Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat 2/22/2003 9:32 AM
Random Thought: Cogito Ergo Sum

What a walk this morning. Finally, I was given long distance permission by my angel to hit the streets. Beat the thunder, lightning, wind, and torrenial downpour. If I hadn't, I surely would have landed in Oz. It was only a tad dense. I didn't really notice either the coolness or the dampness or the soupiness this dark, foggy morning. It just felt good walking the streets. I felt like I was moving through the opaque darkness seamlessly engaged in a spirit dance. I was concentrating on a rhythm I've hearing over and over and over again, "cogito ergo sum," "cogito ergo sum," "cogito ergo sum." It was like experiencing mobile drumming. I've had that three beat cadence inside me for almost two weeks. I haven't been able to get it out of my head. Why would I? It is a beat that has been giving me a sense of rapture and joy, of awe and wonder, of amazement, and of such serenity.

"Cogito Ergo Sum." It translates from the Latin as: "I think, therefore, I am." That's what Rene Decartes, the 17th century mathematician/philosopher postulated as he struggled to reconcile faith and reason, traditional religion and the new kid on the block called science. For almost two weeks, I had been giving this seminal proposition my own pretzel-like twist and thinking about the blanks Decartes left in that statement. That is, just what is it that I think? First I have a thought, then I act on that thought; first I have a belief, then there is a consequence of that belief; first a thought, then a result to that thought. That is, I think _________, therefore I am __________: "I think I am happy, therefore I am happy." "I think I am frustrated, therefore I am frustrated." "I think I am creative, therefore I am creative." "I think I am too busy, therefore I am too busy." "I think I have time to relax by my pond, therefore I have time to relax before my pond." "I am angry, therefore I am angry." "I am peaceful, therefore I am peaceful." "I think I am small and insignificant, therefore I am small and insignificant." Whatever I choose to think, therefore I am.

I'm getting ahead of my story. We have to go back eleven days.

It was a Tuesday, the day of the "Picasso Project." This project was a new "let's see what will happen with this one" idea I had. The entire class was to paint a twenty foot long abstract Guernica-like mural depicting the themes, issues, and events of the chapter on Reconstruction. The students rushed into the room and pushed the desks to the four walls. Their piles of coats, back packs and "stuff" resembled a Salvation Army drop-off center. I rolled out the butcher paper the full length of the classroom and bedlam broke out. The noise! The movement! The students pounced on the paper like ravenous predators. Along the full length of the paper, on both sides, they swarmed like ants along a honey trail. They huddled in their communities, bent over on their haunches, went to their hands and knees, enjoyed laughed, talked, discussed, jumped about, ran around, translated words and concepts into images, questioned, answered, argued, learned from each other, cooperated, coordinated, paged through the books, pointed their fingers at sentneces, lauded each other, organized, taught each other, twisted their faces in problem-solving contortions, concentrated, figured-out, drew, colored in, applauded, hurled markers at each other. Every time someone yelled out a "Can we...." someone else quickly shouted it down with a "Remember the chair!" It was a creative cacaphony. And the mural took shape.

It was happening fast and furious, faster and more furious than I thought it would. It didn't look like the project was going to take the two days I had schedule during the previous class' "housekeeping" session. I was in a bind. I didn't want to waste a day. And yet, I didn't want to cut anyone off at their creative legs. Then, one of those miraculous moments that you pray for and dare not hope will ever happen happened.

As I was standing at one end of the mural, diminutive and very quiet Lacey "secretly" slid up to my side in a way that she hoped no one would notice her. In a low nervous whisper, she said, "Dr. Schmier, this project isn't going to take two days. We'll just procrastinate on Thursday to put off Tidbits. Why don't you tell them that they have to finish the project is today and we'll do Tidbits on Thursday."

"Yeah, you're right. You won't need another day. Why don't you tell them," I quietly answered with a soft smile.

Horrified at my unexpected answer, she almost stuttered in a self-defeating agonized voice, "Oh, they wouldn't listen to me."

I pantomimed by response by pointing to the "Words of the Day" on the board. She turned her heard to read them once again: "Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way and the result will be extraordinary." I had selected these words as the theme for the mural. I hadn't thought it would the theme for Lacey.

With a pained and frightened "oh, my god" expression flooding her face, she went taut, "Oh, I couldn't do that!"


"I'm so ordinary, no one would listen to me. No one ever has," showing how "small" Lacey had disempowered herself with small thoughts about herself.

Without thinking, and I still don't know why I said it, I replied to her quietly, "Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. If you think you are ordinary, you will be ordinary. Do you want to remain ordinary?"

"I'm shy," she answered with a non-answer

"So you say. What if you're being held back only by what's in your spirit. Do you like being shy?"


"Cogito ego sum. I think whatever, therefore I am whatever. You fill in the blank 'whatever. It's your choice to think whether you're shy or not. Whatever you think most about is exactly what you'll get and what you'll start to be! If you start thinking you're not shy..... Cogito ergo sum."

