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As a teacher, you go into each day trying to do all you can to lift those students up. But every now and then, you have a day where you wonder if you’ve done enough. If you’ve made the right call, if you’ve hit the balance between perception, compassion, and hard-arse that affects them.
I’m not talking about beating the life out of them, as effective as that might be for immediate results. I’m talking about deeply affecting young people and modelling the behaviours I live my life by.
The compass I followed today was that you cannot shame someone into changing their actions and behaviours. Shame is an unbelievably effective way of getting the results you want, as a teacher. But is it a lifelong and willingly learned lesson? No. I really don’t think so.
Either way, that’s where my compass led me today.
I hope with all my heart that I’ve made the right call.
After some deliberation, I’ve decided to leave this original post on my timeline as a celebration of an extraordinary and very much loved person, my wonderful piano teacher, Clemens Leske Snr.
When two well-loved friends and colleagues rang me out of the blue to tell me that he had passed because they knew how much he meant to me, I was honestly just overwhelmed with memories and thoughts, and much love.
We’ve since found out that it was ANOTHER Clemens Leske who sadly passed this week, who was ALSO living in Sydney having hailed from Adelaide. “Our” Clemens Leske Snr is very much still with us, as his students are fondly saying at present!
So what I wrote today, and what I mean with full heart, and that I was so glad to be able to reflect upon today:
“A teacher of such gentle compassion and musical excellence who had a profound effect upon me, and the teacher and person I would become. A mentor I loved with all my heart, trusted, and respected, because I knew that my skills and self were safe under his care, and that he would ask the absolute best from me without damaging my love of music + learning. When I saw him at the Gala Concert at Elder Hall in 2015, I was overwhelmed but unsurprised at the sheer number of friends, past students, and colleagues who came to celebrate himself and his wife, Beryl Kimber. So utterly different! She was bursting with exuberance, colour, and WORDS!, and he the very quiet and reserved one. But such a special love between them.
I had him as a Single Studies scholarship student during high school between the ages of 15 to 17; the ages where you are the MOST annoyingly smart-arse, impressionable, fragile, and skeptical. He quietly and simply loved + taught me, exactly as I needed, and I flourished musically and as a person. I fell in love with sounds, performance, rigour, and excellence. I practised as easily and as naturally as if I were just breathing. I loved playing completely and won the Don Maynard Music Prize for Year 12 Music under his tutelage.
To sit in the same room as him was to share space with someone who taught without pride or ego, just pure gentleness, fierce and unrelenting excellence, and overwhelming love. It is a light that I carry with me daily when I teach. My heart overflows today.”
…and still does, with joy.
Have you ever felt vaguely off and sidelined? That somehow, just by walking through your day and trying to do the right things, there are people reacting to you in a slightly “off” manner? That they are not seeing you for who you are, that there is the vaguest whisper of misunderstanding, and you want to explain yourself, but you don’t know how to?
That’s how I feel right now. I know that I’ve walked through today with love, compassion and integrity. But I just feel uncomfortably not right. Like I’m being seen through a filter that I didn’t ask for. Actually, that’s exactly it. I’m being seen through a filter of preconceptions – or misconceptions – that I haven’t asked for, that just slightly put my integrity off kilter. It’s not enough for me to want to explain myself, but it is enough for me to feel a little tired. I know that I have to work a little harder for my true character to shine through, to correct the misconceptions, to step in, to let my actions speak clearly and firmly, to restate my boundaries. All the things that keep you a little on edge.
I wish so much that I didn’t have to.
So I took my slightly-off-key self home tonight and wondered what I would like to do.
First, I’m proud of how I walked through today. I just kept re-drawing the boundaries, over and over, until misconceptions were softened and I was seen. By the end of 3 hours of rehearsal, I could feel the change. I knew I had done the right thing. But the opening credits of today were hard. Walls were up, eyes downcast, and I was uncomfortable without asking to be. I just kept working with the task at hand, all pride and ego aside, quietly holding tight to my compass through the dark.
