Visit to Cincinnati. We race around the corner to perfectly fine, perfectly mundane Chipotle and finally eat lunch.

Instead of that long-awaited Cobbler we head over to Graeter’s—the best ice cream in the world for their Swiss Chocolate sundae. We exchange Christmas gifts and hugs. Each of us receives a cell phone call—at about the same exact time—about some pesky problem from the real world. Our bubble is burst that it is only about the Impossible Dream.

If any of you have any news about “Flo’s Plate Full of Soul,” please pass it along. The marriage of sugar and butter and peaches and flour has never been so good. I swear angels would sing over this cobbler.

I suppose there are many grails we seek in our world. Tickets and trips and promotions and titles and bling and little red-haired girls. Perhaps most of life is spent pursuing signs and scents and hopes and dreams.

Tonight I will be playing the piano for my sister as she sings a solo in our family’s church. We have been doing this rite for some 35 years ever since as little children we braved the congregation to go and sing on Christmas Eve. We will light candles at the end of the service and ponder the real people who longago chased after a strange thing announced by angels and stars. I don’t deign to presume that that cobbler is holy—but these quests, these mad journeys, remind us of other seekers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bring it on!

I know Christmas is coming soon because at the end of this week we have a break in the school calendar. But when you live outside of the United States, and especially in a predominantly Muslim country, there are just not many reminders of the approaching Christmas holidays. So any little glimmer of Christmas is noted, welcomed and appreciated.

The other day in the faculty lounge several of us commented how strange it was to be thick into December and not hear the ever-present soundtrack of carols in every store, see the advertisements suggesting how to show your loved ones how deeply you treasure them, or hear the strange, “it’s that time of year!!” mantra. We sighed as we thought about how when something is gone, you miss all the Christmas-y touches and hoopla even more. One colleague shared, “But three days after we’re back I’m sure all the commercialization and burden of Christmas will get to me.” I exclaimed, “Hey, Christmas overload!!! Bring it on!”

These colleagues actually turned and looked a little puzzled at me since such he-man comments as “bring it on” rarely pop out of my mouth. They looked so puzzled—had I just been morphing into a jock talking smack about some other team??? I laughed and said I was practicing my mock-coach talk, actually, since there was a inter-dorm soccer game scheduled for that afternoon to stoke the fires of competition and rivalry. I had conferred with Arthur and Julianne as to how to yell those, you know, barbed sports-like phrases at Meissa dorm so I could help rally my Nihal dorm to a he-man victory. They gave me a couple go-to phrases so I could, you know, sound like I knew what I was doing cheering on the sidelines of the game. (By the way, at one time there was talk of me being a substitute in the game as well!).

I stopped by my faculty box, and lo and behold, I spy a piece of real mail. You have to understand—I get maybe one piece of real mail a month. Don’t feel too bad for me—most days I average about 100 emails (a day!) on the school email server! But the mailman in Madaba brought me a Christmas card! And, especially since we had just been missing Christmas, the card brought me a great smile. It was from the Canterinos—one of those golden families from Hackley, and since it was likely to be the only Christmas card I get this month here, it was especially sweet. I taught their son Joseph a decade ago, but we have never lost touch, and their generosity and humor have always been a pleasure. Margie Canterino was always the first to get her Christmas cards in the mail—it almost always arrived exactly on December 1 when I lived in New York. Her wish was always that premier wish for a joyous season. Yesterday when I got her card, it made me feel what maybe we all feel the first time of the season when we hear a beloved carol or do something Christmas-y.

I realize that for many of you the Christmas season must be like playing in a real-live Survivor saga of who can run the gauntlet of parties and shopping sprees and holiday madness. But when those things are few and far between—again, I say, “bring it on!”

I have seen two Christmas trees this month—one in a Chinese restaurant last Thursday evening in Amman, and one in an administrator’s house on campus. Both trees looked a little like stand-ins for that tree in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. But since those are the only trees I have seen so far this season, I just fill in the blanks on what I miss. I remember details from our family Christmas trees—the ornaments that have survived from our family’s genesis in the 1960s the rigors and ravages of time. I smile at the strange, trendy ornaments we added to the motley collection in the 1980s and 1990s. I remember the makeshift trees when my mother was in the hospital in Decembers past. I remember the oddest tree of all the year that I was in the body cast in childhood and I decorated the tree myself—putting the ornaments as high up as my little-boy arms could reach from the body cast on the avocado green living room carpet.

The dorm soccer show-down was great. I yelled and copped my best coach stance from the sidelines as I watched our dorms have the most inter-dorm fun I have seen here. One of our other teachers, Ryugi, has been great at cultivating the kind of dorm-love and dorm-obsession, and dorm-rivalries that define boarding schools. He was the brains behind this, and it was good fun.

I ran over from the game (by the way, my dorm dominated, I CAN’T HEAR YOU—DOMINATED the game until the last few seconds. Yeah, a penalty kick cost us the game at 3-2) to a Lessons and Carols job that some of the Christian students had helped put together. Again, when you don’t hear these songs as much, it is more fun than usual with the Santa songs and the familiar carols. Jordan is a very moderate, tolerant country, and Christians can worship easily—it’s just that we are small in number, only about 6% of the total population. As we came to the line in “Do You Hear What I Hear,” that goes, “He will bring us goodness and light,” I hadn’t quite gotten out of my sports persona, and I almost yelled out, “Bring it on!” However, I just sang along instead.