"I'm just a little nothing girl. No one has ever noticed me."

"Cogito ergo sum. Do you want to be a 'nothing little girl?'"


"Then, here's your chance to stop being one. Cogito ergo sum. I think I am just a 'nothing little girl, I am a 'nothing little girl. I think I am a something tall woman, I am a tall something woman."

"It's not that simple. I've always been that way."

"Maybe. Maybe 'always been' is not the same as 'forever.'"

"It's hard. You do it for me. You tell them what I said."

"You want the easy way out. You want to hide behind me and let me use my authority for you. You want me to voice my agreement with you so they will listen to you when actually they'll be listening to me. Won't do it. Either you say something or we'll waste a day. Cogito ergo sum."

"I'm scared."

"It's okay to have scare. Don't let the scare have you. Remember when I told the class about my epiphany? If you think it's hopeless, it seems hopeless, and it will be hopeless. I found I could turn hopeless into hopeful. It was only my belief, my thought, that said it is hopeless. I struggled to change my belief. It wasn't easy, but that is what it took. Cogito ergo sum."

"They may not like me after I say something." Another defensive weapon pulled from her arsenal.

I parried. "It's risky. There may be a tomato or two. Then again, there may not be. Trust them and trust yourself. Cogito ergo sum."

"It's not that simple."

"Yes, it is."

"Don't you think it's impossible?"

"Do you. Remember what I once said, 'Impossible things are done every day.'"

Oh, she wanted to take that leap. She looked around for some kind of help. Then, it started to happen. Another student, Kim, leaning over the mural had been listening. Without lifting her head and talking to the paper, she interrupted, "Lacey, you're right." Lacy looked at her stunned. Then, another student on the other side of the paper looked up, "I agree. Go ahead tell everyone. We'll here behind you. We'll support whatever you say."

Lacey looked at me with a "what will I do" look. She was on the edge of the cliff. I answered with an encouraging go for it, soar high "Cogito ergo sum."

Slowly, I thought I notice her starting to transform and "mount up with wings like eagles." Slowly, I thought I saw her daring to believe she would be heard more than she had ever been heard before, to think it was possible to soar higher than she ever soared before and to dream bigger dreams. and fulfill a calling that we never thought possible. Breath by breath, I dared not to think I saw her strengthen herself to have the ability to do far more than she ever thought possible before.

"Okay," she gasped. So did I.

Kim screamed out, "Hey, quiet down. Lacey has something to say."

Kim nodded encouragement. Then, I saw Lacey jump off the ledge, fly into the wind, lift herself above her turbulence, and soar like an eagle farther and higher and better than she ever thought possible before.

"Hey, we're just about finished. Let's be honest. We don't really need another day. We can still do Tidbits Thursday like they were originally scheduled. Why don't we spend about ten minute of Thursday to put the finishing touches to the mural. We ought to hang it somewhere on campus. So, let's decide that on Thursday and hang it. Then, we'll come back and do Tidbits."

To her amazement, not one tomato came hurling at her. She didn't become a target for one dart of objection. She didn't see one sneer or gnarl. All she heard was a chorus of smiling and agreeing "you're right," "good idea," "okay," "I was thinking the same thing," "let's do that."

When class broke, I saw students come up to Lacey. "That took guts." "I could never have done it." "Good job." A couple of them gave her a tight congratulatory hug.

As Lacey walked towards me I could have sworn she grew a bunch of inches. She was beaming. All I said, "Cogito ergo sum. Started growing in that something tall women today?"

She nodded and replied, "I'm going to journal about this."

In her journal, which she gave me permission to share, she wrote:

	I learned that no matter how small or afraid you are, to do
	something just do it.  If you don't take the risk, you will
	never live or know what you missed.  On the way home, I was
	listening to a Garth Brooks cd and he has a line in a song
	that goes--life is not tried it's merely survived if you're
	standing outside the fire.  In a way, it applies.  I like
	to 'stand outside the fire' and look at other people make
	a stand.  This time I jumped in the fire and stood up for
	what I believe in.  I was a leader!

As I have been thinking about this profound "wow" moment. I started wondering. If education is in trouble, it is not for lack of information; it is not for a lack technology; it is not for a lack of public concern; it certainly is not for a lack of testing. Maybe education's woes rest on the fact that too many of us both inside and outside the ivory tower have swum out from of what I'll call the "deep education" have beached ourselves in the shallows; maybe education's woes rest on a lack of affirmation of the absolute uniqueness and dignity of every human being, and maybe it's lost its sense of awe and marvel at each and every student and a sense of continuously renewed surprise at the wonder of each human life.

Sometime ago, I came across this prayer by Joshua Abraham Heschel. It's hanging on the wall near my computer. I read it every morning before I head for the campus. I'm reading it now:

	Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder.
	Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in
	every crevice of your universe. Each day
	enrapture me with your marvelous things
	without number....... I do not ask to see
	the reason for it all: I ask only to share
	the wonder of it all."

A little less than two weeks ago that prayer was answered with Lacey.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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