Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 07:31:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject: A Long Random Thought: Let's Openly Celebrate

Had an interesting walk this morning. At least, I think I walked because it seemed to be over as soon as I left the house. I guess I was engrossed in toughts triggered by a touching telephone call I received yesterday afternoon from a new-found friend in Michigan, a kindred soul, a fellow traveler who told me how my sharing about John had helped her. We talked for a long while. She told a loving story of having buoyed up a student through her dark moments. It was inspiring. Then, one of us commented how those experiences like hers and mine are a heartwarming treasury of support, teaching, encouragement and teaching. And yet, they not only so often remain openly uncelebrated, but so many of us don't allow ourselves to celebrate inside. That thought never left me and it surged within me this morning like a tidal wave. With each step a passionate message sent to me off-list in response to the experiences I shared about John flashed before me. I received that many. People shared their stories of those times they took that extra step and stepped outside themselves to help another human being. But, why do so many write in such a tone that I can almost see them hunched over, tense, eyes moving back and forth in their sockets, heads slightly sweeping in the same motion, hoping no one discovers them in their hiding place and threatens them with exposure. One friend, who told me excitedly how she encouraged an depressed ADHD afflicted student not to heed the naysayers but to chose his own attitude and decide his own way, ended her beautiful tale by saying repentantly, "I didn't mean to go on so....I should pull in the reins of my excitement." I ask myself, "Why? Why not go off at a full gallop and feel the wind of fulfillment blowing through your soul?" Another friend described working with a student and instiling the power of determination and optimism. He, too, ended his experience on a note of embarassment, "I feel self-conscious about tooting my own horn." And, I ask myself, "Why? Why not go out into the streets and roust out all those out of their doldrums with the awakening notes of creation?" Still another wrote almost mournfully introduced her tale of love and connection, bwforw describing an experience about saving a student from comitting suicide that brought tears to my eyes, with "I shouldn't be so boastful." And I ask myself, "Why the hell not? Why should you feel damned because you gave a damn. You should you feel 'touched in the head' because you touched another person?" And a fourth e-mail friend, talking of an old student who ran up and gave her a hug and thanked her for inspiring him to become a life-long learner, ended her beautiful story by asking forgiveness, "I'm sorry. I don't mean to promote myself." And I say, "You should! Go out and rent a billboard for all to see your excitement. Model what is possible, illuminate the path we all walk, to remind everyone that the important things in life--in the classroom--are hope and empowerment!"

Why should these people and so many others feel a need to hide their aliveness, to camouflage their greatness, to keep secret their caring, to cover hearts and spirits that are full of grace and are moved by love, to apologze for talking of their great accomplishments; why should they feel somewhat self-critical about having sworn themselves to touching other lives; why should they feel the need to tame their display of enthusiasm, have allowed the grinches to steal their Christmas, and the Scrooges to have cast a pall over their good cheer? Why have we all learned the lessons of self-consciousness so well, when we should be learning those of celebration?

So often, too often, far too often than not, we let people who say it shouldn't be or cannot be done interrupt us who are doing it; we who reach out let others jump in and interfere with our peace; we let their icy winds of negativity blow through and chill down the warmth in our souls; we let their sucking leeches of pessism almost bleed us of our life-force; we let the stench of their harshness overcome the perfume of our compassion; we let the force of their doubting waters wear us down; we let their nightmarish sneers make us reluctant to live our dreams; we let their deadening bridles rein us in; we allow ourselves to be discounted when touching another human being counts so much; we hand over to them the authority to chain our boundless possibilities.

Why do so many of us hand over the keys to lock us away in solitary confinement; why do so many of us allow the spirited rock of our faith to be rocked by their spiritless faithlessness; why do we permit them to innoculate us with a creeping sickness of paralyzing self-consciousness; why do we surrender our voice to a shouting mob of finger-pointing naysayers, bah-humbugers, and pooh-hahers; why do we allow them to blot out the brightness of our sun with their overcast of cynical clouds; why do we allow their nit-picking to bug us; why do we so often permit them to inflict an amnesia that erases the reminders, however small, of WHY we are teachers; why do we offer them the power to almost take our lives right out of our hands and let us retain merely tattered remains?

