Last year was of course a more “major” birthday. Yet every year gives occasion to look back — at least on the previous 12 months — and perhaps to reflect.
This year, as the school year comes to a close (I have two more class sessions to teach), we have in our school been touched by sadness as the parents of one of our graduating seniors, one of my students, were killed in an auto accident, news we heard on Saturday. I am sure that will also color our forthcoming baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies on the first and 3rd of June respectively.
And for me this week is a hiatus before I head North on Friday for the 55th reunion of my original class at Haverford College, carrying with me a ton of music and miniature scores that I am donating to the Music Department as a part of the necessary downsizing as we slowly begin to prepare to move to a continuing care community sometime in the next two years.
As we move into summer, I will probably begin to more frequently share here thoughts and observations. I do have to plan for two new courses, and I am doing some professional development in July, but otherwise I have time to reflect and breathe, things not always possible during a busy school year.
My main course is government, and increasingly I am finding it challenging to try to teach students what the government is supposed to be in the midst of a time when the idea of We, the People seems to be under increasing threat by those who do not want those words to include all of us, politically, economically, or even socially. I am enough of a student of history to acknowledge that our past is far from perfect, that for too much of our previous history we did exclude from full participation many on various artificial bases — of race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, and — yes — on account of certain political attitudes. At age 76 I have experienced during much of my life how that was changing for the better, but now I see how many of those advances I experienced are under serious threat. That is certainly a challenge for me as a teacher of adolescents, but it is equally a challenge for me as a citizen who has been politically active at levels ranging from the local levels of a small borough in Delaware County PA through the medium size of Arlington County where I have lived since 1982 to state level politics in Virginia and even to some degree national politics, although for the latter probably more through my writing than in other kinds of activities as I have aged. I have been fortunate to have an audience here as I opine and argue, and this venue has provided me openings to communicate with others, especially as I have advocated on education but also on human rights, the environment, and other issues as well.
One reason I have posted less frequently is because I am no longer in public education, now completing my 3rd year at a diverse and well-known Catholic high school with a very diverse student body. I am still concerned with issues of public education, but have to remember that I am now several years removed from being a part of it, and thus speak increasingly as an outsider on the issues affecting it.
We considered leaving the country, but even as we worry about what may happen politically and legally we are increasingly committed to finding a place to live out what is left of our lives in one of three metropolitan areas — Charlottesville, DC, Philadelphia. We have two more continuing care communities to visit, and we are also starting to do revisits of places under consideration. In the process we are building relationships with people in the communities where we might possibly end up. And incidentally we are also providentially reconnecting with others from our pasts.
Over the past year I have tried to be more patient — to be sure with others, but also with myself. I find I am often willing to just sit or sprawl and have one or more of our three cats curl up next to or on top of me. I am still trying to follow the direction given me by my long ago spiritual advisor the late Pater Aimilianos, Geronda of Simona Petra Monastery on Mount Athos, to defer to Leaves on the Current. Our search for our final home reflects this — where we will go will be her choice. But it is far easier to do that on “big” decisions than it is to change one’s normal pattern of behavior in small things that can intentionally or not be demeaning to or controlling of another person. I am still trying to learn.
I also think I know what I want to be when I grow up. Not fully grown up. That is, I want to return to the delight of exploration and discovery I had as a child. In whatever time I have left as a teacher, at least next year, perhaps another one or two after that, I want to be discovering something new in everything I do, even if it is only to see and understand through the ideas and thoughts of my students so that I can learn from them as I help them learn for themselves. I hope that makes sense.
I also want to listen far more. In the classroom to students, encouraging them to dialog directly with one another, not running things through me. I want to truly listen to music. I want to listen — with patience — to others. I want to listen to the sounds of the natural world. I want to truly listen to silence, including if I can a reestablished inner silence. I may b e a musician by background and training, but one appeal of the Quakers for me has always been the sitting in silence and emptying out so there is room for something else, perhaps something totally unanticipated.
Last week I largely stripped the walls of my classroom and put things away. I have little to do to prepare for summer. In a sense the bareness of the walls is like a kind of silence — it creates a sense of space and time which opens me to possibilities I might not otherwise consider.
I am now 76. My father lived until he as 84, my mother only to 47. Each had one or more siblings who lived into their 90s. I have a stent in my aorta, I have survived a stroke. I have no intimations of my forthcoming demise. I may die within the next few years, I might live for 15. I think I have reached the point where I do not concern myself with how long. I’d rather focus on what is before me at the moment, trying to savor what I can.
There will be time soon when I will feel moved enough to contribute my thoughts and observations on world events and American politics and government. Today I will have my penultimate class with my juniors in American History, who are turning in their final projects (in lieu of a final exam), and tonight we will go out for a quiet dinner.
I am glad to have been a part of this community since 2003.