Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 1998 11:00:05 -0500 (EST)
They tell me that it's "the ded of winter." For the past four weeks, I can believe it, for I've spent many a waking hour during the last month in my own "dead of winter," letting myself feel sorry for myself. I've been looking at a reno vation that makes a Stephen King novel read like a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, consequent financial difficulties, a broken toe that has kept me off the pre-dawn Valdostan streets since the beginning of December and is refusing to heal, and letting it all get to me while I generally ignore the important stuff in life. As I'm sitting on the front stoop, feeling the sting of the nippy pre-dawn air. It's about 4:30 a.m. I celebrating my beloved Tarheels great victory--stompin' is a better word--over Duke (college basketball for tho se who don't follow these important matters), sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee, scribbling by the front door light. The unembarassed silence, undiluted darkness, solicited solitude all feels like an incoming tide that lifting me slowly closer to sh ore. Life has too many movmeents to be quieted by cold and wind and supposed absence of color. I haven't felt such serenity in many a week., and I don't like it. So, I've decided that my own "birth of spring" has just begun. I'm tired of letting myself be out-of-sorts, physically drained, emotionally exhausted by things. And if I can't mediate on pre-dawn walks for a while, I'll just mediate on this pre-dawn stoop. Not as good, but it'll work. I've just learned that my spirit has a shelf life, and i t does have to be constantly renewed and revitalized--just like my teaching. And, I've decided that while it's okay to feel down for a little bit, I'm putting a stringent daily time-limit of a few early morning minutes on self-mourning and concentrate on all the good things still in my life, in my profession, in the people I touch and who touch me.
And that decision has got me thinking that we should all do that with our teaching. I have always said in accordance with the Talmud that I should teach--and live--as if today was my last day on earth, that there are no guaranteed rainy days for which to save. My rabbi told me the other day, to kick me out of my doldrums, to revel in this day because this is the day that God has given me. Fine. All that sounds good. But, what does all that that really mean? Let me ramble and focus this question on education. We all know we are going to have a last day, a "today is the day." But, do really believe it? Do we have someone whispering in our ear with the sobering question, "Is today the day?" Are we ready? Are we doing all we need to do? Are we the teachers w e really want to be? Are we struggling to be as human as we can be? Are we truly at peace with ourselves, satisfied, fulfilled? Are we sharing our heart with others? Are we teaching happily? I don't think most of us are. If we did, we would ask ques tions we have not yet asked; we would see things to which we have been blinded; we would hear things to which we have been deafened; we would feel things to which we have been numb; we would do things differently; we would be different. I don't know what spiritual development really means, but I know there is a gross deficiency of it on our campuses.
Most of us walk through the halls of ivy with an unacknowledged meaningless in life; perform in the classroom as if we're sleepwalking, ev en when we're busy doing things we think are important. Like the Alice's hare, we have "no time to say hello, goodbye": forever running after grants, forever racing to meet a publication deadline; forever traveling on a professional journey for which we let others tell us what to pack; forever thinking about that piece of research; forever worrying--and at times fawning and prancing and groveling--to get that promotion, appointment or tenure; forever on uncomfortable alert to the "threat" of being evaluated and assessed and judged; and forever burying ourselves in accomplishment because we believe we then can control things. And when we are forever pontificating how we care about students, most of us do it from a distance or as if from another dimension or from another world. We don't experience the individuals in the class fully. We seldom know who they are, where did they come from, what do they need, what can they do well, what are their weaknesses, how we can help them, how they can help each othe r. We don't reach out to each of those real people as if they were precious pearls in our necklace; we don't enter a classroom as if we were witnessing a sunrise on wonders great and small; we don't see natural beauty before us as if we were entering the most magnificant of natural parks; we don't see the classroom as a showroom Tiffany's splenerous gems. No, so many of us more often than not fly into the classroom like birds with broken wings.
We get so wrapped up in the millions of things just to keep going and we haven't developed the the habit of standing back and looking at ourselves and asking, "Is this all?" Is this all I want? Is something missing?" Instead, we're half-aslpeep, doing things we automatically think we have to do; engaging in things we think others want us to do. We're so frozen in the trappings of academia that the waters of our spirit can't flow and engulf. I'm not sure the culture of academia allows us to feel goo d about ourselves. And all too many aren't strong enough not to buy into it.
I'll put my neck on the line andsay that having lived the meaningless academic life of material things until seven years ago, I have discovered that the only way you get meaning and purpose out from and into education, as well as life as a whole, is to t urn on your emotional faucet and wash yourself in its waters, devote yourself to loving others, to loving students; to learn how to share that love and how to let it in, to share as an adult and take as a child. I know. That's being "touchy feely," too soft, weak, so unacademic, so foolishly naive, so embarrasing, so unintellectual. Isn't it, though.
Nevertheless, I'd rather put my energies into people than into running after impermanent things, invest my time in people than in the fleeting reputation s. If we could truly be compassionate in the classroom and honestly take responsibility for each student's success, academia would be so much better a place.It is when you After all, isn't that what love is: to care about someone's situation as you care about your own.
I recently told my sons and some "virutal" friends that their voices and messages always brings me back to the real meaningful things in life, the right things to put my values on. Things will not give me purpose or meaning or feeling, I told them, o nly people will. They're a reminder to me of the need to devote my time and energy to people, not things; to loving people, not things; to focus on needs, not wants; to concentrate on something that provides purpose and meaning. Books don't hug back, peo ple do; good research won't provide goodness, people do. Things like kitchens and bathrooms, resumes, grants, publications, titles, positions, recognitions, promotions, tenure and the like don't make me feel alive, their voices do; things don't fill my heart, the image of their smile do. Salaries don't make me feel healthy, making people smile or feel adequate or feel capable or feel that they matter does. So it is, now that I think about it, do the voices and faces of the students.
So, today is the day for me.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____