|A drum found on the edge of the Delaware Bay.|
God, I know nothing, my sense is all nonsense, And fear of You begins intelligence; Does it end there? For sexual love, for food, For books and birch trees I claim gratitude, But when I grieve over the unripe dead My grief festers, corrupted into dread, And I know nothing. Give us our daily bread.
Donald Hall, Old and New Poems, used without permission
Late January, and though warm enough to get the bees about, we still need light, more light, to keep us all alive. And not all of us will get through the winter.
I stumble upon death along the bay's edge--the detritus of uncountable lives lost accented by the stray wing of a gull licked by the edge of high tide today.
Still, a honey bee found it worth her while to spend some energy sipping nectar from our rosemary bush. A blue bottle fly joined her,shoving its head into the sky blue rosemary flower, seeking what it wanted at that moment.
We're not so good at knowing what we want. How do I know this? Just look around.
On Thursday, my students were subjected to propaganda, their amygdalas tugged by a series of images and videos tying together Columbine, Hitler, smiling toddlers, Anne Frank, and (for the love of Zeus) Chuck Norris himself.
We all sat in an auditorium with no windows, entertained by "Colleen," a young woman with lovely teeth and healthy skin, telling stories meant to instill fear. The presentation was well choreographed, and it had its intended effects.
Create the bogey man, then tell kids that kindness will kill it.
I fell into Bloomfield by accident almost 30 years ago, and stayed because I love it. We're a mixed town, in mixed's myriad senses. We're scrappy. We're a bit to the left on the intellectual (but not intelligence) curve. Most important, we're kind.
That's a huge statement.
When my wife got smashed by a car, meals showed up on our stoop for weeks, meals made by friends, and meals made by friends of friends.
We used to have factories--we made flags, we made metal tubing, we made candy, we made rubber products. We had saw mills, cotton mills,copper mills, paper mills, and woolen mills. We had Schering and General Electric and Westinghouse. We still have an abandoned field where the Manhattan Project first enriched uranium, our town tainted by our patriotism.
We don't make much anymore because other towns across the oceans make it for less. We're a little bit desperate these days.
But we're still kind.
Walks along the edge of the bay remind me what is true, what matters. We are all mortal, every one of us, and every day I remember this, and every day it surprises me.
Walks along the bay remind me that there's a lot more going on than language and electronic images can capture.
Earlier today I saw a Canada goose at the ocean's edge, an unusual place for this bird. As we approached, it waddled into the surf, getting smacked one wave after the next.
It will not likely make it to February. No guarantees any of us will. My student's do not need to hear the multiple shots of two very troubled young men in Columbine to know this.
A walk in the beach will suffice.
|Bread made by Jessica Pierce.|
So here's my late resolution for 2012.
I will speak truthfully, always, to my students.
They know that I am happy, they know I find love using a clam rake, but find my joy, and maybe any joy, confusing. They have been trained by parents, by teachers, by culture, not to know what they want.
They seek immortal life with no idea why.
They fear death with no idea why.
They chase what others tell them they want with no idea why.
My primary task as a science teacher is to show them that the natural world dwarfs our imagination, and that the more we seek, the less we know, and that with this comes a paradoxical comfort.
Few of my students have seen the stars as their grandparents did, few of them know where food comes from as their grandparents did, few of them grasp how tenuous all this is as their grandparents did.
Death is certain, fear of death is not.
Joy is possible (even) in a classroom. I know nothing, but I know joy.
By June I pray my students know a little bit more about what is possible and about what is not.
You are mortal. Why not act as though you believe it?