I can see clearly now . . .

Relieved

Fourteen days.  Every blink was a reminder that I felt like I had sand in my eyes.  Every sign and every face was a blur.  My vision came and went, but the bright airport signs were always difficult to read, so hard that I even checked in with the wrong airline (China Eastern instead of China Southern).  Luckily, my mistake was discovered before I ended up on the wrong plane.  
Every few minutes, I dabbed my eyes as best I could to keep the “gunk” from building up and crusting around my eyelashes.  Every morning, I separated my glued-shut eyelids by hand and wondered how much more I could take.  I looked and felt like a zombie, and was met with many worried glances from the hundreds of people I crossed paths with over the nearly 10,000 miles I traveled during this time.

When I missed my connecting flight in China, I had to follow these directions to get a hotel voucher, but I could barely see them!

Happily, it’s been 15 days since swimming with the kids in Cambodia, and I am nearly back to normal.  I saw three doctors in two different countries and took three prescriptions, none of which helped.  In the end, the virus took care of itself in its own time.

Humbled

Although I was still dealing with the eye virus during my four days in Portland, my vision was expanded in so many ways that I could have never imagined before attending this seminar.  On the last day, the 30 participants were asked to say one word that summarized our experience at the conference.  I did have one word, but won’t limit myself to that here.
Inspired.  This word was actually banned by one of our moderators since it is way overused, but I can’t help but include it here.  I was inspired by the adults with intellectual disabilities who performed for us and spoke with eloquence about their lives and living with a disability (or a “gift” as one man called it).  We had visited PHAME, a local organization that offers classes and performances in the arts for people with disabilities.  My eyes were opened to the realization that people with intellectual disabilities have many, many talents that often go unnoticed.  You can learn more about PHAME here.
Hopeful.  Of the thirty attendees from across the US representing many diverse backgrounds, several were young undergraduate students.  They have already accomplished so much, including learning several languages, studying abroad, running nonprofits, organizing conferences, and receiving numerous awards.  Each time one of the young people spoke at the seminar, I was left with renewed hope for our future.  These students are intelligent, creative, thoughtful and driven to build a more equitable and peaceful world for all of us.  
Humbled.  Many of our sessions focused on ways to make education more inclusive for marginalized groups.  I was humbled to realize that I still have so much to learn in this area.  Among the participants and presenters were several people with physical and other disabilities.  As I sat and complained about my temporary eye issues, I was humbled to see people living with disabilities that will last a lifetime, and to see them go above and beyond what I have ever done while facing many challenges from mainstream society.  I should do less complaining and be more proactive.

A group of participants from teacher exchanges

Challenged

I was challenged in so many ways during this seminar and will grow as a result.  My thinking was challenged when learning about restorative justice, universal design, and the complexities of addressing the needs of indigenous students, English language learners and refugees.  Being on a panel to discuss LGBT and gender issues was both challenging and rewarding.  My current challenge is to submit a grant proposal for a project that will address one or more of our seminar topics.  This is a great opportunity to fund a project and collaborate with other recipients of State Department exchange programs.  The deadline is fast approaching and soon I will be in a refugee camp in Thailand, but I welcome this challenge and only have to think of my experience at the seminar to be motivated to complete this next task.

My friend, Julie, a teacher in Portland, showed me some beautiful sites while I was in town.

Thank you to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State for making this seminar and the grant opportunity possible (among many other programs I have participated in).  And thank you to World Learning for administering this seminar which was so well-organized and will lead to positive change in many communities across the globe.  

I’ve arrived in San Francisco.

Comments (18):

  1. Paula Agins

    May 15, 2017 at 05:40

    As your journey continues, I too have a hard time coming up wth responses powerful enough to match what you show in pictures and words. Todays made me realize how much I miss working with individuals with various disabilities and their families. Time spent listening to their voices or watching the changes in facial expressions brings new life into my soul.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 00:55

      I agree. I still feel their positive energy.

      Reply
  2. Lori

    May 15, 2017 at 06:07

    Another inspiring experience, Tim…….you bring me hope and challenge me to think outside the box.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 00:55

      Glad to pass along what I’m learning.

      Reply
  3. Diane Weisman

    May 15, 2017 at 08:03

    Glad to hear your eyes are better. Your temporary disability taught you so much. I have experienced similar frustrating times with my many surgeries over the years. Adapting temporarily when leading a busy life is frustrating, painful and yet a lesson of letting go and accepting what you can do and what you can’t. Thank you so much for your blog. Sharing your experiences make me realize on a daily basis that the majority of people around the world have such adversity in their lives.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 00:56

      That’s so true, and I am reminded of it every day.

      Reply
  4. Bruce Yarnall

    May 15, 2017 at 09:22

    Welcome back Tim. I am glad to hear that your eyes are getting better. I enjoyed reading your blog immensely, you have had many incredible experiences.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 00:56

      Thanks, Bruce.

      Reply
  5. LInda A Wight

    May 15, 2017 at 12:28

    Also glad eyes are better. See Tim -always learning even when not in classroom. DId you get to see your son or was this a quick trip back?. Enjoying the pictures. Stay wel;, awaiting your next post

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 00:57

      Just spent four days with Ricardo in San Francisco, my first time there. It was a great visit.

      Reply
  6. Julie Aquilizan

    May 15, 2017 at 14:53

    I am pleased to hear that your eyes are better and that you made it to San Francisco safe and sound. It was so great to spend time with you. I enjoyed hearing about your experiences while on your journey. I feel so comfortable with you and it seemed that I had seen you only last week and not two years ago. I am so impressed with your passion for learning, teaching and giving to others. Enjoy your visit with your son! I will look forward to the next time we meet.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 00:59

      Thank you for being such a great host in Portland. I feel the same way and am sure our travel paths will cross again! I wanted to post a picture of you on the blog but then realized I never took any.

      Reply
  7. Vicky Ann Deledda

    May 15, 2017 at 22:35

    You look great in the group photo and you are a force to be reckoned with….
    You never cease trying to better our world through education.. Much love and prayers as you head to the refugee camp.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 01:00

      Thanks. Wish you were here as I’m about to board my next 14-hour flight, the first of three legs.

      Reply
  8. Marika Heughins

    May 16, 2017 at 05:29

    Tim,
    I am so glad you had this opportunity. I can’t wait to talk to you in person about it. Glad your eyes are getting better! Take care! xoxo

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 18, 2017 at 01:02

      Thanks, Marika. You helped make it all possible by writing a last-minute recommendation. Whatever you said got me in!

      Reply
  9. Emilia

    May 30, 2017 at 08:40

    Hi Tim,
    You are an inspiration to both staff and students. I sent in my donation a few weeks ago and told my students about your work in the refugee camp. My advisory group put together an after school dodge ball event as a fundraiser for your teaching assignment in Thailand. They gave Paula a check for $95. We hope this will help with any supplies you’ll need.
    Take care,
    Emilia

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      June 12, 2017 at 07:25

      Thank you, Emilia! This is great. I just sent you an email with a message for the students (and some photos – you’ll be the first ones to see them).

      Reply

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