Some of the seniors who are Christians read the passages from Luke, and it reminded me again of that Charlie Brown special when Linus reads the familiar text. He starts with “Lights, please,” and reads about Mary, and “in those days” and decrees and a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Since it is the first Christmas since I actually have been to the town of Bethlehem, I felt strangely closer to the Christmas story. Last March I was in Jerusalem and took a public bus out to Manger Square and walked around processing the sights and thinking of the song my sister and I sang last Christmas Eve, “Not That Far From Bethlehem.” Interesting stuff going on in my head.

As Fadi and Ghassan and Lawrence and Tareq read about the angel visiting Mary, I thought about how startling it would be to have a run-in with an angel. No wonder the first thing an angel says is the predictable, “Fear, not!” Anyone who knows their Bible knows that 99 times out of a 100 when humans run into angels the first words out of the angel’s mouth are always, “Do not be afraid.”

This could reflect on angels, I guess, but maybe it just says something about the state in which angels typically find us: afraid. You could forgive angels for smelling out fear a mile away. After all, fear seems to be a constant companion for us. Our ancestors lived in fear about food and shelter. All these millennia later, despite the frozen meat section in your grocery store, we still live in a state of fear. These last 18 months or so we have been terrified about the global financial markets collapsing and empty retirement accounts. And before that, we were terrified by terror, and anthrax, and the Cold War. Some of our Americans are terrified of Barack Obama. Some are terrified of Sarah Palin.

But as Ghassan read the familiar passage of “Don’t be afraid” from the angel to Mary, an unmarried teen-ager, I thought…hmmm… I wonder if it ever crossed Mary’s mind to retort, “Easy for you to say!”

A student sang the song, “Born to Die,” which made my mind race to the Resurrection and the angel who greeted the women at the tomb with the same, “Don’t be afraid.” Of course those women had just a number of hours earlier witnessed the Resurrection, and they are asked not to be afraid?

How in the world do we manage all this fear? Our seniors are afraid about college acceptances. Some of us are afraid of the sustainability of this grand experiment in the desert, and the list really is almost endless. Of course the fears that plague all of us can hardly be overcome by the words of the angel who proposes to instruct us: “Don’t be afraid.”

But hearing the carols, seeing the card, remembering Christmases past without the tyranny of over-doing Christmas, it becomes quite an antidote to the fears as the promise of the season whispers to us to manage our fears. Indeed, ours is a faulty, fragile, fractious world, and these are disconcerting days and weeks.

In the absence of the Christmas onslaught you have to make Christmas for yourself. I take the one card, the two trees and the odd lot of carols, and look anew at the unexpected wisdom in the Christmas child—an infant who knocks at the doors of our heart.

Ahhhhh….Christmas! Yeah, baby—bring it on!

Saturday, December 12, 2009


A week ago at this time I was on a plane leaving the United States returning to Jordan for a little blip of time—just two weeks—before flying again over the thousands of miles that lie between Jordan and the United States. I spent my six days in New York doing what I do best—eating, visiting, and people-watching. I people-watched in one of the great people-watching capitals of the world (this spring I spent time in Jerusalem, another of the great people-watching capitals of the world). I rested from my eating and visiting and teaching and preaching. I was on a break. I people-watched on the Metro North train up to Irvington to see dear friends Anne and Peter. I people-watched as I cruised through the art exhibits at the Met, “American Stories,” and “Art of the Samurai.” I people-watched at the tourist-friendly revival of Ragtime, I people-watched at the no-tourists-at-this-play-without-a-star, Superior Donuts. I people-watched at the New York Philharmonic concert on Thursday, where I enjoyed the talents of young pianist star David Fray. And I people-watched on the long subway ride out to JFK airport to fly back to Jordan. Really no two crowds were alike. And each crowd was essentially a New York crowd of peacocks doing their thing. It is a joyous thing to take in the many flavors/colors/textures of New York.

It was a needed break—somewhere, anywhere. As you can guess from the blogisodes (sorry, Sue, it did take me awhile to steal the time to pen another entry) it was a stressful November here in our social experiment known as KA. Although, let’s be honest, if you are a faithful, curious or even casual reader of this blog, has it ever been an easy month?

It felt harder what with the tensions rising over deteriorating behavior, the stakes high over college applications, and certainly with the demands of the side-job as being a class dean with the office of student life. It has just been the most consuming school job I have ever encountered. Not that that is all a bad thing—I have been consumed by all my schools—Gaston Day, Charlotte Latin, and Hackley—and I am never bored here! But it has just been hard doing the job seven days a week. We are also in a school where we have grown so much, we have never gotten the chance to get it right yet. We jumped from 108 students the first year, and we almost started to get it right in June of 2008, to 270 students last year, and we came close to getting it right last June, and now we are at 400. I wish we could just hold tight and get it right!

