Saturday, September 07, 2013


To my loyal readers, 

I want you to know that I have exported this blog to a new blog. The new address is:

I will be using this new blog from here on. 



“Mr Borthrop Trumbull [an auctioneer] had a kindly liquid in his veins; he was an admirer by nature, and would have liked to have the universe under his [auction] hammer, feeling that it would go at a higher figure for his recommendation.”
   -- George Eliot, Middlemarch

Years ago I knew a man who was bedridden with a gruesome disease, but somehow, to my amazement, he was able to be what Eliot’s auctioneer was, an admirer by nature. He told me he had only so many years left to live, only so many minutes in which to admire the world around him or heap scorn upon it, and he chose to admire. He said it’s exhausting to constantly find fault with what’s happening, and he would rather relax in his admiration for the gifts this world gave him than wear himself out with complaining. Looking back, I guess he was lucky to have, like Borthrop Trumbull, “a kindly liquid in [his] veins”, an approving and thankful nature that found something to praise in just about everything. Yes, he knew there was evil in the world, and there was failure and insufficiency and malfunction, and there were disappointments and duds aplenty, but he also knew, as he often told me, that there are so many more successes and wonders and heroes. He said that finding fault in everything is like seeing flaws in sunrises, or getting a gift of a great amount of money and making a fuss because it’s not $2.00 more. He said he would rather work his hardest to find some satisfaction in his situation than rage against it. Life, he said as he struggled to sit up in his bed, is far too short to spend it in grumbles and grievances. There’s sunshine to be seen in even the darkest days, and, from the bed he was confined to, he was out to find it.  

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Lately, I’ve been noticing, and thinking about, people who don’t seem to be winners. I pass them each day – the people with forlorn looks and stooping shoulders, those for whom life seems to be an overwhelming weight. I see them in the news – the increasing numbers of those with no job, the vast numbers of impoverished families, the millions of forsaken refugees. They seem to be ever-present, these people who carry such distressing burdens on their shoulders, who seem to have simply lost the game of life. Sadly, when I was teaching, I saw them in my own classes, too, though certainly not to such extremes. I saw the kids who had no friends, who spent recess by themselves, lost in their own breakable worlds. I saw the students who never seemed to “make it” in school, the ones who got C’s semester after semester, who never seemed to be “winners” at anything. Sadly, it’s so easy to fail to notice these kids. The winners -- the ‘A’ students, the class leaders, the well-liked kids -- take up so much of the spotlight that the ordinary, everyday students often get left outside of the light. Like the outcasts of the world – the homeless, the poor, the peculiar – these disregarded students, I guess, must always struggle by themselves to bring some small, unnoticed distinction to their lives.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013


     On this, the first day of classes at my former school, this freshly retired teacher was a struggling new student at a different kind of school. For far too long this morning, my wife and I worked as hard as I’ve ever worked at learning something new, and, looking back, it looks like I was strictly a C student. The school was the Westerly YMCA, and the class was called “Silver Sneakers”, a name that doesn’t come close to suggesting the kind of mystifying exercises I was called upon to carry out. This was a class advertised as a relatively unproblematic approach to conditioning for seniors, but, to me, that’s a little like saying hikes in the White Mountains are promenades in the park. From the first minute, I felt like I was 14 again and floundering in a class beyond my skills. As the skilled and spirited teacher called out commands, I stumbled and fumbled and flayed around. When she wanted our feet to move to the right, mine went left; when my hips were supposed to swing in circles, they threw themselves back and forth like total flops as hips. It was like 9th grade math class all over again: I couldn’t understand the teacher’s sentences, everyone but me was making it seem easy, and all I wanted was to stay out of sight in the far back and break free from that room as soon as possible. I was an unsure and confused student, like maybe a few million others in these early weeks of school. My message to other befuddled students: Stay brave. If a furrowed old fellow like me can learn something new, so can you.   

