Pieces of Me

Wish I could find

smallish memory

wrap them in twine

drop them in the sea

Then might my eyes

witness some effort

now questioning why

an absorbent support

Will their history

rather sink than float

farewell this century

shadowed life he wrote

Above water may I not abhor

Pain left living on the ocean floor

Once, In Sunlight

We did

in quiet observation,

attend of course

the eyes

windows that speak

well beyond the notice

of a fashion,

of a trend,

of an expectation.

 

Instead, just a glance

where both pain and joy

can reside,

can wait for the next opportunity

to speak aloud

in the framework

of sweet silence.

 

We are that coincidence

when two people

encounter one another

on a summer’s day,

in the heat,

the passionate embrace

of a spectacular

sunrise.

 

We look for the eyes

accentuate the why


© Thom Amundsen 2019

Days Beyond Surgery

Ok, so I will begin and acknowledge a heavy dose of narcotics did prevent me from writing for days. Tonight, I am sitting a week away from surgery and there has been a story I wanted to tell, just haven’t found the right words. This procedure I experienced has had a major impact on my life, more so than major heart surgery seven years ago.

When I first imagined this surgery I looked at it as rather simple, an in and out of the operating room and back to my world. I even planned to return to work two days later. Much to my chagrin my doctors and family both disagreed, and suggested I take the week off. As it turns out, they were all quite right, and tonight I’m sitting a week later preparing to return to my job after the weekend. What interests me the most though is how much I took rest seriously, rather than taking it for granted and soldiering forward, a preference of mine on previous occasions.

In my head, I figured this hospitalization would be routine. So what is it about this experience that has changed my thinking? I cannot think otherwise, beyond the notion I am aging, and now more than ever I need to actively take care of my body, and my state of mind.

This summer I experienced a great deal of lows, times where I felt exhausted, and seriously wondered how I might endure the next 30 years of my life. I certainly contemplated justifying my desire to not live out those years, imagining that people would be better off, after exhausting those I am closest to with all of my trivialities, my personal demons, my neediness. Those were dark moments in my life, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, though I know we all have had our times. I chalked it to having too much time on my hands, and figured the school year would quickly bury all that vague ambivalence I walked around with every day. There are people I am close to that helped me work through some of those personal fears, and to them I will be forever grateful.

So, now I look at aging and my second major surgery in less than ten years. I am walking away from this one realizing there is a purpose to continuing to find care with my physical needs. This event in my life was not life-threatening, beyond perhaps complications down the road if I hadn’t gone through with it. So why am I so impacted? Only one reason.  I continue to have a purpose in my life.

I received excellent care when I was in the hospital. I’m always rather embarrassed to be in the hospital. I don’t want to be defined as somatic, or having needless medical care. When I really feel that I convince myself I’m taking someone’s bed that needs it more than I do. My diagnosing Doctor told me he disagreed on Friday morning. He said there wasn’t anything somatic about an enflamed gallbladder, and I did the right thing coming in. Suffice it to say walking around with pain for the last six weeks convinced me to be seen, and rather than finding a mass in my abdomen they found something tangible. They removed it, and now I go forward. But my perception is different.

The self-persecution seems much less relevant, and the need to live my life in as positive a manner as possible is now my goal as I move forward. Like I said earlier, my experience with the medical staff was incredible. They all were filled with compassion. In fact, I encountered three of my graduated students and I looked at them and their positive energy, and I truly believe they were brought into my life for a reason.

That reason at this writing is only to suggest we have a lot more ahead of us. All of us.

The Importance of Beauty

We live in a society of measure. Of mirrors and reflections and purposeful glances. We operate by sensing physicality alone, even when made aware of a far deeper context to what is beauty in our lives, in our society. This is an important subject to dwell upon in light of the ugliness we are experiencing in our own country, in the world itself. The idea of glamor far exceeds the recognition of beauty and how it operates in the well-being of ourselves, our friends and family, our planet.

I remember as a young child knowing what beauty was in an innocent mind. I watched Diana Ross on Ed Sullivan, I noticed the screaming young girls at the front of a stage at a concert for the Beatles. I was madly in love with Gidget or Marcia Brady of course. In all those examples I was focusing on their physical attributes, which gave me a foundation as young boy to know what defined beauty in my life. It wasn’t until I watched a dear friend perform her gymnastic composition on parallel bars that I began to know another definition. It wasn’t until I walked home with a school mate, though a couple years older than me, and striking in her glamorous demeanor that I noticed beauty in a different level.

In watching my friend perform I was struck by her commitment to what she loved at the time, an athletic prowess as a young woman, one that allowed her to become a state champion in her abilities. To me that wonderment of effort was beautiful to observe.

Later in life, listening to a friend of the family talk about what is important, as we crossed our familiar bridge on our way home from school, and descended a hill that held our neighborhood. She was teaching lessons as a 12th grader to a 9th grader, how important it was to love yourself before you could love others. In listening to her, I realized there was more than fashionable jeans, a chic style sweater, perfect hair to define the beauty inherent with my friend. She taught me about compassion and that began for me a different focus upon beauty in our lives.

