Thursday, December 25, 2008

Not That Far From Bethlehem

Last night my sister and I sang in our family’s church on Glenway Avenue. There isn’t anything novel in the announcement of that performance—we have been singing on Christmas Eve together, without fail, every year since I was 10 and she was 7. If you know about where my age falls, you can do the math, and figure out that this is a tradition that dates back to the era of Watergate in American politics.

Over the years, of course, many variables have affected this set-in-stone performance. There has been a name change in terms of what this church has been called (my family still is not happy about the change in 2004—my father suggested they just call it “The Anything Goes” church) and there have been 7 pastors (by my own count this frosty Christmas morning). There were some years my mother was in the hospital, and one memorable Christmas Eve where doctors allowed her out of the hospital for three hours so she could be bundled up—IV and all—to come to the church and hear us sing. There were years when the hairstyles and the outfits mattered so much more than the song being delivered to the church family. There was the year the church team forgot to turn on the heat, and up until I put my fingers on the keyboard, I kept my hands encased in much-needed gloves.

Ever since my sister got married in 1994 she has made a point of locating songs for Christmas Eve that illumine parts of the Christmas story we might have forgotten—she has made it her mission to act as surrogate pastor and remind us that there are nuggets of wisdom still to be gleaned by the oft-told Christmas story. For years I had chosen semi-flashy pieces designed to show off our vocal skills—then as Elizabeth took hold of the annual song choice (and leave no doubt—she is in charge of choosing!) she chose songs along the lines of Amy Grant’s “Grown-Up Christmas List” that act as beautiful meditations of how we can look into the traditions and stories and find something refreshing, re-invigorating, and re-affirming.

When I got home this year Elizabeth presented me with a song I had never heard, a song entitled, “Not That Far From Bethlehem.” I immediately noted, “Hey, I don’t live that far away from Bethlehem in Jordan! It’s only about 50 miles to Bethlehem!” Elizabeth—as wise mothers often do—nodded in knowing assent. That was partly why she had chosen this song, it fits into the reality of our lives so well these days. I have gone off—left the country—but where I have settled and made a new life—is not very far from the site of the genesis of the Christmas story. That Elizabeth—she is a good one, you know.

Rendering the song last night allows me to think about my life in Jordan—thousands of miles away. I love to go to Mukawir near Madaba in Jordan. It is about a 40-50 minute drive away from KA. At Mukawir stand the ruins of the once-lavish summer palace of our biblical acquaintance King Herod. Archaeologists tell us this was a sumptuous villa with opulent apartments for the royal family. It boasted a Roman bath with hot and cold pools all with a stunning view of the Jordan valley. When you hike there it is possible to close out the 21st century and focus simply on the ancient ruins and the staggering natural views. How interesting to compare Herod’s summer get-away with the Bethlehem birthplace of Jesus—not a castle, but little more than a grotto, or a garage.

The words to song Elizabeth chose offer this refrain:
We’re not that far from Bethlehem—
where all our hope and joy began.
For in our arms we’ll cherish Him.
We’re not that far from Bethlehem

What a wonderful meditation. In the last few weeks here in the United States, I have realized, again, that while I may live thousands of miles away, I am not that far from the love of family and friends. Each day I visit someone, talk to someone, reunite with someone who makes my world meaningful and brighter. I realized yesterday that there has been a preponderance of wonderful activity with people whose names begin with D. Here are just some snapshots of the Four Ds bringing home the meaning of Christmas.

Two weeks ago I spent an afternoon with my mentor, the iconic Doris Jackson. We came to Hackley the same year, 1996, and we reminisce that we bonded on the first day faculty gathered that year. We team-taught a course together in 1999-2000 and have forged one of the best friendships over the years. My KA friend Rehema and I spent the afternoon visiting and feasting on Doris’ legendary potato salad and roasted chicken (seriously, it may just be the best anywhere!). Going to Doris’ house is like soul food on a plate, and soul interaction in the family room. No matter how far away I go, I am not that far from Doris’ love and affection (or watchful eye, she would add!).

When back in town I try and see my friend Debbie—a friendship ignited while we both sang and sweated in the 1980 All Ohio State Fair Youth Choir. This choir is one of my favorite memories of my youth, and while we did not see each other from 1985 until 2005, ever since the 25th anniversary of our choir, Debbie has been a faithful friend. We get together for breakfast, and I bask in the beam of her marvelous smile and wisdom. It is a friendship that has stood the test of time. Seeing Debbie reminds me that I am not that far from the ebullience of youth and the thrill of making new friends.

