Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Clams and corpses

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

Kindness won't make you wealthy, and it won't make you powerful.

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.

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?

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


Sean Nash said...

Wow. It seems as if you have contemplated many of the same things as I have as of late. Not clamming... but happiness and the fleeting nature of our time here.

Bivalves of any kind, to me, taste like the sea.

Schools don't even shoot for happiness. They shoot for test scores. What's funny is that we can't really even deliver that in the end. I guess that really isn't funny. Not one bit.

You have to be happy to impart happiness. May Santa bring us all classrooms filled with happy teachers. That would be a start.

Can perhaps the most nature-curious two to three year old have a kick in the pants while clamming in your neck of the woods?

Sean Nash said...

Oh and, I'm sure you've seen this...


But... over 400 rings? Similar to thoughts I get when I stand amongst redwoods: don't you sometimes wish they had eyes and a mouth.

Imagine how much smarter we would be as a species. Maybe. I'm an optimist.

The Klepto said...

That's rough about your friend. I am still young and have, fortunately, not had to deal with death too much in my life. My only dead family member dieing a year ago last month. So I can't comprehend what it means to lose a friend.

But I would like to see (and taste) these clams of yours. Over the summer, I may be up your way (road trip!), and would like to try new things. If you'd like to teach a willing student...

Betty said...

I'm not sure that kindness is something that is taught. It seems to just live deeply inside of some people. There are those who seem to feel everything and are more concerned about others than themselves. Education seems to have little to do with genuine compassion.

doyle said...


Bringing in babies (congrats!) while remembering those leaving us does take us places we often keep tucked away.

I realize I'm a bit clam-happy here, but I slaughter them, and seems only fair to recognize what we do.

Any 3 year old is welcome to join us clamming, as long as a parent is attached, but why the kick in the pants?

I saw the article about the ancient quahog in National Geographic. Amazing, no?

(You comment about happiness being imparted by happy people makes sense. You want to be wealthy, study the wealthy. You want to be happy, study the happy. We heard a talk by an alumnus today, Neil Giuliano, head of GLAAD, who said just that.}

The Klepto,

If you're in town, and you can swim, you're welcome to join me clamming sometime. Not sure how you get an out-of-state license, but doubt it's complicated.


I've seen kids turn things around. I don't think you can formalize kindness as a lesson, true, and you certainly cannot dictate it, but I think consistently modeling kind behavior does make a difference.

Hope so, anyway.

Sean Nash said...

"Kick in the pants" for our purposes here = a supercoolgood time. ;-)

You might have a few folks looking for a clamming escapade sometime on an extended break.

Not only Erin & I... but I know a little girl who would LOVE every sensory adventure involved as well. Wow.