Farewell…For Now

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from family files, pilfered from B. Benn's Facebook page.

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from B. Benn’s (his son’s) Facebook page.

When I was an undergraduate I had the privilege of studying under the tutelage of Dr. Bernard W. Benn, an anointed person who influenced the lives of many, many others in amazing ways. It is through the many classes that I took under his instruction that I learned to love (forever) Shakespeare and the Romantic and Victorian poets.  His faith in me fueled my pursuit of a doctorate in English and many other endeavors. His protégés have gone on to honor his excellence, and through each of us, his work continues.

This wonderful person—my advisor, mentor, and friend of my mind—passed away last week. The news literally knocked the wind out of me because I did not know he was ill and, quite frankly, I expected him to be around much, much longer. I had the bittersweet pleasure of attending his funeral and seeing his family, with whom I’ve been acquainted almost as long as I’ve known him—Mrs. Dr. Benn, his beautiful wife, who took such good care of me when I was a student, and his three children who are themselves doing great things for humanity. Although I entered the funeral weighted with grief, I left much lighter, with hope, and with a drive to ensure that I continue to practice the compassion and wisdom he so ably taught through his example. Something in that funeral reminded me to “lift up my countenance” and celebrate the blessing of living a life touched by Dr. Benn.

Moran Hall on the campus of Oakwood University. The building, constructed by Oakwood students in 1938, was named after the first Black president of the University.

I have a million and one memories of Dr. Benn. In separate conversations this past week, my friend and colleague Cy and I had a few good laughs about our experiences with Dr. Benn. We reminisced about the beautiful spring afternoon he finally and reluctantly gave in to our English Literature class’s pleas to go outside and discuss Chaucer. We convinced him, but he took us not too far from the building. Instead of to the Bell Tower near the building or under one of the stately oaks, he led us out the side door of Moran Hall, which housed the English Department and our classes, into the grassy area between Green and Moran Halls, but closest to Moran, of course. Cy and I talked about his habit of teaching, eyes closed, head leaned back, but alert, intently listening, demanding excellence in writing and in thinking, without making students feel insignificant or small.   We chuckled about his giving her grammar books for her birthdays as a way of chiding her to improve. Ever in his humble and gentle way.

Dr. Benn mentored me pretty much all the way to completion of my doctorate and my early years of teaching, so I have enough to say about him to fill a book or two. But my keenest memories are of the mornings when I’d arrive in the department at 8:00 a.m. sharp and already find him on his knees in prayer.  That is the one image that consistently comes to mind whenever I think of Dr. Benn.  It was for me defining. It spoke of the character of this “giant” of a person–a master teacher, grammarian, and scholar, a department chair, a former university president–who so unapologetically demonstrated his need for the Sovereign God and who made his very life a prayer to God.

I will always remember him fondly. I have drawn from the wisdom he shared with me almost every day since I graduated from college.

He was an amazing teacher who took a motley bunch of us who “liked to read” and transformed us into lovers of great literature.  He took our immature arrogance and finessed us to mature individuals, walking in godly confidence. He called our Christianity to task through every text we studied and by his sincere example. He showed us the way to infusing Christ into our lives—our studies, our interactions with each other, our future students, our professionalism.

"Weeping Willow," iPhone Photo

“Weeping Willow,” iPhone Photo

I took a mental health day earlier this week because I needed to take some time to process yet another loss. In my all-day period of meditation, I read some favored poems, thanks to Dr. Benn.  One such was “Morte d’Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I imagined the last conversation between Sir Bedivere and Arthur as my parting conversation with Dr. Benn (pardon the liberties that I’ve taken in changing some of phrasing of the text):

 

Then loudly cried the bold Lady Chandra:

“Ah! my Lord Dr. Benn, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight.

Such times have been not since the light that led

The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.

But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved

Which was an image of the mighty world;

And I, the last, go forth companionless,

And the days darken round me, and the years,

Among new people, strange faces, other minds.”

 

And slowly answer’d Dr. Benn from the barge:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?

I have lived my life, and that which I have done

May He within Himself make pure! but thou,

Thou shouldst see my face again,

Pray for all souls. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for mankind night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

But for now farewell. I am going to take my rest,

But for a little while.

