The most important lesson I learned from a brush with Ebola – Episode 055

This is my seventh year of teaching.

As I headed into my new teaching career back in 2013 (without any formal teaching experience) I was also in the midst of recovering from a job loss and recovering from a mistake I made in my marriage.  Six years in therapy working on myself, my marriage, my parenting, all of it.

What I did have going for me, probably the main reason why I did get a teaching position aside from my BS in chemistry and my minor in psychology, was my 8 years in beekeeping. Not only was I a beekeeper, but I worked in a honeybee laboratory studying honey bees. In addition to that, I had spent the last two years teaching beekeeping classes for a honey company in the Dallas area. My classes were up to 30 students with an age range of 8 – 89.

Going into my new teaching career I was focus and committed. Not only was I going to be the best teacher I could be, I had to be the best in order to support my newly pregnant wife at the time as we were expecting our son.

I also had to be the best for my almost 200 other children.

Surviving the first year of teaching was exhausting; working a full time job, two part time jobs, children, and a new born. But I survived.

Then October 2014 came.

We had all heard about the Ebola patient being in Dallas, and we had all heard about the nurses. But what none of us in that auditorium that fall afternoon had expected to hear, was that there was a small remote possibility that one of our students family members might have come in close proximity to one of the nurses. The school superintendent that afternoon, in a dry monotone voice, went further to explain the entire school was to under go a top to bottom wipe down that night. He went further on to explain how this was occurring, not out of a necessity, but out of an abundance of caution.

The silence back in our teacher conference group was sobering, but not as sobering as the quiet drive home, where my emotions were running high. Here I was, yet again, in another situation where I had failed; I had possibly brought a deadly virus to my home, infecting my family, infecting my new born son.  Right when my life started to gain a positive rhythm, right when my decisions were beginning to make sense, another obstacle in the road totally sabotaging life as I know it.

By the time my wife (now ex-wife) arrived home with the children, I had left all my clothes outside and wiped down almost all surfaces. Using every scientific understanding of contamination I could remember and reason, I cleaned my house from top to bottom, and explained to my wife the situation we were facing.

Her acceptance was reassuring and that evening continued as normal. That night, after putting my babies to sleep, I did all I could do at that moment; read.

I found all the scientific articles I could about the transmission of Ebola and created a powerpoint of the information. I even went into the biology of why hand washing was so effective, and stumbled upon Ignaz Semmelweis, the “savior of mothers”.  The doctor who figured out that hand washing between treating mothers in childbirth reduced the mortality rate and increased their survivability! Surprisingly (or not surprisingly) even with his data, no one believed him until decades later after his passing.

The next morning I arrived into my classroom armed with all of this information. The prevailing guidance from the top at the time was “keep things as normal as possible”.  The presentation stood ready; just in case.  Then my first student walked in the door.

“Mr. Campos, Mr. Campos, we’re all going to die! You’re going to die, I’m going to die, my momma doesn’t love me, she dropped me off at school!”

Every student after him came into my classroom, repeating the same woes, crying the same cry. That’s when I knew the powerpoint presentation had to come out.

As I explained the origin of the virus, explained the mechanism of transmission, and went into the history of Mr. Semmelweis, I got into a flow. The words kept coming out and I explained everything I could with authenticity. That is, until I saw it.

The it I saw was an iPhone being held by a human hand, that seemed to emanate into my classroom through a cracked door. Within a few minutes, while I continued lecturing, the rest of the human body that was attached to that human hand, in addition to another full human materialized in my classroom.  Two assistant principals with two phones out, openly and unabashedly recording the events in the room.

I was shocked. I was scared. My thoughts were disrupted because I was afraid I was getting in trouble, I was afraid that what I was doing (which went directly against the directives) was about to land me in some hot water. Then, in the middle of my talk and my panic, I took a pause.

As I briefly paused, I looked around the room and I saw it.

What I saw in that moment, as I scanned the room, was every single students eyes. Not a few; but all. Including the two adults in the front of the room. I had what is called in education circles, 100% engagement. There wasn’t a single student who’s eyes were not locked with mine.

I was shocked! I was taken by complete surprise! So much so that I stumbled for a bit to find my words and continue with my lesson. But I did, students fully reassured, and then the bell rang. This happened six more times.

It took me years to figure out what happened that day in my classroom; years to understand fully the message that I was sending my students. Yes, I was talking about the importance of hand-washing, CDC recommendations, and a history lesson on Mr. Semmelweis. But that wasn’t the real lesson, nor was that the true message I was sending. The real message, the actual message, the message that would change my life, the actual message I was sending my students was this:

You Are Enough

What I was really telling my students was that they had the ability, strength, and resources WITHIN THEMSELVES to fight a virus that killed thousands and traveled across an ocean. What I was telling them was that they had the ability to take their lives into their own hands, regardless of the circumstances that they faced. It wasn’t about hand-washing, it was about them.

But the only reason I was able and capable to deliver that message to my students, was because in that moment;

I was enough for me. 

Up to this point in my journey, I had to learn to accept what I was capable of doing. And the only reason I could accept my limitations was because I had let go of my past, let go of my failures, let go of the whatever I had done and the circumstances that resulted in those decisions, because I needed to love and accept myself as I am.  And by accepting myself in that way, it freed me, giving me the ability to do everything I could to help others.

Because I was enough for myself, I could let go of the past, accept myself as I am, and serve others.

The circumstances that we all face right now are unprecedented; but the reason why this has become so difficult to manage is because it makes us uncomfortable. We are used to experiencing life in a certain way, and now that way no longer exists. Thus in order to see through this situation, we must become comfortable being uncomfortable.

With the understanding that human behavior started this, human behavior is causing this virus to spread, and its human behavior that is going to help it to stop spread.

And how can we change our behavior in order to stop this? In order to make the most impact on our friends and family?

By understanding that…

You Are Enough

You Are Enough

You Are Enough

(if you say something three times you are more likely to remember it)

When you understand that you are enough, it creates a clarity and transparency in your life, that allows you to not only see your limitations, but also your abilities. Once you accept yourself as you are, and understand that you are enough, suddenly your vision is filled with the things you can do, what is within your power and your reach, and the odds shift in your favor.

You begin to understand what you CAN do, instead of what you can’t. And when you see that taking care of yourself, loving yourself, and valuing yourself is something you SHOULD DO; then the self-care takes off and thus your abilities to do for yourself and for others.

It is my wish for you, to not only be kind to yourself, to take care of yourself, and to love yourself, but to also do things that will boost your immune system and thus your immune response. Take time to connect with people, express yourself, and take care of yourself. Be comfortable WITH YOURSELF! Unburden yourself, let go of the past, so you can see your reality and your present with the clarity that comes with that.

You Are Enough

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