Let me tell you a quick story. Unexpectedly, on the last day of one summer quarter class, when we were having closure, the students in one of my classes broadsided me. They presented me with a t-shirt. Everyone--well, almost--had signed it. On the shirt was printed the image of the Eveready pink bunny and the saying, "Because of you the fun of saving of our souls goes on and on and on." I was surprised. I was touched. I was speechless because of the lump in my throat. You better believe more than one tear dripped down my cheeks. It's now hanging on my office wall among the sacred objects of my teaching. One of the students who started all that wrote this evaluation of the me and the class. It's taped to the wall in the spare room that double as my study. I'm looking at it right now. I'd like to share it with you:

History has always been a subject that I hated dearly. But, I want you to know that you and your class changed my whole outlook on it--and about myself. Almost all of us went on a voyage that we will never forget. True enough the class was a whole lot of fun, but there was a lot that was expected of us. It was hard-earned fun. I learned to love you because you really loved us. There was times I thought you were my worst enemy, but that was because you really loved us and wouldn't let us get down on ourselves. You never let up on your belief that we all, no matter who we are or where we came from or what we have are valuable human beings who have a place and purpose. Your little pep talks helped me to make some important decisions in my life. I'll never, never, never forget Popeye saying you get out what you put in or the coffee shop saying about keeping your eye on the doughnut instead of the hole, and that a grade doesn't make anyone better or worst a person than anyone else. But the one that hit me the most was when you wrote on the board (it's printed all over my dorm room) "If you WANT to do it, you can do it. And, if you can do it, what's stoppin' ya? It's you! Do whatever it takes to do it!" But, you didn't just write these homilies on the board, or give us these inspiration talks, you lived them, you modelled them with an arcing Tootsie Pop here, a soft word there, a hard face-to-face-you-shouldn't-take- that-disrespecting-shit-from yourself, tough-love talking to. You taught me never to settle for anytyhing less than my best for today. And that my best can always be better tomorrow and the day after because as far as you are concerned each of us has the world going for them and the only person that can ruin it is each of us. I learned and will remember all the history in this class because we were involved with it and it became real and something because of the skits, games, fictional stories we had to write, abstract drawings, tidbits discussions, and of course the scavenger hunts. I'll also have always your words of support and encouragement, the times you told others to bury their "can'ts" and wean their "cans", the times you wouldn't let me fall and not get up and urged me to say a "yes" to myself and to my dreams. I was always amazed and still am how in a class of sixty you could see and listen to each one of us. I guess that's because you wanted to and gave a damn. Know this, because of you I am regaining sight of my myself and my dreams, I do now and will believe in myself, enjoy life more, and I will achieve my dreams. Trust me. Your (sic) taught me a lot, a lot of history. You taught a lot about life. And you taught me a lot about myself. I have discovered the ingredients of your secret recipe. And it so simple, but profound. You love what you're doing, and you love each of us. Neat. Unexpected. Exciting. Scary. See you in the fall for a Tootsie Pop. Have an orange one on me.

And, you know, lots of people will flame and castigate me for "bragging" and promoting myself; they'll lash out at me for "tooting" my own horn; they will dismiss me for being so naive; they will discount this Random Thought as meaningless dribble, uneducational prattle, unimportant chit-chat, mushy drivel, emotional foolishness, touchy-feely bullshit; or, they'll just hit the delete key as soon as they see my message appear in their mailbox. Well, I'm sorry about that. But, I am a teacher, and I believe there is nothing on the earth like being a teacher. We teachers are in the magnificant and exciting business of life and of life's yesses and cans. We're in, as a fellow-traveler so beautifully put it to me, "the mustard seed business." Our mission is to point to that seed believing and getting all to believe that there are great things inside. There are occasions when I think the time spent teaching should not be counted against our alotted moments spent on Earth.

I don't think there is any reason for false modesty about commemorating each student's sacredness, for being reserved about talking of our efforts to celebrate teaching, for being hesitant to proclaim for all to hear a faith in students, for being reticent of our willingness to go to further than most want us to. I see no reason for not keeping my joy and aliveness and caring and love "out there" instead of keeping it under my shirt. I see no reason to feel self-conscious about sharing what I believe and what I do, to be mousey about sharing a set of values, a sense of mission, a vision, and some experiences in hope of inspiring and being inspired, encouraging and supporting, being encouraged and supported. We should publicly share both our vision and efforts teaching as a mission to serve a purpose higher than taking role, maintaining classroom discipline, making up lectures or daily assignment sheets, passing on information, offering a test, and assigning a grade. We should bear witness wonderful experience of being present at and a part of a student's first and continued tottering steps of self-wonderment. We should proclaim that education has goals that go beyond the confines of both the subject and classroom, and accepting--no, loving--each student as sacred, valuable, and unique human being.

There's no reason to hide in the shadows because you believe every student has the right to shine, to feel you're up against a wall because you went to the wall for a student, to secret a smile or gesture or glance because you smile at students, to feel damned for giving a damn, to feel unloved for loving students, to feel you have to brace yourself up for having embraced students, to creep when you have the impulse to soar, to feel bad about having brought good feelings into the classroom, to suffer heartburn because you speak to the students' hearts from your heart, to feel isolated for being in community with students, to think you're a traitor for being loyal to each student, to be the problem for helping students deal with their problems, to act like an untouchable for having touched a student, to feel disconnected for having connected with the students, to feel like an arsonist because you lit the fire in a student's spirit.

