The Meaning of Life

As August winds down my head is filled with Teachers. . . long ago Teachers who’ve left their legacy and moved on . . . future Teachers, like kids I’ve met recently whose Dream is to be a Teacher . . . and right now Teachers, like my colleagues who call out on late summer evenings, “Here I come . . . ready or not”. . .  This is for all of them. . .

“What is the meaning of Life?” a great Teacher was once asked:

Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter.

And what he said went like this:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

“I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine — in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

“I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light — truth, understanding, knowledge — is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world — into the black places in the hearts of men — and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.

Much of what I experienced in the way of information about Greek culture and history that summer is gone from memory. But in the wallet of my mind I carry a small round mirror still.

Are there any questions?”

 (from the book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It , by Robert Fulghum, the same guy who wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten )

 Ready or not, a new school year is upon us. You’re already aware of some of the challenges before you. You can also be certain there will be challenges that are totally unforeseeable at this time. Thank you . . . all of you . . . for being there.

You are Teachers.

Not so “Hot August Night”

August 24, 1972, was, in terms of popular music anyway, a hot August night as Neil Diamond took the stage at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. “So pack up the babies and grab the old ladies” and follow my musings on this not so hot August night.

Here in New England the nights begin to cool in late August as the katydids and crickets join in their farewell to summer chorus. To me it always sounded like they were singing “Back to school . . . Back to school”. After a pretty routine summer, the not so hot August nights are stirring my sensitivity to retirement. I’m not going back to school . . . at least not in the same way I have for the past sixty years. So here I sit with my laptop (didn’t see that coming in 1968) trying to sort through a huge mixed bag of feelings.

I honestly don’t remember walking into Louise Hill’s first grade classroom in September 1952, but that’s when it began (there was no kindergarten in those days). I’m not sure if it was Mrs. Hill who instilled a love of reading or if it was being a star in all those Dick and Jane stories (I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to me next). Anyway, I loved school . . . I still do.

After Mrs. Hill came Miss Monat, Mrs. Rowe, Miss Lundquist, Miss Louth, Mrs. Rogers,  Mr. Della-Guistina, and Mr. Desmond. When I moved on to high school there were Mrs. Benway, Mrs. Kellogg, Mr. Syrenne, Mrs. Hardy. I mention them here because they deserve to be remembered, and because I channeled every one of them to become a teacher. At the same time I think of Donna, Dave, Kathy, Grace, Dawn, Teresa, and other former students who, themselves, have become teachers. I find great comfort in knowing they are carrying on.  Henry Adams said it: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

As September approaches I travel the Circle of Life to share with the next generation of human service providers my years of experience. I will be teaching part-time at a local community college. It feels right . . . “Hot August night and the leaves hangin’ down
And the grass on the ground smellin’ – sweet. . .”

Hot August Night

White Buffalo

On the first full moon of August my Daughter, Erin, and I made a pilgrimage to Goshen, Connecticut. We were drawn to the Mohawk Bison Farm where a white buffalo calf had been born in June. To Native Americans the birth of a white buffalo calf is the most prophetic of signs. The coming of the white buffalo brings purity of mind, body and spirit and foretells of the unification of all nations – yellow, red, black and white. The birth of the sacred white buffalo is a message of hope and a promise of harmony.

Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy

Although most tribes have their own version of the legend, the oldest and most well-known is the Lakota story of White Buffalo Calf Woman:

“One summer a long time ago, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota came together and camped. The sun was strong and the People were starving for there was no game. Two young men went out to hunt. Along the way, the two men met a beautiful young woman dressed in white who floated as she walked. One man had impure desires for the woman. “She is beautiful” he said to his friend. “I will make her my woman.” When he tried to touch her he was consumed by a cloud and turned into a pile of bones. The woman then spoke to the second young man and said, “Return to your People and tell them I am coming and I bring them a gift.” This holy woman brought a wrapped bundle to the people. She unwrapped the bundle giving to the People a sacred pipe and teaching them how to use it to pray. “With this holy pipe, you will walk like a living prayer,” she said. The holy woman told the Sioux about the value of the buffalo, the women and the children. “You are from Mother Earth,” she told the women, “What you are doing is as great as what the warriors do.” Before she left, she told the People she would return. As she walked away, she rolled over four times on Mother Earth, turning into a white buffalo calf before she disappeared. It is said that after that day the Lakota honored their pipe. They walked a path of honor and respect, and buffalo were plentiful.” (from John Lame Deer’s telling)


We were met by Peter Fay, the calf’s caretaker, who was a most gracious host. He escorted us past a fence line adorned with many offerings from other pilgrims. Erin left the traditional 28 prayer ties she had assembled during our drive, and I offered a medicine bundle that I had prepared before setting out on our journey. After going through a number of gates we arrived in a lush meadow of green grass and wildflowers that stretched out beneath Mohawk Mountain. We crested a small rise and there he was standing with his mother and another cow and her brown calf. Our host cautioned us to move slowly as these were wild animals and might spook easily. We approached to within about a hundred yards. They seemed to sense the respect with which we came and calmly looked at us as we stopped and offered our prayers. We left, our Spirits infused with peace and gratitude for this message of hope for the future.

Naming Ceremony