Monday, December 04, 2006

Work and Play

"My goal in life is to unite"

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a class of students the possibility to describe one passion in their life. By all appearances, the prospect of giving a presentation in English in front of others did not enthuse the majority. For example, during a brainstorming session that same class period, I caught one mopey student with no suggestions for a topic, but plenty of ideas on how to re-present his teacher. In caricature format, primarily.

Appearances can be deceiving.

When it came to presentation day, this student had one of the most dynamic and coherent deliveries. "Why read fantasy literature?" Between his dramatic pauses for effect and breathless excitement for the topic, he had us all on the uncomfortable edges of our institutional, molded-plastic seats. As I succinctly told him afterwards, he simply belongs at the front of the classroom, scratching out reading assignments on the blackboard. Which is fortunate for him since he's planning to be a primary school teacher.

"My vocation and my avocation
As my two eyes make one in sight."

Others spoke equally well about topics ranging from sports to music : Why surf? Why dance? Why play piano? Why take photographs? Why salsa? Why scuba-dive? Why ski? Why play tennis? Why create hip-hop? Why draw? The marvelous thing was, for many of them, these pastimes had somehow paved the way for their career.

For a number of them, this was something of an epiphany. One thanked me afterwards, saying, "this has actually helped me make some sense of my life." (Whoa!) She explained that her varied interests, which had always seemed rather erratic to her (boy, can I relate!), suddenly were a meaningful path to her present life. Maybe she can help me out with that, now. (Though something tells me she already has.)

"For only where love and need are one"

Some students gave us a little window into their care for others: Why work with handicapped children? Why visit the elderly? Why work with socially-troubled teens? These people that I have the privilege of teaching every week have rich lives, interwoven often with pouring out their time and energy for others. The common thread here was that a family member, ravaged with disease of mind or body, had propelled them into compassion for similar situations.

"And work is play for mortal stakes"

Oddly enough, the most offbeat offering was also the most emotionally-charged, given by the young man in the class known as the "humorist". With intentional irony, his talk on "why am I the class clown?" was a recounting of the abusive childhood that he was obliged to walk through, and how he used humor to cope. Courageously, the class clown took off his mask for a while, and spoke frankly. Much more impressive than any of his jokes to date, it won him respectful applause from his teacher and closest colleagues.

"Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and for future's sake."

Per usual, my students taught me more than I could ever teach them. As I watched their careful and nervous preparations, their beaming countenances, the light in their eyes when they realized what meaning ran like a thread through their lives, I couldn't help but think of dear old Robert Frost. Whatever we do on earth, at work or at play, may it have an eternal value.

"My goal in life is to unite

my avocation with my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

For only where love and need are one

And work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and for future's sake."

~Robert Frost


Anonymous said...

Abbey, this post is soooo lovely. You make me miss teaching! And you bring back very fond memories...

I miss you.


Anonymous said...

Hey Abbey! I managed to get on the comment domain from a different computer! It was great talking to you1 See you tomorrow!


the poet said...

An exquisite posting. I wish I was in the class. I can feel the atmosphere and hear the student's musings. Wonderful.

tri-mama said...