Thursday, June 18, 2020

Stone Soup

My retirement after 45 years was made yet more poignant by walking out the door with two other beloved colleagues who had shared this life with me for 31 and 33 years respectively. One was Laura Burges, the third-grade teacher whose first job at the school was as a guest drama teacher for preschool. My daughter Kerala was in her play Stone Soup and that became the guiding image of a letter of appreciation I wrote to Laura. As follows. (Made up a rap for Maggie Weis, the other teacher, perhaps to be shared later.] 

Dear Laura,

Who ever imagined that what began with Stone Soup would end with us walking out the gates of 300 Gaven St. 33 years later? How to capture this moment?

Well, Stone Soup. We began by dropping a single stone into a pot of water and day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, we kept going into the pantry of our dedication and love for children to see what was there and then came out to drop it into the soup. A soup that grew each day more hearty, more delicious, more nutritious, pleasing secret hungers and enjoyed at the table of convivial company.

At a luncheon event celebrating his 30thyear as the head of Mt. Baldy Zen Center, my teacher Sasaki-Roshi was asked to make a speech. He said: “The soup is good.”

There it is! At the end of it all, we can say to each other with satisfaction, “The soup was good.” Besides feeding the children, we also passed the recipe down to all the many teachers who apprenticed with us and those who also taught side-by-side. And here it is:

1. Find a stone.
2. Light a fire.
3. Put water in a pot, the stone in the water, the pot on the fire.
4. Add everything you’ve grown in the garden of your intelligence, imagination and humanitarian promise.
5. Stir daily.
6. Taste and adjust for seasoning as needed.
7. Serve to the guests and enjoy the meal.

It’s as simple as that.

Laura, it has been an honor and a pleasure to walk this extraordinary path together side by side these many long years. Alongside the joy of it all were also the pantries raided by raccoons, broken stoves, garden vegetables ravaged by pests, closed kitchens and more. But at the end of the day, we can say with a sigh: 

“My oh my, wasn’t that soup good!”

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