Friday, September 03, 2010

Old Mailboxes and Tumbledown Fences

Driving to school today in my typical on-the-road trance (observant but mindless), I surprisingly happened to notice, at a bend in the road, a line of old mailboxes, and then, around the next turn, a torn-up, tumbledown fence. For some odd reason, the topic of books jumped into my mind, and I wondered, as I drove on, how many sentences and words I’ve passed carelessly by in my reading, just as I’ve passed those mailboxes and that fence countless times and never noticed them. It worried me a bit, this tendency to simply not see – not truly experience – a lot of what is happening in my life, and by the time I got to school, I was ready to do some serious thinking about both my reading and my teaching. When I’m reading, I simply need to slow down and look around. I need to drive my eyes and mind through the pages as slowly as I might drive my car through a spectacular national park. Who knows what string of reserved but secretly inspiring words is waiting in the next sentence? Who knows how many phrases that seem as falling-to-pieces as that fence are in fact full of quiet magnificence, if only I would take more than a fleeting look? And I can say something similar about my work as a teacher, which I restart once again on Tuesday. Hopefully I can find it in me this year to stay alert to even the slightest occurrences in class – perhaps the way a student breaks into a smile every time I speak to him, or the glow on a girl’s face one fall morning, or the sadness that seems to always stand beside a certain boy. Two of my favorite tasks are reading and teaching English, but I need to work, this year, on staying honestly present with everything that’s happening in both. If books and lessons can be thought of as street maps, I need to follow them attentively while also carefully noting the sometimes startling sights along the roadsides.

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