Saturday, February 27, 2010

“Excuse me…”

When last we visited, I was enjoying an off day that was long in coming. Not a spectacular day at all, say at the Dead Sea, or climbing on the pyramids in Cairo, just a day lounging around and grading and not expected to be in charge of anything all day. Not even expecting anything special of the day.

In the afternoon I called up Hamzeh and Elizabeth—and asked if they wanted a little Chili Ways snack in Madaba. Both of them agreed, so off we jumped into the little mediocre Opel I drive here, and headed for a little Coney action.

Elizabeth and Hamzeh are an interesting pair with whom to spend an afternoon. I mean, first of all, the brain cells alone between the two of them make them academic champions, but they represent something so important to me in my life story. Elizabeth was among the first students at Hackley with whom I connected, and while we only spent that first year of mine there working on plays (she was a senior and soon off to Harvard) together, we created three plays together, and the roles she essayed were as varied and complex as the chapters in her life. She came back to Hackley several years after college, and then has come to Jordan, so this bond forged 13 years ago continues to reward me. And Hamzeh has been one of the premier enjoyments of my time at KA. In our three years together it is simply one of the best relationships I have known in education.

All of that is just background and happy baggage as we careen into Madaba for a mundane Friday afternoon snack at Chili Ways. Two of my best experiences in education sitting around with me, laughing, gorging ourselves on the hotdogs with the chili and cheese—same as my comfort food in Cincinnati.

As we came to the end of our snack a very smiley young man came up to our table from across Chili Ways, and politely said, “Excuse me!” As we turned to him, he purposely said, “Excuse me. I heard you speaking English, and I like to speak English. May I speak English with you for a little while so I can improve my English?”

His mother—back at their table—said, “I hope you don’t mind, but he so enjoys meeting new people. He won’t take much of your time.”

We welcomed him to our table and we introduced ourselves. It turns out he lives in Madaba, a few blocks away, and he wanted to ask us questions. He apologized if his English was not very good. What was he thinking? He had great English skills, and even more, a charming smile and a charismatic personality.

After we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes he went back and whispered something to his mother. She all of a sudden said, “Of course,” to him, and she shyly presented herself and asked if she could serve us tea in their home. “It is a very short walk, and we would be honored to have you in our home.”
Our new friend Jeris introduced us to his sister (much shyer than Jeris, but then so would most people in the world be a bit more shy than this personable young man) and told us that we could go home and see his house, and meet his dog, and speak English some more.

Elizabeth and Hamzeh and I followed them down a back road of Madaba, and Jeris continued chatting us up, asking questions, making sure he had good grammar, exact syntax, and used good vocabulary words.

We spent the next hour or so with Jeris and his lovely mother Neda, and it was one of those little moments of serendipity.

Jeris is in the 7th grade at the National Orthodox School in Madaba. He likes movies, playstation, and the piano. He loves writing stories. He wishes his dog Charcoal didn’t bark so loudly because he worries that Charcoal frightens away friends. He hopes to travel someday. He wants to meet many people. He is working on a British accent since people always like people with British accents. He doesn’t really like History class, but he thinks he would if he had me for a teacher. He thought I was nice. Jeris had no problem sustaining a conversation! He was a born schmoozer and lover of life!

As we talked with Jeris, or rather, we three took turns talking with Jeris so we could also talk with the mother, we asked her if she knew anything about KA. She had a vague idea about it but it seemed like a school out of their reach. We talked about the scholarships available for students at the school, and Hamzeh talked with them about how the school has been for him these three years.

We had tea—we might have stayed for dinner, but our little Chili Ways snack group had some other plans. Our joyous time at Jeris’ house reminded me of a book I had just read about in a magazine, a book with the quotidian title, How Coffee Saved My Life and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace.

We had stumbled onto this joyous boy named Jeris, and delighted in an afternoon of chatting and hoping about his future. It coincided with the title of stumbling into grace.

Grace is one of those topics, you know, I don’t know how you figure it out, or explain it, or make sense of it even. It is like an epiphany—you don’t even see it coming sometimes, and wonder if you will experience it again after the rush of discovery. But grace may just be when I am offered love and joy in the time and place least expected. Grace interrupts and overwhelms with its irrationality and abundance.

