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Tag Archives: leadership

On Wiesel’s Night

Several years before I retired from teaching, a family approached me and asked me to tutor their child. Usually, I don’t tutor. Too often, it is about prepping for a test and is too rote for me.

After talking with the family and student, I agreed. The student was behind in some courses and wanted to be ready to transition from home schooling to attending high school full-time.

I helped her mostly in Math and Language Arts. I approach Language Arts through a cross subject method. I choose a novel and prepare a novel study. The students demonstrate comprehension, writing, grammatical, and other skills, instead of drill and kill method.

We discussed several possible choices for a novel study and decided on Elie Wiesel‘s Night, which is an autobiographical narrative of his time as a teenager in Nazi concentration camps with his family. I warned the student it was a tough read, but she insisted on the book. I asked her to read only assigned chapters and keep a journal.

The next week, she asked a question and confessed she read the whole book in one sitting. She asked if was OK to cry when doing a novel study. I said it was. We adapted and went through the book in a different way.

What I learned from that experience, is as hard as we try, as parents and teachers, there are things we cannot prepare children for in advance. This poem by Thomas E. Thornton, who was a teacher, echoed those sentiments. The poem is hard to read, but he wanted to impress upon students an appreciation for the horrors and violence of war.

I cannot teach this book.  Instead,

I drop copies on their desks,

like bombs on sleeping towns,

and let them read.  So do I, again.

The stench rises from the page

and chokes my throat.

The ghosts of burning babies

haunt my eyes.

And that bouncing baton,

that pointer of Death,

stabs me in the heart

as it sends his mother

to the blackening sky.

Nothing is destroyed

the laws of science say,

only changed.

The millions transformed into

precious smoke ride the wind

to fill our lungs and hearts

with their cries.

No, I cannot teach this book.

I simply want the words

to burn their comfortable souls

and leave them scarred for life.

 

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From “The Rock Will Wear Away”

Today on the way home, we stopped the Okotoks Erratic or Big Rock. In the Blackfoot language, it is Okotok, which means rock. It weighs about 16, 500 tonnes (18, 000 tons), is about 41 by 18 metres (135 by 60) feet wide, and is about 9 metres high (30 feet).

During the Pleistocene Era between 12, 000 and 17, ooo years, a glacier dropped the big rock in what is now prairie just below the foothills and Rocky Mountains. There are two rocks and on the flat of the prairie they seem erratic and out-of-place. The size of the rocks speaks to the power of nature.

I have a question about this rock. How big was it when the glacier dropped it in its place?

Holly Near is a singer-songwriter. The following is a short excerpt from one of her songs. As she proposes, the rock appears stronger than water. But, is it?

Humans and water are resilient, they come back time and again. Our fragility makes us vulnerable, but, at the same time, provides durability. Like water slowly eroding a large rock down into smaller and smaller bits, humans, through their mindful and collective efforts, can bring about dramatic change to the world.

Can we be like drops of water falling on the stone

Splashing, breaking, disbursing in air

Weaker than the stone by far but be aware

That as time goes by the rock will wear away

And the water comes again

Mindful

Today’s post is short. I was hooded today and the poem that ran through my mind was Mindful by Mary Oliver. This is the ultimate poem for me on a day like today. There is always something that can more or less kill me with delight.

Several speakers today reminded us that it is not the extraordinary we are looking for, but the ordinary that propels us into the extraordinary. Being mindful and attentive in and to the world is an essential element in being propelled.

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Work Around Your Abyss

Henri Nouwen wrote about the essential nature of being present, attentive, and mindful to our needs. Like Thomas Merton, he cautioned against being caught up in the quick fixes and materialism of contemporary society to heal the wounds we have.

When we feel pain and are suffering, it is essential to come close to those the wound, working around it until it heals. Unlike contemporary organizations, which are often described as teams, this is the work of community. Frequently, we share pain and woundswith others and it is in sharing our journey we discover solace and healing, making us each whole again.

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

How Poetry Comes to Me

Gary Snyder wrote this short, accurate description of how poetry comes to a person. It is not an easy process.

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light.

Snyder spent time in Japan where he immersed himself in Zen Buddhism and poetry, some of which he translated and used to guide his writing. One of the poets he studied was Han Shan who wrote the following poem called LX.

I see similarities between the two poems. Snyder wrote about how poems wait for us at the edge of the just out of range of our campfire. Han Shan suggests, if we move during sunny times, we might not move at all. Like moving to the edge of the light, we move timidly to find what awaits us and searches for us. It takes being present and mindful to our world and others.

Han Shan has so many strange, well-hidden sights,

Every climber climbs a little timidly . . .

Moon shines in the dripping water;

wind brings the very grass alive.

Freezing trees flower with snow,

dead, bare trees leafed out in cloud.

Gored by cold rain, the liveliest soul turns away.

Unless it stays sunny, you’ll never get through.

Live for Today

Source: Live for Today

Michele concluded this post with an Inuit (Eskimo) saying about the essential nature of today and each moment.

Today on Twitter, I re-tweeted an Emily Dickinson quote that has a similar message: “Forever is composed of nows.”

When I am present and in the moment, I am mindful the ordinary is extraordinary. Being mindful allows me to be sensitive and thoughtful towards others who accompany me on my journey and the world we share with other sentient and non-sentient beings.

Mindfulness is a conversation with companions, even it is only listening to silence.

Our Devotion to Transformation

In this poem, Alice Walker counselled us to think of life as a transforming event. Parker Palmer referred to the inner and outer movement as similar to a Möbius Strip with one side that is continuous.

We have to pause and be mindful, but it is not like we are separate from the world. We live in it and it lives in us. We act on it as it acts on us.

Living is about going beyond who we are. Trans means to go beyond. We are continuously moving beyond who we are at any given moment. It is inevitable and poetic. Living is poetry. We are always creating someone and something new, despite ourselves.

Poetry is leading us.

It never cares how we will

be held by lovers

or drive fast

or look good in the moment;

we are committed to movement

both inner and outer;

and devoted to transformation

and to change.

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