Should I explain myself? Should I jump right in and bulldoze my way into understanding? Actually, this is my instinct. ME, ME, ME, listen to ME right now, because WHAT YOU’RE THINKING IS WRONG! But I need practise at leaning into discomfort. So I figure this:
My character is as true as they come. If there is a hard line there, it’s meant to be there. The boundaries are hard-won, and my compassion is alive always. What I ask for myself is that I work SO hard to look after MY HEART ONLY. I will NOT look over at the lowered eyes, the misunderstandings, or the slights. I will ONLY walk my steps, live my life, and follow my compass. I will be swayed, oh yes! I’m utterly human! But I will bend in the wind, and then pull myself back on course. I will walk on my path, in my own lane, doing all the things that are what I would choose to do in integrity, compassion, and love. I will match my character over and over.
Because my life and how I live is proof enough of who I am. My LIFE is my EXAMPLE and MESSAGE, and even if that means walking through ache and discomfort for a while, I cannot help but been COMPLETELY SEEN if I do things that I know to be right. I cannot be what I am not, I cannot undo hurts and misunderstandings, I cannot soften hard lines that should be there because they are decisions I have made. But I have a HEART THAT WORKS, and I know that I am constantly learning to be the best version of me that I can. Therefore, let me fill myself up so that I am FULL TO OVERFLOWING, so that there is NO MISTAKE of my intent, my character, and my integrity.
Let the world, and all the doubters, see me for all that I am simply through me living my life without apology or sacrifice.
I have been grappling with forgiveness.
There are so many little understandings + realisations connected to forgiveness that I had no idea about, and the more I read about it and tried to apply it in real-life, the more I found myself uncomfortably challenged, but joyfully liberated.
Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting the act or the situation, but it does mean applying the maximum amount of compassion possible to a situation. It means seeing the person, people, or situation requiring forgiveness in the most human light possible; seeing all the short-comings and vulnerabilities, all the imperfections and jagged edges, and softening into the pain and grief, the accusation.
The moment you dehumanise a situation, you walk the other way from forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard work. It’s uncomfortable and gritty, and requires tenacious persistence, and equal amounts of peace and solitude. It’s heart and intellect rolled in one, and it requires practise. I’m learning, all the different colours and nuances of forgiveness. It is nowhere near as black and white as I thought, and each time I forgive, I find a new light and shade in my understanding, and another skill in emotional problem-solving in my repertoire.
Forgiveness works really well when you try and do it in steps, or increments. You need to take time out from the intensity of feeling something, and yes, true forgiveness requires walking through it all. All damn lot of it. Every joyful moment, every searing moment of rage, every farewell, every stomach-churning moment of grief. All of the emotions. So it stands to reason that you need to take a break and, you know, maybe have a cup of tea + a Tim Tam, before diving headlong into it all again!
Forgiveness can look different over time, and might need to be done over and over, but each time you do, it definitely becomes easier. Especially if you’ve made sense of it the previous time you “forgave” and you are building upon a strong compass of forgiveness. So forgiveness needs to be done with an excellent understanding of what your own values are, who you are, and what is okay for you. And each time you make progress, or take another step, something becomes freer and easier. You might suddenly miss a person more, or want to hug them a little tighter. There is the old warmth and joy in conversation, rather than just careful politeness. You are more yourself, and there is connection. Because there is trust.
Finally, forgiveness is freedom. It is like finding more lung-space to breathe deeper, because everything is lighter, the air is clearer, and you have wings that move more. There is still ache and stretch in each step, but there is unmistakable freedom. And that freedom spells itself out in each playful word and new conversation built upon trust. Even in the most dire and difficult moments of forgiveness, there is a deep resonant correctness and rightness about the gravity of the situation. Even if another word is not uttered, there is a sense of some sort of equilibrium. Maybe not the restoration of ANYTHING; perhaps things are far too broken for that. But there are new personal understandings, hard won, and a sense of courage, strength and freedom that comes from walking away from a situation, having forgiven.
