Five-Minute Friday: Limit

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.”

The Boston Globe featured this quote in its “Reflection for the day” during my time in college. My father would send cards stuffed with newspaper clippings (I remember one about a skinny-dipping grandmother he thought would amuse me), random comics, these Boston Globe sayings, and a $20 bill. This particular saying, though, has been one of my go-to mantras because its truth applies to so many areas.

Recently, I attended a conference on Professional Learning Communities, and one of the keynote speakers talked about educational research and why some distrust it. One of the many reasons is that research is limited. During my doctoral coursework at Boston College, professors repeatedly drove home the notion that all research is perspectival. What we “find” is limited to the research question we asked in the first place, and the questions we chose to ask are influenced by our knowledge base (or that of our funding source).

The keynote speaker also said we had to be wary of any researcher who has not changed his or her mind. He said the mark of a true scholar is one who can say what researcher Richard Elmore and others said in a recent book: “I used to think…and now I think…” (Side note: I believe this ability to go back to the research with new knowledge and hindsight and revise one’s thinking also makes for strong leaders. I have never understood criticizing politicians for changing their stance on a topic based on time and new knowledge.)

Hearing this speaker made me wonder what fundamental “truths” I have changed my mind about based on my limitations and what I once failed to notice but now see quite clearly. Here is a list of some at random, indicative of a freewite:

I used to think that academic achievement reflected one’s intellectual abilities, and now I think it reflects one’s ability to “do school.”

I used to think that being busy was a badge of honor and a sign of productivity, and now I think that if you are too busy to relax and enjoy leisure activities, you are not as productive as you could be.

I used to think that meritocracy explained how people got ahead, and now I think meritocracy explains how people are blind to their privileges.

I used to think that if you are with the right person, marriage is easy, and now I think that all good relationships are the reflection of hard work.

I used to think seafood was disgusting, and now I think perfectly cooked salmon is divine.

I used to think that vulnerability was a sign of weakness, and now I think it is the greatest sign of strength.

Time’s up, readers, but I am very curious about what you have changed your mind about lately. Please comment if you’re willing to share!

Dead Dad Day #7

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, the most life-changing event I have experienced that now serves as my “before” and “after” marker. I have always honored Dead Dad Day, as I refer to it, as a kind of Sabbath, a day I do not conduct business as usual but spend time reflecting on the painfully beautiful unraveling it caused me.

I have written about my rituals on DDD before. Some years I didn’t work on February 11, some I did. Some years I reread sympathy cards, some years I didn’t. What has always been the tradition, though, is a family dinner with my crew and my mother, sister, and brother-in-law. We have a margarita, one of my dad’s favorite adult drinks, toast to a wonderful, complicated man, and share memories.

This year is different. A shared meal is not possible now that we’ve moved 1,000 miles away. Had we been home, it would not have happened anyway, as my sister is in the home stretch of her nurse practitioner program and has class from 1-8 tonight. And though I have always kept the evening of February 11 clear, tonight Owen has a make-up basketball game. Having him skip it would be a very UN-Tom-Pesola move.

Life has changed for us all, as life tends to do. And for the first time since that terrible day on February 11, 2009, when my 59-year-old father unexpectedly died in the middle of the night due, in essence, to Type 1 diabetes, February 11 feels…normal.

I will continue to honor this day, of course. I am looking forward to a great day at work. I will attend a College Board workshop on examining PSAT data, participate in a lower school PLC meeting on math curriculum, finish the annual report to our endowed fund donors, and discuss ways we might compbasketballact the curriculum for our advanced upper school students. After school, I will help coach the middle school Girls on the Run team, our first meeting of the year. Then, we will squeeze in a family dinner before heading to Owen’s game to watch #66, the next generation of my father’s #33, play a great game.


I am also donating $33 to Spare a Rose, a foundation I fortuitously learned about last night. My father and Owen were lucky to have been born after the discovery of insulin, but just because insulin exists does not mean all children have access to it. To coincide with Valentine’s Day (the day we buried my father), Spare a Rose asks people to give the value of one rose to help provide diabetes supplies and insulin to children in degoofyveloping countries. How can I not support that?

So, cheers to you, all of my family and friends who have supported us on our journey of grief these last 7 years. And, cheers to a father who consistently supported me with love and kindness and encouragement. I hold my memories a little closer and dearer today.

Me and My Pal D

(Originally posted on old blog on February 9, 2010)

So here we are on the 9th, two days away from D-Day, and I can’t help but notice how Death keeps finding ways to tap me on the shoulder and announce its presence. It’s not that the Grim Reaper is searching for me – at least I hope not – it’s just that Death keeps trying to remind me that it’s part of life.

The best analogy I have is the common phenomenon that follows buying a new car – you might not have noticed many of your make and model on the road before you made the big purchase, but now that you’re driving your new wheels, you see your car EVERYWHERE.

Such is the case with me and Death, and I am not just referring to all of the wakes and funerals I’ve been to in the last year (as I mentioned in my post, Shocked Into Functioning).

Death’s first appearance was more of a cameo. The day after burying my father, my sister needed a break from the doom and gloom, so she proposed going to the movies. Always one for a good diversion, I went with her. We picked the most light-hearted, brainless movie out at the time, He’s Just Not that Into You.

About 30 minutes into the film, the main character’s father collapses to the floor with a heart attack. My sister and I looked at each other and said out loud, “Are you serious?!” In the movie, that father lives, which for me only highlighted the fact that ours did not.

When I went back to my classes and work at BC a couple weeks after the funeral, without fail, the radio on my commute played Death’s personal soundtrack, with T-Pain’s Dead and Gone a frequent track. Disturbed – less by how bad the song is and more by seeing the words “Dead and Gone” displayed so boldly on my radio screen – I remember changing the station, only to get Kelly Clarkson’s Already Gone, followed by The Doors’s The End, then U2’s With or Without You, then P!nk’s Please Don’t Leave Me, and finally – no joke – Bob Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

“All right – I give up! I get it!” I yelled.

Death doesn’t always slap me in the face, though. More often than not, it creeps up on me.

Last night, I was reading this month’s book club selection, This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, and Death made another appearance. Granted, I was the one who chose this book, but I did so thinking it would provide comic relief and a nice change in tone from the last couple months’ books, which have been more serious.

Amazon’s “Best of the Month” from August of this past year, the book promised to be “laugh-out-loud funny” and “compulsively readable,” and so far, I don’t disagree.

But apparently I skimmed over the basic premise too quickly for it to register: the book centers on a dysfunctional family whose atheist patriarch’s dying wish is for them to sit shiva for him (the Jewish ritual of sitting in low chairs for seven days to greet mourners).

In a nutshell: lots of Dead Dad stuff.

I suppose others in my shoes might find this annoying, even heartbreaking. Some might think it particularly morbid for me to be reading such a book on the eve of my father’s one-year anniversary.

Always able to appreciate the bizarre, my father would have laughed.

So that’s what I do. Sometimes, things are too absurd not to.