Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 3/7/2005 4:13 AM
Random Thought: What Really Matters

The dark was beginning to loosen its grip on the eastern sky. There was a brisk high '30s chill in the air. Birds were stirring. And, I am grounded for at least another month from power walking the pre-dawn streets. So, this morning, I was sitting on the cool front stoop, leaning against the brick wall, aimlessly listening to a soft jazz CD, thinking of my beloved Tarheel win over Duke yesterday, engaged in immobile meditation, thinking what a very special moment this nevertheless was. It is amazing how the ease of sitting in this darkened quiet brings such clarity and calm, and puts me in touch with what we of the Jewish faith call "the still, small voice." It's at times like this, before being battered by the stormy demands of every day life, when I feel empty of every last bit of anger, fear, resentment, worry, expectation, embarrassment, regret, frustration, sorrow, and all of the other of every day life's encumberances; when I feel that spot of inwardness filled with hope, love, believe, beauty and joy; when I feel an appreciation of how truly precious life is; when I feel exactly the way I know I should feel and be the person I truly am.

For me, facing so intensely the untarnished truth that I had cancer has been a time of greater awakening. It has touched my basic understanding of who I am, what I love, how I live, what is my meaning and purpose in life, and what gift I leave behind. I now understand more clearly the tradition of Native American medicine man of asking three questions of the sick: when was the last time you sang? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you told your story? I always add a fourth question, "Have you loved enough?" These questions are for me questions that I ask if Iíve become quiet enough and open enough to listen to what truly mattersómy own heart, my dearest friends, my wife and sons. These questions usher me below societyís and my professionís surface markers into a gratitude for living, that guide me to a living of an authentic life, that lead me to a life of what really matters, that dare me to risk, as Mark Nepo says, having the life I want by living the life I have.

When I discovered I had prostate cancer, every professional thing I had didnít seem to matter at all. My degrees, resume, reputation, title, publications, tenure, grants were all worthless. None of them, with their intellectuality, sophistication, ďspecialness,Ē achievement, and success, helped me cope. None of them cuddled me tightly with me in the night. None of them lovingly comforted me with a soft embrace. None of them softly assured me with a kiss. None of them quietly put me at ease with a whispered word. None of them were there with well wishes and prayers. None of them urged me on to stay vital. None of them kept me in love with teaching and life, no matter the challenge before me. None of them.

Now, I am on the way to full recovery from my operation. Now, the doctors have pronounced me ďcured and cancer free.Ē I still write; I still teach; I still offer conference sessions; I still give workshops on other campuses. Yet the fuel that keeps my inner fire burning is a greater compulsion to use me to make by credo work-- to help others help themselves became the people they were capable of becoming-- to make faith, hope, belief, and love in each student thrive in academia, to help generosity and passion and compassion to flourish, to nurture empathy, to listen to and affirm each student.

Everything I read in student journals say that students need more than class schedules, grades, GPAs, diplomas, and recognitions. They need something below these surface markers.. They need to feel connected, appreciated, important, valued, sacred, respected, noticed, and in control of their lives. These are needs we academics seldom fulfill. I know so many colleagues who see only the imperfect cracks in students. Instead of cracks, I will see more clearly openings. Instead of judging, criticizing, rejecting, pushing away, I will welcome and embrace as I have never welcomed and embrace before. I will be able to listen without judgment or agenda and to speak so others can hear. I will create community as I have never created it before. I will help them practice the art of belonging. I will help them see that nothing but moral will power is needed to help them make themselves better. I will help students grow a strong, nurturing and supportive relationship with themselves and those around them. Why? Because itís the right thing to do. Itís the thing that needs to be done. Why? Because no one has lain on his or her death bed wishing they had spent more time at the office or in the lab or in the archive. Why? Because for students to become true life-long learners, they must value the lifelong potential for growth that comes with the power of reflection and choice to always become more honest, more respectful, more responsible, more caring, more loving, kinder. Why? Because students need to learn how to deal with the two constants in life: change and choice. Why? Because I donít want to risk squandering my chances to help students understand that itís the habits of the heart and mind that drive conduct, not grades and degrees. Why? Because I want to help students transform into better persons, not mere one-dimensional grade-getting ghosts of the human spirit.

         Make it a good day.


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

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