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I am currently going through all of my diaries because someone suggested I consider whether I could gather some together into a possible book proposal.  In the process I am rereading some I had not looked at for several years.

It is late in the evening, I had not yet posted a diary today, and I just re-encountered one that seems relevant to much of what I have posted recently.

So bear with me.  Below the fold is the entire text of what was originally posted here March 10, 2007.  It was inspired by a wonderful Derrick Jackson column, for which a link is provided.  I do urge you to read his column.

Perhaps what I am reposting will speak to someone who did not previous see it.


It is now our turn to show others how we love them more

I STROKED my mother's short, soft hair for many minutes. Her eyes were closed. I had not seen this much peace in her still-beautiful, velvet face for many years. She sat motionless on her nursing home bed, erect as a Buddha. A fresh spring breeze whispered through the window.

I thought to myself, my mother's final journey has begun.

The words are not mine.  I do not write that well, and my own mother passed years ago.  They are from a remarkable piece in today's Boston Globe entitled Seizing life's precious journeys.  The author is Derrick Jackson, and you MUST go read the piece.  Now.  Before you continue reading this diary.  If necessary, instead of continuing to read this diary.  Only then will it be worthwhile to continue reading what little I have to offer.


If you have followed instructions, you will realize that the title of this diary is the final line of Jackon's column, a column that is both personal and universal.  It discusses a universal principle of making the world better through the particular and personal experience of one man.  It shows how he attempts to pass on the good that was given him.  He shares his connections, not only with his mother, but with the young man who was his "little brother" and that young man's continuation of the process in himself now serving as a big brother.  He talks about others. And at least as I read, it connected with my life and the lives of others I knew.

My wife has a dear friend from her days at Oxford, another American, who is now very successful in her own creative field.  Her father was a very successful businessman who late in life decided to start honoring creativity.  He was in many ways a difficult man, but he was also a generous and caring man.  He was able to see creativity in unusual ways, and was also able to convince others of his vision.  Both my wife and I worked with him some on this project, and as a result got to know him far better in his later years.  We were honored guests, as his collaborators the Smithsonian sponsored an annual award ceremony, with conversations with the principal recipient of the honors he bestowed.  In the few years until now we were able to participate in honoring people like Yo-Yo Ma and Sandra Day O'Connor, as well as acknowledging creativity of young people still in high school.

He passed earlier this week.   He knew his end was near, and went home.  His children and grandchildren were able to gather around him, to reminisce, to thank one another for a common journey.  This afternoon we will go to his apartment to be with the extended family.   Perhaps that is one reason why Jackson's column spoke to me.

But I also thought of how others have enabled me with gifts of love and caring they have given me.  I think of my parents sacrificing things they would have enjoyed to enable my sister and me to explore our musical gifts, including my mother getting up early on a Saturday morning to drive us to our lessons in New York City.  Or of teachers, counselors at National Music Camp, professors, who would take the time to offer support.    I know that I was in many ways a difficult child, and an impossible adolescent.  Perhaps it is one reason I feel a responsibility to offer something to the adolescents I teach - because at troubled times in my own life there were those who were there to support me.

Jackson points out that we can learn from those younger than us.  Certainly as a teacher I encounter this regularly.  I will in a bit more than two months reach my 61st birthday, I devour books and information, and yet the most important lessons I encounter are those offered me by those 13-18 year olds in my care.  Perhaps it is a willingness to take on formidable academic loads because they can.  Or it may be the caring to help a classmate who is struggling because many of my students reject the idea of competing against one another in a way that leaves some behind.  

But all of what I have just written still misses what I drew from the Jackson piece.   We may feel a responsibility to give back, but that is not the challenge Jackson offers us.  The key is not responsibility, or paying back, because at some point we might feel as if we had fulfilled such task.

The key is love.

Jackson frames what he offers in terms of the love he received, and the love we should be passing on.  Love is, as one can read, something that does not diminish when it is given out, but can actually increase.

And in a world full of turmoil, unhappiness, fear, and anger, what else can help break through those barriers to human connection than love?