Forgiving this week for me was unexpected and simple. For months, I had lost connection with a dear friend. We were in touch, but really not. The old trust, the quirky playfulness, the immediate confidence – all replaced by polite conversation. I was holding back. There was a roadblock that I didn’t know how to shift. I was angry and hurt by distance. What did it take to shift things? Courage to articulate it and time. Time needed to pass, I needed to walk through every force of anger and disappointment, and the trust needed to tentatively grow. There needed to be discomfort and struggle. There needed to be “try” from both ends.
But this week, after 6 months of missing one of my dearest friends…I finally, finally want to hug her breathless and share a ridiculous joke with her. I finally also put into words, compassionately and lovingly, how much I missed her, loved her, and was hurt. It took all my courage to name the hurt and to risk the anger and tears. But somehow, we find ourselves on the other side of it all, freer + lighter.
I’ve taken a step toward freedom.
How is it that some people can walk into a room, and somehow the room feels safer and warmer? Or lit up from their very selves?
And you feel warmer and somehow more for being in their presence? That you can share an idea or experience, and it will multiply in feeling and joy?
And how is it that other people, no matter how “correct or fitting” their words, no matter how properly they dot their “i’s” and cross their “t’s” just make you want to subtly cross your arms to protect yourself? And that when they are near, you cocoon yourself a little more, verbally or physically?
It’s not that they are blatantly hurtful or negative; there is just something about them and how they talk where you can feel the life leave you, slowly, imperceptibly, drop by drop.
How is that so?
It MUST be to do with character and authenticity. It’s in all the words that are unspoken, it’s in the space between words + noise which builds connection, or keeps you on guard.
Being aware of it is a curious thing. When you’re in the middle of a busy week, especially in teaching, it’s so easy just to hear words. It’s easy enough just to work hard and get the job done.
But then, as today, an errant email about work comes through with just logistics, and I can feel my skin curl just a little because the oasis of calm and safety has been broken and I know I have to step into that world again soon. Not that it’s like going into battle; it’s just an “on guardness” that keeps you a little secure and boundaried, where your full sensitivity and light can’t shine through safely.
And then, there’s the truly beautiful people. When these people walk through the room, your heart expands. Everything relaxes. You might not talk to them, but knowing they are there in the room makes the room lighter, warmer, and safer. A rather wonderful joy and integrity shines from them. Quietly, loudly, playfully, it doesn’t matter. These sorts of people radiate goodness in their own style. They make the time and space around them make sense. They may be the most conventionally ordinary people; nothing fancy, bright, or attention-seeking about them. But everything about them is extraordinary, lit with integrity, warmth, and authenticity. Even on a bad day, you still feel safe within their presence.
Let me endeavour to be one of those people, who change the momentum of the world around me for the better.
I hope that I am the authentic guide, the sort of person who makes people feel safe and secure.
This brought tears to my eyes. Two extraordinary, exceptional young men. The connection and love between them. The quiet sincerity and articulateness of their responses. The fact that they argue! The unmistakeable bond between them.
They are a wonderful example to all.
We all want to be seen, heard, and loved.
Whenever I am defeated by the day, or feel life of the middle, or pokey, or off, or unbalanced, I remind myself:
I am alarmingly imperfect. Gloriously, haphazardly, and undoubtedly imperfect. And whatever awesome things I am achieving right now, however incredible and necessary my contribution to the world right now, I will DEFINITELY and ABSOLUTELY be letting other people down. I am not the perfect fit for everyone; in fact, there will be people who love me most of all whom I will still manage to piss off. Let’s take the pressure of being unassumingly perfect off the table. When I am aspiring for excellence, and it feels constrictive, rather than glorious, let me remember that I’ve all of a sudden walked on a treadmill that is not mine. The moral compass has been skewed, and I have not allowed myself to be seen, vulnerable, real, and heard.