It was just a brief respite of a snack, with two people who represent two of my most rewarding experiences, meeting a stranger who is only a stranger until you feel the warmth of that precocious smile and hearty laugh. As we stood to say good-bye to our new friends in Madaba, Neda, the mother, asked that we return. “We are the only yellow house on the block, and we have the loudest dog! Please come back again.”
Later in the week Elizabeth spoke with Neda about Jeris applying to KA for our summer program and about thinking about his enrollment in the future.

Directing Elizabeth all those years ago, as the tortured mother in Flowers for Algernon, then the elegant, but aging, sophisticate in I Hate Hamlet and finally the brutal racist Juror #10 in Twelve Angry Jurors was such a treat. And here we are all these years later, working together as class deans, striving to bring substance to the KA style, and bonding over the coneys in faraway-from-Manhattan Madaba.

Hamzeh is another generation of student, on another continent, but one more link in the chain of students who have blessed me. Besides his scholarly prowess, indeed, even more important than that, he is a young man with such honor and integrity that I think he is showing me the way. And he likes the cheese coneys at Chili Ways. Imagine when I get to introduce him to the coneys at Skyline Chili in Cincinnati!

And then there is this Jeris. Maybe he is the next generation of student for me. Or maybe just a charming afternoon helping him hone his English skills.

But certainly moments of grace. Yes, grace is when I am offered love and joy in the time and place least expected. Even Chili Ways! Grace interrupts and overwhelms with its irrationality and abundance.

Where do we go next?

Friday, February 19, 2010

29 minutes on one sentence…

No, there have been no blogispodes for over a week…it was one of those weeks where going to get a haircut proved too time-consuming until this morning. The conveyer belt, or perhaps, roller-coaster of KA life, just sped up a little this week. In fact—and you can see this sit-com reference coming a mile away—I felt so much like Lucy when she and Ethel tried their hand at candy making in that classic “Job Switching” episode. I laugh every time as Lucy gets overwhelmed and starts shoving the undipped chocolates anywhere she can squirrel them away! And then when that foreman lady comes in, okay, I think I even know her name—I think it is Verna Felton—whether I am right or not is just kind of weird that I might know her name, and yet, things like physics and car repairs elude me…anyway, that great moment when who I think is Verna yells out, “Splendid. You’re doing fine!” And she calls out, “Speed it up a little!”

Actually, I didn’t know that reference was coming until I typed out the words “conveyer belt” up there and then I laughed because that’s when the inevitable reference hit me!

Oh, my…this day off is needed today. Obviously!

So in the last week I started a play, and while it is a play I have directed before, I discovered that I did not have in Jordan my “bible” of the play, with all my blocking in it, so I have to re-do that work. It’s fun work, but what with the added time crunch of rehearsals and a spate of disciplinary brouhahas this week…it was a conveyer belt of preparing for class, teaching class, meetings, play preparation, rehearsals, and trying to manage the disciplinary issues. Each moment was squeezed for the maximum benefit. Not complaining—I just felt like Lucy!

My friend and colleague Steve went to the US for a conference recently and I taught one of his classes for a week. I had visited them before to teach for 2 days a few months ago, on Greek art, but this was an extended visit, and it was a challenge, and refreshing.

First of all, the course is not an AP course, which just means you do not have to keep one eye on the clock and one eye on the calendar the whole time (I know—the image doesn’t really work, I may just want to have an eye on the board, and the students too, but hey, I do have four eyes after all). This is an introduction to world history course to 9th graders who are in what we call an “EES” program (say it aloud and you get the point). It is “English Enhancement Seminar,” and it is meant for our students for whom English is still a struggle and not as natural for second-language speakers. The goal is to really focus on the skills of language acquisition so that the courses are more manageable, and they can eeeeeeeeeeeeeease (EES) into English and KA better.

This class for a week took me back to my first year at KA. In the last two years I have had to go much faster since I was teaching them AP classes. But these guys are still adjusting to so many classes in English. For many of this class of 18 before coming to KA they might have had only one class a day in English (that would have been English class) and now they have all their classes save Arabic and Theology in English. The amount of reading and writing and speaking and understanding and processing must give those neurons in their brains a work-out!

So I walk in and many of the guys yell out, “Habibi!” the guy-talk that actually means, “dear one.” Mr. Steve had assigned them a five-page excerpt of a textbook chapter for the week as we explored Medieval Life in Europe around 1000. First of all, they wailed and moaned and smiled and agonized over the assignment of five pages for a week. Mr. Steve must have been out of his mind, they guessed!

