It’s a weird day by any standard when the space shuttle goes up for one of its final voyages, commanded by the husband of a Congresswoman who is struggling to recover from from an assassin’s gunshot wound to the head, while two billion people watch the future King of England get married, as a woman embraces her three year old grandaughter on a mattress in the front yard of their tornado-decimated home in Birmingham.
I am a teacher. I rank and judge my students’ products all day long; it’s my job. It’s hard enough not to let that habit of mind bleed into all my reactions to the world on any given Sunday. The myriad and often contraditory ways in which I find myself trying to do that today are even more head-spinning.
Why not take joy in the sight of a princess on her wedding day? Don’t beauty and hope trump it all?
I can’t believe people are more interested in some fat-cat hierarchical royal farce while tornadoes are destroying whole communities in our own country.
Why be sad about a house? At least your grandkid’s still alive.
Good science will save us all.
Gabrielle Giffords can’t use the right side of her body anymore. Space travel seems a little insignificant, don’t you think?
Line up the events. Judge them. Shoot the rest down. Makes that endless soup of world-sized information easier to deal with, for one thing. Makes teaching easier, too. Makes everything easier.
In her recent article “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything,” Linda Holmes calls this approach to information “culling.” She’s talking about cultural information, but there’s a universal application to be had here.
What I’ve observed in recent years is that many people…are far more interested in culling than in surrender. And they want to cull as aggressively as they can. After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you’d otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, “All genre fiction is trash.” You have just massively reduced your effective surrender load, because you’ve thrown out so much at once.
The same goes for throwing out foreign films, documentaries, classical music, fantasy novels, soap operas, humor, or westerns. I see people culling by category, broadly and aggressively: television is not important, popular fiction is not important, blockbuster movies are not important. Don’t talk about rap; it’s not important. Don’t talk about anyone famous; it isn’t important. And by the way, don’t tell me it is important, because that would mean I’m ignoring something important, and that’s … uncomfortable. That’s surrender.
The “surrender” approach, on the other hand, does not trash other realities so that we can feel comfortable with our decisions on what’s important and what isn’t. Instead, it acknowledges that many, many things are worth our care and attention; and as a singular human being, there’s only so far that attention can– and should– go.
…what we’ve seen is always going to be a very small cup dipped out of a very big ocean, and turning your back on the ocean to stare into the cup can’t change that.
I keep a children’s book on my bedside table and read it– both to my daughter and son, and myself– at least twice a month. It’s Don Muth’s beautiful Zen rendition of the Tolstoy short story The Three Questions, and it concludes with these words.
Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. This is why we are here.
I recognize this now as “surrender.” And it seems to me that this is not only an approach that can keep us healthy as teachers, but as human beings.
So I’ll try to walk through this day with a prayer for Ms. Giffords, a Facebook post enjoying the loveliness of Kate Middleton, a donation to the Alabama Red Cross, and not enough time to get snotty over the relative value of any of them– since I have Scout needing comfort about the fact that she hates the lisp her new braces gives her, and Rachael to grin at over her newfound love of vampire books, and a boy to treat gently after a week of hard-core bullying.