We shouldn't--mustn't--let those who are in a rut, who feel threatened, who don't like what they're doing or disagree with what we're doing pull us down from our high with their grappling hooks! We shouldn't let the frightened, frustrated, numbed, calloused, disillusioned gag us into silence! We can't let the resigned, disappointed, surrendered, cynical pull down our up-lifted hands with weights! We mustn't let the burnt-out, controlling, cold, distant, authoritarian restrict our movements with their chains! We mustn't let those others--who can't keep up with a quick dance step to class, who are blinded by the bright light of creativity, can't breath the atmosphere at the high peaks of a high, can't carry a note of imagination's song, can't swim a stroke in creativity's bubbling waters, can't hold the brush of artistry, are deafened by the decibel level of vibrancy, don't have the vision to see far beyond the cell-like classroom walls--slow us down, fade our dreams, darken the light of our vision, dash our hopes, lower the heights of our high, soften our voice, shake our faith, weaken our strength, sap our endurance and perseverence, diminish our presence, censor our art, restrict our movement, damper our excitement, empty our fulfillment, and mute our ecstasy.

No, I say, if we can unabashedly and madly acclaim our virtues in the streets afterd we have won on the battlefield, surely we can rejoice when we have rekindled a spirit. If we can hold parades for athletes who won championships, we can shoot off the firecrackers for everyone to see, parade before the public, beat the drums and flourish the trumpets and sound the fanfare for all to hear when we have opened a heart. If we can worship those who entertain us, we can openly celebrate, sing, dance, applaud, toast, make merry over, cheer, and revel in those who nurtured a soul. No, when we help a student to realize the unique marvel that he or she is, when we help a student to see how worthy he or she is, when we help to make the world more worthy for the student, we can raise the colors, light the bonfires, shout from the rooftops, and send runners throughout the land.

And as for those disbelieving, grouchy, frowning, disbelieving grouches and grinches who want to put a damper of the festivities by pointing fingers, flaming, branding and accusing the revelers' cheers as vainty, immodest, preaching, bragging, boasting, swaggering, blustering, bravado, I suppose it would be easy to sweep them aside with a "that's their problem. If they want to follow that's their choice." It would be easy to say revengefully, "Let them stew. It's their turn to feel uncomfortable, mumble, cringe, and slink." It would be easy to leave them behind to feel disconnected as we connect with the students and each other. It would be easy to let them go hungry as we nurture and are nurtured. It would be easy to cast them out as they cast us out with a "Join the grump patrol." "Go break bread with the grinch."

But, the easy way is never the right way. We would be saying to them what we would never say to students, and if we are truly teachers, we are teachers for all. If we truly believe in the sancity, dignity, potential and integrity of the individual, we cannot ignore our colleagues any more than we would the student, however more difficult the task. So, I think we should beckon them with open arms to join in the festivities. We have a responsibility not just to disallow them to turn our ecstasy into an agony, but to turn their agony into an ecsasty. We have a duty to use our deep respect and passion for each person in the classroom as an acetylene torch not just free us to from those restricting chains, but to see if we can help others cut through THEIR own chains to free themselves; to make the effort to help them adjust to the fantastic sights and sounds and feelings of comittment, passion, anticipation, exhilaration, inspiration, imagination, artistry, creativity and expectancy. We should use our enthusiasm not just as sharp knives to cut the ropes of their grappling hooks' ropes, but we should try to help them climb out of their own valley. We should use our passion not just to cast off their dragging weights, but to help them lift up their voices and raise their hands.

"What's the use. Why try . They won't listen," you say? Would you say that about your students? No one knows what can be attained until he or she tries. And, it's well worth the effort. So, who knows. I always say if you touch one student you've changed the world. Well, just think of it. If you touch one, just one, of those naysayers, you've..... Maybe, just maybe, if we to model our good feelings, our strength and courage, our perseverence and commitment and dedication, our sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, and our joy and wonderment the same thing will happen to these naysayers--or, at least, some of them; or, at least to one of them--that the grinch ultimately experienced. A "bah" might slowly start transforming into a "wow", a sneer metamorphosing into a smile, a cold glare evolving into a glow, a stare brightening into a gleam, a blinding and deafening "no" changing into an seeing and listening "yeah", and the dawning of a new day.

So, I am issuing you a challenge. Publicly share with us a moment of gift giving and receiving. Encourage us, inspire us, support us, help us, show us--now! Come out of the closet. Put your heart out there. Don't hesitate. Express your joy. Carpe Diem! I assure you that you are not alone. Tell us how you inspired a student and altered a life's course, how you touched a student and changed the world, when you made a difference, when you left behind tracks on some student's soul.

Make it a good day.


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

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