Winter froze everything in February and March, including my mind. I’ve been wracked with procrastination and indecision everywhere and in everything. Yet, the mantra “this too shall pass” is a reflection of nature that surrounds us. Snow drifts melt, flood waters recede, iceand spring is breaking into northwest Montana.
My own procrastination has been replaced by action. Don’t underestimate the power of taking that one step, of starting. May we never lose the courage to move forward, even in the smallest step. Action, any action is the most powerful tonic.
Summer will be here soon. Emerge from your dark homes, gather in the dawn for a run, meet at the trailhead, linger on the patio in the last rays of the day. Make plans now, buy the tickets, make the reservation. Invest in memories, it slows time down in the most enjoyable way possible.
According to a 2010 psychological study about the connection between anticipation and happiness that was published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it. The authors of the study, researchers from the Netherlands, interviewed 1,530 people, including 974 vacationers, and found that the vacationers felt most happy before their trips.
Long for experience, not things. What good are things if you have not leaned, with your back against the wall of a great city, watching the flood tide of humanity rush pass you, feeling energy from the brilliant, the brave and the demons who have walked the same streets for centuries. What good will things give you if you have not woken, awake and wide-eyed in terror, in the middle of a long night, knowing your own actions your own vices threaten to destroy you. What good are things if you have not sat up all night with a friend, rehashing the high highs and low lows, and then you see the pale light of the new day on the eastern horizon. When your only dream is a nightmare and your mind only computes minor chords, at least you know you are alive. Long for experience, not things.
I’ve been teaching high school since the fall of 2002. I suppose teaching is the only career I’m going to have. I’m a mediocre teacher. Strictly junior varsity. On good days, I think I can explain things in a way most seventeen and eighteen-year-olds understand. I lecture too much, grade too little, don’t plan enough, tell too many stories.
I used to be so certain about teaching. I thought I was changing the world. But the world goes on without me and my students. Forces much larger are at play. I get depressed when I read the utter stupidity displayed in my local paper’s letters to the editor. I dread the day I realize some former student is the author of some ignorant screed.
Some former students have been wildly successful or moved into lives that are admirable, and impressive. Students have graduated from challenging schools, moved a world away, started families, taken over ranches, and made me proud that I know them. I’m not naive enough to think I have anything to do with their success. Certainly, teachers can help, but we are such a small process in the equation that includes parents and inner drive.
Last year a student attacked me and my teaching in an anonymous letter I found left on my desk. It devastated me. It’s been hard to forget when every time a student sighs, rolls their eyes or snickers under their breath, I remember that letter. It’s made me question everything I do, and don’t do. I thought this year would be the year that I dedicated myself to the passionate energy and brilliance I had when I began. I had an image of all the best practices I would adopt, all the lives I would inspire. The truth is on a good day I’m lucky to walk out of school feeling like I’ve made any difference.
Down the hall is the classroom of a junior AP literature teacher. He coaches policy debate and he often tells me what their debate topic is and I spit out some ideas supporting and attacking the prompt. Sometimes it is on a topic I know a lot about. Periodically he asks me to visit with his debaters and give them my take on a topic. I enjoy it, it’s usually an interesting topic that can be turned over lots of different ways. It’s fun to watch the kids wrestle with these hard issues.
Two days ago he told me that I was being awarded a “Friend of Forensics” award for my work with his team. Tonight they gave me the award. I struggle with praise, but it was nice to hear his kind words. It’s been hard to look other teachers in the eye this year, maybe this will make it easier.
As I sat listening to the debate team award ceremony I looked around and so many of the students I teach. Many of these students are students who compete with for my Model UN team, many are involved in my We The People Constitutional Debate team. Both of these groups performed extremely well for me this year. Maybe I am doing better, maybe I am changing lives. Maybe these kids are naturally talented. Maybe they are lucky. Maybe I’m lucky.
It’s hard to say. As the Stoics teach we know not when it’s all over. We should live our lives knowing that we might not get another shot. Maybe it’s all going to come together.
against the wall, the firing squad ready. then he got a reprieve. suppose they had shot Dostoevsky? before he wrote all that? I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered not directly. there are billions of people who have never read him and never will. but as a young man I know that he got me through the factories, past the whores, lifted me high through the night and put me down in a better place. even while in the bar drinking with the other derelicts, I was glad they gave Dostoevsky a reprieve, it gave me one, allowed me to look directly at those rancid faces in my world, death pointing its finger, I held fast, an immaculate drunk sharing the stinking dark with my brothers.
You’re always giving, my therapist said. You have to learn how to take. Whenever you meet a woman, the first thing you do is lend her your books. You think she’ll have to see you again in order to return them. But what happens is, she doesn’t have the time to read them, & she’s afraid if she sees you again you’ll expect her to talk about them, & will want to lend her even more. So she cancels the date. You end up losing a lot of books. You should borrow hers.
How do you look back on a whole lifetime of books and not think about the many friends you let down? You borrowed and didn’t return, you gave and they vanished. Should there be a tabulation of friendship casualties, killed in action, missing in action, wounded?
“Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.” —from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
Suppose your life a folded telescope Durationless, collapsed in just a flash As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen With lover zipping up your pants in haste Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs—all one.
Einstein was right. That would be too intense. You need a chance to preen, to give a dull Recital before an indifferent audience Equally slow in jeering you and clapping. Time takes its time unraveling. But, still, You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?
In the past seven days, Whitefish has been covered with two feet of snow. As I’m sipping my coffee and starting the day the temperature stands at -6. I see another long boring treadmill run in my future. On days like this, let your mind turn to planning, and dreaming of the future. Allow your thoughts, the same consciousness that is the engine of thoughts filled negativity and darkness, to breath the promise of something different, something better.
Summer is coming, with every day the sun hesitates before setting. Soon our concerns will not be about how warm to dress but if the smoke from wildfires has made it unsafe to be outside. All things pass. Dream for summer adventures, stir dreams for future insight, dream for better days. Unfold those maps, let your fingers trace the countries of future memories.
Advance permits for backcountry backpacking in Glacier National Park can be submitted starting March 15.