I was nobody special in high school. Not the captain of the football team or student council president or valedictorian. In college, I wasn’t the hip jazz pianist nor the political rabble-rouser nor the spiritual yogi nor the brooding poet. And certainly not the hot womanizer. So I sometimes wonder how people saw me back then or remembered me.
In Puerto Rico, I connected with another music teacher who I had taught for three months back in 1971. He was a high school student at this alternative public high school called Shanti and I was an Antioch College intern teaching there briefly. Our meeting got me looking back into scrapbooks from that era and I found a letter written about me from the principal of Shanti to my Antioch advisor. He wrote:
Doug Goodkin is a young guy doing lots of growing and addressing himself most seriously to the tasks of learning, helping and loving. He has strong intellectual, personal and social commitments. He has rare integrity and a strong sense of fairness. He’s the kind of guy who ought to be working with kids.
I am reminded of Browning’s words in his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra:
Come along, grow old with me
My best is yet to be.
Well, isn’t that interesting? The things I still care about—integrity, fairness, intellectual commitment, learning, helping and loving—apparently were in place almost 50 years ago in some kind of seed form. I’ve always felt like I’m a late bloomer, the flower of my efforts taking a long, long time to blossom. But of course the seed would have needed to be in place before any of that could happen. I love that he predicted my life of working with kids and I believe he has passed on, so I can’t have the satisfaction of finding him and letting him know his insights were spot on. (Still, thank you, Gene Mulcahey!)
Today I’ll give one of the most challenging workshops of my career. In honor of my AOSA Distinguished Service Award, I’ll be presenting to my own colleagues at The SF School. One of the requested themes is my own path to Lifelong Learning and re-reading this letter is well-timed. Each year for the last ten years or so, I’ve felt like I’m at the top of my game and teaching better than ever before. And I can say the same for piano, meditation, writing, even biking. The dedication to daily practice indeed has reaped it’s half-inch of progress each day until suddenly I discover myself a couple of miles down the road. So the invocation of the closing poem still rings true for me 48 years after working at the Shanti School—“Come grow old with me. My best is yet to be.”