When I have those days that stretch me to my limits, where I feel like I’ve let the world down and barely crawled over the finish line, this, extraordinarily, helps me find my moral compass. The simple and tender reminder that I have suddenly found myself trying to do it all and be perfect, when I wasn’t intending to. The reason why failures hurt so much more. The reason I why I feel the missed opportunities so acutely. Yes, for sure, I could have done better. But I did the very best I could at that exact moment in time. Yes, I will need love, and my posse, and to be nurtured and buoyed up.
But somehow that reminder, put into clear words, that I am NOT perfect is exactly the balm that is required to soothe an imperfect day. That I am not everything and please check myself, because I am trying to be…and to let go of those reins, get off THAT treadmill, and start walking for myself again.
Thank you for the chance to sit with my heart and get to know myself, for long hours of nothing, but time against pure air, and my soul, completely unburdened by expectation – the world’s or someone else’s, on what I should be, or how I should behave.
Not for a moment would I listen if it went against my moral compass, or my health and safety, but it’s so very nice to let the boundaries meld into the rest of the world without having to question or worry. Just to be.
Thank you for the time to pad silently around my home; one, twice, three times, and the hours to put up my travels along a while, which makes my heart skip a beat with joy and wonder at what I did, and the countries I traversed.
Thank you for time to nestle with my heart and sit beside it, without asking that it work harder, or beat faster…unless it wanted to. Thank you for the melodic and regular pulse of my walking, where footsteps tracked thoughts.
Thank you for my renewed love of life and people; rest give me such great clarity and joy. Thank you for the chance to relax every muscle and fibre of my being, and wander streets, as well as heart and mind. I am home in the same place, yet I am so utterly happy to be free.
And I think that the best way to be is delighted with life, no matter what it throws at you, to be absolutely present and in the moment. Thank you so much for the time I have had to get to know myself again, and treasure myself….I could not be more content and happy.
Love is so simple when my whole soul is at peace.
“Because it’s just you at home.”
“You only have to worry about yourself.”
“Life is so much simpler because you’re on your own.”
“You don’t have to consider meals, other events, uniforms, and everything else.”
And my heart overflows to brimming. Yes, you’re right. On paper, in theory. But hear me PLEASE.
When I see you work as a mother, the extraordinary lengths you will go to for you children, my heart overflows with respect and admiration, did you know that? Did you know that I completely admire what you do, respect your tenacity, celebrate your love, and lift you up in your tiredness? That I thank you for your work because, bloody hell, you came in and gave when you had nothing to give. I see it. I see it with my whole heart, not just my eyes, and I think it extraordinary. I think that what you do is exceptional.
So hear me please when I say that your words cut me right to the core. There’s every world of assumption in your words. That I live a carefree existence. That I don’t have a single ounce of understanding about what you go through. That I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be in the mothering role. That I only have to worry about myself. That my worries are of lesser value than you. That I have no other considerations. That I have, in essence, less of a life, and far less value than you.
Forgive me if I am stuffing words into your mouth. But that tiny little throw away sentence HURTS.
So DAMN much.
And do you know why it hurts so DAMN much?
Because I CELEBRATE YOU. When you come in exhausted, I ask you how your children are. I ask about how they are doing at school, and hi-five them as they are going past. Not for show, not to pass time…but because I LOVE CHILDREN. I have no biological children of my own. But I love children, I love young people, and I think they are such extraordinary beings, full of hope and potential. I celebrate what you do. I see the extraordinary in what you do. I think how you somehow stretch your time goes beyond understanding. I thank you for your work.
And the real truth? If I could have been married and a mother at age 21, I would have chosen it with all my heart. But life didn’t give me that blue print. My blue print, let me say, goes off the charts of what normal could be. I am making waves even when I don’t want to. But I am living a good life, a life of joy, authenticity, and service. I am living a life of agency and industry, compassion and love.
So don’t you FUCKING DARE reduce me to a stat.
Hear your words, hear their resonance, and PLEASE. Take care what comes out of your mouth, and into my space + heart, because if you are not careful, I will not be ready to receive or celebrate you.