Teaching a writing class at my local senior center has been an unpredictable experience. My numbers are up and down, depending on therapy appointments and whether or not my wheelchair-bound students have rides. Conversation goes anywhere from meeting our husbands, to beating cancer, to faith, to helping neighborhood kids cheat on their homework. Some of my students write eloquent poetry/prose, and others’s writing is very straightforward and simple. But the one constant is, I’ve heard a lot of great stories! People have been amazingly open books, and that’s special. I feel pretty honored to hear the stories these people have to tell.
So far, I’ve used mostly selections from Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for sample texts, even though my students are mostly writing prose, because it’s a great way to give a short burst of inspiration on a given topic. However, I like to mix all the things I love together in a literary casserole, so one week, we used The Wonderful Happens by Cynthia Rylant. Can I pause for a second and say how much I love this picture book? I read it as often as my girls will let me. We got it from the library one day, and it now lives at our house. (We didn’t steal it from the library. We bought our own copy.)
The assignment I gave was to write – in any way meaningful to them – how the wonderful happens each day in their lives right now. We do a lot of looking back, but focusing on the good in life right now is important for anyone, young or old. As they’re creating a collection of stories to share with people in their lives, I felt that this was an important ingredient. Here is a small sampling from the book:
Up a white fence climbs a red, red rose
A wonderful rose.
Someone loved flowers and asked a seed to grow
And the wonderful happened….
I made a sample of my own that followed the pattern and went like this:
In a little laundry room sit piles of pink laundry,
My daughters painted, rolled in the grass, and ate spaghetti,
And the wonderful happened….
I love the way my girls get messy, even if I don’t love doing loads and loads of laundry. I encouraged my students to record as many things, big and small, that they could that brought them joy throughout the week. Their work vared greatly in form and content, but my favorite comment came from a sweet lady who said:
Every day, I thank God that I can focus on what I can do now, instead of what I can’t do anymore.
Wow, I thought, I need to remember that when I’m 75. Wait, no, I need to remember that NOW! Every stage of life brings “can’ts.” When you’re a kid, your life is full of so many “can’t yets.” When you’re a senior citizen, the “can’t anymores” are hard. But every moment of life is full of “can’t yets and can’t anymores.” In my life now, I can’t go anywhere alone without a babysitter, including the bathroom. Some days, I can’t sit for five minutes without hearing whining or fussing, can’t sleep through the night, can’t see my living room floor even though I cleared it the night before. But what a great time of life this really is, full of wonderful “cans!” And no matter how many “can’ts” my life will have in the future, I CAN always choose to focus on the Wonderfuls – even on the whiniest, grumpiest days when everything spills and naptime doesn’t happen. So can you!