One of the best things about traveling is getting to see a different perspective on the world (here they eat what we see as pets; here they hold sacred an animal we eat) and to see, in the end, just how similar we really are to one another.
This summer I did not go on an exotic journey to Ulaanbaatar or Istanbul, but instead took a trip “home” to the state I grew up in, Oregon. Even so, it was fun to show my kids the fossils of my young adulthood: the college where my wife and I met, the chapel where we got married, and the first town we lived in together.
It was also a kind of wonderful to see that some of the challenges we face at the sunny Southern California high school where I work aren’t all that different than those that exist in the beaver state, where the attitude toward finding a solution has the down to earth, Oregonian tone that I remember from my youth.
In the bathroom of a bookshop on Hawthorne Boulevard, in a neighborhood of Portland smelling of boiled wool and (recently legalized) recreational cannabis, a place familiar to neo-hippies and hipsters alike, I spotted a sign that perfectly captured the realistic attitude principals like me might bring to concerns of graffiti or students littering on campus.
Placed above the sink, not far from a garbage can plastered with stickers and paint, the sign read:
Every attempt is being made
to keep this restroom clean.
If you see something that needs attention,
Please contact an employee.
The sign acknowledged hard work and a commitment to addressing the challenge, but didn’t suggest that things wouldn’t go sideways from time to time.
At the beginning of the school year I told my staff that I knew that the year would bring us challenges, every year does, but that I was optimistic because I knew that together we were up to any challenge we would face together.
This sign, in its eloquent, Oregonian way, seemed to say the same. There’s a whisper of resignation in the first line, but a willingness in the second sentence to roll up sleeves and get the job done. There will be challenges, it says, and we’ll do our best to fix them.
And I believed both.
It’s easy to get frustrated when folks complain about the challenging things that happen, though things will, because things do.
I hope that in the work I do with my school community I reflect the same honesty I saw in that bookshop bathroom, and that people can find reassurance in the truth that while we can’t stop all the ills of the world, we’ll always do all we can to put things right.