On Monday of this week my junior high and high school friend Dawn and I had dinner at the “Golden Lamb” in Lebanon, Ohio. Dawn decided that we should take our high school AP History teacher out to this famed establishment—the oldest continuously serving restaurant/inn/pub in Ohio, going back to 1803—as she took us 25 years ago while we were finishing high school. My friendship with Dawn goes back to the U.S. Bicentennial—it is a treat to know and care about someone who has seen you through the seasons since you were 12. Our teacher, the inimitable Jean Michaels, is one of the main reasons I became a teacher—I saw how much she loved her job, and I wanted to do something that offered me the chance to love life in the same way. Mrs. Michaels is a little older these days than the halcyon days of our AP and Dickens class in the early 1980s, but no less feisty, opinionated, funny, or sharp. It was a delightful evening remembering that we are not that far from the days we chose our careers, and started out with high hopes and expectations.

And two nights ago I talked on the phone with a former student, David, from the class of 1998. It has been awhile since we visited, but we re-connected through the miracle of Facebook. David was in my very first class at Hackley, and his enthusiasm, even-handedness, and focused curiosity has always made him a favorite of mine. He has traveled the world, lived in China, is finishing a law degree, but our conversation reminded me I am not that far from the excited moments that have gratified me as a teacher.

The other day I joked about the miracle of Facebook and my sister, ever the insistent mother, reminded me that it is not really a miracle, “Johnny, come on—the ‘miracle of Facebook’?? The birth of Jesus is a miracle, not that you can log on to Facebook!” Yes, you are right Elizabeth, but Facebook is an exciting new way (for me) to reconnect with the message of what Christmas means to me.

However—this is a certainly a week when people celebrate miracles. The Jewish tradition of Hanukkah—the Festival of Lights—commemorates the time when a small amount of oil lasted 8 days and kept the light in the temple from going out. And so this week allows us a chance to think about, what exactly is a miracle? Last Sunday my marvelous Aunt Dot hosted a Griley get-together that dwarfed all others. Our cousin from Charleston, Barbara, joined us for a delightful reunion. Is that a miracle? I guess in December we are prone to hope for miracles. We yearn for them. Deep down most of us believe that darkness can be overcome.

The other day I played my Denison cassette tape of the entirety of Handel’s Messiah. I love so many moments in this beloved classic but when the chorus bursts out with “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” I am overwhelmed by the multi-facets of that glory and our search for glory in general. Such images of wealth and power must have filled the minds of the Hebrews after they heard that prophecy from Isaiah.

The Messiah who showed up, however had different trappings of glory—I guess one could call it the glory of humility. This messiah emerged as a baby who could not eat solid food and depended on an unwed teen-age mother for shelter, food, and love. God’s visit to earth was in an out-of-the-way shelter in a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divides history into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses! As songwriter Phillips Brooks penned:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. “O, Little Town of Bethlehem.”

With all my Jewish and Muslim friends I try and look for an ecumenical approach to Christmas, besides the sacred understanding of the birth of the Messiah. And I am not talking about a Santa Claus spin on the holiday or trying to cover up religiosity. I mean—in the birth in Bethlehem, how can we walk away with an ecumenical understanding? Simply put: Jesus’ birth is a reiteration that love came down, and offered vast promise. It is about the power of love to change, and the power of cherishing each other. Christmas offers us that opportunity to turn back to those promises—those hopes and joys, and remind ourselves we should never allow ourselves to be that far from Bethlehem.
We’re not that far from Bethlehem—
where all our hope and joy began.
For in our arms we’ll cherish Him.
We’re not that far from Bethlehem

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Take that—Mr. Wolfe!

I must confess—I have never read Thomas Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, but the power of that title bangs around my head once in awhile. I mean, for many of us, the title of that tome acts as an urgent cautionary tale.

On one hand—if you have gleaned only a few things about me from reading this blog, you know there is nothing I like more than getting together with old friends. An email or a blog comment from an Enszer is like winning the lottery; lunch with Kate is like sun shining through a gray sky; meeting up with Will (courtesy of the miracle of facebook!) last week after 10 years of missing each other, simply serendipitous.

But that Thomas Wolfe proverb stands tall and rather fierce when the outcome is not so certain, doesn’t it? It is one thing to hear from, or re-connect with, some of the greatest people you know. It is quite another to try and re-create moments from your past, or encounter people who had made life nasty, uncomfortable, or treacherous.

