Frailty

I have memories of my dad taking me for a walk when I was small. My strongest recollection is of the way I used to hold his hand, the big broad feel of it, and wondering when my hand would be big enough to cover his. My daughter is 11, but every now and then I find myself holding her hand when we’re on the road. We want to protect what is precious to us and what is weak and vulnerable.

Now the roles are reversed. My dad is weak and vulnerable; so is my mom. I find myself leading him exactly like a child learning to walk. Occasionally his knees look like they’re about to buckle. It fills me with concern and makes me think. Each day is a mighty act of God’s loving grace that gives one more accident free day to the old, the very young, the weak and the vulnerable. In the face of the chaos that humankind has reduced life to, each still living, fragile person is a miracle of God’s mercy and sustenance. I’m grateful for the many, actually 90 multiplied by 365 = 32,850 days that God has looked after and led my dad through the many difficulties, dangers and hardships; and also the many joys, gifts and blessings of life.

Today he hasn’t passed urine for much of the day and his feet are more swollen than usual. Some of you may know my dad’s history of kidney trouble and that it is now 19 years from the time we all thought he was going to die of kidney failure, and the miracle of the months after that. The last few weeks have been an uphill task to nurse him back to some health since he lost all interest in food. At this time, Jesus’ words come back to me, ‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.’ The Psalm says, ‘Our times are in His hand.’ I have said many prayers for my dad. I say a quick prayer again. It has been a blessing and an honour to look after parents, Lydia’s and mine. People who have sacrificially given us life and the best that they could give us that was within their power.

Tomorrow is our faculty meeting. Everything in me wants to not go, to not have to prepare, to not seek vision, and to let someone else bother about it. But the roles God gives us come with not just the responsibilities, but with the grace to fulfill them. My head knows this; my heart and flesh struggle to accept this. I pray for the grace to juggle many bottles of preciousness. There are many frailties in life, in situations, in other people besides those important to us; and each of us have the God-given mandate to provide strength in those areas. I really believe that each of us is crafted to be the unique scaffolding that reveals the grace of God to others.

And teachers have students, and not all are frail-looking arousing instant compassion in us! Some are very annoying to us. We really, as teachers, more than anyone, need the gaze of God to see the frailties in them that we need to serve, and the heart of God to serve with compassion.

And teachers need teachers. Friends who understand the journey, who will provide strength, grace and help along the way.

Teachers of Many Forms

Yesterday, in our Bible study group, we watched a movie ‘Front of the Class’ about the life of Bradley Cohen, a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes people to twitch and make odd sounds out of their control. The movie describes his journey with Tourette’s and his dream to be a teacher – a profession that would be the last that someone with Tourette’s would think of.

You can hear Bradley tell you a little about himself and his life below.

We had been reading and discussing the book of Ephesians and had been challenged by the fact that God has given every person gifts that enable us to serve and love others and build them up. We had been trying to get our heads (and hearts) around the challenge of His intention to display His wisdom to all creation through His people, and what that would mean for us in the light of how we view ourselves, our failures, how God has made us, and His capacity to do through us much more than we can ever imagine.

In Bradley’s talk above, it becomes clear that the same challenge stands forth – whether we will keep our eyes on solely ourselves and our failings, or whether we will start to turn our eyes to serve others…and be transformed in the journey that ensues. In the movie, Bradley talks about how Tourette’s, the very bane of his life, was his greatest teacher.

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Michael John Sundaram

 

My dad, Michael John Sundaram, was a teacher before me, and is 90 years old. This year, on Teacher’s Day, I got a call from Shariar Karim, an old student of his who has kept in touch through all these years, who asked me to pass on his respects and affection to my dad. Over the years I’ve heard Shariar talk many times of what my dad has meant to him. Those have been stories of a very, very different teacher to the kind that Tourette’s has been to Bradley.

Several days ago, I got a letter from an old student; this time of mine. The letter was a flash of radiance in its deep respect, affection and appreciation, and I had had absolutely no idea of the impact that one small meeting with her and her mother had had on her, so many years ago. It was humbling, sobering and profoundly encouraging, and made me know with even more clarity that if I had to live ten lifetimes over, I would still be a teacher in every one. I tear up every time I read mails like hers, like the ones Shariar has written to my dad. It’s hard to watch teacher movies because every now and then it gets blurry and I have to wipe my eyes. I teared up watching Pink Floyd’s video of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ in its terrible scenes of humiliation, insult and anger in the classroom.

I prayed over my student’s letter, not just for her future, but also that I would always rise to be the man God has meant for me to be; to look at Him, and not at myself; to trust that my Father in Heaven believes in me, even when others don’t.

And just like for Bradley, there are and will be those special people in our lives; people who will encourage us to dream and teach us to dream, confront us in love and continue to walk with us, teach us, serve us, believe in us, care for us, and see in us and bring out those things of wonder that no one else sees.

And will we be like that for others?

Stories and Scripts

I’m not much of a social networker, and am still not on Facebook amazingly. However, many months ago my curiosity was piqued by a dear friend, Andi Eicher, who is really more a brother of mine, and I decided to visit his blog ‘Chai Chats with the Eichers’.

And stayed.

All because of the power of his story and the Greater Story within. Andi and his wife Sheba have worked with HIV patients in some of the hardest situations I can think of for many years, and in many ways, their stories carry the same elements of teachers’ stories.

I’ve been a teacher now for about 22 years, and sharing these teacher years with my wife Lydia who joined this great journey 6 years ago as a teacher, but as my wife 16 years ago (I guess you can work out the math), there are stories and stories that we have to share; of joy, of excitement, of pain, of power, of wonder, of the great faithfulness of God, who has been a loving Father beyond expectation and of His work in our lives and the lives of others. It’s my hope that our stories will inspire you in your journey and hopefully bring encouragement, and perhaps some comfort.

A few days ago I was journaling and I wrote:

There is no story of real life that is not worth hearing, though it contain terrible pain or benumbing futility. It’s important that our stories are shared, and to have stories to share, it seems that the more we engage, the more proactively we deal with, the more real our stories are, the more power they contain.

And so the assault…

It seems that there is a raging battle, an ongoing onslaught to wean us away from living from the heart, from being moved; towards living from the head with hidden, numb hearts, towards schedules, programmes, activities, where stories cease to be such and become scripts.

And what sense is there in people, in their brokenness and joys, sharing scripts?

Stories, like food and journeys, are meant to be shared!

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Sharing a fantastic meal up in Darjeeling!

 

Something Real

We went for lunch to one of our favourite restaurants in Darjeeling during our break earlier this year in July, and as we were enjoying the excitement of being home and remembering sights and scenes that were familiar, I got a little carried away and started to take photos of the flowers that were decorating the restaurant. Yes, really.

It was a pleasant, should I say, shock, to suddenly discover that what I had thought were very well made plastic flowers, were in fact, absolutely real. Very different to the leaf design in the coffee above! And then I remembered that I had hardly seen real flowers in hotels or restaurants in Delhi.

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Real flowers in a restaurant!

This made me think.

How terrible it would be if in my service as a teacher, I gave my students ‘plastic flowers’ in the guise of real ones… If I took shortcuts in my work; if my students weren’t important enough for me to give them the real thing…

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion, being real and having vision, and what these mean for our professions, vocations, occupations and personal lives, and what our journeys and stories would be like.

More about this later…