Becoming Like the Wind

Theme for February: Resilience

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Over the years of my long teaching career, I changed my mind about my primary task as a teacher. In the earlier years, I thought my job as a teacher was to make my students more complete as human beings – to give them skills and knowledge that would somehow make them more mature, more level-headed, maybe even more sophisticated. I guess I saw my students as undeveloped and deficient individuals who needed my help to somehow round themselves off, put some finishing touches on, and bring them closer to wholeness. They lacked something, I thought, and my responsibility was to provide what was lacking. As the years passed, however, I came to believe that this approach was wrong. I slowly came to believe – and understand – that my students were nothing less than whole and complete persons exactly as they were each day, each moment. I may not have seen or understood the fullness and abundance of their young lives, and it may not have been the fullness and abundance of a 30-year-old, but I grew to sincerely believe that it was there in my classroom each day. My first task was not to change my young students or improve them, but rather to see them as they were, right then, right there in my classroom. If I could truly recognize and honor their inner wealth each day, I knew I would be the best kind of teacher. By acknowledging their mental prosperity in each moment, I would enable them to become prosperous in a different way in the next moment.

This brings to mind a poem (see below) that a dear friend recently shared with me, by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The title, in translation, is Want the Change, and it reminded me that, in the second half of my career, I simply wanted to help my students in their on-going process of changing. I knew I couldn’t make my students more overflowing than they already were, but I could help them overflow in new and different ways. Rilke says “pour yourself out like a fountain”, and I now know that is exactly what my students were doing each day, each in their own special way, and my task was to simply encourage – and somehow help – them to let their fountains pour out in new and different ways. The poet dares us “to become the wind”, and the wind doesn’t improve or get better or more mature – it just eternally changes, which creates its power and beauty. Looking back on my classroom years from 1968 to 2013, I hope I helped my students be the best winds they could be.

WANT THE CHANGE
by Rainer Maria Rilke
(1875 – 1926)English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy  

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne,
becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

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