Taking Care of Minds

Theme for February: Resilience

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

        This morning, Delycia and I took a long walk along a trail in the Pequotsepos Preserve, and I couldn’t help but notice the wild tangle of trees, both standing and fallen, throughout the forest. For some reason, it flashed me back to my teaching days, and to the utterly tangled stories and poems I often pushed my students through, hoping they would be able to stick to the trail.  As their English teacher, I tried to encourage my students to take good care of their minds. I’m sure countless people advised them to take care of their bodies, but what about protection and provision for their minds? As I personally know quite well, a mind can fall into shabbiness and disorder as easily as a body, and a kind of cancer can grow among thoughts just as surely as among tissues and organs. My students, I felt, should be devoted to the health and wellbeing of their minds, and I tried to help them in that endeavor. I forced them to rigorously exercise their mind, just as their athletic coaches put them through their physical paces on the field and court.  I pushed them along the trails of seemingly inscrutable poems and mazelike stories, sometimes making them think themselves into exhaustion. I hoped they were gasping for their mental breath when a class period ended.  I also tried to feed their minds only the healthiest ‘foods’ during English class. We read the finest literature I could find – books that would bring stimulation and nourishment to their minds.  No fast-food poems, no take-out stories, no drive-through novels – only the kind of illuminated literature that would let a shaft of healthful light into their young minds. Of course, I also had to help them learn to bar their mental doors to thoughts that could be distracting during English class. Like all of us, stray ideas steadily passed through my students’ minds, and during an exhausting class inspection of a Faulkner short story, some of my students were surely tempted to welcome a roving daydream or two, whatever it might bring, as long as it’s something besides Faulkner. My job was to encourage them to be sentries at the doors of their minds, to stand guard at the entrances, permitting only thoughts fitting for the topic. I wanted them to be free thinkers but also stern coaches and trainers of their brains. I wanted them to leave each English class feeling like their minds were dog-tired, but more hale and hearty than ever. 

After our 3-mile walk through the inter-twisted forest this morning, wearing my heavy boots with micro-spikes attached (for the ice), I did feel more hale and hearty than ever — bone-weary, but glad I made the challenging journey, as I hoped my young students felt after a formidable march through some Shakespeare sonnets.

In Breaking, Alabama, USA
every year seems to shatter 
in its first few days, 
spewing out countless gifts for everyone, 
and each of its mornings splits apart 
so miracles can be made. 
Residents say they hear quiet cracks 
now and then
as life unfastens itself 
and offers them treasures. 
Sometimes love between friends 
splits apart so others can share it,
and bad news in Breaking 
usually, in due course, bursts 
into new and necessary wisdom. 
Surprisingly, success and awards 
in the town of Breaking
most often fracture 
and fall apart into 
simple, soft truth, 
which is too resilient to break. 

“Descanso Hedge Maze”, watercolor, by Belinda Del Pesco

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