We shall meet again

At the trumpet call to the great reunion

In the sky…

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From the poem, “The Tide,” iPhone Photo

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Mid-October “Pick Me Up”

"October Pumpkins," Tate Farms, Meridian, Alabama

“October Pumpkins,” Tate Farms, Meridianville, Alabama

Getting Through the CraZieS: part ii

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A few days ago, I shared my friend Beckra’s strategies for surviving the super-stressful moments in life. A day or two later than promised,  I’m sharing some of the suggestions I offered her:

  • Photo Walk. Take a walk…with your camera.  You saw this one coming. Right? My camera has saved my sanity so many times that I’ve lost count.

When things get a bit crazy, I grab my camera and take a walk. There’s always something new to capture, always something to take my mind off  present matters or help me see them clearly. Of course, going for a walk is a good way to decompress–even without the camera.

  • Inspiration Wall. Create an “inspiration wall” or bulletin board.  In my “old” office at work, I had a “wall of inspiration” of writers who inspire me. I also had another space that was filled with beautiful images and words. Since these are not suitable for my current office, I am “relocating” my walls to my home office. The images not only inspire me but they also remind me that though we struggle, there’s something much larger operating and something grander falling into place.
  • Doodle. Take out your pens or sharpies and doodle (or paint or draw).  I used to think that writing (journaling) was my best stress reliever or survival strategy. However, when my sister died last year, my grief was larger than words, and I found myself choking back the bile, grief, the utter disappointment. Doodling helped tremendously–even if I doodled just one word or around a word or phrase. I found that doodling can be just as effective in relieving stress as writing. Bonus: I think doodling is improving my drawing.  If you’ve been following long enough, you know I am not an artist, but my hubby pointed out that I am improving. Woohoo!
  • Scissors, Tape, Glue.  Cut something.  Tape something. Glue something.  My finding this relaxing surely has something to doUntitled with using my hands. I usually carry a crafting pouch with me. It contains stickers, glue, pretty pens, card stock, washi tape, and pretty paper to make envelopes and/or write letters, a few postcards. Scissors are a must, because something about the repetition of cutting is so relaxing and calming (well, for me).

My little one gave me a wonderful crafting bag for Christmas last year–he filled it with washi tape and stickers. I have it already packed with 12×12 scrapbooking paper and a “We are Memory Keepers” envelope maker–ready for my long and stressful days. The cutting, measuring, scoring, folding and gluing–sure stress relief. Bonus: pretty envelopes to share and for mailing.

  • A “Distant” Shoulder. Lean on someone detached from your situation.  Just about all of my closest friends are academicians and it’s so easy to pick up the phone and call one of them when I face certain challenges. However, when I’m in over-stressed, crisis mode re: work, it’s beneficial to turn to someone who isn’t experiencing the same stressors. Sometimes we need more than someone to commiserate. We need a different perspective to help us see the larger picture.
  • Lists. Make lists.  I’ve always been a lister in one way or another, but just last fall I rediscovered listing in a whole new way. I’ve become a list journaler and I’m discovering so much about myself in the process. I’ve been transforming my lists into beautiful documents that reflect my inner and outer life. I’ve been embellishing them with doodles, washi tape, scrapbooking paper and elements and my own photography. I think my son will have quite a few beautiful journals to treasure.

Lists can be writtUntitled 2en anywhere–in a coffee shop, at work, in a meeting, even at church (shhh…don’t tell)–in a notebook, on scrap paper, or even on a napkin.  You can list anything–what is frustrating you at the moment; what is working; what isn’t working; ways to handle a crisis moment, etc.

  • Change Your View. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand, take a moment to turn around (or look up) and gaze elsewhere.
  • The Four Agreements. Exercise Don Miguel Ruiz’s “the four agreements”–Be impeccable with your word.  Don’t take things personally.  Don’t make assumptions.  Always do your best.

Ruiz’s The Four Agreements is a work of genius. I’ve had the agreements memorized since I read his book at the recommendation of a good friend many years ago; they’ve gotten me through some rough spots. I remind myself of the second agreement, “Don’t take things personally,” almost daily.

  • Laugh. Find something humorous and laugh out loud. It really works!
  • Scripture Recall.  Memorize and meditate over biblical scriptures.   This is one of my standard methods for dealing with the crazies, especially those situations that unsettle me immediately.  I have a number of “go to” Bible verses that I recall in stressful situations.  I typically combine “scripture recall” with some of the other methods listed above.

That’s it for now.  I hope you’ve found something in this post and the previous post to help you get through the super-stressful moments.Untitled 2_3

Note:  All the photos in this post were taken on my iPhone. These are “Alex’s Flowers.” Alex is a wonderful person who I met just a few months ago.  She celebrated her birthday October 9, exactly one week after mine.  🙂 She received dozens of flowers on her birthday, and I managed to get in a few shots before she whisked them away.   They’re so bright and cheerful!

