Saturday, July 27, 2013

On Broken Hearts

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          I suppose one of the many reasons why I became a teacher is because I am a rather messed up person. Teaching allows me to tap into all aspects of my “craziness.” It is the only profession I can think of wherein one wears several hats: actor, nurse, surrogate mother, singer, slave driver, director, cleaning lady, cheer leader, comedian, accountant, dancer, librarian, athlete, the list goes on and on!
           Teaching allows me to indulge in the “wannabe” scholar within as well as the nurturing feminine heart all girls possess.   Teaching gives me both the routine that I find comfort in, and the excitement and spontaneity that I crave at times.
            And this week has been one emotional roller coaster ride, to say the least! From Monday’s overload of cuteness with the Little Ms./Mr. Intrams, to Tuesday’s action-packed back-to-back intramural games, to Wednesday’s mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes, to Thursday’s heartbreak and Friday’s reconciliation… my heart felt like a yo-yo and feels rather exhausted at week’s end.
            And yes, my heart needs quite a bit of “me” time to heal its most recent crack. You see, it’s every teacher’s nightmare to discover that their student, whom they have known and loved for many years, is the complete opposite of what they thought they were. And it’s especially painful to accept, and very difficult to continue loving the student through what Maria Montessori calls “the eyes of faith.”
             Teilhard de Chardin once said, “I had come to regard the world as radically and incurably corrupt. Consequently I had allowed the fire to die down in my heart.” I am struggling not to let the same thing happen to me, although I admit that there was a black time in the not-so-distant past, a low ebb in my own life, that I HAD let the fire die, that the only thing that kept me going was the joy that I found being surrounded by so many pure hearts whose innocence revived the flame burning low in me.
              And I know that there are some people who would say that the way to deal with all of this is to shield one’s self from all emotion, to stop feeling too deeply, to put an end to all ties of affection, of friendship between one and others who may, one day, break one’s heart with betrayal. That it would be so much easier to simply STOP CARING, and “grow up,” and be cynical and call it maturity, being so “wise about the ways of the big bad world.”
            And now this recent heart ache borne out of a broken perception…but now, now I am older and wiser. Now I know that the answer to all the brokenness we see around us, all the events that threaten to disillusion us, is truly to keep on loving. For, in the words of St. Augustine, “Who can be good, if not made so by loving?”
             And of course, there’s no heart ache that can’t be fixed with a good, old-fashioned sing-and-play of Handel’s immortal aria, “He Shall Feed His Flock / Come Unto Him.” ;) And if there's no piano around, a pint of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookies inside would suffice.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On Clytemnestra and Femininity

Picture from Tanghalang Ateneo's web site

Recently I was lucky enough to be able to watch Tanghalang Ateneo’s production of the Oresteian Trilogy translated into Filipino, “Ang Oresteyas.” It is the infamous story of possibly the most dysfunctional family in literature, about Agamemnon (who murders his eldest daughter Iphigenia), his wife Clytemnestra (who kills her husband to take revenge for her slain daughter), their other daughter Electra (who loves her father and witnesses his murder) and their son Orestes (who slays his mother for his father’s sake). I will never forget the experience of seeing the Greek tragedy excellently acted out in all its bloody glory, which deserves another blog entry all by itself!

In the midst of watching the play, I couldn’t help but reflect a great deal on Queen Clytemnestra, who some might say is the central figure of the tragedy. She was a passionate woman who only ever truly loved her husband, but was forced to kill the love of her life because of what he did to their daughter. There were several lines in the play referring to her as a monstrosity, as a woman who only played at being a mother but had more “balls” than ordinary men, due to her strength of will. And while the modern in me couldn’t help but admire the idea of a strong “iron lady,” I felt disquiet, too, at the idea that one couldn’t be truly a woman if one didn’t fit the motherly virtuous Madonna image which was the convention in society that time.

Clytemnestra seemed so “foreign” because she was different, she didn’t subscribe to her society’s standards of femininity. And it seems to me that even today, women (more than men) are greatly pressured by society’s dictates to act a certain way.

