Initially, I boiled my long list of guiding questions down to:
The Unifying Nature of Story: How sharing personal stories -- joyful and tragic, funny and poignant, ancestral and present -- informs and empowers our understanding and acceptance of multiple perspectives, enriches our sense of discovery and develops our ability to communicate by building our active listening and vulnerability skills.
BUT, then I realized, with our whirlwind tour in India, days jam-packed with school visits and meetings, days spent teaching in my host school in Kolkata and nights in my hotel room blogging and fighting jet lag, I had precious little time to just sit and talk to anyone, much less the school children and their families in order to really discover and explore "The Unifying Nature of Story." This was disappointing to me, at first, but I am not one to see a roadblock and be deterred by it.
Instead, I shifted my focus.
I recognized and was impressed that the Indian school system encourages its students and teachers to spend time in meditation and the practice of yoga daily, often as a part of the morning gathering to begin their day. As a religion teacher I often begin my classes with a short mediation and have found that this practice helps to calm the students and prepare them for learning. But in India, this daily, school-wide practice and focus on spirituality and centeredness granted both students and teachers the opportunity to prepare for and reflect upon their school day. It encourages all to take responsibility for the way they will spend their time at school, honing their energy and preparing their minds and bodies for the day ahead. I was also impressed by the way no specific religious belief or practice was focused upon. Each child could spend this quiet time with their own thoughts, beliefs and traditions. The participation was mandatory, but without any specific ideology or intention prescribed.
After returning home and reflecting upon my experiences, I first thought about how my school could incorporate a similar type of mediative time into our schedule. An Independent Catholic school, we "pray" a lot. We celebrate Mass weekly as a school community and enjoy other Catholic celebrations, so meditation is already a part of our tradition. We don't, however, practice it daily or as a part of an "all school" gathering. I'd love to give it a try!!! There was something very special and unifying about row after row of young people, all focused and present in the moment, all sitting quietly in meditation. I remember thinking, "How in the world do they accomplish this kind of spiritual calmness with 500 rambunctious school children?" It seemed miraculous to me. And I am accustomed to recognizing the miraculous in my midst!!!
So, my focus of inquiry shifted and was redefined by circumstance on my trip, but I have not given up on my initial guiding question, or my plan to write a book inspired by my global experiences. I realize, now, that I needed to first learn everything I could absorb from the Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship. It became foundational in the planning for my book. TGC has helped me to begin the research I'll need as I move forward with my project, and has been pivotal in helping me hone my idea into a plan that makes sense as I go forward. I have begun, the best thing anyone can claim when their dream is so palpable in their daily life. The working title, which will be changed numerous times before completion, is:
In Search of Story: A US Southern Mother's Quest to Heal and Unify the World.
Lofty, I know. But true to who I am. I can almost see the children and hear the stories unfold. I have charted the countries I need to visit and listed the questions that must be asked. I have the vision, now to figure out the way.
I have spent the past few months working out how best to accomplish my goal of giving voice to the voiceless, chronicling the stories of families, especially children, from around the world into a book dedicated to the exploration of "The Unifying Nature of Story." What I really need, but do not have immediate access to, is a person with deep pockets who wants to help me realize my dream. Or maybe a company with similar interests that would like to read said book and share it with the world. Anyone know Oprah's direct line? I am not sure how to find either of those, so I will begin where I feel more comfortable...
In a more practical realm.
I plan to apply for a Fulbright Global Scholar Personal Project Grant. Unfortunately, I have missed this year's application deadline, but I am nothing, If not persistent. This type grant will provide me with the time I need in a variety of countries to sit down and visit, to get to know the people whose stories I hope to share. It is only through familiarity that we can build cultural understanding. It is only through sitting across the dinner table with each other that we can build the trust and friendship needed to express our deepest and dearest, our joys and tragedies, our loves and losses.
So, I am not giving up on my original guiding question. After all, questions that transform the way people think take time to brew and develop, to plan and, ultimately, to come to fruition. I'm well into the brewing, development and planning stages. I'll keep you posted on the path that will lead me to fruition. Stay tuned!