for one thing, it is afternoon, not morning
for another, I did not teach this week, nor did I teach last week, since I have been caring for my wife, last week in the hospital, this past week at home
that has given me a lot of time to think, to ponder, to reflect, particularly when she sleeps
I do not pretend that the resulting thoughts are of great insight
I do not know if sharing them will be of value to anyone except me - in writing them down I clarify some of my own thinking
I invite you to keep reading, and upon conclusion of reading perhaps to share some thoughts of your own
I have never been a very patient person, in part because my mind works quickly, in part because I am fairly intuitive. The combination of those two often means I come to decisions or understandings very quickly or not at all.
As a teacher, I have at times had to struggle with my impatience, recognizing that just because I saw something clearly did not mean the students before me did.
Now I spend most of my time with a spouse who is limited both by her medical condition and by the bulky brace she must wear to support her back any time she is out of bed. She needs help to dress and undress, to have some very simply tasks done for her.
I discover the extra time it takes does not rob me of anything.
It gives me the opportunity to express love and concern, in the simplest of tasks - putting on her socks, or pulling the strap on her sandals
the later reminds me of John the Baptist predicting the coming of Jesus, of the one after whom whose sandals he was not worthy to latch. And yet, lowering oneself to perform this simple task for someone who cannot do it for oneself is an honor, a gift.
That is where I start this reflection.
There are two main thoughts that flow from this.
The first is simplicity. It is a simple action. If we were to take the time, we would see most of what we encounter in life is simple actions, brought together. As a teacher and a coach part of what my responsibility has been is to help students and athletes break apart seemingly complicated tasks into simpler components, each of which can be learned and mastered, and then brought together for the more complex behaviors.
As I ponder this, I realize that I have moved too much away from simplicity.
I also realize that when I allow myself to recognize and accept elements of simplicity, I feel more relaxed, more able to deal with them.
The second thought is of attention, of focus, of not being distracted. I am an accomplished multitasker, even as I have understood that no matter how well I do each of the simultaneous actions I do none of them as well as I would were I to give any my full focus. In part the nature of classroom teaching requires multi-tasking to the nth degree, n being at least the number of students in the room and then some, because the n increases because of interactions between and among groups of students as well.
And yet, even within that classroom environment, when I focus on an individual student even briefly, and then focus on another, along with the times my focus is on the class as a whole, those moments of individual focus powerfully effect the other students as well. For one thing, I am modeling appropriate attention and respect. For another it offers them the hope and promise of similar personal attention and focus.
I do not know if I will be in a classroom after this year. Yesterday I stopped by the school and talked with my principal and assistant principal. We were working out the details of my returning as my wife needs less of my fulltime attention. I know I am effective with my current students and I know the work I do is very important. But I also have come to realize that it is not a good fit for how I want to teach. That I can do it well is not a sufficient justification for me to do it at all. I was originally asked to fill in for the rest of the year, and assuming that is what they want I will honor that commitment, although if by chance they can find a satisfactory permanent replacement who would want to start now I would be willing to step aside.
I want time to think and to reflect, not just on issues of educational policy and pedagogy. I want to be able to write, even if what I write is not shared as much publicly as my blog posts have been. I understand that some paths of service I might want to pursue would preclude my writing publicly on some topics, and I am willing to accept that if it allows me several things
1. that I am able to simplify how I live
2. that I am able to focus, to give full attention
If in order to do that we have to "downsize" our lives I am willing to do that as well. Already we have decided that we need to begin shedding some of our possessions. 7,000 books clutter and clog rooms and stairways. We may find that we do not need to own two cars, that on the few occasions where both of us have to have access to vehicles to drive we can rent or borrow a second. I probably do not need to continue to possess teaching materials for every grade and every course I have ever taught. At this point in my life, papers I wrote while in high school and college are probably not valuable enough to maintain - now, were I to become world famous and have biographers who wanted to root through my life, they might serve some purpose, but then I think of Brahms who burnt all his early music manuscripts because he only wanted his mature work to survive.
Today I had to run errands. Leaves on the Current was fine with my being gone for several hours - addressing plates for one car, getting something adjusted on both cars, getting and then faxing some paperwork for a mortgage refinance. She had on Gregor, her back brace that she claims makes her look like a beetle, and hence the reference to the Kafka character. I found as I was driving I let go of my impatience. If I caught a traffic light, I listened to music, or watched my breath.
When I returned home, as Leaves began to read through the many cards sent to her since friends began to learn of her condition, I lay down on the sofa and promptly was surrounded by 3 of our four cats, one across my chest, two next to me. I had a choice to make. I deferred to them. I found myself taking a nap, and when I awoke they were still there. It was as if they were determined to make sure I got some rest and relaxation. As I began to stir, one by one they left, without ire, having accomplished whatever task it was they had taken on.
Together they underlie the importance of patience - with myself, with other individuals.
I have not abandoned being impatient about injustice.
I know we cannot be patient with the destruction of the environment or the erosion of our civil liberties.
In my activism I will remain impassioned. That will be part of what I write, think and do.
On a personal level, however, I must sustain myself, and be fully available for my beloved.
It is simple - she deserves my full attention - and my unending patience as she learns to adjust to how her life has changed because of her illness, which she views as a spiritual opportunity and not as a limitation of living.
I can learn from that.
I have to support that.
That makes me grow.
It might even make me a better teacher.
It certainly makes me a more complete human being.