Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 5/6/2003 4:58 AM
Random Thought: Last Day

Much of what I have learned about myself I have learned during my solo morning walks, those reflective mobile moments of meditation through the pre-dawn darkness. You know, solitude is not solitary confinement. Aloneness is not lonliness. It is, if nothing else, a way to get away from the cell phone. It is a step by step movement from tense to sense, from tuning out to tuning in, from losing yourself to finding yourself, from disengagement to encounter. My mind sort of settles down, and I get very focused. It is amazing how often I have the question, or no question, when I leave the house and find an answer before I walk inside the house. Each block I walk gets me mysteriously through any block I might have.

I do not find my reflection useless and frightening. I do not find my walks dull or boring. To the contrary, my sense of aliveness is sharpened. Understand, I love people. I love to be around people. I am a people person. But, I think the silence and solitude of going alone for six miles and for at least an hour every other day and being alone deserve a place in every day life. It's in that mind- and soul-clearing place where I'm free of imposed schedules, from what is expected of me, from what I am obliged to perform. It is in that cleansing place that I can pay attention to myself. I can freely engage in "wise" reflection that is so necessary for "wise" thought and "wise" feelings and "wise" action. It's in that momentary hermetic place where I submit to solitutde and silence and learn things about myself that I cannot learn among others. And, I have discovered that I would never have known who I truly was had I not been alone with the world on those dark pre-dawn streets for all those miles and all those hours over the past decade or so.

This morning is the morning nearing the end of the Spring semester. I am almost finished suffering through that very uneducational responsibility of coming up with final semester grades, and I am about to go on an involuntary leave from teaching this summer.

When I exited the house this morning, I wasn't thinking all that much except what I'll be doing this coming summer. With every step, however, I started thinking of Molly (not her real name) on that last day of classes in one particular class last week. She really got to me. The more I thought about her the more I took a reflective cruise through the calm and rough personal and professional seas of this past year, and started thinking about the first days of the coming fall semester.

It was closure, the last day of class, when we express consciously and publically what the class meant to each of us, what we got out of the class, and what we're taking with us. One after another each student stood up, introduced him/herself for the last time, showed us an object he or she had brought to class, and explained how it symbolized what this class meant to him or her. Then, it came to Molly.

She was the next to last student. She couldn't do it. She stood up and lost it. She broke out into convulsive sobbing. She needless apologized over and over as she valiantly struggled for control. From various points in the class came soft, compassionate whispers, "It's okay." "Let it go." "You're among family." "We're your friends." "Nothing to feel embarrassed about."

She excused herself and left the room. A few students got up and followed her out. We all quietly and patiently waited. She came back after a few minutes. Her eyes were red. As she struggled to control herself, she stammered, "This semester I've had to go through a lot of stuff that I wouldn't have been able to handle if it weren't for my community. My father had brain cancer. I loved him so much. I watched him waste away and had to deal with him dying. My mother learned she had breast cancer and I have had to miss classes to take her for tests and to the doctors." She faltered. A tear formed in my eye. She recovered and looked around. "If it wasn't for the support of these wonderful people in my community and a lot of you in this class, I wouldn't have made it. You are the 'salt of the earth.' I'll never forget any of you. Thanks." She hesitated and then simply said, "That's all."

It was enough. Then, it was my turn and I started to talk about how the doughnut I had brought symbolized what I was talking with me from the class. And I have to admit, after Molly I almost didn't make it. I was stunned by the sudden realization that each of us is the "salt of the earth."

"Salt of the earth." What does that mean? What did Molly mean? I don't know if it was an accidental choice of words or whether she was merely quoting a phrase from Scripture, but she didn't say "you can be..." or "you might be...." or "you ought to be..." or "you should be...." or "you might consider being...." Molly pronounced, "you are...." No choice. Just obligation. Just responsibility.

And, to salt both ourselves and our classes is a heavy responsibily. It means we teachers are an essential element in the improvement of the lives of others. We have the power to sprinkle around little life-sustaining white grains of a brightening smile, a reassuring word, a caring ear, an hopeful look, a believing gesture, or an encouraging touch. By our feelings and thoughts and actions we have the ability to leave such a wonderful taste in each student's mouth. We have the opportunity to add an enhancing flavor to each person around us. We can create a thirst, if we choose to be a salt lick, to question, imagine, discover and create. And, if we do not believe with all of our heart that our teaching truly matters and that we can make a difference, if we do not have an authentic--an authentic--desire to contribute, if we have lost or never have discovered our "why," if we do not self-administer what is right, we become a shell of a condescending person, conforming to ever-tightening and ever-dictating systems; our paycheck becomes merely a mercenary's fee--an empty exchange of money for a task rendered at the unquestioned beckoning of a patron.

Molly and other stuff have really gotten me into me. As I look back on this year, there is so much more I have learned that can help me maintain my savor, certainly sharpen by flavor, that will help me better earn my "salarium agentum," that will help me come closer to being worth my weight in salt. I would like to share what crystalized on my walk this morning:

that I would much prefer to be in a place where my positive thinking places me rather than where my negative thinking drags me or bogs me down;

that the definition of teaching is to change the world without taking on the world;

that teachers are like competitive ice skaters: they have to excel in both technical merit and artistic performance and earn scores based on a combination of both high tech and high tingle;

that to be a good teacher you don't reveal to students how much you know and how smart you are. You reveal to students how much they know and how smart they are;

that it is better to act as explorers than as curators;

that behind every successful "what" and "how," is a purposeful "why;"

that only by having the courage to be different can I be a role model for the dignity of individuality and uniqueness;

that kindness is always my best instinct, and sometimes I have to remind myself kindly and gently to be kind;

that only by being true to myself can I be true to other people;

that forgiving others and letting go of grievances is really important, but it is so tough;

that my immediate and strong emotional impulses are not always right or wise and that I'm better off not saying anything or making any decisions that can have a lasting impact;

that fighting "fire with fire," that backfiring a flame, only leaves everyone in ashes;

that I can take more than I want to and more than I think I can, and that I'm still not wild about having to do it;

that "winning at any cost" really isn't winning since there is no real victory without integrity;

that teaching, like anything else, is grounded in a simple manner of living--in love, belief, hope, and faith; it's not grounded in strict adherence to the strict letters of the rules;

that often the approval of others simply costs too much;

that people of good will and intelligence often see things very differently and that disagreements are inevitable. We just have to be civil about it and respect each other;

that no matter how old I am, my life and my character are works in process and that every single day brings opportunities to improve;

that if I can learn to control my attitudes and reactions I have greater control, but it's easier to control my actions than my attitudes;

that I feel better when I am living an important life than living a life to be important;

that the most significant thing I can do is help make someone else feel his or her life is significant;

that it's not what happens to me that matters most, but what happens in me;

that there is uncommon and extraordinary magic, wonder, joy, fulfillment, richness, beauty, and richness in even the supposedly most common and ordinary moments and people;

that the true test is my willingness to do the right thing even when it costs more than I want to pay;

that when I am surprised at what goes on in the class, it is a reflection that I really don't know what is going on in each student--or in myself;

that I must have an incurable heart condition;

that I must have a purpose that will energize and inspire me to the very core, and that will render the daily annoyances and distractions insignificant;

And, I've learned that if I throw these grains over my left shoulder to blind the evil spirits, I will be better able to keep myself righted however any situation or person may want to capsize me.

Pass the salt!

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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