Even without reading the Wolfe novel, I have gleaned that it is about a man who leaves his small town, writes a book that stirs enmity in his hometown, and learns he better not go back to his original environs. I think—again, without the benefit of actually having read the book!—that the message of this writer’s life is that he cannot go home again because nothing ever stays the same. (I know, I should actually read the book before I start peddling what the book portends to represent! But see how we did this as students—we can actually get something out of a book we didn’t read. I remember how I did that as a junior in high school with Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. I have learned, however, that one tends to get so much more out of something if you do experience it yourself!)

Anyway, all of this is to set up some of the angst I endured last week in New York as I faced two prospects in “going home” to my former school Hackley. I had received a computer generated invitation to the annual Harvard Club Hackley Alumni event, an event I loved the 8 times I went as a faculty member. And my dear friend Anne had quietly insisted for months that I should spend a school day at Hackley while on vacation.

I do not want to dwell on it for long—many of you may remember the saga, but more than a thousand days ago my “golden boy” status at Hackley changed and administrators created a far larger problem out of a resolved issue on a school trip. It went from bad to worse, and suffice it to say, you learn who your real friends are in such situations. ‘Nuff said…

And even though I have been back to New York three times since I moved away in the summer of 2007 to head off to Jordan, I had not re-visited the school, a place suffused with such affection for me in my 11 years of service, and with such disappointment at how adults can treat each other. Did I really want to go back?

I have never worked in businesses longer than a summer, so I have no idea how they really work, but in schools, I know it is a strange thing to go back and try and re-create the “magic” you may have had in a previous school. The mood in a school is an ephemeral thing. For one thing, you have no routine, no schedule to follow, no projects in motion, no recent glories in which to bask, no recent axes to grind, and no students with whom you are in the on-going struggle of transformation. I have never wanted to be that guy who skulks in the hallway, buttonholing someone with, ”Hey, remember me? I did that great play. I designed that cool course.”

But Anne kept saying, “You need to go. They need to see how happy you are in Jordan! And besides, people want to see you.” Thomas Wolfe stands there in your mind, the specter of him stroking his chin wondering…

And so I responded affirmatively to the alumni event. This event is always the same Thursday every year, and I knew that with our unusual KA schedule this year affording us a one-time only four-week holiday (we have been told it will not happen again for 33 more years!), I may never get back this alumni event for a long time. What the hay!

I will admit to a little nervousness as I got out of the subway at Bryant Park to walk the five minutes in the rain to the Harvard Club. I had planned that I would arrive at the event at 6:45 and leave at 7:45 so I could make it to the theater (Christy had bought us tickets to Billy Elliot as a Christmas gift). I could do one hour there—no matter what, one hour would be doable. Well, the subway was faster than I predicted, and I arrived at the station at 6:35. Okay, I would just pace in the subway station until 6:40 when I would walk over. I needed to keep to the schedule. I walk over, go in the big crimson doors (remember, it is the Harvard Club, and they love their crimson) a little nervous. Now, I gotta say—I looked darn good! I had worn a suit, shirt, and tie I had bought in Jordan my first month, so I had my new home comforting me a bit. I go in to check my coat, and who do I see—but Taraneh. For those of you not aware of the Khosrowshahi family—well, count it as a personal loss in your life. Sometime find yourself in Westchester county and call up and meet this family. Taraneh takes my arm and says, “Let’s walk in together.” And there we went.

It was a great hour seeing alumni—and before I knew it the time had passed. These were mostly alumni from the classes of 2001-04 and it was like a facebook wall come to life. Yes, better than facebook!

The following morning I am on the train from Manhattan up to Westchester and my day at Hackley. There were some butterflies caught in my stomach, although I really don’t know why. I stayed at Hackley two years after the sufferings in 2005 so I walked those halls all the time when certain adults had already tried to see how much misery I could stand. Two years of great classes and more wonderful students. But as I sat on the train I laughed at how Anne had really convinced me to go to Hackley. She said, rather off-handedly, landing her trump card casually: “Well, Marlene and Flo really want to see you, and you won’t be able to see them otherwise.” Marlene and Flo, two of my staunchest allies and dearest co-workers at Hackley, wanted to see me. Marlene worked in the dining hall and nourished me physically and spiritually, and Flo worked as the receptionist and mail room czarina, and kept me in touch with lovely people. I should go.

At the end of the day someone stopped by Anne’s room and asked me how the day had been. I started to qualify it with, “I guess, it was, well, considering…” and I thought, now that is silly—it was a simple answer: just great.

