Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 9/16/2003 3:58 AM
Random Thought: Life In The Garden And In The Classroom

This muggy, cool, dark morning, I didn't walk along the streets. A week-long, low-level head cold has grounded me. Nevertheless, I walked out to the fishpond where I engaged in some contemplative sitting and coffee sipping. As the skies grayed, I got up and did some contemplative strolling through my garden. Stuff pent up over the idle summer is still gushing out. The pressure of the flow was increased by a tiring and exhilarating day-long strategic planning retreat I participated in yesterday as well as the anticpation of tomorrow's "public showing" of Reconstruction sculptures by the communities in one class. There are times, such as this one, that all this throws me into something of a strange mood that's part practical, part poetic, part spiritual, and certainly pensive.

As I was walking through the garden, I noticed a galardia. At a distance and quick glance in the dim light, the blooms on that plant looked the same. As I slowed down and focused, as I knelt down before it, as I handled each bloom, as I intently peered at each one separately, I saw that each bloom was in fact different from all the other blooms. Each was unique, exquisite and impressive in it's own right. Each was neither more nor less beautiful. Each was just different. Each had its own sacredness. Each was a one of a kind without trying to be. Each was created that way.

Someone once said that life is our real classroom. How true. And what does life in my garden teach me? It teaches me that in the mundane there is ceaseless wonder. It teaches me that if every day I see and listen, I will not be disappointed. It teaches me to make proverbial mountains out of the garden's smallest, daintiest, and most delicious of proverbial molehills. It teaches me to have an intimate relationship with everything that surrounds me. It teaches me that all these teachings doesn't just leap out to grab me. I have to be a receptive, willing, and hard-working student if I am to receive them. I have to be teachable, to let life touch me, to let myself be moved to tears, to let it all reach into me, to immerse myself in the intensity of life. I have to have a "slowing down," a "stillness," a "graceful waiting," a deep diving, and both a listening for and seeing of what is really happening. When I do, a "you can't help but feel...." invariably comes over me. Then, the garden becomes no place for yawning. It becomes a dazzling varied world. It becomes a gathering of uniqueness. It becomes a place where wonder is awakened and where each day is an awesome "gasping for breath day." It becomes a place where the senses are alive, the imagination flourishes, the curiosity stirs, and the adventure of life is experienced. It becomes a place of avid exploration of both my outer physical world and of my inner spiritual world. It is a place where both worlds are inseparably and intimately merged into one.

Should it be any different in the classroom? No! Should we think differently of each student than we do of a single galardia bloom? No! Shouldn't we pay tribute, honor, respect, sanctify, and nourish that uniqueness of each student as we do each bloom? Yes!

And so, I say that the classroom is a garden of life no less than is the garden. It is no less filled with mysteries and enchantments. We have to respect and cherish each of those around us and let each one seep into our senses. If we do, we're sensitized to deeper realities and sacredness of ourselves and those around us. And, we then must practice, as Hildegard might have said, keeping myself "green in the spirit." We each must be an ambassador of and an ambassador to each student no less than of each flowering bloom. We must struggle to enter a classroom as if, as Mary Oliver wrote in "The Leaf and the Cloud," we're opening the door of a cool temple so I can step in and warmly feel less my isolated and alone self and more a part of everyone.

There is a danger to having such wonder. I warn you that if you let yourself feel this wonder, you will be lost in it. You'll never get over it. You will have stopped being what I call a "short looker" and "short hearer," and will irreversibly have become what I call a "long see-er" and "long listener." No moment will ever be a waste and no moment will ever push you back. Every moment will be a precious gift of opportunity, every moment will be lived. You will have gone beyond your boundardies. Your world will have grown. Your horizons will have broadened. And, unlike a rubber band, none of it will snap back to its original size and form. It will have become the center of your new life. When we see the individual uniqueness of each flower in the garden or each student in the classroom, we will feel a more truthful world of listening, feeling, seeing, and being. Life in general and teaching specifically begins to make so much more sense; the meaning and purpose comes into the focus without asking, the excitement and enthusiasm swells up, fears melt away, and the doubt dries up.

If, however, we submerge the uniqueness of flowers and students in a pool of stereotypes, categories, classifications, labels, charts, and statistics, if I make them into something they are not, their uniqueness is destroyed; they blur into each other; their glory quiets; their beauty fades. Our no end to "wonder days" will come to an end. The music will be drowned out by increasing static. The lively dance step will stiffen. The blythe aire will become a dirge. Newness will mold with routine and grow stale. Difference will yield to indifference, excitement to listlessness, connection to disconnection, caring into an uncaring "who cares." The spry warmth will cool down to a stiffening chill. The meaningful will wilt into meaningless. The bland monotony will shut down the heart and soul and spirit and mind. Everything will be out of focus and everything will be miniaturized and diminished. Everything will lose is spicy taste.

There will be no feasts of epiphanies, no appetizers of delectable delights, no entrees of astonishments, no deserts of rejoicing wonders. We will not stumble across the subtle blessings in the classroom and the exquiste miracles that occur, and they will go unnoitced. We will not pause and stand rapt in awe. We will not sing and dance in celebration for each student. Our spirit will go unrefreshed. We will not whistle while we work. We will only yawn, and things will grow old and lifeless--quickly. We will, then, as Einstein said, be good as dead.

         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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