If I look at all that I encounter each day, whether in person or through my reading, I would despair.  It would be like when I first walked into the Strand Bookstore on 4th Avenue in NY City in 1963.  There were so many books.  I could never hope to read them all.  And I began to weep.

There are so many people.  There is so much need.  How can I hope to make a difference?  How can I ever hope to offer love that will matter?

And yet the answer is simple.  If I have allowed love to lift me up, whether from my parents or those not related by blood, I have already seen how.  We may start with those close to us, related by blood or marriage, or with whom we have natural affiliation.  That may remind us of the power that is involved.  

And then?  Perhaps it will be small gestures of those we encounter in our daily endeavors.  We might not call it love, we might call it caring, or simple courtesy.  But it initiates a process in us, one that opens us to possibilities otherwise as closed as the walls around hearts, those of us and others, because of turmoil, unhappiness, fear and anger.  And it is the open heart that can break down those walls in others.

It is an open heart that may suffer serious insult, cause us pain, when our love is not accepted.  But our task is to offer, and what we offer is a gift.  When we give it away, if we attempt to control how the other uses it we are still claiming ownership, we are still attempting to control, and that is not loving, at least, I do not think so.

For me, love is not exclusive or closed.  To experience the connection of love is to be a flower that opens to the sun, or the once-clenched fist whose fingers loosen and can now intertwine with those of another, or stroke the neck of a cat, or reach down and pick up something dropped by a person with Parkinson's, or simply gently touch another person.

Jackson challenges us to love others more.  That can be read in different ways.  Perhaps we can understand it as "more than we do now."  Perhaps we pick one occasion, one person, to whom we will find a way of loving more than we do know.  And if we persist we realize that rather than draining us it empowers us:  having been able to remove our own barriers to love towards one person we discover it is easier to do so with another.

But this is particular.  It is not that we love people.  It is that we love persons - each in her absolutely uniqueness.  It is not that we are out to "fix" his flaws (for certainly we have equally many of our own that need addressing).  It is that we are there, caring, lifting up, sustaining.  Each small effort, each additional outreach, each continued relationship, is our contribution ot lessening the turmoil, unhappiness, fear, and anger that are so destructive in the world in which we live.

I have offered a few of my own not very well shaped thoughts.  Enough of that.  Let me close as Jackson closed.  If you have followed directions, you will be reading these words not for the first time.  If you have not followed directions, perhaps the conclusion of the piece may encourage you to go and read all of his words.  Either way, Jackson speaks with far more power than can I:  

One is never too young to show others the way. At our Boy Scout and Venture Crew meeting this week in Cambridge, three of the first girls ever sponsored by our Boston council for an 11-day wilderness trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico told the newer scouts they needed to take that journey in 2008. One Philmont girl, Ryan, who fought past altitude sickness to climb an 11,000-foot peak last year, said, "It was hard, we got sick, but we had so much fun and learned we could do anything."

A week from today, a great journey will begin. My wife, Michelle Holmes, will attempt to hike the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In a letter to her family and friends, she wrote, "I view it as an amazing adventure in the natural world and a spiritual pilgrimage echoing the Underground Railroad to freedom."

Michelle can talk about mere echoes of the Underground Railroad because people like my mother, sitting in her Buddha state, completed their journey. For her children, she bridged the gap between segregated Mississippi and American opportunity. It is now our turn to show others how we love them more.

Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 06:52 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am still exploring what it means to truly love (53+ / 0-)

    which is perhaps why the original diary still means so much to me.

    It is late.  My wife is with her family.  I have had to break up a fight between our two male cats.  I am still in a very reflective mood.

    And I felt like sharing this.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 06:51:26 PM PST

  •  I'd love to have a book proposal of that sort... (6+ / 0-)

    ...but I have no interest in learning how to market myself, so it's not likely to happen.

    Peace to you, ken.

    •  I don't see how it works (6+ / 0-)

      too many of my diaries are dated by time, or are specific references to specific pieces I have read, or heavily use hyperlinks in a way that does not easily transfer to books, or some combination of all three.

      And I am not already famous like a pundit where people would be inclined to want to reread things I had previously posted.

      Some of what I have posted here has been crossposted.  On occasion people have redistributed, usually asking my permission first.

      I am honored that some think my words worthy of being bound in print.  

