After over two years of filming a documentary about my last year at The San Francisco School, my angelic benefactor showed me the first cut of the film. Truth be told, I was anxious about seeing my 70-year old body and face for some 90 minutes and after the viewing, felt some of that anxiety was justified! No matter how much aging strongly suggests we relax our vanity, I believe my peers would testify that we’re constantly surprised anew each day as we wonder, “How did that face get in my mirror?” and not happily so. Though it’s true that the last stage of life is meant for the soul’s beauty, we still long for a pleasant countenance in both body and soul. Oh well.
But the thing that thrilled me about the film was watching all the happy children, not only in my class, but just playing out on the yard. We can forget about how much children suffer in all sorts of ways, but if properly fed, sheltered, cared for and loved, their default state is a much happier one than the average adult. They run with great enthusiasm from one place to another, laugh and smile more than adults (some studies have suggested 300 times a day to the adults’ 20) and I never tire of their expressive faces and bodies that far outdo our adult ones. My lack of burn-out in my 45 years of teaching came in no small part from the delight I took in being infected by their delight. Especially in my classes where they got to sing and dance and play music.
So when I got tired of seeing my own face and imperfect body on the screen, I switched my focus to where it always is in my actual teaching, to the children themselves. And found myself hoping the viewer would let go of their “Well, he’s no George Clooney” disappointment and look at the true focus of my work. It reminded me of a poem I wrote almost twenty years ago, a poem I should tape on my mirror. It would help.
The True Mirror
The glass is a lie.
All it captures is time’s cruel ravages
Gravity’s insistent tugs
The footprints of the hours walking over our bodies.
If you want to see who you truly are in this world,
at the face of the child you are teaching.
to the sound of the strings you are plucking.
the soup you have so lovingly prepared.
into the eyes of your lover at the moment of union.
That’s the real story.
Pay no mind to the lies of cameras and mirrors.
Your true face shines out
in the way you affect the world.