Yesterday morning I woke up 52. There’s nothing particularly sea-changing about that number, but there it is. There’s evidently no numerological protection from pain associated with the number, no Mayan calendar significance for 11/19/11, because as I write this, I have the usual morning migraine.
Even so, yesterday and today I awoke in a state of blessedness. I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept over the past week. I sit in a warm, comfortable home with a beautiful view. I get copious amounts of love daily from my husband, my daughter (now from an Iphone), my codependent cat who must be on my lap constantly, and our rescue wonder dog, a high-strung Border Collie who possesses equal amounts of high IQ and emotional baggage from when she had been abused before we got her. Our other cat cuts into the fray with body motions I’ve seen Great White Sharks use on National Geographic shows. She tries to communicate--what I’m not sure. She’s short on social skills (possibly a form of feline Aspergers), so her methods of getting and giving love are hard to figure out sometimes. But she’s part of the family, and we’ve dubbed her “Sharkey” (even though that’s not her name). She sleeps by my side of the bed, and I think that’s her way to tell me she loves me. Or that she loves her cat bed placed there. Regardless, our home is filled with lots of funny, furry love.
For a living I’ve been doing what I love for 27 years—teaching. And my philosophy of teaching is that inspiration and motivation (two things that don’t show up on standardized test scores) are some of the most important components of my lessons. I have a lot of fun in my classes—I laugh a lot with my students. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have done it this long. I believe that laughter is in itself a state of blessedness. Last week I had a student linger after school to open a conversation about possibly studying history or political science next year after he graduates. I encouraged him of course. Then he said, “I’m sorta thinking of teaching…I mean this class makes me want to teach…I can be a real pain if I don’t like a class, but I really like what we’re learning.” I smiled. I told him I used to be a pain if I didn’t like a class as well. He’s a bright young man, the kind we’d hope would find their way into teaching. Let’s hope the powers that be in education with their standardized tests and new acronyms every Thursday will find a way to keep him once he’s in the field. Teachers need support, a simple blessing really—well, that and a better paycheck, especially for entry-level teachers.
My blessings extend beyond my immediate family and my career. I couldn’t talk about this feeling of being in a state of blessedness without talking about my two best friends. I somehow fell into a tripartite accord that has lasted since 1977, the first day I walked into my college dorm at the University of Montana. The three of us have kept the others’ bodies, souls and spirits afloat all these years. One of the greatest blessings that comes from this triangle is to have a language all our own. Over the years we have cobbed together some synthesized trialogue based in Jimmy Buffet lyrics, Steve Martin riffs, and margarita moments. And how comforting it has been to effortlessly fall into the rhythm of that language at moments in my life when I could barely stand on my own. A hair-dye intervention when my dad was dying and my mom had Alzheimers. A call before neuro-surgery. Lifting me after a long bout of migraines. As I’ve told them, we’re as sturdy as a three-legged Montana bar stool.
The etymology of the word blessedness in Christian texts comes from 15th century beatitude, meaning “supreme happiness.” But of course, Christianity mixed “blood” in suggesting Christ’s sacrifice for sins committed by all of us sinners to come. In the writing and re-writing of various books in the Bible, blessedness meant anything from Old Testament blessedness that God bestowed upon Adam and Eve in providing them companionship and a Hawaii-like setting to the kind of blessedness Israel received. “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” (Genesis 22:17). The land of Canaan was later delivered to Israel as a birthright, and “Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.” (1 Kings 4:20) Later in world history, after the Balfour Declaration, pogroms in Russia, and a couple vicious world wars, the Palestinians scratched their heads and said “whose blessing?”
Of course the most significant Christian teaching on blessedness comes from Christ’s sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). How the Christian right fails to keep this portion of the Bible in their NRA crosshairs is beyond me, but not being a Christian myself, it’s a part of their scriptures I particularly like:
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Christ was a lot more about doing than saying, and for him, a state of blessedness resulted from deeds. The Hindus likewise believe that a state of blessedness, nirvana, must be earned through deeds. I like that part of their belief structures; I don’t like the notion that poverty is explained by not doing a good enough job in the good deed category in a past life. One life can be challenging enough; I hate to see children in desperate poverty assumed to be guilty for something they did in a past existence. But then America has a status quo way of justifying poverty, and it is just as deeply rooted in the Protestant work ethic and our Puritan roots. Go figure.
Of all religions, I find the teachings of Buddha to resonate most clearly about true blessedness. After all, isn’t blessedness how we cope with the dualities of life? Isn’t it a process of finding rich fulfillment in those we love while living within a world constantly darkened by a pepper-sprayed hate? Aren’t we, especially as we age, losing family and friends by cruel illnesses and tragedies only by pulling ourselves through those losses in finding life-affirming connections and joy in those we still have with us? Don’t I continue to despair at our broken political and economic system and at the same time find enormous humor in its players? Can I prevent the corporatization of public schools or curb testing that doesn’t gauge critical thinking? No. But I can inspire and teach and motivate until the end of the year. And have a hell of a good time doing it.
So here I am in my state of blessedness, continually looking and attempting to learn more as I age. There’s so much to learn and do and be before I grow up, and my fulfillment will continue to be in the people I love and the connections I make with others. And that includes my animals. For who could look into the eyes of a Border Collie and not think of the word nirvana?