Monday, September 02, 2013


     “In the beginning was the word” is a Bible phrase that always seemed strangely associated with my duties as a teacher, and today, as my former colleagues look forward to launching a new school year tomorrow, I’m thinking of how lucky they will be to feel the force of words in their classrooms. I guess we could say that words stand at the beginning of all things in classrooms. All lessons, exercises, readings, writings, quizzes, tests – all discussions, debates, arguments, speeches, lectures, comments, and remarks start with the force of a few words. Even the thousands of thoughts that arise during a given class period are constructed with words, as buildings are built with boards and stones and steel. Words are a sort of camouflaged force in the classroom, a force that kindles thoughts and carries conversations, a force that stands ready at the starting line of everything teachers and their students do. In fact, it has always seemed to me – and I often shared this with my students – that students and teachers do business with the strongest power in the universe. All wars start with words, as do all friendships, adventures, transformations, and triumphs. A world without words is a garden without daylight, a seed without soil. I’m grateful that I found myself, for 45 years, surrounded in the classroom by the everlasting liveliness of words, and tomorrow I’ll think happily of the teachers in my former school as they and their students set forth on another educational mission, with the steadfast assistance of spirited and inspiring words.


Sunday, September 01, 2013


"Sunset at Little Salmon, Yukon",
watercolor, by Jackie Irvine
            Yesterday, a friend told me he was recently hiking in a forest and soon found himself, as he said, “in the middle of nowhere”, and it reminded me of a somewhat strange hope I always have when I start reading a book or a poem. As surprising as it may sound, I hope I will feel somewhat lost as I read. I hope I often feel befuddled, dumbfounded, and startled by what I am reading. If, when I’m reading a short story, I feel, for awhile, like I’m “in the middle of nowhere”, I say good for me, for then I might have the stirring experience of finding my way to somewhere. We often forget that in order to experience illumination we have to first be in darkness – that the contentment of new knowledge can only come after the discontent of ignorance. If I’m never “in the middle of nowhere” when I’m reading a poem, how can I ever feel the thrill of finding the somewhere of the poem’s heart and soul? In a sense, reading, for me, is about walking into darkness so I can better appreciate the light when it comes. For that reason, I guess I don’t especially enjoy the “easy” books I sometimes read – books that are filled, you might say, with easily noticeable light – because then very little finding, unearthing, uncovering, or stumbling upon is possible. I take the most pleasure in books that puzzle me with their shadows and obscurity, and in poems that sometimes conceal their meanings in an exciting kind of darkness, because then, there’s always the possibility of some sudden and even spectacular light ahead. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013


     Several years ago, I tried my best to help a friend who was feeling unloved by someone whom he dearly loved, and I recall that a reassuring thought about his situation came to me, one which I shared with him. It occurred to me that my friend was thinking of love as something private and personal. He seemed to be thinking of love as a commodity, a material substance, like money, for instance, something private that could be given from one person to another, something he could then personally own and keep and treasure. His friend had given him her love, much like you might give a special gift, and now she had taken it back, and he felt forsaken and lacking in love. What I realized, and what I shared with him, is that love is not at all private or personal. It sounds crazy, I know, but it struck me as an undeniable fact: love is totally impersonal, simply because it doesn’t belong to any one person, can’t be owned by any person, isn’t made by any person. It’s not a material “thing” that can be constructed, given, and then taken away. An analogy that came to me is the air, which is everywhere and is freely available to everyone, just like love. No one would think of saying to someone, “I own this air I’m breathing, and no one else can have any of it.” The air can’t be privately owned, and thus can’t be given and then recalled, and nether can love. Both air and love are just there –always and for everyone. While my friend was feeling unloved, all around him love was being breathed in, enjoyed, and then expressed – by his friends, by his family members, by his estranged loved one, by her family, by millions of strangers, and, of course, by him. My friend, like all of us, was absolutely surrounded by love, but he, like many of us, couldn’t see it and feel it, because he wanted it to be private, his own, something he could stockpile and stow away. As with many of us, he wanted the love to be for him personally. He wanted to own love and keep love, and he felt like his loved one took it away from him. The truth is, though – and this is what I shared with him – that no one can take away any of the love that surrounds us. Love is wider and wilder and bigger and more boundless than any one person. It’s with us always, like the endless air. When we’re despondent and desperate, the air is still there, waiting for us to breathe it in, and so is love. The love may not be specifically and personally directed toward us, including my friend, but that’s just because it’s too immense, too never-ending. My friend’s loved one had turned away from him, but the love that she and all of us are part of was still with him. He couldn’t possibly escape from it, just as he can’t escape from air.
     The years have passed, but I still hope my friend can always, come what may, breathe in the undying power of free-of-charge, freewheeling, and limitless love.

