ON TEACHING: Learning from Discouragement

Here’s an entry from my teaching journal in 2002, concerning my work in English class with 8th and 9th graders. I was discouraged, but luckily I was able to learn something from my disappointment in myself …

… and here are some scenes from our lovely sunrise walk this morning along the Mystic River …

… and here I am with daughter Annie after a wonderful and very chilly walk on the beach …

Special Crayons

Friday, April 29, 2022

       Some days, I feel like my pockets are full of enchanted crayons that can color the world in beautiful ways. Of course, it doesn’t really need coloring, since all things, even the smallest stick in the grass or the faintest shred of a cloud in the sky, shine with assorted hues of color, but sometimes it’s fun to feel like a kid again and color my days like they’re pages in a coloring book. Most days can be made to seem vivid and vibrant, and I take pleasure in pretending that I’m the artist. I swish my crayons across hours of gray rain, and what I see then is hours of softness and freedom for me. I color a tedious chore with various shades, and suddenly there’s something stirring in the actions I’m performing. I use ‘sky blue’ and ‘melon’ on some especially strenuous duties, and step back and see the secret rewards in them. It sometimes takes just a second to swipe some colors across a person or a situation and notice, however faint, something beautiful. It doesn’t always work, but in a world that often seems stained with sorrow and darkness, it’s worth a try.          

Here are some scenes from today ..



Sunday, April 24, 2022

The word ‘implicit’ derives from the Latin word meaning ‘entwined’, and, as I look outside at 6:09 on this spring morning, I know marvelous miracles are secretly entwined in everything. The trees are not speaking directly, of course, but implicit in their silence and dignity is a message of consummate peace. Unstated in the cloud-filled sky is the graceful wisdom of nature, and every leaf on the rhododendron bush sends a beautiful underlying message. Indeed, inherent in everything I experience today will be subtle and far-spreading truths, if I can just take the time to carefully look and see. Even in seemingly silent moments, a joyous serenity will be implicit – unstated, but steady and endless. 

* a wild and beautiful scene on our bike ride Friday on the Kingston (RI) rail trail *



Friday, April 22, 2022

            Each moment today, amazing structures will be built, though not of the solid, measurable kind. The vast universe will be constantly swirling in perfect unison in order to construct wonders never seen before – fresh thoughts, newfangled feelings, scenes assembled like sleight-of-hand magic. I’ve often thought of myself as truly the most important ‘builder’, the one who is responsible for ‘making’ my life useful and successful, but I see now that the immense universe – life itself – is the only designer and laborer, and all I have to do is watch and be filled with wonder. Today, like loyal and talented construction workers, thoughts and feelings and scenes and sounds will be building marvelous ‘structures’ all day long, and I will be ‘touring’ these miracles and feeling happily bewildered by their beauty. I wish myself a delightful journey!

And here are two happy bike-riding buddies today, on the beautiful bike trail in Kingston, RI …



Thursday, April 21, 2022

            Perhaps I should try to be a better ‘inquirer’, sort of like a news reporter seeking information about what’s happening. When I see my fingers tapping on the keyboard to write these words, I could  make inquiries as to how this happens – how the muscles and bones in my hands know which ways to move, how my 80-year-old mind shapes thoughts into words and then sets them in sentences on the computer screen.  When I see leaves on trees and bushes shaking in winds, I could wonder why they swirl and shake in so many strange ways, and when a blue sky brings its beauties above our house, I could solicit information about how exactly this miracle is made. I need to be more of a questioner, need to delve deeply into the mysteries of even the simplest moments. Each day I could be an explorer, searching for why sounds are so diverse, why light always seems alive, why the present moment seems to always stay with me, like a loyal friend. Perhaps I could pretend I’m wearing a hat that says ‘PRESS’, and could prowl through my days in search of answers to the billions of marvelous questions. 


On yesterday’s walk along the Mystic River, I came upon this truck sitting patiently on the road as a duck sat patiently in front of it. I was impressed by the courtesy of the driver, just sitting in peace behind the wheel, waiting for the duck to decide what to do. I walked over toward the duck, softly waving my arm, and the duck slowly hopped to the side. As the driver drove away, he gave me a good wave and a smile.

