Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Mon 5/15/2006 3:48 AM
Random Thought: Being Positive

It was not a very happy Mother's Day in the Schmier house this past Sunday. My Susan was especially sullen and sad. It was the first Mother's Day without her elderly mother with whom she was close. Her mother has mercifully died nearly two weeks ago after four and a half grueling, pain-filled months filled with five hospital stays, three falls, a broken tailbone, nine broken ribs, cracked pelvis and pubis bones, and three bouts with severe pneumonia, all aggravated by severe osteoporosis, advancing Alzheimer's, and end stage COPD.

We had come back from the out-of-town funeral last Wednesday morning. We landed in Atlanta and were driving home when I called the department office at the University to tell them I'd have to "mush" for the rest of the week and get final grades in by the following Monday, a week past the deadline, as I had arranged while I was taking care of funeral arrangements and preparing to head out of town.

The way you'd hear it, the students were angrily storming the Bastille enmasse. In the scheme of things, it sounded so petty to me. I was in no mood to deal with such apparent administrative triviality. "Well, they'll just have to wait. I'm here, but I'm not here yet. I'll get them in when I get them in." Shortly after I hit Valdosta, I made a few phone calls. I discovered that it was more the bean counters in the student finance office, and a very, very few vocal and anxious students who were annoyed and "demanding" than anyone else. "First take care of yourself and your wife, and start getting your life back in order," comforted Louis Levy, my VPAA "I shamed a few people when they complained.....Get them in when you can," the ever helpful Chuck Hudson, the Registrar, quietly said to me. "Just take it easy. How can I help you?" asked Paul Riggs, my supportive department head.

In one conversation, after months of incessant and consuming care-taking I snapped like a sudden shift of clashing continental plates. I lost if for a second and lashed out with a few invective statements about the students in both annoyance and disappointment. But Chuck put me quickly back in my place and reminded me that I didn't really mean it. "That's not the Louis Schmier I know who loves the students."

He was right. I was just physically and emotionally tired and drained. It was no excuse. I felt small. I felt even smaller when I opened my mailbox and read a message sent by an eighteen year old, first year student before I had sent out my message. "Hey, Dr. Schmier. I saw I got an NR on my transcript for the class. I found out that it meant 'no report.' Something wrong, Louis? I hope it isn't your wife's mother. But, I think it is. You told us on the last day of class that they had rushed her to the hospital. I thought of what you said that day, thanking us for helping you get through what you had been going through all semester. I felt so uplifted by the fact you respected us enough to share with us the pain and sadness and fear and burden you were having throughout the semester. I'll try to help once more. You once told me that when I'm down, I should look up. Now, you have to do it. I want you to know that you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers and as you always told us, smile because the sun is shining above the clouds."

So, I wrote an explaining and apologetic letter to the students in all four classes, hoping some of them would still be on the internet. I told them that I hadn't entered the final grades because of the death of Susan's mother. I explained that after her mother had been rushed to the hospital for the fifth time in six weeks, the doctor, for the first time, had advised us against going on our month-long trip to China. I e-mailed my sons. They and their families quickly came in from San Francisco and Nashville for the weekend to say what might be their goodbyes. She began to slip on Monday. She died the night of the following Tuesday. Then, quickly we were off to Detroit for the funeral and the traditional week-long mourning period. Needless to say, I told them, I couldn't make the deadline for handing in final grades. I ended the message with "Please bear with me."

In response to that e-mail, came an outpouring of sympathy and support. Not one disgruntled voice did I hear. "You were there for me. Now it's my turn to be there for you and your family. You be with them." "I lost my mother in 2000. So, continue to comfort your wife and keep her as your first priority. The grades can wait." "Your family is top priority. Grades aren't." "Take care of yourself and your wife first. Take care of the grades later." "No rush. 'Family comes first.' I heard you tell that to others in the class when they had personal 'stuff' coming down. Now I'm telling you the same thing." "I'm here if you ever need to talk just as you talked and helped me through my ugly stage." "I talked with a lot of people and they're more worried about your wife and her health than not knowing their grades." "You and your wife are in my thoughts and prayers." "I've given a small donation to my church in your wife's name." On and on and on it went. I took the beauty of each comforting word and let them all fill me. I let them open my squirrel cage and I took myself to a better and peaceful place.

And these are from supposed "students today are not like...." students. What a lesson they taught me. I read somewhere this statement: "There is so much good in the worst of us and there is so much bad in the best of us, it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us." That is what happens when we start looking and focusing on the negatives. When we focus on the negative, negative things start to happen to us. We feel like we're restless in discomfort. If we recognize only the negative in students, we start to see the negatives in ourselves. But, what would happen if we looked for, saw, heard out for, listened to the positives. Things would begin to happen in positive and wonderful ways where suddenly we feel like we're resting in the comfort. And, as we recognize the positive in students, we would start to recognize the positive in ourselves. Why? It's really so simple. We will find what we are looking for. As you look for the positive or negative things and you see positive or negative things your life will become more positive or more negative. It's simply a matter of choice.

So, I learned my lesson once again: let go of the fantasy, perfect student and embrace the flesh-and-blood person with all her and his flaws; look beyond the outward clay and you'll find the jewels within.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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