 

 

Getting Through the CraZieS: part i

We are now in October—one month since my last post.  I’m trying desperately to avoid beginning yet another blog post with an apology for my long absence.  I think it’s to myself that I owe the apology more than anything.  I enjoy sharing with my smallish blog audience, and it’s almost “a sin and a shame” that I allow life and busyness to get in the way of my own personal “time outs”–especially since I need them most during the stressful, busy moments.

Last week nearly broke me.  Nearly.  I approached October, bracing myself for the challenges that I knew awaited me, but I did not expect to be “blindsided” by the loss of a friend to breast cancer.  I forced myself to push on, but by the end of last week, I knew I had to find the time to pull myself together or I would not make it through the month without falling to pieces.  This week is challenging me as well, so now I’m pulling out my survival strategies.

Last spring, Beckra, one of my Professors United pals, and I shared our tips for surviving the exhausting and trying moments of academia, but I’m realizing that the tips we exchanged can be useful for any stressful or frustrating situation.

Beckra sent her survival tips on beautiful postcards made from her own photography. Here are some of her suggestions:

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

  • iZen Garden app for iPad/iPhone.  Beckra recommends this because the music is calming, the quotations are interesting and “sometimes” beautiful, and there’s real pleasure in raking the sand with your finger. I downloaded the app, but haven’t checked it out yet.
Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

  • Let there be “pink” light.  Place a small lamp with a pink light bulb in your office or home.  Turn it on when you’re feeling stressed and it will calm you.  Try turning all other lights off and just bask in the glow of your pink light.
  • Listen to music. While doing some of her morning prep work, Beckra listens to Sonic Aid albums with the volume so low she can barely hear them.  For me, it’s classical music.  Not only is it calming, but it also improves my productivity level.
Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

  • Pause and breathe.  “A moment of delay and a deep breath can change a lot of things.” Something to remember for those critical moments.
Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

  • Close the door.  This allows you to focus and gather yourself.

I learned the “closing the door” strategy from a colleague at my former institution. She suggested it as a “thinking” strategy. She pointed out as long as my door is open, my attention will be divided–even if no one else is around. This was an important message for me. At the time, I was a department chair and an assistant dean, so there was always something or someone demanding time and attention. I’ve learned in recent years to close the door at work and at home–to accomplish tasks without distraction, to think and meditate, to quiet my spirit.

We often feel obligated to make ourselves available to others at all times, but some unavailability, as Beckra points out, “makes us better” in our roles when we are available.

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

  • Make a conscious effort to smile–not for others– for yourself.
  • Micro-rituals.  Exercise small, quick rituals to disconnect from the stressor(s) and reconnect with other parts of yourself: listen to audio books for sheer pleasure while sweeping; take a walk to watch the sunset.   Beckra writes, “Small daily habits are self-structuring and can have profound long-term effects.”

My favorite “micro-ritual”–a nap after work. Unfortunately, because I’ve often had so little sleep the night before, this leads to deep sleep, and hours later I wake up with everything undone and even more miles to go before I sleep again! I have to find a new ritual.

Beckra Survival Guide PCs-4

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

  • Eye/Jar Journal.  While traditional journaling is useful, sometimes you just want to get things out in quick bursts.  For those times, Beckra uses an “eye/jar” journal.  She made one for me!

Beckra stamped every page of a basic artist journal with “eye” or  “jar” images in random positions–as you can see from the few images below. (Click an image for a closer look).

Beckra explains, the “eye” gives you permission to write from your own unedited “I,” and the “jar” gives you the opportunity to let go of some things and/or store up others.

I love this journal.  I’ve had lots of opportunity to use it lately, and I appreciate the perforated pages that allow me to tear out and destroy my “unedited ‘I’ rantings.”

Beckra Survival Guide PCs-6

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

In many ways, Beckra’s strategies parallel my own survival strategies–music, something tactile, journaling–so tomorrow (because this is long enough), I will share those strategies that vary from hers.

For now, I’ll leave you with two more of Beckra’s beautiful photo postcards.  She sends them randomly and unexpectedly, so they always make my day!

Photo by R.R. (Beckra)

By R.R. (Beckra)

It’s obvious that she enjoys sharing the beauty she encounters from day to day, but I suspect that she also sends postcards that depict some of my favorite things.

Oh, check out Beckra’s blog:  Every Day, One Good Thing.

Enjoy!