Friday, August 30, 2013



                       The word “acquiescence” often carries a negative connotation – a sense that a person is reluctantly giving in – but it’s interesting that the word derives from the Latin for “quiet”, which offers a fresh perspective on it. When I acquiesce to whatever’s happening in my life, perhaps I’ve simply decided to settle into a quiet but powerful posture of acceptance. Perhaps it implies embracing even the worst situations with poise and self-respect,  and then studying them and trying to learn from them. Rather than necessarily suggesting a submissive attitude, acquiescence may actually stem from understanding that saying yes to the universe’s plans for me can prepare the way for a wider kind of wisdom. I may not always love what’s happening in my life, but bowing to it can bring the inner quietness and light that learning something new often produces. I might even drop the ‘a’ in the word. Perhaps I want to keep the quiescent kind of life I seem to have fallen into, a life marked, not by the sluggishness that sometimes shows up in retirement, but by a powerful kind of peacefulness, which often can come from just accepting what’s happening. I guess I’ve slowly learned to extend a greeting to problems instead of opposing them, partly because acceptance is simply more restful than resistance, but also because working with a problem instead of against it seems to make my old life, in little and large ways, more triumphant day by day. Back in my youthful 50’s, I was often stressed and frenzied from fighting with problems, but now, in my fairly hassle-free 70’s,  I’m putting out a hand of welcome to trouble, just to see what possiblities it might present.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


      Delycia and I have been reading The Education of Henry Adams together, and I was thrilled today to read that Adams enjoyed working with his Harvard students because sometimes “their minds burst open like flowers at the sunlight of a suggestion.” His metaphor made me see, for a moment, the millions of students whose minds, every so often, will be unfolding in fresh ways in their classrooms this year. There will be classrooms full of youthful, flourishing minds everywhere, minds made for the sole purpose of blossoming with bright new thoughts – and the slightest suggestion from a teacher can start the process. In these first weeks of my retirement from the middle school classroom, I will daydream, now and then, about these gardens of good young minds and their teachers. I will see students stretching and spreading out like the flowers in Delycia’s garden, and teachers trying their best to stay abreast of all this full-of-life sprouting and blooming. I won’t miss it, because my wife and I will be doing our own special blossoming, but I’ll see it in my daydreams sometimes.        

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

As we sat at breakfast this morning in the sunroom, great groups of birds were storming our feeders or sitting silently on the bushes below them, hoping for a shot at some seeds, but every so often, they would all rush off in a flash and a furious flap of wings. If you weren’t looking, it almost sounded like a sudden wind, as if a piece of a storm had swiftly passed. It called to mind the moments of my life, usually the stirring ones, that seem to quickly come and go, those short-lived seconds of excitement that burst up as if on wings. I can be calm and quiet, resting in the center of my familiar life, when suddenly I’m flying off with some free-wheeling thoughts. Where these wild flocks of thoughts come from, I have no idea, and neither do I know where the sea of sparrows and finches swept in from this morning. There’s a mystery about where these surprises came from, just as there’s a mystery about where love comes from, or goodness, or sincerity, or the power to be there forever, if needed, when a friend’s life falls apart. We can be sitting in silence somewhere, and suddenly we feel the great force of kindness filling us, or we’re swept away by the wings of wanting to make the world better. With thoughts like these, of gentleness and benevolence, it can happen just that suddenly, like the throng of birds breaking away from the feeder in a sudden, wonderful flurry.

Monday, August 26, 2013


   Today, while I was waiting for my evening college class to begin, I sat in a lobby at the college surrounded by humming snack machines, and it started me thinking about the humming minds of students and their teachers. For three hours on fifteen nights my students and I will be together in a small room, and, though each of us will sometimes be silent, our minds will always be making the steady sounds of earnest thinking. That’s what minds do: they silently hum like hardworking snack machines, making endless refreshments, you might say, for our thought-hungry lives. After all, we live on thoughts, all of us. Our thoughts feed us, fill us with spirit and vision, and free us to find new ways to widen our lives. Whether we’re working on an important project or just enjoying an idle afternoon, our minds are manufacturing thoughts that can carry us a thousand miles in a milisecond. Our minds are mechanisms made of a wild kind of wisdom, and they hum with the liveliness of limitless snack machines. I must keep this in mind as I make my way with my students through this class. In the deadest, most soundless moments of the class, our always animated minds will be beating the drums of thoughts and throwing thinking parties inside us. Silence and dullness on the outside, perhaps, but inside, always the purr and pulsation of spirited thoughts.         

