of Kindness, Love and Grace
this fall equinox, I see with renewed awareness how I live my
life in circles. The circle of the seasons is strong. Much like
a critter on the brink of hibernation, I gather great stores of
sweet memory foods as summer wanes. I am strongly drawn in this
first autumn of the new millennium to revisit significant influences
in my life path ... those that left in my heart a small piece
of themselves. Together these fragments have cosmically conspired
to solidly influence the unfoldment of my spirit through the years.
I recognize now just how strongly my teachers have influenced
Taylor taught first grade. The year: 1961. Painfully shy
and lagging behind my schoolmates since we were too poor for private
preschool or kindergarten, I entered elementary school in a state
of bewilderment. Mrs. Taylor saw something in me that captured
her heart. In no time she had planted a life-long passion for
reading. She taught me that I don't have to play with Barbies
just because all the other girls do. She praised me daily for
something I had never known before: that I am intelligent.
grade brought a major relocation for my family and all the tensions
that accompany such transitions. Mrs. Koehler entered my life
that year, in the shape of my Camp Fire Den Mother. She taught
me to love cooking and sewing, to sing without being self-conscious,
and to camp in the woods. She praised my artistic skills and taught
me the bliss of body movement through free-form modern dance.
She evoked my smile and reinforced its beauty. As though all of
that were not enough ... she elicited my tenacity and self-confidence.
Clinke taught English class for college-bound seniors at my high
school. One of the rigors that she imposed upon us was the keeping
of a hand-written journal. She provided some topic-specific assignments,
of courseranging from creating a modern paraphrase of the
Sanskrit's "Exhortation of the Dawn," to constructing
a detailed outline based on a booklet entitled "Thinking
for Yourself," to contrasting the political platforms and
public images of then-presidential candidates Richard Nixon and
George McGovern. She also encouraged us to write our thoughts
and discoveries, in prose, poetry or free form. I still have that
journal from the fall of 1972. Inside the front cover in perfect
penmanship, Helga Clinke recorded my gradean Abeside
these words, "Everything here is just beautiful, Carolyn.
It tells me that you are a fine young woman." She had initiated
for me the process of thinking more deeply. She birthed in me
a love for expression through written word. She then confirmed
that what I thought and wrote had meaning and value. To this day,
when I sign my name, I make my capital "C" exactly like
There is one teacher whose face nor name I can't make out when I strain to see my teens. Middle school was an abysmal time for me. Most of the events of those years are lost to recall. One memory is clear: Our whole 7th grade class had to memorize a poem word-for-wordthe same poemand then recite it alone at the front of the classroom. Everyone balked and complained. But I loved the poem. And to this day, more than 30 years later, I can still recite most of it. I would love to tell that teacher this: her exercise in discipline and memorization gave me something to believe in as I walked my life. Sure, there are deep religious writings to which we can cling. But these simple words most adequately fit my pubescent faith.
have to live with myself and so I want to be fit for myself to
know. I want to be able as days go by always to look myself straight
in the eye; I don't want to stand at the setting sun, and hate
myself for things I have done. I don't want to keep on a closet
shelf a lot of secrets about myself, And fool myself, as I come
and go, into thinking that nobody else will know. ..."
teacher taught me a vital lesson at a very tender time in my life:
that a person's first responsibility is to be able to shake hands
with themselves. In these dayswhen comparing teachers' salaries
to contracts for pro-athletes should reduce Americans to a state
of shameI look back on the incredible impact teachers have
had on my life. And I extend my gratitude.
Berry serves professionally as a public policy dispute resolution
coordinator throughout Oregon. She is also a writer, a social/environmental
activist, and a popular public speaker. Contact Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org
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