That’s What Friends Are For

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

Albert Einstein - Image via Wikipedia

A week ago I learned that a former student of mine died; he was only 23, and it was unexpected, one of those tragedies that force people to step back for a minute and think about how precious life is. This student’s mother had been a paraprofessional in my classroom for a number of years, so I reached out to see what I could do to help. Turns out, there was a lot that she needed help with.

Fortunately, I was able to get a few other people to help, too, and sharing the load makes a huge difference.  It made me remember why I have always loved living in this small town. When the important stuff happens, people are willing and glad to come forward to help. And it’s good, because people will say, “I can’t do more than this, but I can do this,” so everyone knows where the boundaries are. There were enough people pitching in this week to truly ease the burden on the family, and I’m glad we were able to do it.

For a small town, though, we seem to have had more than our share of death among our young people. For years, I’ve kept a hidden list, and written several poems about the losses. Illnesses and accidents, some of the deaths were even violent – far too many tragedies in a town with a population of fewer than 5,000 residents. With this week’s loss, I’ve decided to stop counting. It’s just too sad, and I think adding someone’s name to a list demeans the significance of that person’s life.

At the memorial service, which was held in the largest funeral home in the area, it was standing room only and of course many attendees were this young man’s friends – all too young to have to say good-bye this way. At the end of the service anyone who wanted to share a story or memory was invited to do so, and several friends and relatives came forward.

Most of them spoke about all that they had learned from him, and it really got me thinking. This young man was not a star student in school, although he did enough good work to pass. I found it intriguing that his friends and family spoke with great emphasis about how much wisdom he possessed, and how smart he was.  We never can know what goes on inside a person’s mind, and he was paying attention to his own curriculum, which did not necessarily include writing research papers and citing sources.

I save lists of topics that students choose for certain projects, and it’s in my records that he chose to do his hero project on Albert Einstein. It fits with all the remarks made at the funeral.  I am truly glad that his friends and family paid attention to his wisdom.

I think that when a person is born, there is a ripple effect in the universe, like the ripple in still waters, and all the people who know that person are affected and influenced by that person. It changes history, even if it’s just a little bit. The ripple this young man made in the universe while he was with us will make a difference, and his legacy will live on in the good things his friends and family will hold in their hearts.

Life is good.

Advertisements

It All Comes Back to Poetry

My book is published!

Big news today! I have taken care of all the details and can now let everyone know that my book has been published and is available for purchase! Called Every Story Has a Beginning, Middle and End, the book is a collection of nineteen poems I wrote as a reflection of the nineteen years I taught at the school in my town. You can preview it and order a copy online by clicking on the title link above.

The writing was mostly done over the span of many years, and the topics include poems about students – “War, Personally,” for example, was written about a student who was killed in Afghanistan. There are poems about the things I taught – “Current Events” and “Teaching About Vietnam #1,” poems about the things I learned – “Remembering 9/11”, and poems about the things I hoped for – “I Know What’s Best For You.” Putting the book together was fun although getting the formatting right and getting every page exactly the way I wanted it to look was “a challenge the size of Wisconsin” (quote from a former student’s graduation speech).  It was a great learning experience, I’m happy with the finished product, and I’m already thinking of what I’ll write for my next book.

I do have a young adult novel in my brain that I’m starting to work on; I think it will require a pretty long gestational time, though, since writing narrative is not something I’ve done much. It will be partly historical fiction so I have a lot of research to do. For me, the poetry comes naturally, and I’ve considered writing my novel in verse, but because of the framework/structure I’ve planned I don’t think it would work. I may use verse in the flashbacks, though. Once I get going we’ll see what happens – I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, my New Year’s Resolution to write a poem every day remains successful! I have even managed consistently to quiet the inner critic’s voice; I don’t expect that every poem will be good, and I know that some are just plain bad. But that’s OK – all of them could become fodder for new poems later on, and I think I’ve written a few that are pretty good already.

One thing that I believe poets need to do is read other people’s poetry, and so this week I’ve read I Shall Not Be Moved by Maya Angelou, and Let Evening Come: Poems by Jane Kenyon, both borrowed from the town library.  I particularly like the title poem in this collection, which you can read here. I also checked out Kenyon’s The Boat of Quiet Hours; her poems truly resonate for me. She lived in a New Hampshire village not far from my own town, and her topics embrace the everydayness of life in New Hampshire. Some titles: “Taking Down the Tree,” “The Blue Bowl,” “Staying At Grandma’s,” and “Finding A Long Gray Hair.”  For me, her work is thought-provoking but not esoteric, inspirational but not preachy.

I have a dear friend, a sheep farmer among other things, who always says that given enough time, every conversation will eventually come back to sheep. I guess I feel that way about poetry. Given enough time . . .

Life is good.