      So periodically, when the question is raised, I again explore the issue, usually only to set it aside.  Although I have just had someone whose judgment I trust and who is herself a successful author suggest that I could do a book with some of my pieces on education.

      I still tend to doubt it will ever happen.  But it least the exploration reminds me of some of what I have written in the past, and occasionally motivates me to reshare, as I have in this posting this evening.  For better or worse.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:09:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  How it works... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JaxDem, allep10, Just Bob, Sand Hill Crane

        I'm not an expert in the field nor do I have any idea what advice you have received from others who are successful writers.  I do know what comes to my mind when I think of the book I'd like to read from you.

        I'd want the book to paint a clear picture of the man and the teacher.  I'd want to turn each new page and experience the great lessons as they first entered the teacher's life.

        You do this here already.  I don't doubt for one second that I would enjoy holding the hard cover in my hands.

        I smile every time I think of you in a classroom.   I'm envious of those lucky students of yours.  There is something magical about the way you share yourself and your life experiences with those young minds.  The way you weave parts of yourself along with the great lessons and then allow it all to flow out to your students with such honesty and personal perspective and then to flow back into you again.

        I can't imagine anyone not enjoying reading that story.    

        Thanks for this piece.  I've recently enjoyed thoughts on the full nature of love as well.  

        Nobody held a wake for America's manufacturing industry, and now we are supposed to give a fuck about these assholes in the insurance business? - Playon

        by blueocean on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 08:49:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I've Read Loads Of Yout Stuff Teach... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, allep10, Sand Hill Crane
        ...but this one shines way above all else. You may have found your subject for a novel. Somehow, I feel that unlike lawyers, and doctors, and many other professions where you can survive on your skill and wits, a good teacher can't do it without heaps of love. You can put it well into writing, which is a good way to spread it out.

        Never thought I'd be jealous of the teaching profession, but there you have it...

        "There's no housing bubble..." - Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, 10/27/2005

        by chuco35 on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 08:55:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  feel free to add comments (8+ / 0-)

    perhaps about how you understand love, broadly expressed.

    Or perhaps if you had not read it before, share your reaction to the Jackson piece, which I thought was magnificent.

    If so inclined, I would also be interested in your reaction to my thoughts.  I learn from the reactions of others.

    May the rest of this holiday season be one in which you get to experience the joy of love, of giving as well as receiving.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:06:04 PM PST

  •  I think your "open heart" is the key to loving. (9+ / 0-)

    Be open to really being hurt, and after you may be hurt, you have to do it all over again. That's the rub, but the only way to love.

    My wife has admitted to me that part of her holds back because she knows that someday she may lose me.

    She will lose me. For even if we both live to an old age, she'll probably lose me sooner: I'm fourteen years older than she is. But we're closer now than we've ever been.

    Consider what crazed households we both came from, it's remarkable.

    •  I am almost 11 years older than my wife (7+ / 0-)

      which can make for some humrous moments with my students, when they discover that she was 27 and I was 28 when we first began dating.  I then point out that when I reach 100 she won't yet be 90, and thus will be able to take care of me.

      More seriously, I think both my wife and I have learned a great deal about loving from our pets.  Both of us had had pets before we came together.  In our time together we have shared one dog, and I think it is 9 cats.  

      If one fears hurt, one's heart never opens, and then one misses so much.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:28:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A Journey It Surely Is. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, Wildthumb
        We can either shiver through life with trepidation and fear, paralyzed by convention and false comforts, or jump into it from the precipice of opportunity.

        Love provides us the solace we need to keep going, to taste life as we go, to squeeze the most of it, to not let the fear stop us from taking the opportunities it offers us, to teach what we have learned, and to give the only immutable gift we possess -- ourselves. Because in the end, that's all there is -- our love. Everything else perishes with time.

        We can mystify it, religionize it, politicize it, and nuclear-family it, but love is free, limitless, God-like, and beyond all of our concepts and beliefs.

        "There's no housing bubble..." - Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, 10/27/2005

        by chuco35 on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 09:21:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  My turn has just begun. (12+ / 0-)

    She still knows everybody. She just repeats herself and asks the same question over and over. She needs to be reminded to take her pills and what day it is. I always answer as if it's the first time she's asked. I know it will get harder, but she's my mom and I will love her as much as it takes.

