Tag Archives: Reflection

Dreaming of Purple Mountains

I’m not sure when it started, this dreaming of purple mountains. But when I look for you behind closed eyes, I know that’s where I’ll find you.

The mountains have always been purple. Deep purple, dark purple, thick lines, visible brushstrokes. Hints of lavender and a touch of violet or indigo, depending on the light. A painting.

The mountains are gently rolling in some parts and in others, steep and jagged. Sometimes there are clouds, too, tinged with dusky blues and greys. Often a few lingering white puffs across the sky. But sometimes there’s just a vast bright blue. The sun is shining. The grass is soft, the bright green that begs you to take off your shoes and play. 

I’ll see you in the purple mountains, I think before I fall asleep.

Behind my eyelids, we’re skipping up the hill and we’re laughing.

Neither of us are strangers to this place, to this watercolor illustration out of a children’s story.

But where did it come from? The first time I said it out loud, I knew it was right.

Where did it come from and, more to the point, how did I know you’d see what I saw? Where do you come from? What lives have you lived? 

Who are you? And who am I?


I live in a world where we say goodbye on the last day of school in June. Not just, “Goodbye, have a good summer, see you in August.” There’s some of that, certainly, but there’s also, “Goodbye, friend, as you journey to another part of the world. Maybe we’ll meet again one day.”

Maybe we will. 

It’s hard to send off the colleagues who have become friends and friends who have become family. I hope they all find their own purple mountains, the realization of dreams both articulated and hidden, wishes both acknowledged and buried. 

Yesterday I told a friend, “I hope it’s everything you hope it will be.”

He replied, “I don’t. I hope it’s everything we need it to be right now, but I’m not done yet.”

I smiled. “Then let me say it again. I hope it’s everything you need it to be right now, and that you voyage on.”


This makes sense to me. It makes sense to keep looking for the purple mountains in whatever form they take. It makes sense to dream of them and find that I’m not the only one up there dreaming. I’m not the only one up there looking and imagining and creating.

I know too many people who stopped looking. Maybe that’s the right decision for them and I certainly respect it. But it’s not the right decision for me. I tried to put the dreams aside, to look for purple mountains somewhere else, but I couldn’t find them. In fact, I lost them. For a time, there were no mountains and where they had been was full of holes and erasure dust. I tried to wipe it off but it was hard to see through the smudges. 

The mountains were gone and I drifted in the space where they had been.

The most frightening feeling I’ve ever had was not being able to imagine tomorrow. I remember the first time the mountains were hidden in black.

It’s hard to explain this to people who stopped looking or who found their mountains without much getting in the way. Compared to many people I know, I think I’ve lived a lot. My purple mountains with springy green grass were trampled on once but I am filled with gold bubbles when I dream of them now.

Yes, this is hard to explain. I don’t mind when people don’t understand, and I take responsibility for not explaining very well, but I do mind when others do not respect that the right thing for me to do is keep looking.


Sometimes I think I’ve found you. And having worked so hard to get back there, how could I let you go?

When I close my eyes, maybe I’ll see you and learn of the lives you’ve lived. You’re right there beside me, dancing up the purple mountains into the white cloud blue sky, barefoot in the grass. You believe in a world that might exist in a children’s story.

How did I know you’d see what I saw?

Neither of us are strangers to the purple mountains. Maybe they won’t always be everything I hope they’ll be, but maybe they’re everything I need them to be right now.

And then we’ll voyage on.

Kandy, Sri Lanka – April 2016

What Teachers Make

The title for this post comes from a slam poem by Taylor Mali. I haven’t watched in years but saw it as The Message when I was introduced to it in my first (second?) undergrad education class. Parts of it have rung in my ears ever since.

But I know a lot more now. And I know that what Taylor Mali missed is that teachers make choices. People make choices.

Thinking simply, teachers make the choice to teach or to educate, to validate young people or to turn them away, to take a stand or sit back and watch, to be vulnerable and human or indifferent and robotic.

They make the choice to act or avoid responsibility.

Teachers, educators for some, are people. Some do the best they can with the time and resources they have. Some spend hours upon hours doing work that isn’t theirs because it’s the right thing to do by the young people they serve. As soon as teachers neglect that education is a social contract, they’ve neglected a lot.

If you’re willing to let it, educating can be a political act. (Note the pronoun shift here.) And it is hard. It is hard to do the right thing and to do it well. It is hard to ask yourself, “What do I want young people to understand if they never step foot in a classroom again? Who do I want them to be?” It is hard to take responsibility for cultivating, encouraging, building young people into adults who are committed to making the world a better, more peaceful place.

And it is hard to think critically about what that world looks like. It’s hard to make the world a better, more peaceful place.


You, the reader, might be asking with good reason, “Don’t we all make choices? Don’t we all want to do good things? Aren’t we all responsible for our actions?” Yes, we all make choices. No, we do not all want to do good things. Yes, we are all responsible for our actions – but only some accept responsibility, own it, do something with it. But I’m not talking about everyone. Please excuse me. I’m talking about educators and people who claim to be so.