While I had been touch with a strong contingent of lovely families since I left, and visited with about a dozen of them in the last 18 months, I had forgotten the streams of students I had taught in the 9th grade my last two years. And walking through the hallway, yeah, I felt a little like a 40 year-old rock star with kids shrieking my name and sending hugs and love my way. I had kids come up to me from my two 7th grade study halls I had the last two years, asking if I remembered them, checking on how they were doing in the upper school. I got to spend some time with Diana, my math teacher and life friend, reminiscing about the “salad days” in the late 1990s. And of course, I got to spend time hugging and visiting with both Marlene and Flo.

I was trying to think what I feared the most—was it the shoulder shrugs of former administrators and turncoat faculty, or did I fear ebullient and fake welcomes from them? I did see several former colleagues duck away as they saw me coming down the hall. Who cares! I had heard that someone had told the headmaster that I was coming and he should welcome me back. Good grief. I guess I could do without that empty gesture. But when he did approach me, in the dining hall, he merely said, “I thought you’d have a better tan,” and kept moving. For a moment I thought that should be the title of the blog entry.

It was a day watching Anne help students as they edited their most recent English composition. It was a day envying the mound of lunch meat in the dining hall (when someone asked me what I missed most about Hackley, I almost pointed to that mountain of available turkey and ham!). It was a day reminding myself how great those Hackley kids are—from guys like Will and Andre to ladies like Zoe and Kristin and Adjoa—fondly recalling the excitement in the 9th grade history class, working to release their historical imaginations and help them soar as scholars.

I generally subscribe to the mantra that in life we must be metaphorically moving forward—always forward. But those steps backward can be forgiving and healing and reconciling. I might have spent the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seeing new exhibits, or tried a bistro that had previously been overlooked. But it was exactly as Anne predicted—it was good, healthy, and rejuvenating to go back and see the legions of people I miss at Hackley. As for the handful who probably grumbled that I was there—who cares! I have a new school that affords me all I want in a school, and students who challenge me and excite me, and faculty whom I cherish.

I have lived in Jordan officially for an entire calendar year now. It has been a good move. Even a wise move. Definitely the right move. And while you cannot exactly slip into your old self and re-live the old times, you can re-tread those steps and enjoy the landscapes once again.

I am home in Cincinnati with my family now, and will be taking a sabbatical from the blog until Christmas Day. Blessings on you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My "comfort-food" day

No, this is not an entry about my favorite comfort foods--I did that last December (feel free to check that out if you are interested--mmm mmm good is all I have to say), so I am not that full of repeat episodes. But yesterday was a metaphorical day just like eating that steaming bowl of macaroni-and-cheese-of-your-dreams...the entire day was one dollop after another of comforting, wonderful, nostalgic images, activities, connections and rewards.

I am in New York City right now--rekindling my love affair with this town--and yesterday was just one of those casual days, not too many plans-set-in-stone, and as it turned out, each turn in the day was some re-creation of earlier loves and joys of being in this city.

The first time I spent significant time in New York City was December of 1985, my senior year in college when I came and spent a week with my best friend Steve and our freshman wunderkind Sarah. I adored every second of that visit, and I have spent the last 20-some years dreaming of coming back, planning to come back, and reveling in this often-ludicrously-expensive, sometimes-dirty, and seemingly faceless urban monument. People in Cincinnati have occasionally asked me why I love NYC so much (right here could be a song break: that groovy bridge in the Annie show, "NYC--just got here this morning! Three bucks! Two bags! One me!") and one of the great truths in this love affair is that I have never had to work or secure housing in Manhattan. I came as a starry-eyed tourist, returned as a starry-eyed graduate student with a fellowship and stipend, returned as a suburbanite visiting every weekend the brothels of New York culture. New York, for me, has only been about self-indulgence (well, there was the horrible class trip with Gail in 1988 with the most wretched students imaginable...that was not self-indulgence, but more self-flagellation...but I digress). And yesterday was that juicy burger of a day.

I am staying with my friend Christy on the Upper West side. Christy and I have been attached in some way since 1994. For years on end her apartment was the pied-a-terre I enjoyed as a weekend-getaway from Hackley. After some time on the rocks (cue the Neil Diamond music) we have found our way back to a beautiful, amicable relationship. (Never saw us on the Tyra Banks show, now did you!). I was here when she made the big move to this gorgeous apartment in 2000 and it has always been a place of such happy memories of birthday parties, visiting relatives, and Christmas and Passover parties (Christy is so ecumenical--she will service any religious holiday). Yesterday I started out reading the New York Times. Not on-line, as I do in Jordan, but in my hands, with the glorious newsprint left as a souvenir on my fingertips.

