The Lopez Corner: I Surrender

It’s a weird day by any standard when the space shuttle goes up for one of its final voyages, commanded by the husband of a Congresswoman who is struggling to recover from from an assassin’s gunshot wound to the head, while two billion people watch the future King of England get married, as a woman embraces her three year old grandaughter on a mattress in the front yard of their tornado-decimated home in Birmingham.

I am a teacher. I rank and judge my students’ products all day long; it’s my job. It’s hard enough not to let that habit of mind bleed into all my reactions to the world on any given Sunday. The myriad and often contraditory ways in which I find myself trying to do that today are even more head-spinning.

Why not take joy in the sight of a princess on her wedding day? Don’t beauty and hope trump it all?

I can’t believe people are more interested in some fat-cat hierarchical royal farce while tornadoes are destroying whole communities in our own country.

Why be sad about a house? At least your grandkid’s still alive.

Good science will save us all.

Gabrielle Giffords can’t use the right side of her body anymore. Space travel seems a little insignificant, don’t you think?

Line up the events. Judge them. Shoot the rest down. Makes that endless soup of world-sized information easier to deal with, for one thing. Makes teaching easier, too. Makes everything easier. 

In her recent article “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything,” Linda Holmes calls this approach to information “culling.” She’s talking about cultural information, but there’s a universal application to be had here.

What I’ve observed in recent years is that many people…are far more interested in culling than in surrender. And they want to cull as aggressively as they can. After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you’d otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, “All genre fiction is trash.” You have just massively reduced your effective surrender load, because you’ve thrown out so much at once.

The same goes for throwing out foreign films, documentaries, classical music, fantasy novels, soap operas, humor, or westerns. I see people culling by category, broadly and aggressively: television is not important, popular fiction is not important, blockbuster movies are not important. Don’t talk about rap; it’s not important. Don’t talk about anyone famous; it isn’t important. And by the way, don’t tell me it is important, because that would mean I’m ignoring something important, and that’s … uncomfortable. That’s surrender.

The “surrender” approach, on the other hand, does not trash other realities so that we can feel comfortable with our decisions on what’s important and what isn’t. Instead, it acknowledges that many, many things are worth our care and attention; and as a singular human being, there’s only so far that attention can– and should– go.

…what we’ve seen is always going to be a very small cup dipped out of a very big ocean, and turning your back on the ocean to stare into the cup can’t change that.

I keep a children’s book on my bedside table and read it– both to my daughter and son, and myself– at least twice a month. It’s Don Muth’s beautiful Zen rendition of the Tolstoy short story The Three Questions, and it concludes with these words.

Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. This is why we are here.

I recognize this now as “surrender.” And it seems to me that this is not only an approach that can keep us healthy as teachers, but as human beings.

So I’ll try to walk through this day with a prayer for Ms. Giffords, a Facebook post enjoying the loveliness of Kate Middleton, a donation to the Alabama Red Cross, and not enough time to get snotty over the relative value of any of them– since I have Scout needing comfort about the fact that she hates the lisp her new braces gives her, and Rachael to grin at over her newfound love of vampire books, and a boy to treat gently after a week of hard-core bullying.

I surrender.





7 thoughts on “The Lopez Corner: I Surrender

  1. Yes. See how TIME culls (“elsewhere in the world, real news is taking place,”) and Williams surrenders? (“We had a magnificent setup—the result of months of planning—to cover the big day in London, and we still will, live and wall-to-wall. But for now, for us, for this story, one of us had to go back.”)

    Same event. Very different approaches.

  2. I’ve been chewing over this post for a few days now. Sometimes I get bogged down in the tension between the infinity curiosity and issues of the world and the finite me. I like this idea of surrender.

    Thank you for this beautiful post. It’s capture many of my jumbled thoughts.


  3. Thank you, Zach and Bill. It means a lot to me to receive comments that let me know that my navel-gazing is useful to readers. 🙂

  4. This idea of surrendering forced me to look at what I find important and to reject the urge to bash some one else’s view of what’s important. A friend came to mind almost instantly as I read your post. She subscribes to three news papers, several magazines and daily DRV’s 15 different shows and news broadcasts. I don’t share the same fervor for media that she does. Frankly, I never understood her passion and felt is was unhealthy. I try hard to maintain a positive outlook and it is a daily struggle in a world that can be filled with gossip and negativity. As an educator, I know it is important to stay in touch with current events, but I get sick to my stomach watching the news. It’s just one horrible headline after another. Very little information is uplifting nor is it appropriate for my 2 year old to be exposed to (I don’t stay up late enough to catch the 10 or 11 o’clock news). Finding a balance between staying current and not losing my positive outlook can be a challenge. I have found, however, that there is no way to avoid hearing about major events that occur. Maybe I’m not the first person to hear about them, but news does travel fast.

    I chose to filter out a lot of what the world has to say, because I need to in order to feel peace in my spirit. My friend embraces what the world has to say. Maybe it’s what her spirit needs. Your post helped me view her habits in a new light; from a more understanding and less critical view. Thank you for that.

  5. Kristina, I’m so glad you feel the post helped you understand your friend better. Personally speaking, I’m with you. I get my news via NPR in the car, Google Reader, some extremely careful and limited subscriptions to magazines, and my media-savvy friends who post links on Facebook. That’s it. My sleep (and my own kids’ needs as well) outstrip every other medium.

    In preparation for this speech coming up I have been reading and learning about “cognitive overload”, which I have watched paralyze my own self on many an occasion. I think the right balance of information is probably different for everyone, but it seems to me that the universal litmus test is that it is an amount which allows you to be well-informed, but also able to act constructively upon your knowledge.

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