Friday, August 23, 2013


I saw many kinds of excitement on this summer day. First, there was the excitement of seemingly dozens of goldfinches fluttering around our feeders before breakfast. I’m sure they were simply going about their regular and relatively lackluster eating routines, but there did seem to be a special passion in their rushes and dashes back and forth. They seemed somehow delighted with their flits and flutters, pleased to be pecking at seeds-for-the-taking, almost gleeful to get so much from one backyard. This was followed by the subdued and sweet-tempered excitement of two silver-haired retirees sharing breakfast together. It was simply omelets and toast and tasty coffee, but it caused a soft explosion of exhilaration inside each of them. They were lucky to live with each other, and lucky to like omelets together -- and this simple thought thrilled them. Then, after breakfast, these two tried-and-tested old timers took to the lovely roads of Stonington on their bikes, pedaling with pure joy, and joining forces to show old roads what old riders can do. No one will believe me when I say I saw trees shaking with praise as we passed and hummingbirds having a hard time keeping up with us. No one will trust me when I talk of taking hills as easily as straightaways, and finding valleys full of breezes at our backs. It was a ride full of senior-citizen excitement on a day when even omelets made two old folks flutter with pleasure.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Thou were not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown.”
-- John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”

It’s always been interesting to me that Keats places an emperor and a clown side by side, and, when I was teaching, I often thought of this puzzling pairing as I paced around my classroom in my commanding, sometimes puffed-up manner. Keats suggests in his poem that there isn’t really much difference between an emperor and a clown, and I gradually came to see that the same might be true for a teacher and a clown. The emperor pretends to be stouthearted and shrewd, while in his heart, if he’s wise, he secretly sighs at his own pompous foolishness, and something similar often happened to me when I was teaching. I saw myself standing before my students like some sort of sage or sheriff, but at the same time I saw the clown in me, the jester who joked with self-absorbed Mr. Salsich to help him see that he actually didn’t know much about anything. In this way, teaching gradually became, for me, a sometimes joyous play-acting experience, in which, as the teacher-actor, I controlled my classroom to create at least an impression of expertise and wisdom, while the prankster inside me, the one who knew that most things are, in the end, altogether mysterious, wandered around in continuous amazement. I worked hard as a teacher, but I also was able to smile at my silly sense of self-importance. I realized, as the years passed, that I was just one infinitesimal role-player in the vast drama of my students’ lives.  I enthusiastically played my role of literary prince and pilot for my students, sincerely hoping to help them in significant ways, but the clown in my heart gradually got the truth of things, and smiled and sat back.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


"What Kindle?",
oil, by Brenda Ferguson

Reading George Herbert’s 17th century poem called “Prayer” the other day, I came across this phrase --  “plummet sounding heaven and earth” – and started wondering what would happen if I used an imaginary plummet (or plumb bob, as it’s now known) to measure my reading. What would happen if I “sounded the depths” of  a few of my favorite works of literature?   How far down would the plumb bob have to drop to touch the very bottom of the meanings and reverberations of a Shakespeare play? And where is the bed, the final truth, the bottom substructure of an Emerson essay? And would my plumb bob just keep descending into the depths of a Dickens novel forever, falling past one interpretation after another, one opinion after another, one scholarly treatise after another? Can there, in fact, be a final, last-word foundation for any work of literature, or is serious reading always a process of sailing on a fathomless sea? Herbert’s plumb would be useless when I’m navigating through Wordsworth or George Eliot, so I may as well leave it on shore and just take pleasure in the immeasurability and mystery of the expedition.  

