Saturday, December 3, 2011

December shadows

It's dark again, a reminder of what we mostly ignore.

Life depends on light, depends on combining simpler particles into larger, less stable ones. We juggle these unstable particles in every one of our cells every day, and every day they fall apart.

We eat to get those particles inside, we breathe in order to break them down back to their more stable pieces, so that we can do the things we need to do.

We lose ourselves as carbon dioxide in the breath we exhale.

Every year the CO2 levels rise in these parts, as the plants pause over the winter. We could learn something from the plants.

I do not know many people well, and the number diminishes as my December comes. I saw a honeybee land on a dandelion today. I saw a grasshopper sitting in the sun. The days are short for both of them.

The days are short for us, too.

Our guidance department has a flyer that asks "If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?"

In December, it's the wrong question. We all eventually fail. I'd rather ask a child this: "If you truly understood that you were mortal, what would you do?"

Would that wise child take an AP course just to improve her transcript? Would that wise child sit in my class?

We cannot expect a child to have that kind of wisdom, and even if she had it, we have all kinds of social tools to get her to do our bidding anyway. We should, however, expect it from the adults.

If you truly believed you were mortal, that your students were mortal, that this H. sapiens species experiment will likely flame out just as every other species eventually has, what would you teach?

I'm a science teacher. I share what we know about the universe to children who did not exist less than two decades ago. This is all still new to them.

And it's still all new to me.

As the sun fades away to the south, the question becomes urgent. What matters?

Pics taken today.


Unknown said...

I've been watching #pencilchat explode around me and though I have tweeted there often, I am keenly aware that few people there actually know me. Few know of my Luddite streak, assuming that even my most earnest criticisms of tech were meant to be satirical.

It will fade. Fast. I'm really okay with that, too. I'll keep blogging. I'll keep reading your blog. I'll keep re-reading what I'm reading right now (C.S. Lewis' book on literary criticism - an amazing read)

I think of death more in December. The three people I've known who died all died during this month - one of cancer, one of suicide and one of "old age."

I think of old age during this month, too. Perhaps I'm too young to be scared, but really I'm not that scared of it. I'm supposed to be, I know. But it just doesn't feel that frightening to me.

So, with regards to the pamphlet, perhaps a better question would be, "If you knew you would fail, what would you choose to do anyway?"

Being a husband, friendship, parenting, teaching, art, writing, blogging, the Jesus thing - all of these fit into the category.

I'm not one who believes we should "embrace failure." No one wants to fail or to embrace it. I am, however, someone who thinks we need to embrace life regardless of failure.

Okay, I've meandered enough. Enjoyed the blog post, though. Thanks for the reminder of what matters.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Lord, sometimes I think we share the same soul. ""If you knew you would fail, what would you choose to do anyway?" is exactly the same phrase that popped into my head the first time I saw the words.

That's what defines wht matters.

I used to be terrified of death, and I still have my moments. I'm much less so now.

I've enjoyed your your pencil posts going viral--the world needs more John Spencer (and Christy, too). Knowing young people like my kids, their friends, and you exist makes mortality palatable.

C.S. Lewis is truly amazing--I need to go back to his words.

And yes, we need to embrace life. It's really all we can do.

Mrs Gow said...

This is a timely post for me. My 75 year old father has just been diagnosed with frontal temporal lobe degeneration, a rarer form of dementia. It is very sad to see a once intelligent and hard-working man fade away to a ghost. I have to remind myself not to be sad for what has ended, but to be grateful that it happened.
As it has a genetic component, it brings to mind my own mortality and how I will spend my December days. I know I have some time left to continue to teach science the best way I know how, to cook and care for my family and hopefully be lucky enough to travel some more.
Thanks for your #pencilchat tweets and this blog post.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

For the 1st time I can recall, i 'felt' my mortality. Perhaps it's having just had a birthday or something else--but i could feel that at some point I will not be here. Big spaces open at such moments I learned.

What to fill it with, if filling is an option?

Well it left me a bit shaky and the odd knowledge of being alive in very mortal ways. In that quiet space the breath is loud.

What matters in my life remains fairly constant and that is a bit of a miracle, no? What changes is how those fundamental things that do matter become represented by stuff I hadn't considered, hadn't dressed in the most matters clothing. For example, the physical earth matters more than it did. The interconnectedness of it all.