Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Death and dollars

I posted this a few years ago.
It's mid-winter, and I wanted to share it again.

Last night we met an old friend. His dead brother lay in an open casket just a few feet away. He was a brilliant, and more important, a kind man.

I had a classroom observation today--I was not in my best shape, wakes rattle me a bit (as they should), but the kids, perhaps not as brilliant as the corpse once was, were every bit as kind, and we muddled through.

Kindness won't make you wealthy, and it won't make you powerful.
It's not a marketable skill.

I've never heard a teacher say "Get good grades, or else you won't be as kind!"
I have heard teachers say get good grades or you won't be rich.

I never heard a teacher say "Go grab a rake and harvest some clams. The seas will provide."
I have heard teachers use clammers as examples of what happens to bad students.
I misinterpreted their advice, and worked hard to be a good student.

I like to clam. The more I learn about these critters, the closer I become to them, and each clam I pull from the mud now tells me a story.

Slaughtering critters with stories to tell is hard, but I do it anyway. They might even taste better now that I hear their stories.

I count their rings.
This one is four, that one forty. The tide rises, the tide falls.

I search for their scars.
Anything alive for a decade or more will have scars, scars I never saw just a year ago.

I stare at the impossibly purple marking inside their shells, a rich purple deeper than the thickness of the shell, swirling patterns of beauty never meant to be seen.

If we learned about clams at all, it was measured in tons of imports or exports, noted in dull grey tables found in old social studies textbooks measuring the wealth of a nation by how quickly it can convert its resources into trinkets.

Manhattan was bought for $24 from a people who used wampum to barter, the shells of quahogs, and we were young children, so we believed we earned the land because we were smart and educated and not Indian. We used paper, not shells.

The inside of a quahog shell is mesmerizing in its beauty; the flesh is high in protein, iron, and calcium. Fresh clams taste as sweet as June honeysuckle.

Knowing that, though, won't make you more employable. It might even make you less so.

What is the purpose of public education? How does the happiness of a reasonably successful clammer compare to the wealth of a Wall Street trader?

Accumulating wealth matters to the immortal. Last night, again face to face with death, a gray corpse tried to tell me something. I can pretend I did not hear what he had to say.

I have 48 minutes a day to spend with each child, in a classroom filled with other children.
I have 48 minutes a day to make a difference.

If I knew I only had a few weeks left with my students, what would I teach them about the clam?
Would I share the words the dead man told me?

He said you are not special, you will die too.

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