Friday, August 16, 2013


On the road I sometimes find myself behind a slow driver, and within seconds I’m usually simmering a little, much the way my students probably silently simmered when I made them read -- actually study --  a book like To Kill a Mockingbird very slowly -- paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, sometimes even word by word. Many of the students, I feel sure, would have liked to rush through the plot of Harper Lee’s novel as quickly as possible and then rush on to the next book, just as, when I find myself slowed almost to a standstill behind a leisurely driver, I grow anxious to push on with the business of the day. Like most of us, I want to get where I’m going quickly so I can quickly get to my next goal, and then my next, and on and on, and I fear many of my students thought of reading in a similar way. They were accustomed, perhaps, to reading a novel mostly to find out what happens, and then starting another one to find out what happens, and so on and so on. Things were very different in my rather measured and deliberate English class, and I sometimes saw, with some surprise, the similarity between languid, dilly-dallying drivers and my own teaching methods. A sluggish driver ahead of me was like old Mr. Salsich and his infamously slow style of both reading and teaching. The slow-moving driver made me slow way down so I had nothing better to do than take pleasure in the drive, and I made my students slow down as they traveled through the pages of the beautiful and far-reaching  novel. Sometimes, in fact, we came to a momentary halt among some splendid sentences; indeed, sometimes we even stopped to observe and discuss a single paragraph for an entire class period! “Let’s get going!” my students must have been silently screaming as the minutes crept along and the English class bus remained at a standstill beside a few sentences, and I want to yell something similar as I crawl along behind an unhurried and perfectly satisfied driver.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


    After walking with Delycia this afternoon up and down the small hills in the shoreline village of Noank, it was reassuring to recall the simple fact that for every uphill there’s a downhill, and for every struggle there’s eventually some sort of peace. I puffed and panted up the hills by the sea, but coming down, I loosened up and felt my breath flowing freely. It was work on the uphill, but almost like merrymaking on the downhill. This is a little like life, I was thinking later – this cycle of labor followed by leisure, turmoil followed by at least a touch of tranquility. There will always be uphill climbs in my life, and they will always bring sweat and distress, but each will lead, in due course, to fairly free and easy downhill runs and at least a short-lived rest. It’s good to know that beyond all my mountains will be brief but easy sloping trails. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


     Since one dictionary says that the definition for “sing” is “to make musical sounds with one’s voice”, it would seem that all of us are singers when we speak. Unless we say words in absolute flatness, our words rise and fall in subtle but sometimes very noticeable rhythms. Every spoken sentence is a song, if I listen with attentiveness. When someone speaks of sorrow, the spoken song is usually a slow one, with a melody that moves like sadness does. When the words speak of gladness, there’s a supple and lightsome sound in the spoken sentences, like a melody made for a lighthearted song. Even the plainest and most modest among us speak words that sing precisely the moods we’re feeling, and even those of us who have never sung a “real” song make our special music with every spoken sentence. I just need to listen. There are spoken songs shared with me each day – by store clerks, by passersby, by anyone wanting to pass around a few thoughts in words spoken with the simple cadence of sincerity.   

Monday, August 12, 2013


“O mountain friends!        
With mine your solemn spirit blends,        
And life no more hath separate ends.”     
-- John Greenleaf Whittier, “Lake Winnipesaukee”

     Since I often feel like I’m seeking separate objectives from everyone else, as if my goals, or ends, were given to me alone and I must make my way toward them on my own, it was wonderful to come upon these words of Whittier yesterday. On the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, the poet came to understand the truth that, in fact, there are no “separate ends” anywhere – that all of us who share this universe also share the same goals. We are all seeking, every second, a stronger sense of being simply what or who we are. All of us – all people, animals, winds, and stars – are steering, in our special ways, toward being the best possible people, animals, winds, and stars. All of us are looking for light in a sometimes dark world, for comfort where comfort often seems far distant. I can pretend that my goals are solely mine, but that’s a sham that surely diminishes me. The truth is, as Whittier discovered beside the lake, that not one of us strives separately from others – that all of us who share this impressively mystifying universe strive step by step in a sometimes unseen but everlasting togetherness.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