It amazes me, for instance, how often little squabbles erupt in my Grade One classroom, over something as inconsequential as “crushes.” One little girl will accuse a boy of having a crush on her and wanting to make her his “girl friend,” something the boy vehemently denies. (Or sometimes it’s the other way around!) And while it may seem cute at first glance, I can’t help but be amazed at how precocious their awareness of “crushes” and significant others are.

So from a very young age, girls are taught by society that their value as a female lies in the ability to attract a mate, and that her value increases the more suitors she has. And anyone who went to high school knows that, for many girls, school is more about looking pretty for the good looking basketball players than developing a critical mind through scholarly pursuits. (I’m sure Malala Yousafzai would like to have a VERY strong word with those young girls…)

I suppose we can all learn a great deal from celibates around us, when we behold the quiet beauty that radiates from the faces of nuns and the solid strength that emanates from the truly holy priests. Surrounded by this bombardment of sexuality and the commodification of “love,” these celibate individuals remind us of the revolutionary power of virginity, of single hood.

When you really think about it, singlehood is not the negative state that HIMYM would have us believe, that it reflects on the person’s inability to attract attention from the opposite sex.

As Kathleen Norris put it, “Virginity is defined as being whole, at one in oneself. Singleness of heart is a state of being that returns to God in wholeness… this wholeness is not that of having experience all experiences, but of something reserved, preserved, or reclaimed for what it was made for. It is the ability to stay centered, with oneness of purpose. What might it mean for a girl today to be as the early virgin martyrs were and defy the conventions of female behavior? She would presume to have a life, a body, an identity apart from male definitions of what constitutes her femininity… her life would articulate the love of the community that had formed her and would continue to strengthen her.”

And so when some of my girl high school students ask me about advice on love and matters of the heart, I gently try to “sell” this idea of waiting, of feeling that it’s OK to hold out for the right man, at the right time. Because it saddens me to see so many girls run to the arms of immature boys incapable of having a real relationship, all because of society’s pressure on the girl to have a boyfriend “or else you’re worthless as a female.”

For your prince will come, one day. And then our Father will happily say, “Go and make your lives so intertwined that they feel like one flesh.” 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Thoughts on Love

Recently, several Teatro Regina actors and I watched the preview of PETA's multi-awarded musical, "WILLIAM," an awesome production featuring rap and hip-hop songs as a vehicle to present how the study of Shakespeare enriches the lives of a typical Filipino high school class.

The high school students who watched it with me were amazed, not only because of the quality of the production (truly world class!) but also because of how accurately the high school students characters were depicted. "They're EXACTLY like us, when we studied Shakespeare last year!" said one senior. "They have the same thoughts and feelings!" 

I told them, "That's because the play was written by a former teacher."

Anyone who has read Frank McCourt's "Teacher Man" or similar literature by teachers will know that educators have a golden opportunity to interact with all sorts of parent and their children. It's one of the things I'm most grateful for, and part of what makes a teacher's life so fascinating. 

Year after year, the children in our school come to us from all walks of life, from varying circumstances, and their combined personalities interacting within the classroom make for the most interesting anecdotes and stories! And every PTC season brings with it its share of tales of triumph and woe, where the teacher then becomes part psychotherapist, part marriage counselor (sometimes!), and part father confessor.

I'm grateful because I get to see, on an intimate level, the results of a couple's actions in the personality and physical well-being of their child. I'm not claiming that teachers are experts on bringing children up, of course, nothing can compare to the actual experience of giving birth to a child and bringing him/her up to be a good person. But the advice that teachers can offer to parents comes from the unique perspective that we get as a result of observing soooo many other children. And honestly, I think no crash course in Parenting 101 can be as effective as teaching! If only for the daily insights into the workings of the human soul that it offers.

The one thing I've come to realize is this:  All parents love their kids. But not all parents know HOW to act out that affection in the manner that would best benefit their child.

When you love someone, every action you do ought to be for their best interest. Even if it means denying yourself to the point of pain. Because love isn't merely a feeling that runs through one's body; love isn't simply having your picture taken with the beloved, then posting it on Facebook; love is, quite simply, the Cross. The Crucifix. Love made flesh.

Whenever I get exhausted from the daily challenges of teaching life, I just remember to look up at the body of the best Teacher man ever had, and I know I can't fail. He won't let me.
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