I am entering the 15th year of my longest work – writing this column.
When the first column was published, I was a writer and editor and a mother of a 7 and 3 year old. These kids are starting their senior years of middle school and high school this month, and my topics have evolved as they’ve grown.
In 2008 my husband was battling brain cancer and I shared some of his courage with readers, many of whom wrote to me with beautiful prayers and encouraging stories. I took a few weeks off after his death, then shared his final chapter in September 2009.
This column has also allowed me to interview authors, experts and professors of all kinds over the past 14 years and share their insights here.
For example, I spoke with author Glennon Doyle in 2013, who explained to me his relationship to grace, words that I still carry with me today: “The idea of grace for me, everything time, and for everyone, all the time, is just a useful way of life. I don’t have to determine who deserves grace and kindness. It’s really very simple – grace and love.
Think of all the opportunities we have daily to share and receive grace. We are reminded these days of the importance of grace when we are in a long line at the grocery store or the local donut shop is understaffed. Those of us lucky enough to survive the pandemic have often survived by grace as we care for others, take care of ourselves, learn new ways to communicate and work, discover how to maintain relationships under unusual conditions.
Another favorite interview was with children’s author Rick Riordan in 2010, when my children – both with dyslexia – were immersed in the magic of his novels. Riordan spoke about his own son and his learning differences: “I think it’s important for parents to remember that kids with learning differences tend to be incredibly creative thinkers because they have to do it.”
I’ve recalled that phrase over and over again ever since – for my own children and the children I’ve been teaching for nine years. Because in the middle of writing this column, I embarked on a new career. Honestly, I can’t choose which path, writing or education, is better, and I know I’m privileged to be able to practice both.
When my students struggle with a writing assignment, I have a deep well of empathy because I’m often in the middle of my own writing assignment at home. I teach them that putting words on the page is hard, yes, but the rest of the journey is just as important – discerning what’s missing, what details can be left out, what words or phrases are weak, and how to replace them. When I face a difficult revision at home, I can share it the next day with my students, who also take on the challenge of fixing the words.
All of these people I’ve interviewed – on topics like autism, perseverance, civility amid conflict, mental health – have helped shed light on how I work with students and the kind of world they come into. prepare themselves.
As I shared printed glimpses of life in the classroom, at home, and on the road, readers shared with me as well. I have a few regulars, people who email me every other Saturday with kind words and their own observations on education, literature, religion, travel, politics, health care. And there are those who write vignettes of their own lives – a librarian who instilled a love of reading, a pal who made life easier during tough times, a Sunday school teacher whose lessons still resonate today.
These notes remind me that everyone has stories to tell, obstacles to overcome, wisdom and love to share – and that this work is more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
Tyra Damm is a columnist at Briefing. She can be reached at [email protected].