But over and over and over again I question my existence. As I used to say to my leadership students, "Why are you not a waste of carbon?" In other words, why is the world a better place because you are in it?
I listened to my uncle Nolan's talk from my grandpa's funeral yesterday on my beautiful sunny trail run. I love this talk so much I listened to it twice. Every time I listen to it, it's a huge roller coaster of emotions for me. In the beginning he descries the commotion of living in a house of 9 kids and 2 parents. As I listen to this part of the speech I always feel a lot of pain. More than anything in the world, this was the life I wanted. A life of raising a 'dozen' kids. Running around crazy with all the kids. Nolan talked about how much Grandpa loved his family and I feel pain of longing. I know, I know, I'm still young, I could still have a few kids. But reality hits me hard sometimes, I'll never have 10 kids. I will never have a house full of so many people that I'd call it pure commotion and that hurts me more than thing. It kills me to know that my own children will never really know my parents. That absolutely wrecks me. Destroys me.
As I was listening on my gloriously beautiful run, with tears running down my face, I had to question why in the world I was putting myself through these feelings again. I hate these feelings, they are very dark hopeless feelings. I can't rewind time, I can't do anything to change mother nature. It puts me into a very depressing spiral downward.
Then finally... just in the nick of time, relief comes. It comes flooding in. Hallelujah.
Probably more than being famous for his art, my grandpa was known and his true legacy was his life as a teacher. Here's the part that gets me every time.
"There's a heritage out there as a teacher that I think of all the things he created even though he created some beautiful works of art, being a teacher and inspiring young minds, helping people see the beauty of the world, maybe one of his most profound creations of all. And even though we've got some pretty good artists in the family, we've got some great teachers. And it doesn't matter whether they are teaching art, the gospel, or anything other of the different disciplines. Being teachers is important, it was important to him."
What does it mean to be a teacher? Sadly the longer I teach, the more training, the more I conform to the system, the worse teacher I become. Don't get me wrong, according to my last teacher evaluation, I am a 'master' teacher. According to the PTA this is the first year I am finally good enough to be the teacher of the year. But that is not what creates a good teacher. And it's so easy to forget.
It's easy to get caught up in the standards and norms. It's so much easier to just check students understanding on those. But so often I forget. That is not why I am a teacher! I am a teacher because I want to help kids recognize who they truly are, help inspire them to be great, help them find a desire to make the world a better place, and last and least important, help them see the world is a pretty cool place. (Ironic seeing how I teach World Geography.)
I need to write this down. I need to remember this because something I forget. I get caught up in the other things. I get caught up in the stupid hoops of the system. I felt a huge stab of guilt when I saw a picture of something a student wrote on my board years ago...
This week I had a major boost to the legacy I want to leave. Years ago I had a student that I saw amazing greatness within him. Of course I couldn't say that to him then. He was a 15 year old punk kid. It would have laughed. He would have thought I was ridiculous. So I sat back, listened, guided, helped, and watch. I was there when he needed to talk. I cheered when he did great things. But most of all, I was worried beyond belief when I knew he was struggling. This kid was meant to do great and be great. But I couldn't tell him that. He needed to figure it out on his own.
He's been mission age for almost a year now. He's struggled so badly trying to know what he should do. It's crazy how easy it was for me to see what he should do. So easy to see where his life would head if he didn't go. See how much this one decision would affect him. But he was stuck in a haze.
As soon as he walked in my door on Friday afternoon I knew. I saw the haze was lifted. I saw the light. I saw the happiness and I couldn't believe the difference. Besides his parents, I was the first person he wanted to tell. I know it's pathetic that this made me so happy. This kid had made a decision that will change the course of his life and he wanted me to know. He wanted me to know how much I had helped him along the way.
I dream of someday having my own Mr. Holland's opus experience. I hope every teacher does. But more important I want to refocus on what I'd want my students to say. What kind of teacher I was. What I taught them.
There was the legacy I wanted to leave in this life, and sadly I am not going to get it. My house is never going to be pure chaos because I have some many children that need to go every which way. I'm never going to have hundreds of grandchildren running around in some cultural hall at my 80th birthday party. My life is very different than want I ever dreamed it would be.
But what I have to remind myself every day is that doesn't mean I can't leave a legacy. That doesn't mean I can't make a difference. Every day I interact with 265 punk teenagers that need me. Well not all of them. Most of them probably don't actually. But some do. And I have the power to inspire them towards greatness. This is my legacy.
Here is a clip from the documentary about my grandpa. Just in case you wanted to see what kind of rock star he was. :)
PARSON final from Nils Lindstrom on Vimeo.