In yesterday’s post, I wrote about giving intentional blessings to the people who cross your path. I suggested that this be at the top of the list for any schoolteacher, but it applies equally to co-workers, family members, friends, people you might notice out in the world performing a small act of kindness. Our job is simply to be alert to the occasions and to commit to actively speaking out— it’s not enough to just think it.
Yet there are many levels to blessings and perhaps most of them come from simply living our life well and treating others with care and respect, never quite knowing the effect that it has, has had or continues to have on others. I believe I’ve written before of the extraordinary generosity of a couple named Jim and Karen Bold, from the small village of Nether Poppleton in the Yorkshire District of England. Jim picked my wife and I up hitchhiking at the beginning of a trip around the world in 1978 and after five minutes in the car, invited us into his home with his wife and two young daughters for dinner and then offered a room for us in his house until he could drive us to our next spot in a couple of days.
That level of generosity and trust astounded us and is the reason I still remember their names over 40 years later. It helped me believe in the kindness of strangers. A belief that helps fulfill itself, as it did yet again in our recent four weeks in Europe. Naturally, I would love to connect with that family and thank them in person/ by e-mail/ on Facebook, but my little efforts to find them haven’t born fruit. And who knows? If I did find them, they might not remember it. But I do.
Yesterday, I finally was able to pick up a little “Memory Book” from my retirement party some five weeks ago. Naturally, I loved reading the notes from former students, teachers and parents expressing appreciation for all the things I hoped that would remember from our time together at school. My job as music teacher is to convince each and every child—and adult— that they are more musical than they think they are and that when they join others in music’s common endeavor, it spreads beauty everywhere. To them, to their fellow musicians, to the listening audience. So I’m very happy to read something that two parents wrote in that memory book:
We’ll never forget our amazement at seeing our boys play in the ensemble with such skill and enthusiasm that we didn’t know they had. What a treat!
But the most surprising— and thus, most meaningful in some ways— was a note from a former teacher who I haven’t seen for a couple of decades. Her note confirmed a fantasy that I’ve long had that if the too-long list of people dominating the news with their mean-spiritness and low ethics, those politicians and TV news pundits using their power to put others down and hurt them, if those people had gone to my school and had the opportunity to discover some inside beauty revealed by myself as their music teacher and all their other teachers in their fields of study, well, perhaps they would have turned out differently. Perhaps not— human beings are simply too complex— but at least they would have had a chance to discover that if they carried such beauty in them, why, others must as well. Perhaps they might have re-calibrated their lives to share our common experiences as both the walking wounded and the joyful dancers.
Here’s what this teacher wrote:
In my first year, I shadowed my 4th grade students to all their classes, but my favorite of all was to join the music class. It made me think that the path of my life would have been completely different had I had music teachers like you as a child. In that moment, I knew, I knew, that my faithlessness in my value would have been averted. I would have pivoted from my petty criminal activity, I would have finished high school with pride, I would have known of avenues that had been invisible to me.
And the things you let me do! My Lord, to be a part of the 4th grade Halloween ritual telling the story, to make a brief appearance in the Winter Play, to dance with you in the music room after the horror of 9/11 happened as we tried to heal ourselves. Your warmth and smile and open arms made me feel so seen and valued.…”
Her testimony was an unexpected blessing, the sense that my intentions with the kids I taught ended up reaching further.
But it was the next part of her letter than most moved me. Stay tuned tomorrow.