16 November 2016
Gifts or blessings? I am never sure which is which for many a gift is a blessing and many blessings are gifts and sometimes the ones come disguised as the others.
So here I am, in retirement from a career in teaching. I miss my students. I miss the hurry and scurry of the classroom, the deadlines for essays and exams, the highs and lows, the setting of goals, the solving of problems, the light at the end of the tunnel when, after four years, the students, armed with their degrees, set out to face the world, their world, their brave new world fit for brave new students.
Nowadays, I feel like the lost man, the forgotten man. The deadlines have gone. There is no more rush and tumble. Peace rules the office in my house and dust and spider webs gather in the corners of my mind. I am reminded of the words of Francisco de Aldana: “lo mejor es estar muerto en la memoria del mundo” / best of all is to lie dead and forgotten in the memory of the world. Then I look around me and see the gifts.
From Megan Strong:
“Do I have to write an essay?” Megan asked me. “Couldn’t I do something else?”
“What would you like to do?”
“A painting. I’ll explain it in Spanish.”
And she did. There are no essays pinned to my walls, but this gift of a painting reminds me of something very precious: a student’s will to be creative, the presentation of knowledge in formats that are not necessarily the expected ones, the ability to be flexible, to understand, to open one’s eyes to the world around one, to see and encourage talent. These were the blessings, some of them anyway, that came with Megan’s gift and her ability to paint.
From Jane Tims:
Clare and I visited Jane in her studio home. We drank tea and shared the afternoon sunshine together. Then, just before we left, Jane asked us to choose a painting. Clare chose this one: Apples. We went home and, after much thought, placed it on wall in our kitchen, just beside my chair. I see it everyday and so does Clare. It brings light and warmth to the room and reminds us of Jane’s gifts: her writing, her poetry, her research skills, her drawings, and her paintings. This one above all, for it is so meaningful to us and brings us light, peace, and stillness: such precious gifts.
From Jan Hull:
I cannot say enough about this stone sculpture gifted to me by Jan Hull in Shediac, New Brunswick, on November 4, 2016. Jan Stoneist has taken one of the motifs from my book Stepping Stones and has placed it on the left hand side of the carving. On the right hand side she has taken one of the verses from the book and added my name. The result is both a gift and a blessing. Jan searched carefully for the right surface on which to carve her offering and finally found it: Welsh Red Sandstone. What better gift for a poet from Wales … and indeed, Jan makes me feel truly blessed.
From Ainsley Swift:
In the days immediately after my retirement, when I found myself at the bottom of the well, looking up at the daylight through a long, dark tunnel, Ainsley appeared at my door and asked me if I would be willing to mentor her as she was having some difficulty with certain aspects of her studies. Brightness descended upon me and Ainsley and I have worked together for some time now. One day, she turned up with a brown paper parcel and announced that “This is for you.” I didn’t even know that she painted, let alone that she was a talented artist. Another gift, another blessing, light breaking where no light shone, and that brightness still surrounding me.
From Juanra Sánchez:
What does one say about the man who persuades the retired stone-cutter in Avila to make one last carving in the style of the verracos that were carved by the Celt Iberians thousands of years ago? Here it is, my own verraco, gifted to me by the best of friends who, every Sunday for four consecutive summers, drove me around the Province of Avila and showed me the love he held for his land. Thanks to Juanra, I saw places and things, too many to enumerate, that no tourist will ever see. A weighty gift indeed, and a true blessing that will last as long as granite bulls stand firm beneath wind, rain, and snow.
This verraco comes with a story. It is very heavy and very solid. I placed it in my carry-on bag and hoped that nobody would think to weight it. Tired of carrying it on my shoulder at the airport in Madrid, I stood in line, then placed the bag upon the ground. The line wasn’t moving, so I walked a few paces to the wall and leaned up against it. Lines shuffle and flex, as we all know, and that’s what happened. Gradually a small space opened up between my bag and the man in front of me. The man behind me was impatient to close that gap. He looked at me as I leaned against the wall. I half-closed my eyes and watched him. The line shuffled forward. He brought his leg back and gave my bag a mighty kick, right on the rear end of my granite bull. I can still see that man hopping on one leg, cursing, and my bag sitting there, having moved not an inch.
Gifts and blessings, along with kind words and actions, move the heart and soul. I will write more on this subject at another time. Meanwhile, remember the old song: if you can’t sleep, “count your blessings instead of sheep.” I just did and five of them are listed right here.