He had asked them to start the packet and read the first page. Many of them had written over dozens of the words on that first page with Arabic so they could get a handle on what the chapter contained. I didn’t doubt that they had spent time on it, but I remembered back to days where I had to do the same kind of spade work in French and German, and even if you have all those words there as helpers, somehow the actual meaning of a passage can elude you.

I asked a couple questions about the “feudal relationships”, explained in the chapter, and in their sweet way they looked so frustrated, and I realize we needed to do that spade work. I asked Laith, this eager sharp young man to read the first sentence. Here is the first sentence of the chapter:

As the Carolingian Empire disintegrated and as attacks by invaders devastated the lands, a new political system known as feudalism developed in Europe.

As he read the sentence, I read the mood in the room. They just didn’t understand this combination of words. They had read the page, or at least most of them—I could tell these two boys in the corner did not intend to read, ha! they remind me of the Middle School colleague at Hackley who refused to read any books I assigned the History Department to read! I digress…

They had translated the words, but it was like saying just sounds really. That sentence was so dense. I really wouldn’t have thought about it, but if you read that again, if you don’t know it well, or understand the context, that sentence—that first one of the chapter—is a dead-end for the whole chapter, for the whole lesson, for the whole week!

So since I didn’t need to watch the syllabus as hawkeye-like as in an AP course, I decided we couldn’t proceed, we daren’t proceed, until we all understand that first sentence.

So, as you would surely have guessed from the title of the blogisode, we spent 29 minutes chewing apart every noun, verb and adjective in that sentence. The one thing they knew for certain was where Europe was since Steve had just done a unit on geography. We worked with what they knew, and figured out that sentence. I told them stories about Charlemagne (he, of the opaque adjectival word Carolingian), I explained how and when Charlemagne came to dominate Frankish Europe (they knew that phrase from the whizbang geography lesson of Steve’s). I used a chess board to explain how the game of chess actually mirrors feudalism, and we started to tear down and build back up that concept.

I asked them if they knew the word terrorism. I asked it nicely. I didn’t accuse them of being terrorists, but really, if the word comes up in the Middle East, it’s not unlike talking about communism in the USA—a metaphorical cold breeze suddenly chills the air. I explained about the Vikings and their intrusions, or rather, terrorist intrusions to Frankish Europe over the course of centuries and we discussed the fear that would underlie a society subjected to such terrorist attacks. They explained to me how such fear would prompt the adoption of a system that protected and created a structure to manage the fear.

After 29 minutes, at the end of that first class, they understood that first sentence. It was clear. They knew the words, they embraced the context, they waved those verbs around, they welcomed the Carolingian era, and they understood that first sentence.

It was good work, hard work actually, trying to move carefully and not insultingly, but thrillingly to make that strange passage familiar. They were amazed that they could understand a sentence so well! (I didn’t have the heart to remind them they had many, many more sentences to go—I couldn’t touch that amazement!).

In the aftermath of that first day with them, I thought about the sensation of being amazed. I was talking to a writer last night who came to be a teacher for one year here, and he asked me why I didn’t teach in a college. I said, “They don’t radiate amazement as much. I watch a student at this age, and they will allow themselves to be amazed.”

Theologian Dorothee Soelle once wrote, “To be amazed means to behold the world and, like God after the sixth day of creation, to be able to say again for the first time, ‘Look! How very good it all is!’”

Last night, when this conveyer belt slowed down finally and I could watch a movie, I picked one I had watched last August, I picked Julie and Julia (in honor of Meryl Streep’s Oscar nomination!). This movie is a delicious comedy about two women who have an amazed response to food and cooking. La Streep plays Julia Child, who is living in Paris in the mid-1950s, going to cooking school and beginning to write the cookbook that will make her famous. Amy Adams is Julie, a New Yorker who 50 years later decides to cook the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and write about her experiences in blogisodes. Both story lines show the process of finding one’s calling through creativity.

I love this movie’s spunky celebration of the spiritual practice of enthusiasm—both characters are exceptional mentors of this quality—and its portrait of personal transformation arriving in the midst of everyday activities. Both women allowed themselves to be amazed, even at something so simple.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Next stop…KFC…Kuwaiti Fried Chicken

Earlier this week the ominous reports began to filter in—there might be a snowstorm this week in the kingdom.

I have lived in places that get snow forever, but here in the desert it does take on a quasi-mystical quality to ponder the onset of snow. Our headmaster announced that meteorologists had confirmed there was a chance for snow. Would school be cancelled?

