Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 1/19/2004 7:39 AM
Random Thought: Find Joy and Bring Joy

For the last few days, especially today, Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Elisha has me thinking about something she said, "I want to find joy and bring joy."

Isn't that what being a teacher is all about: getting out of ourselves and into others; caring less about our feelings, our happiness, our security, our convenience, our reputation, our renown, our comfort; caring more to serve, to concern ourselves with the feelings and needs of others; finding joy and bringing joy to ourselves and others? Leo Buscaglia once said that to be a lover you needed the subtlety of the very wise, the flexibility of the child, the sensitivity of the artist, the understanding of the philosopher, the acceptance of the saint, the tolerance of the scholar, and the fortitude of the certain. Not a bad definition of a teacher, is it.

In my struggle to be that lover, to be a servant-teacher, I consciously do three things each day: first, I make promises to myself so that I may serve students better and bring more joy; second, I'll give whatever I have, I'll take any risk, accept any challenge, rise to any occasion, do whatever it morally and legally and ethically takes to fulfill those promises; and finally, I honestly ask myself how many of the promises did I keep, and how I can be and do more.

So, at the beginning of each day, in one way or another, I am consciously asking myself one question: "Okay, Louis, how do you want your day to be?" The answer comes in the minute-by-minute choices I will make throughout the day. And, the choices that I make are the result of the extent to which I can keep the promises I make to myself at the beginning of and throughout each day: to be mindful and aware, to learn something new about me, to learn something new about someone else, to limber up and relax, to be willing to make mistakes, to be joyful, to hear and listen, to be excited and create excitement, to be ready to be surprised, to be uplifting, to smile and laugh, to look and see, to have only beautiful moments, to be curious, to be aware of the choices I make each moment, to be prepared for whatever might come, to know that I, like everyone around me, am growing and changing in thousands of different ways at different times, not to take my self too seriously, not to expect perfection, not to try to control, be aware of all the beauty in people around me, gently reach out and touch with my feelings and words and eyes and hands.

Now, fulfilling those promises is not a piece of cake. It's more often than not an effort and a challenge. My friend, Brian Johnson, sent me a quote of Abraham Maslow: "You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety." I think Maslow was saying that I always must keep my eyes on the prize, keep my expectations higher than my present reality, that who I become flows naturally from what I expect of myself and what I expect myself to be. That's the choice, both Maslow and Yoda, and especially Dr. King, offer us, isn't it: do or merely try, grow or stagnate, dare or cower, take it easy or labor, risk or play it safe; step forward or step back.

This Martin Luther King day. Dr. King was and remains an example of those same choices. After all, what is it that we are remembering and celebrating this day? His birthday? Not really. His lofty words? Sure. His dream? Of course. But, in truth, we are not just celebrating what he said or dreamt or what might have been had his life not been cut short. We are celebrating the simple fact that because of him we are closer to a cure for the disease of racial disrespect that afflicts us all. We are remembering that he was a "doer," not merely a "tryer." We are commemorating that because of him we are a healthier community, a better people, and a more just nation. We are consecrating the trauma and drama of what he did, the personal strength he and others had, the commitment they made, the unswerving dedication and perseverance they displayed, the risks they took, the dangers they faced, the sacrifices they made, the wounds they suffered, and the challenges they overcame to find joy and bring joy to all of us: in the sit-ins, the boycotts, the marches, the voter registration, the imprisonment; through the flames of threats, bricks, killings, bombings, conspiracies, beatings, angry mobs, water hoses, attack dogs, night sticks, hooded klansmen. This day of celebration and remembering is also a day of reflection. On this day, we ponder the promises we made, the risks we have taken, the promises we have fulfilled, the need for us to keep on going on and doing more.

That is the great lesson left us by the accomplishments of Dr. King shortened, but glorious life. Now, dedication, commitment, perseverance, risk, and danger in a classroom at Valdosta State University pale, to say the least, compared to a march in Selma, although the way a lot of academics act you wouldn't know it. But, the lesson is there nonetheless. A lot of people wrote me off-list saying I was taking too much of a risk by allowing Elisha into class. Too much of a risk? What risk was I taking? What great, life-threatening leap did I make? I'm not going to be hauled off a lynch mob. No one is going to bomb my office. No one is going to torch the classroom. No one is going to beat me to within an inch of my life. No one is going to threaten the life of my wife and children. If there is a risk, it is the risk of doing nothing and telling the Elishas on our campuses that they aren't worthy and worth our time and effort.

Some of us, unacceptably too many of us, are so busy hesitating because we're standing around; we don't feel in control or feel up to the task or don't have guarantees or are afraid or are into ourselves or just don't give a damn. We delicately tip-toe through minefields that we ourselves have laid for ourselves. We worry about looking bad; we second guess and rationalize; we rationalize; we have false expectations that teaching is easy, unconsuming, and challenge-free; we fall into the moaning "why me" trap; we want and wait for the perfect time, the perfect place, and the perfect student; we wait for that flashbulb moment of inspiration. Well, that flash won't go off unless we pick up the camera, aim it, focus it, and press the button. Were I to play it safe and easy and cozy, any more than had Dr. King and the others in the Movement done so, none of those promises I make at the beginning of the day would be fulfilled at the end of the day. I'd put nothing on the line, do nothing, have nothing, be nothing, accomplish nothing, and become nothing. I'd not have the opportunity to uplift, to help heal, to help stimulate, to surprise, to help open new doors, to help bring in fresh air, to help instill a true loving of learning, to help bring light and create excitement in an otherwise darkened and deadening life such as Elisha's.

So, at the end of each day, I make time to reflect on if I have fulfilled my promises to myself, have I made the choices that make the day the way I wanted it to be: is anyone a little happier because I came along, did I leave any imprint of my kindness and caring, did I help someone discover his or her own magic, did I help someone grow, did I help someone throw open his or her doors and windows of experience to his or her own uniqueness, did I make someone feel more secure, did I help someone smile or laugh, did I help ignite an inner glow, did I help someone have a beautiful moment, did I help someone ever so slightly develop a capacity into an ability, did I go through the day without a fret, did I learn something new about teaching, others, myself, and what do I have to promise myself for tomorrow?

I do these three things because I don't want my credo or my avowed purpose to be like most shelved, dust gathering, seldom read campus mission statements: a lot of high-sounding, but empty and meaningless cliches, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I want that credo to be off the shelf, in my face, into my soul, as my on-going and never-ending guiding value light. I'd like to be able to say, to have others say each and every day, as they are saying of one of my heroes this day, that I am an adventurer, a discoverer, a doer, a maker of magic, a good, kind, uplifting, loving, joyful, gentle person who not only cared a lot, but cared to do a lot.

         Make it a good day.


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

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