Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Goodbye Mr. Tamatea" - A Tribute to A Teacher, and All Teachers

"Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition." (Jacques Barzun)

I don't know where to begin, or even what I want to say in this blog today. All I know is that I was deeply moved by something I saw in the news yesterday. It made me stop in my tracks. Open-mouthed and silent. Gave me goosebumps. Caused small tears to leak out of my eyes and my heart to swell.  It was this short video. Click the link below this picture.

Palmerston North Boys' School doing a Farewell "Haka" for a beloved teacher who had died
Palmerston North Boys' School Says Farewell to Dawson Tahana Tamatea

I have watched this now 4-5 times. Each time I'm stunned by these young men and their powerful display of emotion, respect, and most of all, love for their teacher. At the beginning, I'm almost always overwhelmed by the sight and sound of these 1700 boys, chanting and stomping in unison, their voices fierce and strong.

I know that the "haka" was originally a Maori war dance, performed to intimidate enemies and inspire the valiant. But it's also performed as an expression of deep respect at events, like Mr. Tamatea's funeral.  I think this particular "haka" is a version known as "Ka Mate", which celebrates the triumph of life over death. But I don't want to get all "academic" about this. I want to focus on the boys and what they expressed.

Look into their eyes as they perform. There is a genuine ferocity in many of them, but my heart knows it is fueled by deep sadness. They are roaring in an attempt to hold back the tears. They roar as one, disciplined and proud. They stomp fiercely with all their might - refusing to retreat or bow - yet in the end, step back in quiet acceptance of what they know they cannot change.

Look at the young boys in the front row. Some of them intensely throw their entire selves into the dance - and then anxiously turn and look for their leaders to give them their next cue. Look then at those leaders - the older boys in shirts and ties - who step forward, and deliver the schoolboys' final message of defiance of death. And then comes the final command, "Walk away, away!", followed by 30 seconds of reverent silence. Powerful stuff.

"What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches." (Karl Menninger)

Mr. Tamatea must've been an incredible man. He must have given a lot to these young men in the 29 years he taught at Palmerston North. To have earned such respect and affection, I know he had to have challenged these boys, as well as shown them compassion. He was probably a "no nonsense, do your homework, tuck in your shirt, sit up straight, I expect your very best, "old school" teacher. He also was probably the last one at school each night... a coach... not afraid to look a boy in the eyes and tell him "I'm proud of you"...or share a booming laugh (probably at himself!) with a class. I'm sure Mr. Tamatea was an exceptional educator and man. The world needs so many more like him.

And then today I read an article that sobered me in a different way. The article came across on my Facebook page. It was titled "Why Is It That America Hates Teachers So Much?".  I won't summarize it. You can read it, if you want, through the link below.

"Why Is It That America Hates Teachers So Much?"

After reading this article, I wondered for a moment: Why would anyone want to be a teacher anymore? (especially in the United States - especially in Oregon).  Why would anyone want to take up, or continue, a career that seems so universally demonized and denigrated now?

And then I think of the boys of Palmerston North and the impact Mr. Dawson Tahana Tamatea clearly made on them. And I know that that is the single reason that teaching is still the noblest profession, and draws some of the most courageous and dedicated people to it that I've ever known.

There is nothing nobler - nor as sacred - as the chance to influence young people and to teach them what is really valuable in Life. I could list probably dozens of these "Pearls" that teachers give to their students, but I'll let you reflect on that. I'm positive you will be able to remember at least one teacher in your life who touched you some way positively - who taught you something you've never forgotten - and  who helped you become, someway, somehow, the person you are today. And you should thank them.

So "Thank You" Sister Lucy, Lou McCorkle, Bill Chapman, Tom Rohlffs, Frank Imbrie, Mary Carol Day, Don DeClerck, Barry Adams, Heinz Teubner, Roberta Hutton, Elden Kellar, Guy Finley and many more for all you did for me.

And a special "Thanks" to all those superheroes I have had the chance to work with - and the many who still toil away. I hope you're enjoying your summers - but it's not too early to tell you all you're appreciated for all you do in your classrooms - year after year.

