Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. – Helen Keller
I am living testimony to the virtue of staying the course for the long haul. Especially if it’s a worthy one that requires constant renewal, effort, intelligence, imagination, dedication, sacrifice and the constant blessing of the energy that cycles back.
I also can testify that the idea of unseen helping hands and mysterious forces at work is real. Like the other night when a friend I’ve known for 44 years appeared with a gift— some 5 handwritten letters my wife and I had written him 40 years ago on our trip around the world. He had saved them, was now cleaning house and chose this particular moment to return them.
Needless to say, I was stunned. Because the first one I read was one I had had written near the end of that trip living in Surakarta, Java. It was all about the merits of immersing myself in new culture and what it meant to be as an emerging teacher. To quote:
I can’t imagine a year better suited than this one for our development as teachers. Since school represents to me the propagation of a ‘new’ culture, this year of observing and experiencing so many different cultures has allowed a clarity and understanding of culture in general, our own in particular and alternative education’s role in shaping and transforming the presently emerging culture.
Since I was in the midst of teaching a course on World Music and began by suggesting that we all benefit, teachers and students alike, when we immerse ourselves in diverse cultural experiences, the timing was uncanny. The next day, I read the above to the class, showing them that at a young 28 years old, I was already convinced that this was important and beginning my journey into making the “other” my own.
But I was yet more stunned to read the next section, especially in light of the fact that three weeks from now, I will beginning my last of 45 years at the school.
The other day we went to use the swimming pool at a fancy hotel in town. We had it all to ourselves and as we floated around in the pool surrounded by lush tropical plants, the day, like most of them, our own to do as we will, we reflected on being back in the city, getting up early, running out of the house, driving thru morning traffic, spending the day with over 100 high-energy children with barely a moment to go to the toilet, running errands or going to after school meetings, squeezing in interests like piano practice, weaving or taking classes in the evenings etc. etc. It all sounded pretty crazy to us in that moment of poolside luxury.
But we were smiling inside because we knew that that craziness is our life and that we love it. That school is our swimming pool, the kids, parents and teachers beautiful tropical plants that give out the oxygen we need to breathe.
Isn’t that remarkable? 40 years later, that oxygen still sustaining my life. My fidelity to a worthy purpose has indeed brought—and continues to bring—true happiness.