Since I left the classroom, I have not been doing my Saturday morning reflections. I have posted little here. But I have been reflecting, observing, thinking, reflecting more.
One week ago we were finishing up dental triage in Wise Virginia, for the 13th Annual Remote Area Medical and Missions of Mercy free medical and dental event. That Friday we triaged more than 800 patients. We have now lived for several years under the Affordable Care Act yet still the needs persist. Remember, even those who have medical insurance often find it covers up to the neck - no vision, hearing, psychological or dental services. If you are on Medicare or Medicaid, the fact that Congress does not keep the reimbursements at a level that covers the costs of medical professionals means increasingly they will not take on patients in those categories.
As I drove home in md-morning last Sunday, I thought about how lucky I have been with respect to medical and dental, and wonder how it is that in a country with as much wealth as ours we still have too many people whose access to medical care is worse than in some third world countries and I am ashamed for my country.
This morning, however, my thoughts go in a different direction.
I am basically shy, something I know some may find hard to believe. Sometimes making friends with people I would like to get to know is beyond me. I may sit in a public place and watch and listen, but it can be very difficult for me to initiate contact.
Recently I took a chance and started a conversation and remembered something about friendships - as we get to know new people, as friends or even as lovers, it is a way o rediscover things about ourselves we may have forgotten. It is one reason we should never become constricted in our lives, by occupation, by family ties. It is why when we are in a solid relationship of love (as hopefully one is when in a marriage) that relationship should not be threatened by our partner developing new friendships.
I think this is relevant as well to the political processes that so concern us here. It has to be about more than merely winning and losing elections. At least for me politics is about being able to make a difference through government and policy in the lives of others. It is why I have been a Democrat, why I have no trouble calling myself a liberal, why my politics are to the left, modern-day progressive.
It means I want to know more people - their needs, their fears, their wants, their joys. I want my politics to help heal, to open people's hearts and minds, not to manipulate them by fear.
I want us to realize how much we can learn by listening, by getting to know.
Last week I was in a part of Virginia which is not friendly to Obama. And many of the dentists with whom I work are compared to me exceedingly right wing. But we respected one another's service, so we had occasion to get beyond the visceral reactions. I think of one fine dentist who is a right libertarian who thought he hated Obama. I let him vent. I explored with him what his concerns were. Then I walked him through what Romney seems to propose and how that would affect him. Perhaps because we were both there volunteering to help people who needed dental care, often desperately, the hypocrisy of Romney on the issue of health insurance was something on which it was not hard to find agreement, as it was not hard for him to acknowledge, once he had vented, that it was more important to find ways to help people than it was to score political points.
Sometimes it has been hard for me to listen when people are venting, when what they are saying I know is wrong. But I have learned if I wait I might be able to find an opening, a point at which we can find some agreement.
I was reminded of that part of myself in my new friendship - I listened, I tried to understand and I began to remember that part of what made me an effective teacher was to listen and to reflect back what students had said, to let them begin to understand their own thinking. It was to value them as persons.
When one makes a new acquaintance, part of the process is what one exposes or if you prefer shares about himself. Unless one is willing to be open it is hard to expect of the other to be open with you.
And maybe this is the point of this reflection. I share what I think, what I feel, because it is the only way I know how to connect with others. That is, I demonstrate my willingness to be open, I trust them with me, to assure them that they can trust me with them.
That is how I taught, how I connected with students beyond the content of the assigned curriculum. It is why when asked what i taught my answer was usually students.
I began the previous school year knowing it might be my last in a classroom. I have now retired from that classroom. And yet today I filed an application for a teaching job of a very different kind - it is in a school that deals with things like autism and asperger's. I have had as many as 3 Aspies in the same AP Government class - some are incredibly bright, but almost totally lacking in normal social skills. I am not an Aspie - I can understand emotional communication in a way that is difficult for many of them. But I have in common a sense of not quite belonging in normal settings. It is why I can do as I am doing now - I sit in a Starbucks with people coming and going and write. At my keyboard I can practice communicating in a way that face to face at times may seem overwhelmingly impossible. As an extravert I am among people, which is important for me.
I want a politics that brings people in, not one that drives people away, that makes them feel as if they don't belong, as if their needs and concerns do not matter.
I used to say that teaching was my essential political act. While I may no longer be classroom based, to a degree that statement still rings true, for my writing is, as my teaching was, a means of joint exploration: it is not that I peel open skulls and pour in knowledge (although I may make others aware of things about which they did not previously know) - rather, it is that I seek to engage and to use the material of a lesson, of something in the news or from history, to share and to explore jointly. It is why the comments of others on the threads of my diary matter so much to me, because it is through them that I connect with and learn from others.
Life is a pilgrimage. Like any pilgrimage, how we do the journey is at least as important as the destination we seek.
Persons we encounter along the way are an important part of that journey. Sometimes they may provoke or challenge us. At others they invite us. And sometimes, as has happened to me recently, they remind us of things about ourselves we had forgotten.
So here's my not so profound thought of the day. I am thankful for the chance to make new friendships, because that opens up my world, and sometimes even reminds me of who I really am.
How about you?