Thursday, May 21, 2020

Off the Beaten Path


A good friend in the generation just above me (not many of those!) recently told me a story about a AAA tow-truck driver who rescued her and how the practical conversation shifted to some intriguing stories about his life. She saw him as a gentle soul looking for his own way to contribute to the world, but not finding himself in any of the mainstream paths often set before us. She remembered I had had an unconventional college experience at Antioch College and thought I might offer him some words. Here’s what I came up with:

Dear Nathan,

I heard part of your interesting story from _____________ who you recently helped out and she thought it might be interesting for you to hear something about my college experience. I went to Antioch College between 1969 and 1973 and it was just the right place for me at just the right time. Also an interesting time in our country, when everything was being questioned and new questions being asked and new visions being spun. And though the world didn’t quite respond as we hoped, still any advances that have happened in the areas of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, ecological awareness, progressive education, diet and physical health and so much more can be traced back to that time. If it’s possible for a gay African-American woman who teaches yoga at schools and grows her own vegetables to be not only accepted, but valued by her community, the roots of that can be traced back to that time. 

But besides affirming and filling out my instincts about social justice, spiritual seeking, community health and well-being, it simply was an exciting and fun place to be. And put some lifelong practices— Zen meditation, jazz piano, Orff Schulwerk music teaching, travel and cultural curiosity, poetry and beyond—into place. Here are some of the fun—and funny—highlights: 

• In my first semester, the college rented a bus to transport students to the Vietnam War protest in Washington DC in the Fall of 1969.

• My first P.E. class was canoeing.

• The "final exam" of my Man and Nature class was backpacking/ camping in the Adirondacks for 4 nights, with neither the teacher nor the students with much previous experience.

• The three months of study at school alternated with three months working somewhere out in the world. This was a perfect balance between ivory tower sheltered study and out-in-the-real-world experience. My jobs included: 
     A Summerhill free school in rural Maine. 
     An alternative public high school in the Hartford, Connecticut old railroad station.
     An upscale private elementary school in New York City
     A Quaker Boarding Middle School in the mountains of North Carolina where I almost single-handedly rented an old school bus and with three other teachers, "toured" the South for two weeks with 16 Middle School kids performing as a jug band. Went all the way to Miami and back sleeping in church basements, homestays at free schools, community centers, campgrounds. Unthinkable nowadays!!
     For one of these job periods, I got credit for hitchhiking to California and back and camping by myself in various California National Parks.

• I fulfilled my science credit requirement wine-tasting in France as I traveled with the college choir singing two 15th century masses in the famous cathedrals. 

Hardly your conventional college experience! And it set the tone for the life that followed, always an ongoing independent learner studying things like Bulgarian Bagpipe, West African xylophone, Balinese gamelan in kitchens, hotel rooms, under trees, on verandahs, went to Zen meditation retreats in an old boy scout retreat in the mountains, studied music teaching in school gymnasiums with a barefoot teacher, etc.   Never got a teacher's certificate or a Masters or a Doctorate but have managed to contribute to my field based on  an ongoing eclectic study. 

So Nathan, follow your star and don't worry about the conventional freeway paths laid out by the mainstream, complete with tollbooths and too much traffic. The most interesting places in the world are off the beaten path.

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