“Back to school”
That seemingly innocent phrase, that taps you on the shoulder
And whispers softly in your ear: “I am coming”
Not only does it whisper
But steals sips of your leisurely lattes on the patio
As you know, that soon, you must acknowledge its call.
You feel its warm and slightly stale, but familiar breath
On your neck
A breath that whiffs of traffic fumes
Of heat haze from the bonnet
Of smoky air from the fires
And of renewed frustration.
It infiltrates your bath water
With spores of anxiety, apprehension and trepidation
While bursting each bubble that comforts you
And you know, that it will finally whisper: “I am here.”
This year, before that final whisper it seemed to linger
Searching me, probing me for something more
As I detected its inquisitiveness
I heard its heart beating
To the sound of native drums
And in its eyes I saw a full moon rising
Behind flickering flames of a camp fire.
And I knew then
It lingered for the story of my summer
It listened as I told it that my summer began with plans
Plans to write papers for my Masters
Plans to grow a thicker skin for those 2% of parents we all know well.
My plans told me that this new and thicker skin would curb my anxiety
To ensure I would engage, and inspire my students. Come what may.
The empty screen on my laptop told me otherwise
Some books on my shelves and my hiking boots said much more
So I hiked, fished, and canoed with my new best friend, Harold Fry
On his unlikely pilgrimage, on which I joined him, and he joined me
As we put “one foot in front of the other.” Together.
“Why else would we have feet?” said Harold. I wholeheartedly agreed.
Our feet took us to a pow-wow where we listened to the feet of others
As they danced to the beat of the drums
The earth rejoicing in their footprints
Embracing the rhythm and movement of each grain between their toes
And the full moon smiled as it kissed the top of their tipis goodnight.
The stars gazed down as I held hands with a kind and brave woman
And we returned their gaze
We listened well to the stories of The Blackfoot Confederacy
We learned of healing through music and prayer
And the patience of listening to stone
As it became an inuksuk with our help.
We learned of history, richness, and wisdom
Of a people in tune with a universe that society attempts to tune out
And the full moon wept.
Harold stayed by my side even after our conversation had ended
And he didn’t mind at all when I revisited a curious incident
In the night-time with a certain deceased canine.
I smiled with delight as I walked once more With an author of considerable vision. A vision of inclusivity
Of diversity, courage and respect for the perspectives of all
And the judgement of none.
A tear escaped onto the page
A tear of celebration for this vision
The next one to escape was of sadness
A sadness for the narrow-mindedness
That could possibly object to such vision
A narrow-mindedness that could deny their offspring such inspiration
A narrow-mindedness that could make assumptions
That the intellect of their own children could not entertain and debate
Without influence. Ideas that did not align with their own.
However, as I sighed, and turned the page
The sunlight grazed the paper and shone through the dampened blot
Of those two tears that had managed to escape
And as its translucency glowed, it reminded me
Of the translucency of my skin
The very skin that my plans intended to thicken.
And I celebrated that translucency
That wisdom of natives
That sculpture born from stone
That power of prayer and music
And I celebrated that blank laptop screen.
I danced wildly with the Blackfoot Confederacy
With Harold, with Christopher, with Rachel, with Mark
With the kind and brave woman
And the sun, and the moon, and the stars
And the certain deceased canine howled at the full moon. Out of tune.
And the full moon laughed. And we all laughed
And cried together
We cried for the universe, and the people in it
That will never know its beauty, or its truth
But we celebrated all of those that will.
And the seemingly innocent phrase listened. Intently.
And the full moon understood the story of my summer.
And as I walk, putting one foot in front of the other
“It stands to reason that I’m going to get there”
I know now I do not want to teach
I want to learn
To better facilitate the learning of my students
And my first lesson was where to start.
As I walk
I hear the symphony of debate.
The beauty of ballet.
The diversity of drama. And the aria of opera.
I will sing to my students
As I walk to the drums of the Blackfoot Confederacy
I feel their campfires burning in my soul
And the light of the full moon in my step.
As I walk
From beyond the confines of the textbook
The locked gates know I have shed their chains
And my heart is truly open
“I am here.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Marks
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lesley Machon is a junior high language arts teacher at the Calgary Jewish Academy. She devotes herself to the lifelong task of asking questions, querying assumptions, and empowering young minds to engage courageously with curiosity.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2018 Issue.