It was quite by accident that we met one recent autumn afternoon. Now edging into his 50’s, and looking wisely professorial, he had just completed his university degree. We immediately recognized each other from a class we had shared 33 years ago.
It was the year after the USSR had launched Sputnik. In the classroom setting of this drama I was the intense young teacher determined to educate these youthful citizens who would save the world for democracy. He was the classroom clown playing off of my intensity. We tolerated each other with some affection. Perhaps at some level we both knew the genius and necessity of the fool; I always assumed that there was a part of him that recognized the wisdom that shone around and through his jester role, a mask he later discovered to have been a cover for dyslexia.
Over the years I learned to play the jester to my own intensity, so that I didn’t have to have a class clown to play it for me; but even so, the intensity continues. It’s autumn. I haven’t finished reading the novel started last summer, haven’t once had breakfast in Occidental, haven’t sat in the Healdsburg plaza as I promised myself one summer afternoon I would do more often. Movies come and go, unseen; thank you notes are not written, mending not mended, relationships not tended.
That which keeps me from fiction and French toast and other small pleasures? An opportunity to teach some marriage and family therapy courses added to an already-full agenda. An invitation to teach the next generation how to make the world safe for relationship. It seems that no matter what else I want to do, I cannot not teach. Ask a baseball player in the spring if he wants to play baseball, ask a reindeer at Christmas time if he wants to fly, ask a teacher in the autumn if she wants to teach.
It is not just seasonal. As the writer must write, the teacher must teach. An idea generates a class; a class generates another idea. Offering the teacher a class to teach is like offering an actress a part. It must at least be considered. And if accepted the role must be studied, the lines learned.
Corrick Brown, interviewed on the announcement of his upcoming retirement from conducting the Santa Rosa symphony, described how the conductor is always conducting. There is always the next concert, the next season, a new piece, a new interpretation, a new performer. At some point one longs for the life of smaller pleasures.
I seek the smaller pleasures. But, while attempting to be present to the pleasure, the teacher in me is fated to come upon one of those ideas about which she must offer a class or organize a workshop. Many of my present moments are, in fact, enriched and immortalized by the knowing that I will someday be sharing this moment in one arena or another. As Robert Frost told it in his poem on roads not taken: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, ages and ages hence. . . ” Lacking the grounded awareness of the sensate personality or of one trained to such presence, I make do with this intuitive gift of knowing that if I can’t stay with the present moment, at least I will enjoy it later on.
The psychotherapist holds all that happens within the container of the therapy hour. The writer tosses some words into the universe and may, from time to time, hit a nerve and get a few responses. But teaching is wide open. The teacher gathers the players together and is rewarded with the rich sharing of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and stories. It’s social. It’s dialogue. It’s theater. Once in awhile there is even applause.
As we finished our conversation that afternoon, he said to me, “I wish I had seen in myself at 18 what you apparently saw in me.” It was a precious moment; 33 years later this middle-aged man suffering some midlife remorse and telling me that I had been right. Yes, of course I had been right. Had he listened to me I would have saved him from. . . from what? From his life?
“None of us knows at 18,” I told him.
Maybe we never really know. Maybe all we can know is that somewhere someone holds the image of what we are in the process of becoming.
From the Angela Center Press, early 1990’s