One day as a twelve year old I was getting a ride from my sister to basketball practice. She asked me what was wrong as I slumped in the passenger seat. I told her I was lonely, didn’t know what to do about it. She stopped the car, turned to me and said you have to find a passion in your life. As a twelve year old, I blushed and imagined passion to be something sexual, and I couldn’t believe she was telling me this. She then explained the word passion is not simply about sex, it is about loving what you do, finding something that gives you the ability to believe in yourself because your energy is drawn completely to accentuating your own passion.

That lesson from my sister, the walk with my friend, the athletic prowess of my schoolmate, all of those pieces of my life gave me opportunity to recognize a more holistic approach to understanding beauty in my life.

Certainly as a young man, I was still drawn to the beauty of woman, the wonder of her elegance, in the summertime, the fascination of her stylistic manner of wardrobe on a cold winter’s day, how intriguing it was to know she would be cognizant of a look she wanted to have in the midst of a bustling society. I remember knowing a woman who I watched cross the street one day, wearing a striking rain jacket and green knee high rain boots.

Her image has stayed with me all my life, as did the day she and I were lounging in her apartment, and I commented on her jeans, and she gave me a smile and said she had been wearing them for eight days. I thought that was the coolest thing, her sweet comfort level with her own self image caused me to feel beauty about her person, well beyond a physical characteristic.

I think the deeper context of who we are is often easily forgotten about, put aside, neglected. I have a brother who in his elder life, now sits in an art museum and curates the lovers of a gallery in his home town. We had a chance to visit him one afternoon, and he was so in his element – he knew the history of all the works in the gallery, and his smile radiated as we walked through the rooms. I took his picture afterwards because I wanted to have a record of the beauty that shined from him internally. He looked to be a happy man.

Beauty for me holds a lot of different values. Seeing a band perform live, watching my students reach fruition on the stage with their efforts. Observing a student find their way in a classroom studying a subject they have never understood. Seeing students take chances and risks knowing one another beyond a superficial level. Watching my family evolve as I see my two children continue to strive for happiness in their lives rather than letting hardships discourage them. Having close friends dear to your heart that are there to support you, laugh at your whims, share dialogue and understanding for your own passions.

That word passion comes back every time I struggle. The passion to seek, the passion to address needs of concern, the passion to love. We are a vulnerable lot easily drawn to the pain in our lives rather than seeing the beauty of who we are and accentuating beauty in the lives of those around us. My hope is that the people around me, those I am closest to, can see beauty for what it truly is, to give meaning to what is important, beautiful and eternal in our lives.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

The Notion of Giving Up

I’m in a bit of a crisis, so I’m going to write from my heart. I don’t really know where this will take me, if only to let me vent some of my fears, and find some peace. I recently came to a conclusion about important aspects of my life, and a need to make significant changes. We sometimes are forced to make those decisions only because we have to go on with trying to become who we are meant to be.

I struggle with depression, I have all my life. In different periods I used self destructive measures to deal with my anxiety and the fears that came along with not feeling good about myself. My self confidence has always suffered, and there have been rare times when I could look in a mirror and be happy with what I might see. I find that to be part of the human condition that we all carry around with us. It is ironic, because I know people that will clearly say to me, I don’t understand depression because I have never experienced it, and I find myself walking away, feeling envious. I have to believe though it is true, and they are part of a fortunate lot.

In my life, I have been vulnerable to my own insecurities. There are things that bring me happiness, probably the greatest one I can reveal here, safely enough is the birth of my children. They are truly the most beautiful gift in my life, and I am blessed. My wife has been the caregiver throughout our marriage, and together we raised our children to be wonderful contributors to our society. I am proud of them and feel fortunate that we have been given this miracle of a healthy disposition in our family.

It wasn’t always like that. My own struggles with addiction have weighed heavily on the fabric of my marriage, my relationship with my children and my colleagues and friends. I have been lucky to find a supportive environment that helps me discover stability, but I have to admit, I sometimes need that 24/7 and when a significant moment occurs in my life, I become shaky and wish for negative outcomes, only those that would apply to me, no one else, I would pray would be impacted by my own faults.

This leads me to speak to this current crisis I am experiencing. I have found that my validation that I grew comfortable with for a period in and around nearly two decades has become a bit of a false pretense. I have no regrets, I just believe I have to move forward, and rather than smile at the fear I have when I am around people, I must find peace within my own mind. I think that is a difficult process when fighting with anxiety and depression. I think we tend to connect with those people that understand our moods, our emotions, our challenges. I think those people are important in our lives, and they sometimes come from unique avenues in our world that we choose to live in. I think our fear of losing that can really shake a person up.