    It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.--- Bertrand Russell

    by triv33 on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:25:05 PM PST

  •  Thanks so much-- (8+ / 0-)

    both for this piece which I'd never read before and for the instructions to read Jackson's column. Both are beautiful and thought-provoking and mean a lot to me.

    "We are all New Orleans now."--Barbara O'Brien Economic -7.88 Social -6.97

    by Louisiana 1976 on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:30:18 PM PST

  •  I am ever so grateful to you for having (7+ / 0-)

    written this:

    It is an open heart that may suffer serious insult, cause us pain, when our love is not accepted.  But our task is to offer, and what we offer is a gift.  When we give it away, if we attempt to control how the other uses it we are still claiming ownership, we are still attempting to control, and that is not loving, at least, I do not think so.

    A very moving diary; beautiful.  

    A wonderful kossack who is showing others how we love them more and giving us the opportunity to do the same is Sara R with her "Love Catcher" quilts.

    You give us much to think about and even more to attempt to achieve.  The journey never ends does it?

    As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. - John F. Kennedy

    by JaxDem on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:34:09 PM PST

    •  your last question reminds me (5+ / 0-)

      about something I read from Kallistos Ware and experienced for myself in my travels on Mt Athos.  Some people would hitch rides on the logging roads.  I preferred to walk through the woods on the ancient footpaths.  Ware pointed out that in pilgrimage the point is not so much the destination as it is the journey.

      All of us have a life destination in common - death.  Perhaps some may look beyond that to some future life.  No matter.  In the meantime, what about the journey along the way?

      Methinks we are too often in a hurry.  And I remember my junior year high school English teacher Mr. Turner reminding us that one of the lessons of Macbeth was that anticipation is often greater than realization.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:38:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Slowing down and attempting to (5+ / 0-)

        "live in the moment" has been a constant challenge for me.  

        "In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

        On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, but so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."
        --from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

        Bamabikeguy who builds motorized bikes and publishes diaries about his adventures used the Pirsig quote in the intro to the linked diary.  I believe his stories appeal to me so much not just because of the freedom they represent, but because of the reminder of what I'm missing right under my nose.  

        You were wise to walk Mt. Athos as was Michelle Holmes to attempt an end - to - end hike on the Appalachian Trail.  It is more than not missing anything along the way; it is spiritual, it is paying homage, it is traditional.


        As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. - John F. Kennedy

        by JaxDem on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 07:58:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  To Love Others More (5+ / 0-)

    Is a spiritual path to bring happiness to us in this increasingly materialistic place we call earth.  

    I try daily, starting with the following excerpt from the Saint Francis Prayer:

    god grant that I mays seek to understand (others) than to be understood,

    Grant that I may seek to comfort (others) than to be comforted,

    and grant that i may seek to love (others) than to be loved.  

    When I meditate chanting this a few minutes or more each day, life is good, and I am truly a better man.  

    When i help others things naturally go just fine for me.  

    Well done Teacher Ken - thanks for sharing yours and Derrick Jackson's thoughts.

  •  We don't have enough words for (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, JaxDem, alethea

    Love.  I think I heard that there are, like, seven of them in Greek, each one with a specific connotation.  With our Puritan history of aversion to anything remotely related to sex, it's not surprising that people have trouble talking about love, even when it's not sexual at all.

    There are so many different "loves."  There is love of a child for a parent or a parent for a child. There is love between and among friends, and the spiritual love of which Jesus spoke.  All of these have a common thread, but each has its unique qualities.  I doubt that anyone ever gets to the bottom of all of them.  

    The one I relate to most easily is the one of teacher for student.  We deal with kids of the same ages and they are not always easy to love.  Still, there are the beautiful bright spots, when I see the person who is and who will be shine through, that I feel much like a parent must feel:  what a thoroughly decent, good, lovable child this is!  It ain't always easy but it is definitely always worth it! :-)

    Thanks for the meditation.  It's exactly what I needed tonight!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sat Dec 26, 2009 at 09:32:09 PM PST

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