It seemed strange that snow would visit us, much less disrupt the rhythm and flow of a boarding school where on most nights 75% of the students are boarders.

But the prospect of snow creates mania. However—that mania is hardly indigenous to Jordan! When I lived in North Carolina, certain kinds of cloud formations sent my southern brethren and sistern to the local grocery stores—they had seen the “bread and milk sky” (say that please with the proper southern accent it requires!) and they needed to load up the provisions of bread and milk for the duration of winter! The first year I taught in North Carolina school was cancelled for a week in January, 1987 due to a snow storm. Most days you could find everyone at the mall killing time until it was “safe” enough to traverse the roads back to school.

On Wednesday—the morning of what might be the storm of the century—students started yelling in the halls around 10:00 that school was cancelled for the following day. Oh, the excitement of it all!

Then as lunch started many of the students who live in various parts of Jordan were whisked away to be sent home in school vans to get them home before the storm hit.

(We are a fully functioning boarding school—our own little community, albeit monastery-like…)

As lunch began, I recognized the “Henny Penny” mood as rumors coursed through that school was cancelled the following day, and maybe indefinitely (!!). Our headmaster announced that a plan would be pronounced shortly. Soon however, some of the staff went from table-to-table canvassing students as to what their plans were. Their plans? What was the school plan? Was everyone going home? Several Saudi students said they were flying home until winter was over. They were calling the airlines!

Oh, the sky is falling!

Hackley was not immune to such mania either. The bus companies practically control the educational system and on days when it was feared that snow might come that night, bus companies sometimes announced early dismissals to get students home, and the mania would start sometimes as early as 10:00. I actually went around the halls occasionally on those days, yelling out and warning to Henny Penny. Why not—it was fun to add to the cacophony.

I went to Lubna’s office and we checked online the best weather service for Jordan. It said that there was a 30% chance of snow that evening.


Oh my…Henny Penny has found a safe home.

The official word finally came. Students could leave at 6:30 on buses but any boarder needed to call home and check with a Student Life Office dean about the permission. We braced ourselves (actually I did less bracing, I was going to be in class) for the onslaught of maybe 200 calls in the next hour or so to manage.

I managed to teach my remaining class, although students checked the skies every few minutes in case a missile of snow dropped to earth.

When 6:30 came Henny Penny had packed her suitcase and some students had suitcases that looked more appropriate for Spring Break than a night at home (followed by a weekend). The official word was students would be notified if school was cancelled. Yes, Henny Penny, school was not yet cancelled, just precautions being made. If school was not cancelled everyone would have to be back on a bus at 7:00 a.m. the following day to come back and have that scheduled day of classes.

At 6:30 it was cold—maybe 40 degrees. My, my, Henny Penny, your feathers would be mighty chilly in such temperatures.

The decision to be made was—would there be school the following day? Would it be prudent to go home for the evening in Amman, just to come back very early the following morning? Some students figured—come on, it’s a boarding school, we live here, there will be school!

So a hardy group stayed on campus. By the way, one of my Mohammad students stopped and asked if I was going to stay in Amman. I asked why—I lived here at the monastery, errr, on the campus. He thought it might be more fun for me to get a hotel room in Amman for the storm.

At dinner there was that mood that prevails on snow days. You know—you shouldn’t do anything you normally would do. If you should practice the cello, work some math problems, read your novel for English, learn some German artist names for Art History, of course you don’t do any of those things—it’s a snow day! (Remember, not yet officially!) So you linger at dinner longer and have one of those inane conversations you have on snow days. Conversations that are not about business, or have an agenda, or are on your To Do List.

I joined a table and we discussed how businesses in the Arab world often change well-known American business names but are not really a franchise of the American business. So, in lazy snow day fashion, you go around and share your findings. I shared the grocery store named “Biggly Wiggly” modeled on the American store, “Piggly Wiggly.” Abdullah shared that there is a coffee shop named “Stars and Bucks,” another shared that a hamburger place called “Softee’s” is purloined from the American “Hardee’s,” and so on. My favorite contribution was a student who had lived in Kuwait and told of the chicken place there with the familiar KFC in big, bold neon lights, and then the actual name in smaller print, Kuwaiti Fried Chicken. Ha!

The following morning I got up about 6 to get ready for school. I looked outside and the ground was bone dry and the sun was just starting to emerge from its battle with the moon. Oh well. So much for Henny Penny and her mania. It was time to get ready.