“You’re ranting,” you might say. “It’s not becoming. It’s not fun to read. Write this elsewhere.”

But I can’t. I can’t because educators make choices every day that directly impact the lives of others. I can see it because I work with them and I can only speak honestly about what I know and have experienced.

Perhaps context is appropriate.

I spent the day working on a job that isn’t mine because it was the right thing to do and needed to be done. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last time. I’m willing to do work that I think is important because I know what’s at stake – the well-being of adults I care about and young people I have a social contract with. If that’s not a reason to give my time to something meaningful, I don’t know what is.

But I’m getting a little tired of others’ excuses. I’m getting a little tired of, “I can’t help because I’m doing this other thing.” I’m sure you are. But so am I.

And I’m not angelic or perfect or a martyr, not by a long shot. As I said above, I make choices, too, and sometimes I take the easy way out. But I have also seen the damage that my easy way has caused others and I’m willing to acknowledge that and choose differently. This is what it means to take responsibility and it’s hard. It’s hard to make choices that set me at a crossroads between wearing my educator hat and wearing my friend/colleague hats.

I made that choice today and I don’t know if I did the right thing. But I know I did what I could and I have to close this day feeling at peace with a difficult choice that has very sharp edges on all sides.


All of this makes me only human, doesn’t it? And a vulnerable one at at that. If this is what it takes to make the world a better, more peaceful place then at least I know I’ve done whatever it is that I can do.

Today.

Tomorrow is a different day.

And I’ll keep trying. I don’t always do the right thing but I try and this is my public commitment to continue doing so.


Sometimes I take a moment away from my focus on young people and ask myself the same questions, “Who are you? Who do you want to be?” I don’t always know the answer to the former but the latter is quite clear: I want to be an educator and I want to be a good person. Owning this makes sense to me.

Why publish this post? Because I’m human, too, and an agent in constructing a world. I know that I make choices. And I’m trying damn hard to make the right ones.

Learning to Cry

It’s usually when I’m listening to loud music that it finds me.

Usually when I’m sitting alone in the dark.

When I’m watching a candle burn.

It’s usually when I close my eyes and reach down into the place I pretend doesn’t exist.

Usually when I find dark reds, blues, blacks.

When I feel colors swirling.


And then I have two choices.

Choice 1: Fly. Fly out of there. Back up and into the light. Find a smile. There are flowers somewhere.

Choice 2: Fall. Fall and go wherever the fall brings. Tumble. Let the heart beat faster. Let the breathing end in a gasp.


I’m learning to cry again. It’s been a long time coming.

Growing up, I used to cry a lot. I cried when I was happy or sad or angry, always when I was angry. And because I was crying, and also because I used to laugh out of sheer emotion before I cried, I always ended up feeling embarrassed or silly. Another reason to cry.

I used to cry whenever I saw someone else crying. It didn’t matter if I knew them or not. It didn’t matter if I was watching a film or living a real life. If someone else cried, so would I.

I’m not sure when that changed. Maybe it changed when I cried every single day for a month after moving to Malaysia. Maybe I ran out of tears after that. Maybe it changed when I moved to Singapore and didn’t want to give anyone back home an excuse to say, “See? You’re unhappy. You made a terrible mistake.” I wasn’t unhappy and I hadn’t made a mistake.

Maybe I stopped crying after a lonely transition to New York City that wasn’t supposed to be that way. I started that era crying a lot and then somewhere in there, I stopped.


I remember when, as I cried yet again over the phone, the recipient of my call hung up and sent me a message saying, “I just can’t talk to you anymore.”

I never, not once, cried in front of the therapist who I paid to hear me talk and let me cry. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but that I’d run out of tears.

Or that the tears had been run out of me.

A friend told me later, “You were a lot to handle back then.”

I tried, I really tried, to be sensitive to others’ feelings and needs. I understood that I needed to be around people but that I couldn’t be around people. I couldn’t be what people needed me to be and I didn’t want to disappoint them again.

I sat in crowded cafés and bars instead. Books were quiet company. I watched. I eavesdropped. But mostly I drank my beverage and concentrated on the page in front of me.


Learning to laugh again took time but it wasn’t hard. Laughing feels good.

Learning to feel okay again meant treating myself with the compassion that I extend towards others. While harder, that felt good, too.

Learning to cry, well. Well.

I’ve been surprised, actually. It feels better than I thought. It’s a relief in many ways. And I don’t mean the tears on an airplane that I’m very familiar with. I mean the tears that come screaming from somewhere deep inside.

And the heart beats and the breath comes in a gasp. The body shakes. Hands reach out.

Please hold me.

Please hold me.


Perhaps I’ll go as far as saying that crying feels good. Or at the very least, it feels like something. It’s not the tears themselves but the release and relief that come with allowing them. I’ve put down something heavy that I didn’t realize I was holding.

There’s life to feel, life and connection and love. There’s care. I have bathed in it and come out clean and new.

There are oceans where this came from.