Life can be defined by moments. Sometimes we plan for moments that matter. Maybe it’s the year long planning for a perfect wedding, or the nine month wait to celebrate a new life. There are certain moments we anticipate and weigh with significance: first steps, the first day of school, first job, first kiss, graduation, marriage, family or career events. These are the moments that we expect to shape our lives. And of course, they do. But not all of life’s biggest moments are scripted. Sometimes, the emotion of an unexpected moment takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Sometimes, life happens beyond our control, and our lives change in a second. And somehow, these unpredictable moments root themselves in our memory just as firmly as the moments we spend years planning for. Sometimes it is the time and space between planned moments, when life really takes meaning.
Think back to a moment that took your breath away. A romantic memory when your heart skipped a beat, a proud memory where you felt like your heart would burst from your chest, or a traumatic moment when your life changed in a second. We associate our surroundings with the emotions we feel. We can’t plan these moments, but we can agree that when they catch us by surprise, they shape our narrative, our outlook and our life’s definition. These little moments seem most profound when we view life in reverse. Collectively, we have faith, that all moments have purpose, hence the common expression “Everything happens for a reason.” We don’t always know the reason, but we believe in the search for meaning.
This weekend, our family spent time in Tofino, BC. I knew I would love the landscape: the sound of the waves, the rugged coastline and the wind blown trees did not disappoint. I expected to find beauty – and we did. But, in an effort to be present, it wasn’t the natural surrounding that caught be by surprise. It was a simple act, walking down the main street of town when my 11 year old son, Cole, reached for my hand as we walked. He has done this for years – but for some reason, this moment resonated. His 13 year old brother walked a few steps behind. While only two years apart in age, the days of holding Jaden’s hand have long since passed. It struck me that I needed to pause – and love this moment – because as a mom, I have no idea when the last time will be that I walk hand in hand with my child. Soon, teenage years will mark the end of childhood and handholding with mom will be a cherished memory.
As a parent, we note so many firsts: rolling over, standing up, taking that first step or sleeping through the night. Somehow we lose sight of the lasts: the last cuddle, the last sleepless night, the time to hold hands. Despite the insignificance – my moment with Cole felt significant. Holding his hand signifies the long days but short years of childhood. It got me thinking about the sights, sounds, tastes and feelings that remind me of other significant moments – spaces in time that somehow planted themselves deeply in my memory:
The first snowfall that always reminds me of the evening my grandmother passed.
Back to school ads that remind me of my childhood and my mom’s fascination with coupon cutting.
Salted peanuts that remind me of my grandfather.
It’s the simplest things that take us back to moments that matter – moments that shape who we are.
As an educator, I wonder, do we give value to these unexpected moments as much as we should?
Educators are experts at planning. We plan for everything. Lesson plans, unit plans, class reviews, curriculum, school goals, assessment goals, professional development. You name it and we have a plan for it. But does this hinder our ability to see what really matters and appreciate moments when they happen? Does our over functioning, fast pace and planning distract us from the joy that naturally occurs right in front of us? Do we give moments the worth they deserve? Do we give ourselves permission to enjoy the unplanned?
When I reflect on my 20 years in education, my greatest memories have nothing to do with the curriculum or hard work and planning. They have everything to do with the spaces in between. It is the unplanned moments that have brought me the most meaning. As I scan my career, some of my most memorable moments include:
- my first Marketing 12 class of 34 students who were chronic skippers – but all showed up on the final sunny day in June and stayed after the bell to hear the presentation I had made on what I had learned from them. (I really didn’t think they would show – but every single one of them did)
- the funeral service of a student – where a dad spoke of the pride he felt when he received the letter I had written asking his son to be part of the leadership program
- the miraculous moments I have shared with students helping the homeless find their families
- the joke a grade three student told me as I drove him to his gifted class
- the talent show where a student with Autism brought down the house with an outstanding drumming performance – and 400 kids erupted like super fans
- the honour of carrying the 2010 Olympic Torch with my students who were recognized for their work making Canada a better place
- receiving my favourite gift ever: the painted fingerprints of every Harry Hooge student shaped into a heart as my goodbye gift from the school.
These are the moments I remember. And yet, when I became an educator, I could not have predicted any of these meaningful moments. Each of these moments happened in the space between.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, there is power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.”
I worry that in education, we skim past the space that exists and miss the moments that rejuvenate our purpose. If we fail to see the space that exists, our response is dictated by our pre-set plans. Sometimes, the day to day routines and over planning stop us from experiencing the joy that naturally exists, and stop us from changing course. Sometimes we need to do less to feel more. After a particularly hard school year, I have just begun Elena Aguilar’s newest book: Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. This particular passage struck a chord:
“In the majority of schools, what’s needed isn’t more professional development on deconstructing standards or academic discourse or using date to drive instruction. What’s needed is time, space and attention to managing stress and cultivating resilience. We must focus on cultivating our own resilience because it’ll help us manage physical and emotional stressors, enjoy life more, and fulfill our purpose as educators.”
Cole taking my hand was a simple act, but taking time to acknowledge the moment helped me to feel the significance, and enjoy life more. It’s my reminder that some of life’s most meaningful moments are not planned or prepared. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves, our families and our students is the time to slow down, to be present and embrace the moments that fill the space between the expected.