After my shower I noticed a message on the cell phone. An SMS had gone out to the KA community—“Due to inclement weather, classes will be cancelled today, Thursday, February 4.” Henny Penny won!

Of course only 80 students had remained on campus anyway. We have 100 full boarders. That means that not only did the five-day boarders get outta Dodge the night before, 20% of the seven-day boarders had hightailed it away too! I guess the powers that be wisely figured you can’t fight the Henny Penny madness! No school! I feel for those administrative decisions—you cannot win (unless your last name is Penny).

As you might imagine, it was a beautiful day—it was sunny for much of the day, and almost no precipitation at all! But lest I think this is a Jordan Phenomenon—I remember a day at Hackley when a hurricane was forecast and people worried about the roads and the drainage problems of the parkways, and school was cancelled the day before. Ahhh…it turned out to be one of the most perfect sunny days in the Hudson Valley in my memory!

About 8:30 Ghassan called me and asked if we should have class. Really? He said about a dozen art historians were on campus. Let’s have class! Why not?! I sent out an email offering to have a class, but no one should feel obligated to show up. (I made jokes about the frostbite one might incur, and don’t forget to shake the snow off your boots as you came into class…why not mock the Lack of Snow Day a little.) I emphasized that no one should feel punished to come to the class, or feel punished to have to miss the class. (Abdullah emailed back and said the only one being punished was me!)

So at 11:00 I convened a class about the complexities of 16th century Antwerp. We discussed the world’s first stock exchange, the mad rush of ships in the harbor, the cabal of world trade in the “Wall Street” district, and the Flemish-Protestant chafing under Catholic Spain. We analyzed 9 art works by Pieter Brueghel, the first two being winter landscapes!

Fourteen young men and one young woman came to this extra class. They braved the “storm of the century” and bucked the trend of not doing anything important on a Snow Day. It was really just like any other day in this school, a reminder of how blessed I am to have a group of students who show up and profess interest and mine their curiosity.

Right now…a new morning…and another sunny day!

Monday, February 1, 2010

…and be Mary…

Here it is, the first day of February! I had decided over the weekend that I would write a blog entry about how even though it was a full month since New Year’s Day, and a month since I got on a plane back to Jordan I would remind the world of the promises and the hopes that are invested so naturally on New Year’s Day. Oh, the resolutions and the intentions and the smiles and the hopes of early January! Remember, I wrote early last month that we needed to look the New Year “right in the eye” and make it all better. I was going to write today about how the spirit of the New Year was right here in my pocket, and I could take it out and smile at it as if it were still January 1 or 2 or 3. I was going to write about Friends (the actual collection of people I know, not the great sit-com) and feel all warm and fuzzy so that you on that cold continent over there might have a warm fire in your psyche after the blogisode about Friends.

But then today happened.

I mean, it’s not really an unusual day when teaching adolescents and trying to manage, or help others manage, the stresses of school life.

Well, actually, it did have an unusual start. And I am still trying to figure it out. Mondays are the one day when we do not have School Meeting at 7:55 a.m. (and I happen to have first period free) so I can toddle about the apartment or go have a leisurely cup of coffee with Lubna before jumping into the fray.

I noticed this morning that there was something strange under the front door of the apartment, and I just assumed our zealous maintenance guys had some great ooooooooze on the floor of the dorm trying to get it clean.

I open the door to check on the sludge-y stuff that I suspect is cleaning product, and notice that I have about a dozen egg shells on the floor, and notice that I have the detritus of egg all over the door. Hmmm…my door had been egged in the middle of the night! What had happened? The strange thing is that I thought about last night, I remembered that the dorm had been unusually quiet at bedtime, and I saw not a soul in the hallway after Lights Out. I hadn’t had a confrontation with a derelict young man, and frankly, no name popped into my head of who might have done it. Except that I teach school, assign work, and wave a magic gradebook over people’s lives.

I can’t remember any other time in my career that I was egged. So, strange. Just a strange start to the day. You know, you don’t want to take it personally, and I know the seniors feel the stress of senior year (seriously, every senior year has been stressful…I am sure Moses complained to his buddies about how no one in the palace really understood, and when the pharaoh was a little boy, no one had the stresses of being a senior like he had them) and are cross about life, but oh well. I would rather have had a western omelet instead.