Before this break for Eid (which dovetailed nicely with the American Thanksgiving) there were several episodes of students asked to withdraw themselves from the school. Each was justified in my mind, and some of us wish we could clean house even more. But each of these episodes causes a little tear in the delicate fabric that is this school, and some colleagues feel that we should never abandon a student, even one who has repeatedly broken rules and squandered opportunities.

The break came at a good time. We needed to breathe. And hit the reset button.

Julianne came back with a bundle of energy. She spoke to the seniors last Sunday in a beautiful, extemporaneous, honest tone about the difficulties in facing the challenges at the school. As a good historian she shared how so often this autumn she had thought of the gathering of 54 men over the course of the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia. These men from the 13 disparate states—years after the victory against Britain—met to figure what in the world to do with their bundle of differences. Their two-year old government wasn’t working. What do you do? How do you scrap it? How do you save something? How do you hit the reset button? How do you move forward? Of course, eventually they would compromise and crank out what would be the United States Constitution, hoping to form that “more perfect union.” We too rarely look back on how scary, how tenuous it all looked then in 1787—all the goodwill and back-slapping excitement after the 1781 defeat of the Brits had evaporated—and we instead call it “The Miracle at Philadelphia.”

Julianne spoke movingly about joining the venture at KA, about how things were moving in a seemingly haphazard, herky-jerky way, and how she knew they didn’t like how she was trying to steer this ship in a different direction. She reminded them that Amman was, in ancient times, called, Philadelphia. She said, “And I already know the title of my book, when we make it work here at KA: The Second Miracle of Philadelphia. Reset button activated.

She offered to meet in groups of a dozen students, and go out to coffee, each school night for these two weeks, and get to know the seniors better. She encouraged the seniors to sign up, but didn’t force them to come along. By the following morning, 50 seniors had signed up, and after the first evening, her gaggle of senior boys came back with a renewed desire to make it work.

It has become too customary here to look at our glass as half empty—so many things are difficult not only in starting a school, but dealing with the meltdowns of adolescence, the powerlessness of ex-pats, the fears of the hosts, the vulnerabilities of the college process, and the erosion of economic confidence. We need that reset button. We need to take a break. Hit the button.

Julianne had a great week reinvigorating our seniors. I came back from my people-watching and surprise visit to Cincinnati with a renewed passion as well. One of my students said, “You always look younger when you come back from the United States!” Of course, one of my former colleagues at Hackley said to me just 10 days ago, “You look so much younger ever since you moved to Jordan.” Maybe we have all just forgotten there are other topics of conversation. Do I look that haggard on a daily basis??? Whoops. Maybe I better just run down to the Dead Sea and hit the reset button again.

Of course one of the problems with the class dean job is that so much of what I must face is the underbelly of the school—the issues of cutting and smoking and lying and cheating and disrespect—that I can forget how marvelous much of this experiment is. I just concluded 12 hours of meetings over our two “off” days, our Friday and Saturday, doing what other people at the school have not been doing in their jobs. You get a little cranky. You need to hit the reset button!

But maybe the best reset button came last night. A senior student asked me during lunch if I would be up at midnight. I didn’t know, I answered. He asked if he could come to my apartment and use my computer since he would find out at midnight exactly whether he had earned admission to Columbia University. The internet is cut off for students at that time, and he wanted to check, and he was nervous and wanted me there.

The student came by at 11:45 and we talked about the pros and cons of attending Columbia in New York City. He was prepared to face rejection and he also had several other schools he liked beside Columbia.

At midnight we went to log on. The dear guy started to hyperventilate, but we got the username and password punched in. Of course it was slow since thousands of other eager seniors around the world were logging in at the same time to check on this admission status. (Let’s be real—is there any stranger way to feel the passage of time??? Checking on line for whether you go into college? No stalking of the mailman or spying the size of the envelope or tearing it open??? It is so long past the 1980s!).

My friend, for whom I had written what I thought was a well-deserved enthusiastic letter of recommendation, was too nervous once we saw that the screen was unfolding with the answer. He looked away, hyperventilating. I saw something blocking the beginning of the email message, but I saw the words, “you will want to share the good news with your family…” at the bottom. I told him, “I think you have the news you want! Who would write that suggestion at the end of a tragic letter??!”

He checked and he had gained admission! This guy who lived on my hallway last year, whom I have known since the beginning of this experiment in Jordan, a guy who has not had an easy time, but last year triumphed in my AP World History class, earned a 5 on his AP exam, got the news he had hardly expected. He became our first student to be accepted to an Ivy League school.

Now, I will be the first to say that the ivy league hoopla is just a load of hoopla—but it is hoopla that has currency. This means something by the standards most people understand.

It was one of the most joyous experiences watching him shout, hug, pray, and cry over the next few minutes. This is a chance for him to hit a major reset button in his life. This was extraordinary.

Yes, it is a difficult place and the hours are endless. I feel like a medical resident most of the time, on call for whomever and whenever there is a mess or a crisis.

But then we hit a reset button, and it all feels a little, well, re-set.

A week from right now I will be waking up in the United States for another chance to eat, visit, and people-watch. And enjoy the reset button.