Jill Stahl Tyler: Silver Linings | The search for silver linings is a silver lining in and of itself

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With her "Education Matters" column on hiatus, Jill Stahl Tyler has started a project called "Silver Linings," a daily reflection on uplifting topics. Here are her entries for May 14-17.

By Jill Stahl Tyler

May 14

"What are you going to write about today?"

That was the question friends just asked me as we finished up our mostly-weekly Zoom check-in call. I admitted that I really didn't know yet. One friend said, "But didn't you do the "two good things of the day" at supper with the family?"

Yes, I said, we did but that is not the same as finding things for "Silver Linings." Two good things is not as hard. You just have to reflect back on the day, and figure out what two things happened to you that were good. It's not terribly difficult, although there are some days when each of us says something like, "Nothing really happened today." Then, of course, it requires a bit more thought. (And, if we're completely truthful, the answer that eventually comes out is often the kids' throwback: lunch and dinner.)

But finding the "silver lining" is harder. It's something that would not have happened if we were not in our current COVID-19 world. And it's not even just "something" — it has to be a "good something."

One friend thought for just a moment before she said, "Well, there is this call! That's a silver lining."

Yes, I said again but I already wrote about that. It has to be unique, every day. (And my thought at that point was, "Really? Isn't this your game, and you get to call the rules? What does it matter if it is a repeat? What are you trying to prove?")

And then I realized that the whole question is, in fact, a "silver lining."

Back in normal-land, oh-so-long ago, we friends didn't talk about finding silver linings. We weren't looking for them. We didn't think we needed to find good things out of a bad situation (or at least not too often — certainly not every day).

Changing our collective outlook? Being more aware of how we react to whatever life throws our way? Looking for what might be good out of the mundane, the annoying, the ugly, the bad?

That's our collective silver lining today. (And thanks, friends, for helping me find it!)

May 15

Today, we made it to the end of week seven of high school virtual learning. (Our oldest son finished his junior year of college, online, this week, too.) Only five more weeks to go, according to our teachers' reports that were automatically sent out to all of us parents, thanks to Google Classroom.

They have fallen into a rhythm. Both of them get up at reasonable times. They complete their chores, feeding and watering rabbits, chicks and chickens. The two of them are eating on a regular schedule. There is probably too much time on "devices." But honestly, it's hard to tell for sure. The phones are the computers now for checking in with friends, Zoom classroom meetings, Zoom check-ins with teachers, completing assignments — and watching Netflix.

On-line schooling is far from perfect. It has many frustrations — ask any teacher, student, administrator or parent you know, at any level. The complaints run the gamut, just as you might imagine. The most common comment I hear is that "this online stuff is not for everyone." (Except, of course, for right now, it is for everyone, no choice about it.)

Part of this change included a different sort of Friday. On the final day of the school week, the supervisory union's policy is "no new material." Students are supposed to use this day to make sure that they are caught up, to ask questions of their teachers and to finish anything left over from the week.

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Over the past few weeks, Friday has become a more relaxed day for both the girls.

Here's the fun silver lining we're noticing: the girls typically end their week feeling fairly accomplished. Actually, academically speaking, both of them are more on track and much less stressed than how they felt during "in person school."

May 16

Just yesterday, we accepted the invitation eagerly: a socially distanced cookout for a small number of people, all outside.

In a cow pasture.

We have gathered as a group for over 25 years. We've done weddings, Memorial Day cookouts, 4th of July parties, New Year's brunches. We heralded the arrival of our children with baby showers, then baptisms and, eventually, graduations. We have even now started in on the second round of marriages and baby showers.

But we have never actually organized a cookout and campfire in the middle of a cow pasture. Nor have we ever worried before about being "appropriately socially distanced."

This time, we arrived carefully in our pickup trucks and four wheelers — separated by our family units we've been quarantining with for nearly two months. Instead of greeting each other with hugs, we waved and nodded enthusiastically. Instead of immediately intermixing, we carefully set up chairs with distances in mind. Still, we managed to enjoy our supper, tell stories, and laugh.

All the while, the cows grazed around us, their lives continuing as though it were just another day. The fact that people had decided to gather in their midst left them completely unimpressed. For them, this is "just another day," of course. The changes that humanity has been living through don't matter to them.

The cows wandered back and forth, calmly going about their evening routine. The air chilled as the sun set. We threw another log on the fire, and drew in a bit closer (but not too close). The stars came out, and we tried to identify the big dipper, little dipper and north star. The cows settled in for the night, babies curled up next to moms.

A silver lining for all of us: a creative celebration amongst the cows, with friends figuring out how to be festive — and safe — in ways we would never have dreamt up before.

May 17

For the first 16 or so years of our marriage, May meant celebrating spring. Searching out the best flowers at garden centers, usually with my children helping. Planting the little starts in groupings. Starting outdoor projects. Enjoying the warm days. Watching the landscape come back to life.

Nine years ago in the beginning of April, my husband came home from the first pre-lacrosse season meeting our family attended. He looked at me square on, and he stated very emphatically: "You can take away anything else you were planning on doing on weekends, from now until the middle of June." As more kids joined in — on different teams for most years — more time was spent driving, often in different directions.

Three years ago, I said yes to a new job. I became a local coordinator for exchange students. The Spanish summer students arrived in the end of June; the academic year students arrived in August. The month of May suddenly filled with massive deadlines, and I spent more hours on the phone and at the computer than I did in the garden.

This year, of course, is different. I miss lacrosse. I will miss getting to know a great group of Spanish students this summer.

Today I returned to shopping for flowers. It gave me great peace and joy, just standing there, surrounded by all the little plants, contemplating color schemes and growing patterns. I came home to a husband and two sons, completely engrossed in an outdoor project of their own.

It's a silver lining, this return to what we "used to do."

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to two children involved in the local schools. She is president of Global Cow in Brattleboro. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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