I’ve wanted to give up so many times in the last 50 years, it actually has become a rather comical curse for me to carry around. I’m not suggesting humor necessarily as much as I am speaking to the circle of deceit I have left myself living in, rather than foraging forward to find a solution to my fears. I have had occasion where I really did want to check out, and I looked for ways that might be possible. Ironically today, the first thing I thought about when I was experiencing self-defeating ideas is my two children, my son in particular – his vulnerability seems a bit more apparent having suffered through the loss of people he has been close to in his life. I thought of my own impact being parallel to what he has already struggled through and the message that would leave him with being horrific.

Tonight, I read on my twitter feed a person who has pledged 22 days of doing 22 daily pushups to represent support for our military who live in a constant struggle with their own lives. The 22 represents the number of military personnel that take their lives every day. I thought about that and applied it to myself. I have not been in the military, I have not suffered to the degree that so many people around me have. I have only struggled with my own addictions and self-loathing but it really is nothing when placed side by side with someone that has had to endure far more challenge than myself.

So tonight, I am reflecting. I have been forced to move forward. I will not let depression continue to enjoy a stranglehold on my well-being. I experienced something this evening that literally tore me apart and left me feeling sick to my stomach. I will practice humility and grace as I move forward beyond my own self-aggrandizing behavior. I have a responsibility towards a world outside my own rollercoaster of emotion, and I might well jump on board and own myself.

I hope you have been listening, and for those of you that made it this far, I appreciate you. Thanks for coming along on the ride.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

 

In Fields of Memory

Cast eyes upon mellow, a sun streaked sky.

Choose to know a spectacular sunrise

knocking upon lives in a quiet wise

manner speaks to answering only why.

 

Once, while regarding, ponder truth in life

for a people know safety in number

a song, memory, sound to remember

follow the sky, in meaning beyond strife.

 

Walk inside the grains of sand a hot mess

would recognize, altered states of truth.

Lonely participants weakness forsooth

such might be a lifetime enduring stress.

 

A stroll in summer wheat fields may release

Silent nostalgic melody in peace.



© Thom Amundsen 2019

My Dear Friend, Our Inspiration

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Coffee with Antonio Elias

Ah summertime. It is true. Many times in our lives, as a teacher, we would like to retreat toward that which would make life easier. Perhaps we choose to fall into a string of Netflix series, or our favorite crime show rather than take care of the busy work of maintaining our home, both the physical and mental. I’m guilty of that as I find myself in mid-summer, recognizing only too soon a school year ahead, whereby my focus will be on new students, new projects, new ideals. I feel fortunate that I have moments of clarity that are provided in my world to allow such priority to return.

Not a day ago, I was imagining the coming year, and felt great trepidation, a sometime normal response from a teacher sitting on their deck on a hot summer day watching the birds. The sun finally dropped, and I moved from the natural habitat of a backyard to my home, and turned on a baseball game, watched a Netflix series, flipped on my favorite crime show. Are you following the pattern? The reality is, I was actively trying to ignore the coming school year, knocking at my door as it does every summer right around the end of July. Today is July 27th, such perfect timing to have a coffee with one of my favorite alumni. That young man on my left is a former student who by his own actions  truly helps me and many of my colleagues recognize exactly why we chose our profession as teachers.

Since graduating high school in 2013, I have been fortunate to enjoy a coffee with Antonio at least once, maybe twice a summer. To give you a little background, this gentlemen was an exceptional student in the classroom, earning a modest scholarship to help solidify the start of his post-secondary education. Once out there, he realized a world existed that he needed to adjust to rather than let it mold him. He made difficult choices, took on wonderful challenges and today finds himself reaping the rewards of genuine effort and perseverance in ideal and dream.

When I first met Antonio he was a student in a writing class I had the honor to teach. We over the course of the semester became friends, he shared pieces of his life that were remarkable to me given the current state of our political demographic. I showed a movie in class once, and he later came up to me afterward, and in his polite demeanor, looked at me with a nervous smile and said, ‘Mr Amundsen, this movie, it is about my life.’ I was stunned. What began from that day was an opportunity.

I am grateful this young man was the product of a burgeoning English Learning program at Shakopee High School, whereby he would touch the lives of many over the years to come. I could not speak upon his merits without lauding such an incredible EL team that guided his education along with many other students under their tutelage the entire way.

Fast forward to today, a young man who has given graduation speeches both in our high school, and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, taken on non-profit projects that have only been met with success to together with a partner starting a challenging Spanish language only podcast that supported honest discussions around social justice and education. Currently he holds a position with the largest school district in Minnesota, Minneapolis Public Schools,  that continues to support growth and success in measures that are designed to provide educational and societal benefit to student and family alike.

When I first met Antonio, his main goal was to finish his education so that he could provide for his own family. He wanted to be that person to right the wrongs, or simply engage people’s lives in a positive direction. As we drank coffee today, it was evident in his smile and candor that that work in progress continues forward, as does his own idyllic outlook on life. What a delightful annual conversation with an intriguing and optimistic young man. I continue to be grateful to his willingness to share his life choices, and have an ongoing dialogue together around purpose and philosophy.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

photo permission – Antonio Elias