Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Mon 12/22/2003 6:14 AM
It's a very brrrrrrrrrr morning down here in South Georgia. I haven't been out walking yet. I'm doing things in reverse this morning. Warming myself up with freshly brewed coffee and some warm thoughts before I go out and risk being quick frozen before I reach the end of the dirveway.
The house is a little chilly. I'm here home alone with a touch of loneliness. My warm Susan had to fly unexpectedly to Charlotte yesterday to be with her mother. I'll join her Wednesday morning when I drive up with Robby and Nicole for the family gathering and a lot of grandbaby spoiling. So, I'm thinking and reflecting. Why not. It's this is the time of the year when we put on the mask of Janus. It's been an interesting year. It has been a truly interesting year, both professionally and personally, a year worthy of being the opening paragraph for Dickens' TALE OF TWO CITIES. Preferring to focus on the upside of things, my mother-in-law recovered, the UNC/Wake Forest basketball game was one to be remembered even if my beloved UNC lost in triple overtime, I am proud to say that I made two pieces of sculpture that have drawn rave reviews from the six or eight people who have seen them. Susan and I found out that within the next eight months the count of our grandchildren will soon jump from one to four! If my Natalie has made me feel young, what will three more do!! I went through an very interesting, and for me a surprisingly invigorating, post-tenure review. And now, as the old year ends and new year is bearing down on me, once again I'm supposed to evaluate myself for annual review as both the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Future--without being repetitive.
So, I've been pondering what am I going to say that I haven't said in the reflections I included in the admittedly massive, two inch thick, post-tenure review document. The answer has come within the last week or so. The answer is in what I can only call as unexpected gifts, delightful gifts, magnificent gifts, uplifting gifts, touching gifts, humbling gifts, almost one for each day of Chanukah: an e-conversation with a student in class this past semester, an unexpected e-mail from a student who is now an aspiring professor and whom I haven't seen or heard from in almost a decade, a call from a new-found friend and colleague, an e-mail from another new-found friend and colleague, reassuring and supporting and encouraging e-mails from old friends and colleagues whom I deeply appreciate.
So, I think I will take my department chair, Dean, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, and whomever to the distant, forgotten, mist shrouded, swamp planet of Dagobah, the home of the Jedi master, Yoda. There Luke's face is showing enormous strain. He's standing on his hands, with Yoda perched on his feet. Opposite Luke and Yoda are two rocks the size of bowling balls. Luke stares at the rocks and concentrates. He grimaces. One of the rocks lifts slowly from the ground and floats up to rest on the other. Luke is distracted by Artoo. The rock falls. Luke falls. Yoda shakes his head. Then, Yoda tells Luke to lift the X-wing fighter out from the fetid bog (I have the script of this favorite of all movie scenes taped to my computer desk):
YODA: Use The Force. Now....feel it. Concentrate. LUKE: Oh, no. We'll never get it out now. YODA: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say? LUKE: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different. YODA: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned. LUKE: All right, I'll give it a try. YODA: No! Try not. Do. Or, do not. There is no try. LUKE: I can't. It's too big. YODA: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hm? Mmmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we....not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you...me...the tree... the rock...everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that ship! LUKE: You want the impossible. I don't...I don't believe it. YODA: That is why you fail.
"There is no try." It is a spiritual message of trust and faith and belief. As Luke found out the hounding lack of belief, weak commitment, eroded persistence, hesitant faith, faltering hope of a discouraging and retreating "I tried" or "I tried my best" can't call forth the power of The Force. When I begin to hear myself as more of disbelieving Luke at the edge of the bay gazing forlornly at the half-sunken X-wing fighter rather than the assuring Yoda, when I want to get my blood flowing, I don't think of those intellectual, cold, clinic words such as empower, generate, direct, guide, generate any more than I do pedagogy, method, or technique. They're not very exciting, inspiring, or moving words. They sure don't conjure up any charged images.
What gets my blood moving is to see my face, the face of the teacher, as the face of the Luke, the belief in the power of The Force, as one of the faces of the heroes in Joseph Campbell's THE HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES. Sound farfetched? A teacher? A hero? Me? You? Doggone right! What makes a teacher a hero? Journey! Vision! Mission! Quest! Faith! Hope! Commitment! Persistence! Think about it. What if the most exciting adventure for everyone is the one they embarked on every time they entered a classroom? What if the first love of everyone in the classroom is being in the classroom, not in some laboratory or archive? What if they are teaching because they want to, because they want to be there, not because it pays the bills, not because someone told them to be there, not because it's the price of having the opportunity to do research and publishing, but just because it was something they really wanted to do? What if they feel The Force and drew on its power and used its energy? What if it is in the classroom they follow their heart's desire, their soul's longing, their innate purpose, their reason for being? What if it is in the classroom they swim deep in deep water, feel the gravitational pull of doing "good works," soar on the updraft of making a difference. Would the world be transformed into a better place? Would their world be? Would each student's world be? It's a staggering and heroic idea.