And here’s a scene from yesterday’s walk, looking across lovely St. Patrick Cemetery to the Mystic River in the distance …

And finally, a quick video from our 3-mile walk this morning on Napatree Beach …



Sunday, April 17, 2022

  I hope these words don’t sound too boastful, but I believe my life is a splendid one. Of course, it’s the same splendor that exists in every person I pass in the grocery store, every shaft of sunshine, every shade of color on winter days, and every ripple in the Mystic River. This entire universe is an endless display of splendor, and since we’re all part of the universe, we all share in the splendor. Somehow, all over the earth, billions of lungs keep lifting and falling with splendid evenness, and hearts keep helping people and panthers and butterflies stay strong in splendid ways. Just the fact that I can carry my coffee cup to my lips is a magnificent accomplishment, given the countless nerves and muscles that must flawlessly function together in the process. When birds wander above the river, they do it with smoothness and majesty, and when the girl greets me at the grocery checkout, her smile is a miracle to me. All of us – people, small stones on the shore, flames in a winter fireplace – share in the splendor of this earth that somehow and miraculously became our home.  

Some scenes from a good life …

A Man Took Time

One day 
a man took time up to a mountain 
and somehow made it fly, 
and soon the see-through minutes were floating free, 
the meaningless gossamer hours were gliding away,
and the man wondered 
where was time now,
and all he saw was now and here,
and the past had sashayed off 
to nothingness
and the future had folded its arms 
and said farewell, 
and the man saw 
that his thoughts were as wide 
as the sky

and so was he.  



Thursday, April 14, 2022

            I am not a regular churchgoer, nor do I consider myself strictly a Christian, but during the days leading up to the celebration of Easter, I am always struck by what Jesus said in forgiving his enemies. He said he forgave them because “they don’t know what they are doing”, and when I read those words, I usually say to myself, “Yup, and neither do I.” I do hundreds of things each day, from walking around the house and yard to setting words into sentences on this computer screen, and, honestly, I usually haven’t a clue as to exactly what I’m doing. Life, to me, becomes more of a mystery with each passing day, and I often feel quite befuddled by what’s happening. When I walk, for instance, what exactly are my muscles and bones and brain doing that enables me to move so efficiently? We use the word “walking” to conveniently label the activity, but that doesn’t begin to describe the inconceivable complexity of it. And when I write, do I honestly have any clear idea what I’m doing? I like to pretend that I do, but in truth, the words seem to settle themselves across the computer screen in their own strange ways, with little help from me. The sentences sometimes seem clear, but I’m not at all sure how it happens. Actually, I guess something similar could be said about most of my life. I often feel like I’m living in the midst of a vast and generous (though not always happy) mystery, something like an endless rising of rainbows, or a continuous string of surprising sunsets. I could pause in amazement almost every moment of every day. Do I know what I’m doing, any more than the enemies of Jesus did? Usually not a bit. I just try to keep up with the spectacular show, and hope I’m no one’s enemy. 

Some scenes from our recent walks …

And Delycia’s lovely early-spring blossoms …



Tuesday, April 12, 2022

         I love eating store-bought food, especially the snacky kind, but I often forget about the delicious and nutritious food that’s always available in the universal ‘store’ of life. I take delight in occasional nibbles of my cherished pretzels, and a small bowl of chips seems to enhance my perspective toward everything, but what about the refreshment that comes from just a taste of every single wholesome present moment? Instead of chips and a sugar-free chocolate bar at 10:00 a.m., could I simply open the perfectly fresh present moment and enjoy the immeasurable miracles of its uniqueness? Instead of a bedtime apple and rice-cake, could I silently sample some tidbits of the healthful thoughts and feelings that are always waiting for me on the table of the here and now? There’s wholesome cuisine for my inner spirit all around me – in simple but spectacular clouds passing over, in the sounds of my wife’s footsteps through the house, even in the hum of the clothes dryer down the hall. In fact, I could just sit still beside a window and serenely consume whatever sights and sounds I hear, a repast far more nourishing than no-salt mini-pretzels.   

Below, some scenes from our recent lucky walks …



Friday, April 1, 2022

            Today is April Fools Day, and it’s a good occasion for me to consider what a scheming trickster life can be. For instance, it pretends to be solid, like it’s filled with totally separate structures and shapes (called people, animals, things, etc.), when, in truth, it’s a formless, indivisible, ever-shifting blend of newly unfolding moments. Life also continually play-acts at being composed of the past, present, and future, when the truth is that only the endless, ever-shining present is truly real. And finally – perhaps the grandest of all tricks – life is always insisting that I am in charge of ‘my own life’, when, actually, there is only one life, of which I am a part, and this immeasurable, indivisible life knows precisely what to do to take care of itself.  All I have to do is go with the amazing, moment-by-moment flow. If evil needs to be conquered, like it always does, life will show me how to assist in the takeover, and if peace is spreading, like it always is, life will lead me to its warmth and luster. 

            Hey, life! No tricks for me today!  At age 80, I’m no fool, and I’m wise to your wiles!

… looking down at The Mystic River on our walk this morning …