Joy and mourning: coming from the same source

Dearest community,

This week in the adolescent levels, we took a moment of silence to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the unexpected passing of one of our teachers last year. Jay Peterson was our chemistry teacher, and in his short time at great River school he formed many close friendships with colleagues - and a wonderful rapport with students as a guide and mentor. His humor, calm demeanor, and care for the school were exemplars of the work we aim to carry out as adults at the school.

Seeing our community grieve together after that loss was one of the strongest examples of community strength I have seen in my time at great River school. Teachers and students alike made space for each other to be honest, to be whole - to feel both the grief and sorrow of a loss, and share in gratitude and remembrance of joy. 

To identify an emotional tool to cultivate for the situation, I spoke last year to the adolescent levels about gratitude. Often the grace that we all seek - to address deep and challenging feelings - is most easily accessed through thankfulness and expressing the care that we feel for the things we love. And so together in community meetings last year we practiced thinking of things we are thankful for, thinking of the deep care we have for them, and cultivating to literal feeling inside of warmth and care and gratitude for the people and experiences we love.

Implied in this practice is the idea that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. In fact neither extreme can exist without the other. We must deeply care and deeply enjoy the aspects of our relationship and our experiences before we would ever feel deep loss at their passing. And, in a complementary way, we must know how to feel and express sorrow, and how to express vulnerability. One vulnerable skill we cultivate is how to be able to talk about loss and feel sadness. For, if we are not able to go deeply into the expression of sorrow and loss, our capacity to experience joy and love will be limited.

The two feelings are from the same emotional well, and the deepening of that well depends not only on the vulnerability to care about something - but also the readiness and safety to grieve for that thing as it grows, as it changes, and as we experience an unexpected loss. And so we practice together experiencing success, and sometimes failure, in ways small and large at Great River School. Both extremes of experience, the joy and sorrow we venture to feel are brave parts of our humanity – and all feelings are welcome and have space in our classrooms.

We practice ways to express our feelings of sorrow, of conflict, and of sadness and disappointment of all kinds, and it makes space for deep gratitude because the practice allows us to accept our whole selves.

This practice is a key aspect of the social and emotional learning we aim to do together in the building community, and practicing the interpersonal peace that we hope our students can bring to the world in the future. I am deeply grateful to be a part of this community, and a witness to the healthy and strong emotional learning we have done together as a school over this past year.

Thank you for taking part in that, and for helping provide the strength as a family and for your student to help create a healthy and peaceful world for the future.