But the day was one of a succession of odd chats: taking someone aside and quietly and calmly discussing infractions or missed obligations. The young man who disrupted science class endlessly, and the young man who didn’t understand why he couldn’t just go into town alone and do what teen-agers need to do, and the colleague who was stressed about how no one understands how hard it is to be away from friends and family, and the colleague who didn’t know why we weren’t friends on Facebook (seriously!). I had a student who needed to go over the grading of a test, sure that his A- was really an A and then I had the student who needed chastising because of a nasty email he sent to a teacher telling him how much he hated him. I ate lunch by grabbing a piece of fish and walking around the Dining Hall trying to find the two errant seniors who needed to turn in their Senior Jackets to me because some people thought the nicknames on the jackets the young scholars had chosen were inappropriate (actually six jackets had been deemed inappropriate, but four of them have been successfully recovered by Jacket Hunter Johnny). Oh and I had a couple of meetings and a couple of classes. We discussed doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants and the ensuing wars (“My chalice is golden and expensive! My chalice is simple and made of wood! Let’s fight!”). Everything was testy today!

So I need something other than the cheesiness extolling the virtues of friendship.

Let’s face it—I need a little levity, and well, maybe I need to make fun of a couple of people!

Over the thirty-one months of blogging I have resisted—for the most part—mocking my Arab friends’ English. It just isn’t fair! And remember, they are operating, thinking, debating, writing and acting in a second language. So I never culled gaffes and used them as fodder in the blog. But a little chuckle might lighten the mood on this February 1st.

Administrators send emails all day long—I mean that’s what they do, and 99.9% of these emails have great English grammar and vocabulary, but there is one who ends many, many emails with something that gives me the giggles. In Administrator-speak, I have learned that when one is peeved at a colleague, one tends to end an email (a.k.a. rant) with the phrase “please advise.” Well, this one administrator—stop me, okay, it’s just a chortle, always ends such emails with “please advice.” Okay, a little chortle—what’s the harm?!

There was another email advising the reader that an important matter was still unresolved. The pronouncement read, “The matter is still bending.”

Now, actually I can explain that gaffe, I think. In Arabic you don’t have a “p” sound. For example, if you are lost in Jordan, trying to find your way to Petra, you just stop and beg, “Wein Butra????” See, if you say the P in Petra, you aren’t really local. Cool, no? So I think the mistake was that the impulse is not to say a p like in pending. Well, that demystifies the comment, I guess and takes away any of the risible effect for which I long!

But my favorite gaffe actually reminds me of how interesting and profound little tiny mistakes can be. Okay, this came from a student’s test last week on the Renaissance. There was an art work and the prompt asked the students to analyze how the work exemplified the intellectual concerns of the era. The student commented how the piece was from Venice, and went on to comment about the trials and tribulations the Venetians endured as their economy suffered and collapsed in the second half of the 15th century (If you are dying to know why, well, it is simple, the recently-triumphant-in-Constantinople -Ottomans closed down the shipping lanes to and from Venice, I guess to teach those cocky Venetians a thing or two about control.

The mood in Venice might have been one of panic, since a major source of their wealth suddenly vaporized. But in an unusual response, the Venetians decided to throw up their hands and throw themselves a party of sorts. Their art turned quite escapist, rather risqué, and bacchanalian. I described in class that the Venetian artists adopted the mantra of “Eat, drink and be merry…for tomorrow we may die!”

We looked at a number of art works by Titian and Giorgione and Bellini that supported this theory. Indeed the work on the test called on just such knowledge.

So I am reading this excellent response from a student and the student writes that in Venice they adopted the idea that one should “Eat, drink and be Mary!”

It is just a homonym—a simple little spelling error—but it made me laugh. Instead of merriment, the directive is to be Mary! The Virgin Mary? Mary Magdalene? Mary, Queen of Scots? Mary Todd Lincoln? Mary Astor? Stop me!

So I laughed. I didn’t have the heart to let the student know the gaffe (Annunciation, anyone??), but it actually made me think that it is a pretty good pep talk.

I thought of Mary, the sister of Lazarus in the New Testament. Mary is the gentle hostess—gracious, attentive, a listener and responder to the people and the hubbub buzzing around her. Her personality isn’t showy, but she is purposeful and sensitive to the frustrations and fears of those around her.

Maybe that is what this day needed—a total out-of-the-blue reminder that when it seems like chaos, why not just calm down, “eat, drink, and be Mary.”