My English Teacher

I’d like to remember you with a poem,

Not an assignment or a free response to some prompt,

But a dedication for all you’ve done for me.

 

It’s just that I’ve been dropping years into the water

For quite some time, trying to fill the well

Until I’d know where to begin,

 

And the truth is I couldn’t write one if I tried.

 

To tell how firmly rooted you are in my memory, my life,

I’d have to haul out the early timbers

And diagram my gratitude from the ground up,

Fastened together by predicates and adjectives.

 

I’d also owe you for each figure of speech,

For it was you who first lay my young ears against the railroad

To hear the aching distance

Where words and meanings surge with locomotion,

Carrying the freight of all my poems to the paper.

 

Not to mention the box of highlighted quotations,

Underlined passages and dog-eared pages I have stored away

In the attic of my mind,

I climb up there often to smell the time that has passed.

 

No, I couldn’t write a poem like that,

For you don’t know how I’d seen you on the mountaintop

All those years ago,

Your eyes looking toward the sweet mint of the pine,

Brimming with vision, clear as prayer.

 

There, your hands held the robins’ feet of souls,

Nestled gently in the worn creases,

Looking for light.

 

So near the wonders of heaven, you discovered

The language of God in poetic rhythm,

The muffled drums of meter and the pounding pulse of students,

Poems reading poems.

 

You taught me to carve my name into every stripe of sunlight,

Grab the wind with my ready hands, pull the sky around my shoulders,

Cloaking myself for flight.

What’s more, you emptied out the plastic bin

Of imagery and motion, assembled a thousand amplifiers

Pointed to my chest,

And gave me the keys to my voice

That I might hear myself for the first time.

 

So the only thing I can say is that the poem I would write

If I could

Would end with a single image, not the firm grip

Of your fingers on a sharpened pencil, or the quiet burn of lamplight

Over your late hours of grading,

But rather, the moment

You descended the sharp, granite surface,

Found me at the foot of my future,

And handed me a torch.

A Person’s a Person

sneetches4-2bxxd4z_categoryAt the time this goes to print, I am substituting for our 6th grade English teacher during her after-lunch period. Needless to say, I am seated at a desk covered with brightly-colored supplies, trays full of classwork, and a beautiful, stately globe.

I am also surrounded by a wriggling bundle of 11-year-olds.

As they fidget, giggle, or pray frantically that God will intervene and provide them the right answer on their vocabulary quiz, I watch as they hurriedly scribble down their responses with determination and delicate care. Some twiddle their pencils, some bite their lips, and some (inevitably) need to go to the bathroom.

Yet, it is not the nervous energy and dangling legs that strikes me. It is the slow realization that I am in the company of a violinist, a lawyer, an insurance agent, a CEO, an actress, an Olympic gold-medalist, a deacon, a coach, a senator, a mother of four, and a city planner. These untied shoelaces and awkward braces adorn the feet and faces of the future, a brave new world that has yet to take form.

I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’ wonderful line from Horton Hears a Who:

“A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Perhaps now, more than ever, such a truth must be recalled and placed center stage in our culture, particularly given the horrendous onslaught of abortion statistics and the CMP videos. However, we must also turn our attention to the positive affirmation behind Seuss’ line. We are in the business of raising a generation of men and women, little persons, who are destined to pick up our torches and carry on with our different tasks, passions, and missions. Like the steady corrosion of Ozymandias’ visage, we are limited to a mere season of influence and opportunity; these little ones will one day pass by our monuments, and the Earth will continue to orbit the sun long after we have gone.

What matters is how we pay the right sort of attention to these people and train them up in the way they should go. And that certainly does not mean we ignore them or indulge them. A person’s a person. We must challenge, discipline, encourage, instruct, support, and inspire them. They are people, called to the work of the LORD, a work that will progress long after we have drawn our last breaths. Let the coal touch their lips and send them into this wide, wide world full of passion and adventure.

Oh, the places they’ll go.