I doubt if many of us academics think of teaching that way. We don't use that word, heroic. We don't draw on that metaphor. Most of us prefer the bland, intellectual words. I prefer the stirring emotional, almost spiritual word "heroic," for that's what teaching really is. Why shouldn't that be. What could be greater, mightier and more aspiring, what can be a grander golden fleece, than to hear a student say after nearly a decade, "Thank you for being such a caring teacher. It really made a difference for me...."
That so few of us see our inner longings and purposeful stirrings as heroic is in many ways a tragedy. After all, a teacher hears a call to adventure and launches into that great journey each day without knowing what lays ahead. The journey may be mysterious, begun by a "what would happen if," but the purpose is not. A teacher ventures forth from the everyday world into a region of spiritual wonder about each student, encounters and tames fabulous forces of faith and hope and love, and helps each student to see The Force within him/herself. The teacher says, "I'm willing to go on the journey, to do whatever it takes to reach out, touch that student, and make a difference." The journey is the metaphor for transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary.
It is not an easy journey. Every journey is filled with the unknown and peril. The journey demands we hear, see, feel the new while letting go of the old. There will be challenges on this journey; there will be that first challenge; there will be that next challenge; there will be those continuing and unending challenges. There will be blistering trials to endure and afflicting circumstances to encounter. There will be dragons, students, witches, society, Minotaurs, experts, Gods, colleagues, institutions. They constantly will try to subdue your own voice into a submissive echo. They will try to set priorities that will turn you back and beat you down. They will try to waft away your flame, shake your the confidence, cloud your certainty, rattle you, and just stop you dead in your tracks.
Am I being melodramatic? That's for you to say honestly to yourself. The question I'm asking is what will you do when you hit an inevitable challenge? Will you see it as an opportunity or a obstacle? When I'm challenged to my limit and am tempted to pack it all in, I remember the words of John Wesley that, too, are hanging above me right now. He reminds me of the purpose of Yoda's "Do not try":
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the places you can. At all times you can. As long as ever you can.
Those are some pretty good words and pretty uplifting words. They're also pretty heavy words, pretty demanding words, pretty hard words, and pretty challenging words. He didn't say "some," he said "all." He didn't say when it was convenient, comfortable, or safe. He said "all" and "ever." He didn't say we should think about it or just give it a try. He said to commit, do. Until we are committed, until we are Yoda's doers instead of the novice Luke's tryers, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back with that surrendering and killing "I tried" or "I did my best." But, when we heed Yoda, "Do not try," all sorts of things happen that otherwise would not occur: the X-wing fighter lifts from the bog and is transported to dry land.
I believe that. I have seen that. I have experienced that. When you "do," you slowly discover new passion and begin to feel a steady, daily glow from harnessing the power of your The Force within you. You get off your knees, stand straight, hear sounds of singing and rejoicing that replace the howling and wailing, go on, and do. This brings me back to Yoda with a touch of Wesley. And if I was a resolution man, this would be my resolution for the coming new year of teaching and for that matter for anything:
when I think I've done all the good I can, do more; when I think I've used up all my means, do more; when I think I've done it in every place I can, do more; when I think I have no more time to give, do more; when I think I can't go on any longer, do more.
I won't "try;" I won't try "my best." I will "do." I will do whatever it takes. I will do. It may not be enough. And when I'm tired and discouraged, I will remember, as the Talmud says, we are not required to complete the work; we just are not allowed to desist from it. I would put it this way: we are required to do more and make that difference.
Now these resolutions does not mean those dragons will go away. People may become angry, jealous, and feel threaten. People may threaten you. People may reject you. People may try to make you into a cartoon. People may accuse you of going into a battle you can't win. People will try to drown you out with "It's impractical. It's impossible." People may accuse you of being selfish, arrogant, having ulterior motives, being out of touch, being touchy-feely, unprofessional, promoting yourself, being self-center.
As Mother Teresa would say, do and do more anyway.
I and Susan would like to take this opportunity to send each and every one of you and your family a sincere and deeply personal season greetings. May your yule logs and Chanukah candles burn brightly. And, may your coming new year be filled with joyous rewarding "There is no try."
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier email@example.com Department of History www.therandomthoughts.com Valdosta State University www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~\ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~\/ \ /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" - \____