Dan and Heather Woodward, Adam Drew, Kelly Burton, Emily Marshall (soon to be Brink!), Brenda Dufour, Kevin Dixon, Susan Kahoun Holt, Wendy Barrie, Mary Wieczorek, Pam McNulty, Andy Frye, Dan Keck, Amy Westerfield, Marilyn Ramone, Doug Potter, Steve Johansen, Ken Yarnell, Jim Lekas, Vic Wright, and so many, many, many more that I've had the chance to work with. You are "Dawson Tamateas" in your own right. I hope you know that.

"In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for 20 years." (Jacques Barzun)

Very true. But what grows from a good teacher's work has deep roots, and  it will last a lifetime. Just ask those boys in New Zealand.

No need. You can see the seeds that Mr. Tamatea planted.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pits and Cherries - Lessons Learned Lately

"Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know." (Pema Chodron)

At least once every summer, I buy a big bag of cherries and eagerly bring them home to feast on. Whether they are Rainier cherries, sunny and bright, or Bings, dark and seductive, I can't wait to pop them in my mouth - taste their sweetness - and then suck every bit of it off the pit, before tossing it away and happily grabbing another. A sublime summer treat.

But my "eyes are always bigger than my stomach" (as my Mom would tell me many moons ago). I buy too many for us to eat, and so the leftovers sit - orphaned in our refrigerator - until I decide it's time to pit them and freeze them for our smoothies. Sounds practical and responsible, doesn't it? The problem is it's a tedious job - one I tend to put off until I absolutely can't.

So, there I was this morning, slicing the slippery spheres - prying out the stubborn stones with my crimson-stained fingers - one by one - and muttering "Just don't cut yourself, buster!".  Part of me wondered "Why didn't you learn your lesson and not buy so many?", while another voice replied, "Well, it's worth it. You'll enjoy these later".  And in the midst of all this "chatter", a bigger thought came to me.

Pits and Cherries. Hard things that we try to avoid, yet they come with sweet fruit. You only get the latter when you have agreed to accept the former, and been willing to work with it.

What are the "Pits and Cherries" that Life has brought my way? The lessons that have been challenging to learn - often repeated again and again - yet if I've persevered, have been of great value? Some came to mind as I toiled in the kitchen.

1.  "I'm not responsible for anyone else's happiness or unhappiness": This has been a difficult one for me to learn. Over the years, I've slowly seen a part of Jon that is always trying to do just that: take responsibility for how others are feeling - and then scurry to "make it all better" or feel bad when it can't. That's "the pit". But what Life offers in exchange -"the cherry"-  as I see the futility of this, is the opportunity to live my own life. Free to share all, but responsible only for seeing what moves me inwardly. It's funny how that kind of freedom can seem so "scary" at times. but is in reality a great gift.

2.  "Real growth is never predictable or without discomfort.": I've been reminded of this lately as I've been working out more, trying to get stronger and fitter again. After 3 weeks I hit a "plateau" and wasn't improving as much as earlier, and I got a little discouraged. But I pushed on and worked to remember the above lesson, which is easy to forget. Nothing of real value, physically or inwardly, is gained without doing some real Work. Being willing to feel face a limitation honestly - and to do what a part of me says 'I don't want to do". That feels like "the pits". But the treasure received in exchange is the knowledge that the only thing that stands in my way is "Me". And that "Me" is nothing but a dated thought, image, or belief that proves to be tissue thin in the face of a simple willingness to persist.

3.  "Love isn't about holding on. It's about learning to let go.": I know this is a paraphrase of something I've heard Guy say many times, in many different ways, in talks at the Foundation. But the truth of it has taken awhile to sink in for me. Nothing in Life is permanent, yet I know something in me is always looking to grab and hold on to pieces of life as if they were. Whether in relationships, my career, or an image of myself - always trying to "keep it in place"...always a little worried when something that seemed strong and secure, seems to fade. And where's the Love in that? Real Love is Timeless. Therefore Real Love is never about acquiring, but instead about giving itself away. Because it knows in doing so it will always be renewed.  The more given, the more received. Holding on can be a "small" act - born of fear. Letting go is a generous act - a real expression of Love. I'm reminded again of something that Guy said about the nature of Real Love that I've never forgotten: "Even in your absence, I can feel your presence".

Funny how a simple bowl of cherries this morning sparked all of this!  I guess you just never know where another one of Life's "Pearls" will turn up. Hope I keep remembering to pay attention - and to be willing to work to keep learning - especially "the hard stuff". That's where the real treasures lie. (like chocolate covered cherries - Man, I love those!)