“She said she was just beginning to understand her selfishness.”
       -- Sarah Orne Jewett, in “Miss Sydney’s Flowers”
     I don’t think I’m any more selfish than the next person, but strangely enough, like Miss Sydney in Jewett’s story, I seem to be just starting to understand my particular type of selfishness. I’m not an unusually greedy or grasping person, and I do show a reasonable concern for others, so I don’t think my personal kind of selfishness is especially spiteful. No, what I’m beginning to see, ever so slowly and clearly, is that I am selfish simply because I’m consumed with concern about my “self”, the supposedly separate and distinct person I call “me”. I’m starting to appreciate the fact that most of my thoughts, for all these years, have been about this “self”, hoping to either protect it or enhance it or use it to stand strong against others. Somehow, over the long years of my life, I’ve steadily nourished the notion that nothing is more important than shielding and strengthening this small, separate self called “me” -- and now, in my 70’s, I’m just starting to understand how irrepressible this preoccupation has become. This, to me, is selfishness of a high order, and it’s something I want to hold up in a light, look at clearly, and then hopefully leave behind. This meager and insignificant “me” which has occupied so much of my time for 71 years must be set on the scrap pile where it belongs. The only “self” I want to support and make stronger in my senior-citizen years is the one called “the world”, the  vast and mysterious marvel of which all of us are indissolubly a part. That would be a commitment, a dedication, worth undertaking, far more praiseworthy than the shallow pledge to protect and bolster a silly little “me”. 

Friday, August 09, 2013


“[Maggie] saw it was Dr. Kenn’s face that was looking at her; that plain, middle-aged face, with a grave, penetrating kindness in it, seeming to tell of a human being who had reached a firm, safe strand, but was looking with helpful pity toward the strugglers still tossed by the waves, had an effect on Maggie at this moment which was afterward remembered by her as if it had been a promise. The middle-aged, who have lived through their strongest emotions, but are yet in the time when memory is still half passionate and not merely contemplative, should surely be a sort of natural priesthood, whom life has disciplined and consecrated to be the refuge and rescue of early stumblers and victims of self-despair.”
-- from George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss(my italics)

    I have often been accused of excessive idealism (I happily embrace the description), so my appreciation of this passage will not surprise my friends: I entirely agree with what Eliot suggests about the role older people, including older teachers, can play.  For instance, I took pleasure in the fact that, in my last years as a teacher, in my 60’s and early 70’s, I could show “a grave, penetrating kindness” toward my students. At that point in my life, it was not a silly, irresponsible kindness, one that simply wanted to win over the students and become their “friend”, but rather a kindness that had some weightiness behind it and could sometimes penetrate into the heart of a situation. It was a kindness, I might say, that wore work gloves instead of kid gloves, a kindness that delivered itself to the students more like strong medicine than a sugary soft drink. In Eliot’s words, I felt like I had, in some sense, “reached a firm, safe strand”, from where I could, indeed, offer a helping hand to the “strugglers”, my sometimes scatterbrained, befuddled, and brave teenage students. Having lived 50+ more years than they, I had been there, done that so often that I could, to some degree, show the way to the wandering souls in my classes. Perhaps, as the author suggests, older teachers, like I was, can stand before their students like a “promise” – a guarantee that the darkness can eventually become a little lighter. She uses the words “natural priesthood”, which might smack of egotism and false pride, but there may be some truth in the idea that a senior teacher can fulfill the role of a “priest”, who, to use the original Greek definition, could be thought of as simply an “elder”, someone who’s been through the wars, survived, and returned to offer instructions and warnings. And after all, don’t these young people in our classrooms need that? Don’t they need, in the midst of the mayhem and dread of these times, to hear words from the enduring veterans of life’s wars, words that carry gravity, kindness, and a promise?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


    Recently, as people were leaving a family celebration, I heard someone say the party was “very good”, and I said to myself, “Yes indeed, and so is everything else.” I’ve thought a lot about that over the last few years, because finding something good in everything has slowly become a fundamental goal in my life. It’s not an easy task, not with so much sorrow and mourning in the world, not with misfortunes and disasters seemingly everywhere – but still, it’s a search I’m set on pursuing. I want to uncover goodness even where sadness seems most devastating. I want to see the kindness that’s created right where wickedness has done its worst. This is essentially a first-class universe I’m living in, a place designed far more for success than disappointment, and I’m looking for the successes even inside the disappointments. For sure, I’ve seen my share of sorrow, and sometimes, of course, it’s been hard to see the secret victories concealed beneath it. Where there’s heartbreak, it’s hard to talk of hope; where there’s gloominess inside, as happens to all of us, liking one’s life seems a far distant daydream. However, I continue to be convinced that thoughtfulness and goodwill will give me a new start after every setback. I continue to search for the seeds of goodness that can always push up through the weeds of unhappiness. When things seem bad, compassion is still ready to give me its best. Seeing the goodness sometimes requires a serious search, but for me it’s a stirring and satisfying search.   

