Look Up

“…that transcendent experiences arise from the raw material of human biology…” These words come from a review I read this morning of Alan Lightman’s latest book, The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science.

“Yes,” I nod, “that’s exactly right.”

When I awoke—again—and for the last time on Saturday morning, I knew it would be a day of challenges. It was Earth Day and the “Celebration of Life” (even now I balk at those words) for my dear friend Michele about whom I’ve written often and who died on March 12th. The event capped a week of intermittent tears, anxiety, and preparation. In the days leading up to this, a small, earnest group had worked out the glitches, staged, and rehearsed, so all would go well.

I opened my email inbox and headed straight for the poetry. Usually it’s Poem-a-Day, but that day I began with Knopf. It offered “Class Picture” by Cynthia Zarin.

Cynthia Zarin, why does that name seem so familiar? As I read the poem, that thought niggled. My eyes traveled up to the poems I have affixed to the wall before me, fixed moments of wonder, of reflection. There I found her, her name handwritten at the bottom of a poem, a column of beauty in syllables, titled, “Flowers.”

When I first read that poem, Michele had received her diagnosis and time’s passing became palpable. “Flowers” begins:

“This morning I was walking upstairs/from the kitchen, carrying your/beautiful flowers, the flowers you/brought me last night, lilies…”

Michele had shared the bounty of her spell-binding garden with so many of us, those who love her. September always brought the lilies, wild, redolent, flamboyant friend-reminders:

September’s bounty

I will mark this moment as a “transcendent experience,” the raw material of my being. Cynthia Zarin is not a poet whose books I have, not one I know well, but on this morning when I truly need…something…there it is. All I had to do was lift my eyes.

The Twice-Lived Life

“It is with a heavy heart that I share…” When an email subject line begins this way and comes from my principal, I steel myself before I open it. Yesterday was no different. Even though I no longer reside in the community where I taught for 26 years, I am still deeply a member of the community because I am teaching the students who do still live there.

Usually these missives contain news of a parent of one of my colleague’s death—and by no means do I minimize that loss—but when the death is a student’s, I am devastated. This is not the way life is supposed to go. No matter who the child, the loss is personal and universal. I have lost students before; it never gets easier. All that hopefulness…

A student from the Class of 2016, the ’15-’16 school year, whom I remember vividly, you know how some of them are, sending sparks of light into the world, a center-stage smiler, Olivia, is gone—suddenly. I sit in shock letting it sink in, all those damn questions about why, and why, and why. No. Answers.

As the day unfolds, I open another email, the one for the Slice of Life Challenge. Oh, my gosh, in all the activity lately, I’ve forgotten to register. Halfway through there is a question about having our students participate, and now that I’ve come out of retirement and have “my” students, I realize I want to resuscitate my former Edublog. I want my students to challenge themselves as “Slicers” and blog for an audience of their peers.

I open my that dormant space, not remembering the last class to truly engage with this writing medium and scan. Turns out the last class to blog from our class blog hub was 2015-16—Olivia’s class. And there’s “Olivia’s Blog” listed in the roll. And Olivia, a part of her that I was lucky to know, lives there:

“After researching and accomplishing all different kinds of unique bracelets, I have learned more about the techniques, strategy’s, and overall how to make certain intricate bracelets. So far I learned the…

  • fishtail
  • chevron
  • striped
  • heart

and there’s more to come but will be done after the project is over. ” This from her post at the end of her 20% Time Project.

And this:”Out of all the categories on the checklist, one of the highest points I exceeded above is persistence. I kept at the bracelets even when I messed up.”

As I read through the posts tracking our year together, I relive our relationship. It is a bittersweet journey, but writing, writing allows that. Olivia will always be alive on these pages. For that I’m grateful. 

(Thanks to the late Donald Murray for this title.)