This morning it was about 57 degrees outside. I decided not to wear a sweatshirt because I always end up taking it off and tying it around my waist. My walk started out chilly, and stayed that way. Maybe it was because of the temperature that my thoughts jumped around in my head this morning…
I decided to listen to Dream Academy on my walk. The first song “Life in a Northern Town” has a line that got me thinking about the craziness of the moment.
I considered how many life changing events have happened over my lifetime. How many times people said we would be different when things went back to normal. That’s when I saw a bird hopping along a lawn with a beak full of grass and sticks. Obviously building a nest nearby. I was just passing a cul de-sac where a new home was being built. Three houses down from us, a new family was moving in. They arrived yesterday.
Home has always been a foundation of our lives. Sadly, this pandemic has elevated the sad reality that home is not a good place for all people. Domestic and child abuse cases have risen during this pandemic. Divorce rates are expected to rise after the lockdowns. Home should be the best place to be right now. As a father and husband, I was trying to make sure home was the best place to be for my family.
The wind was a constant on my walk. My bare arms took the blunt of the chill. The cold actually felt like sleeves on my arms. It felt good in a way. As I turned corners, or walked along the curve of a street, the wind would shift from my shoulders to my face. Walking through the wind gave me a defining edge. I felt my arms swing through, my forehead chilled and my eyes squinted. I felt like me, I felt a boundary to my existence which has been blurring like the way days are blending together. Walking through the cold heightened my sense of self this morning.
I followed a curve of a street that led me to a street filled with blossom petals.
I was struck by the beauty and sadness of the scene. The trees in the area were still mostly filled with the blossoms. And the blossoms would be replaced with leaves and the trees would have a different look, a different beauty. But the situation reminded me that everything changes. Endings happen. There are new beginnings. And pain is part of that process. Whether it is regret or the feeling of loss, our heart goes through that pain. If we truly live our lives with an open heart, we will feel both sides of the spectrum. Joy and sorrow. That’s good. Those emotions give us a defining edge too.
I turned the last corner. I had three blocks till I was home. As life does sometimes, the music in my earbuds played a most appropriate song…
A single daisy.
A single flower.
A single person.
Beautiful, even alone.
But add another daisy.
Add another flower.
Add another person.
No daisy is jealous of another.
No flower is envious of another.
No person is worried about another.
Only a single field filled with beauty.
My oldest son is learning to play the clarinet, and seems to be doing well. He makes sure he practices every day. Of course he learned to play a part of the Star Wars theme, which he likes to share every day.
So, I thought I would introduce him to Miles Davis. To expand his musical interest. To reveal to him some of the great artists, to show him how incredible music can be. To show him the deeper part of music.
It didn’t go well. Not that he didn’t listen with me, but he wasn’t much interested. I tried to get him to let the music speak to him, to feel the emotion behind it. He just wanted to be somewhere else.
I was disappointed. Over the last month I have been sharing movies with the boys that I watched when I was growing up. Both boys like some of my 80s music. I thought exposing him to Miles Davis was going to be a great moment. Why wasn’t it?
I started to wonder about all the times I tried something like this in the classroom. Sometimes it worked, other lessons failed. Why? I just assumed my son would like Miles Davis because he was learning to play an instrument. My son has no background knowledge about Miles Davis, hasn’t even heard him before. What did I expect? That he would just understand how great Miles Davis was.
As an English teacher I have fallen into that same trap, especially with literature. That my students will just get how awesome a book or poem is. I don’t want them to miss the opportunity to be moved by the literature, just like I wanted my son to feel the beauty behind Miles Davis’ music. Ironically, I become the barrier of that moment. Not in sharing the music, but by being the source of the selection. And worse, like with my son, not creating an opportunity to spark their interest, or to provide a real foundation to what they will be reading or listening to.
I want to share the great works of this life with my students, with my sons. But more importantly, I want them to decide what is great on their terms. To search out their own deeper moments. That is when real learning happens. And I want to be there, as a dad and as a teacher.
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This morning was a reminder of one of the aspects of life I’ve learned. It started as one of those mornings. Trash and recycling need to be put out on the curb. Lunches needed to be made. Diapers to daycare. Movies to return. My oldest son overslept. My youngest daughter didn’t want to be put down. It was time for me to start my commute and I was nowhere close to pouring my coffee into my travel mug.
I multi-task, carrying the last of the recycling, diapers under on arm, movies clutched in a few fingers to put in my wife’s car. Both garage doors opening is an appropriate sound track to the morning, arrrrgrarrrarrr, clunk-clunk.
It is about 6:20 in the morning, dark, and my breath can be seen as the cold tickles my forearms. It takes three trips to get the trash and recycling to the curb. The constellation Orion is above the southern horizon. Mars is shining bright toward the east. Beautiful. I take a few minutes to star gaze (I don’t know why, but stargazing is special for me).
In those few minutes the stars reminded me that life is beautiful. No matter what is going on in life, “nothing dims these stars.” I know that life can be hard. I know even in good times there can be a grimy feeling to life. Diamonds can collect filth on them. But the shine is still there; the diamond will sparkle (like a star) with a little cleaning.
Minutes later as I was getting into my car, my sons came out to get into the minivan. “Did you guys see the stars?” I asked. We go out to the drive way and we stargaze together for a minute. For a moment life hits me, in a single moment I feel the beauty of life so true that it almost crushes my heart. There I stood with my two sons, in front of our new home, on the driveway that we play basketball. Life can be hard. I know this. There is pain and disappointment, tragedy that can also crush a heart.
It takes work, it takes time, but no matter how filthy a diamond becomes, it still has its shine. “Nothing dims these stars.”
“Dad, there is a new Clone Wars on tonight!” Both boys head to the minivan chatting excitedly about the show tonight. I smile. Everyone has their own set of stars. What allows you to know that life is beautiful?