When I was young, and my dreams as new-bright as clean copper, I believed I would set the world on fire. Somehow I would change what was wrong — poverty, ignorance, social injustice. There were, after all, so many of us who thought that. Surely we couldn’t fail.
So the fire of the candle — its yellow-white & blue light — lit those dreams brightly. Truth and justice would fill me, I was certain, and I would burn a path of justice through my time.
It hasn’t worked like that. 🙂
Teachers — and writers, really — aren’t candles. Sometimes we’re not even very good mirrors. But at our best (& luckiest), we reflect brightly the flames within our students. Our friends. Our readers. These days, I am trying every day to be a mirror.
There is little as satisfying as showing someone s/he can write. That within them are the words to tell an important, dearly cherished story. Often someone arrives in a class of mine — and this has happened as far back as my first teaching, more than 30 years ago — convinced they can do nothing well. Certainly not write. From pre-schoolers who can’t string macaroni to 94-year-old women who worry that their poetry is boring, fear of failure knows no age. And yet I’ve never met anyone who wants to learn — who wants to write — who can’t. It’s just a matter of desire, practice, and reflection.
You do need a mirror, however. To show you how brightly the flame you carry inside can burn. How brightly all our candles burn. And I’m here for that. Perfectly happy, these days, not to have blazed a flaming path. Perfectly happy to be just a mirror, spreading light.
Sure it meant trick-or-treating, and candy. And decorating the house — more as my mother collected stuff, once we stopped moving.
But it also meant that the dead were there to speak with. We believed this — at least I did. I don’t know who taught me this — and perhaps I absorbed it from one of the many books I inhaled as a child. But I vaguely recall talking about the ‘veil’ between the living and the dead parting on All Hallows’ Evening. Which I thought of as the Brits do: All Hallows’ E’en.
We weren’t Catholic, and there was no real ceremony about All Hallows. But I knew from Shakespeare that the dead walked that night. And I knew from other places — and who remembers what those sources were? — that you could talk to them, the dead.
I never tried. Everyone I loved was still alive, then. It didn’t seem like I would ever wish I could talk to the dead.
But now? This Hallowe’en I think of all my dead: my grandmothers, both beloved; my great-aunts, so many of them; my father, a dear friend, even a couple of dearly missed dogs. And I wish I could visit with them — especially my parents & my elders. I wish I could ask them more about their lives, about when they were my age, and how it was for them. I wish I knew what they knew before they left me.
I wish there were a way to hear their voices, my father’s deep baritone laughter– echoed in my younger son’s. My mother gabbing happily with her three sisters; my grandmothers in their kitchens, bossing me around.
This All Hallows’, I am grateful for the living. So very happy that there is a new generation trick-or-treating. But I wish, still, that I could let my dead know I still remember. And that for me, they are still here.
It’s not a big deal, really. Just email. Not my life. And yet…. I HATE it when my email screws up! Allll my hard-won calm goes right out the window. And it doesn’t help that today is the day I’m readying for a routine colonscopy tomorrow. Hence, NOTHING to eat.
First world problems, huh? They STILL rankle.
I am the first to admire and respect everyday magic. Unfortunately, I’m also the first to rail against everyday glitches. I can’t find the email confirmation of two upcoming trips. In fact, it’s like those trips never were planned, for all they show up in my email.
I rely on my email! It’s supposed to be constant — I have a totally non-Buddhist attachment to it. Sigh. In fact, it annoys me GREATLY to have it disappear like it fell into a black h0le. And my annoyance annoys me even further!
So I’m trying to breeeeeathe. Stretch and relax. Remember all the folks in the world who don’t have insurance for routine medical procedures. Don’t have computers. Don’t get to go to a national conference with really cool speakers & sessions. Don’t get to go see their 5-month-old grandson.
And it helps. It helps. Because email really is a first-world benefit. As are travel schedules. And sometimes you just need to remember what’s important. Especially when you get annoyed.
I love the idea that there’s a civil conversations project. Officially, I mean. Because it’s what I’ve been trying to foster — despite my lapses into ranting about racism & social injustice — on my own FB page. Today, I had a glimpse of how that’s born fruit.
A former student, a former colleague, and a friend & colleague are discussing a topic one knows intimately from the personal perspective. It’s the new horse slaughter bill in Oklahoma, and my former student’s family once bred horses. His take is that we need legal horse slaughterhouses for those horses who turn out poorly bred — not his family’s, but those possibly bred by less knowledgeable (& responsible) breeders. My question is why are we un-doing a law that the state passed in response to the theft of perfectly good horses to sell for slaughter…?
My former colleague is looking at the rhetoric of the state arguments in favour of horse slaughter. He’s a masterful rhetorician, and has done a devastating analysis of the emotion (& illogic) explicit in many of the pro arguments. My friend & colleague knows nothing about the topic, and would like to learn more from hearing both perspectives.
Wow. Isn’t this just what we wish everyone would do? Talk to each other politely about big differences? Bring our varied lives & values and experiences and knowledge to any topic? I’ve already learned from both Cody & Bryan — my former student (now a multi-degreed professional) and my colleague (also multi-degreed, and in graduate school). And that’s what my friend Rebecca said, as well: isn’t it great when you know nothing about a topic to hear it discussed with civility?
Or as Buddhists would say, lovingkindness. Which is just a fancy term for common courtesy, respect for differences, and good manners. Honouring the human connection each of us has to one another. Wonder why it’s so hard for Congress. 🙂