Sunday, August 04, 2013


"Drifting Clouds", oil,
by Becky Joy
Yesterday, as I was lazily gazing at some passing clouds and noticing their ever-shifting shapes, I was reminded of the students I taught, each one a constantly reshaping and transforming collection of adolescent liveliness. The clouds I was watching were the kind that seem stable, as though they are solid blobs of matter moving along, but on closer scrutiny become slowly transforming swirls and billows, and, in my long career in the classroom, I often mistook my students in a similar way. They sat in class like solid and separate entities, each one always ostensibly the same, always seemingly set in her or his ways, and yet I know now they weren’t the same from one second to another. Like clouds, they sometimes fooled me with their presumably fixed appearance. You might say they tricked me into taking them for granted – “Oh yeah, here come the same kids I taught yesterday” -- while all along they were transforming as constantly as yesterday’s clouds. It’s a lucky thing to work with youthful miracles that are totally remade each moment, and I, luckiest of all, did it for 45 years!

Friday, August 02, 2013


He smiled when the sky cleared
and the calls of the birds
became milder and more contented.
He knew that no one can know
the prizes that will be presented
in the next moment, or
how many mysteries will be solved
in this hour, or how holy
the whole world is. He knew
that nothing can surpass
the surprise of having
a heartbeat, or holding
another person’s hand,
like he does sometimes
before sitting down to dinner.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


          In Book 6 of The Prelude, the poet William Wordsworth writes of “a flash that … revealed / The invisible world”, and it occurs to me that it might be the kind of flash that happened occasionally in my English classes. It’s a fact that English teachers and their students, since they work mainly with words and ideas, often concern themselves with the unnoticed, the masked, the invisible. There are times when they’re like explorers in the world of the unseen. In a way, they are part-time clairvoyants, using a human being’s peculiar ability to see beyond normal sensory contact – in their case, beyond the outer shell of words on a page and into the concealed country of their meanings. English teachers, of course, are visible as they sit at their desks in the classroom, and their tools are certainly visible – books, paper, pencils, digital devices -- but they do most of their labor in the kingdom of ideas, those ghostly gift-givers that flit through our lives with spirit and influence.  A visitor to my classroom might have seen a fairly uninspiring sight – a group of teens and a bald guy quietly communicating with each other – but what they wouldn’t have seen is what’s special. Under the surface of the seemingly commonplace conversations, unseen and pristine ideas were always dancing around – not because I was any better than any other English teacher, but because that’s what happens when adults and kids converse about words written in wonderful books. It’s like science fiction, really – a strange, clandestine universe just inside the doors of great books, and behind the doors of almost any English class.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


"Garden Fountain and Flowers",
oil, by Mary Maxam

   Though I’m far from being a wealthy retiree, it’s reassuring to know that, barring an absolute disaster, there will always be enough resources available to supply my basic needs – and I’m not just talking about material resources. Yes, I have set aside enough money to keep myself moderately sheltered and safe, but I also have another supply of trustworthy resources – one that can’t be exhausted. In addition to my IRAs and Social Security and scattered investments, I also have the inexhaustible endowment of inspiring thoughts. When a need arises, there will be sufficient money available, as well as – and just as important – sufficient inspiration. I will be able to access both dollars and encouraging ideas. In fact, while I’m only modestly comfortable financially, I am, like all of us, fabulously wealthy with enriching ideas. They overflow before me, always, and all I have to do is notice them and say “Welcome”. They’re a fountain of invisible resources, these everlasting affirmative thoughts that are always swift to stand me up and show me the way.

Monday, July 29, 2013


                       Over the last few years, I’ve occasionally listened to old time radio shows on the Internet, and they always take me happily back to my boyhood in the less worrisome times of the 40’s and 50’s. As I listen to “The Challenge of the Yukon”, starring Sergeant Preston and his loyal husky, King, I’m carried back to 1517 Holly Drive, the pleasant house where we stretched out on the floor each night to listen to our favorite shows. Hearing again the kindly voice of Mr. Keen, tracer of lost persons, brings back warm memories of times when things seemed less wearing – days when an unsophisticated fifteen-minute radio show left you ready for another eight hours of easy sleep.