Christy and I walked through Central Park, one of the great havens of the world, and I pretended I had seen the leaves change this autumn, marvelling at the stunning beauty Frederick Law Olmstead bequeathed to us with this park. We arrived at the Temple of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where for so long I visited about once a week. We visited a few old friends (read=paintings) and then joined a tour on Love in Renaissance Italy. We remarked in our snarky way that the Met should not have cut so many gallery talks--too many tourists littering our talks with the art experts. Same old observation as the old days. We visited the exhibit on Philippe de Montebello (the venerable and outgoing head of the Met) looking at the collection the curators created of what had been purchased under his watch in the last 30 years(they chose 300 items of the almost 84,000 items he oversaw acquiring). We especially loved the room of the purchases after 1994 since that was when we descended onto Manhattan.

I then met one of my favorite former students of all time, Joe Canterino, for lunch. But not just anywhere--a place called the "Jewel of India," in mid-town, a scene over the years of other notable meals with dear friends. We caught up, along with his wonderful girlfriend, about life in medical school, and life in Jordan, respectively. Another soupcon of comfort-food life.

I then did something probably a bit odd--I wanted to work out in my old gym, and I wanted to walk around neighborhoods I enjoy visiting, so I combined both desires. I did a "progresive work-out," kind of like the old-fashioned progressive dinner, and I went to four different franchises of NYSC gym, and walked through their four neighborhoods! Yeah, I am sure the work-out was secondary too, but it felt like good multi-tasking, enjoying both.

On my way to the theater I stopped for a slice at my favorite neighborhood pizza joint. Christy and I met to see the latest edition of the stupendous parody, "Forbidden Broadway." This is a show 26 years old, and updated every season or so by one of the most clever men ever to grace the earth. He parodies, digs, and skewers any show that needs the ribbing. I first visited the show back in 1986 with Sarah, and over the years, have gone back 7-8 times. Christy and I laughed heartily at the talented performers sending up some of the most beloved Broadway stars. We noticed one of the four performers from a show we saw in 1997. Another helping, please.

We capped off the evening sauntering over to the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I had first come to see the tree that visit in 1985, with Sarah and Steve and beloved friend Sharon. It is a magnificent sight, and our visit last night rekindled the memories of other visits to the tree, and New York in December, over the last 20 years. It was a warmish evening, but enough chill in the air to warrant the mammoth tree, the twinkly lights, and hopes of a visit from Santa Claus soon.

We made our way back to the Upper West Side via my favorite form of NYC transportation: the subway. I noticed a sign that I had seen many times before--a sign from the Metropolitan Transit Authority advising subway riders who might become ill on the train. The sign asked that the suddenly infirm inform another passenger or get out at the next stop and approach the stationmaster. Do not, repeat, do not pull the emergency brake, the sign said, as this will only delay aid. Which was all very logical, but for the following proclamation at the bottom of the sign, something along the lines of, "If you are sick, you will not be left alone."

Maybe this is what I like most about New York.

This strikes me as not only kind, not only comforting, but the very epitome of civilization, good government, ethical impulses, etc. Banding together, pooling our resources, not just making trains that move underground, not just making trains that move underground with surprising efficiency at a fair price--but posting on said trains a notification of such surprising compassion and thoughtfulness. I found myself scanning the faces of my fellow passengers, hoping for fainting, obvious fevers, at the very least a sneeze so I could offer one of Christy's many tissues.

At end of the day I commented to Christy how rather haphazardly my day had been of one course after another of old-friends. I then shuffled off to go on-line to Facebook. I have been on Facebook for a grand total of 72 hours, but am enjoying the newness of this communication.

Christy noted that my whole wonderful day had been another old-fashioned kind of enjoyment: face-to-face encounters and not just Facebook.

Ahhhh...but through the miracle of Facebook, I will be meeting up later today with Bobbie Cloud, another dear friend from the Charlotte years, and another helping of my comfort-food!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Wheels On The Bus

The wheels on the bus go round and round
Round and round, round and round
The wheels on the bus go round and round
All through the town.

Remember this song we sang as little children? As we come to the end of the first term of the school year, a ditty as silly as this seems perfectly in tune with my mental state at the moment! I have just finished reading 96 exam essays for AP World History, figuring out grades, and sending the boys from my dormitory home for the holidays.

Due to quirks in the Muslim calendar and the Christian calendar, it turns out KA will enjoy the longest mid-year break it will ever have. The Eid holiday during which the faithful make their pilgrimage to Mecca, has begun, and by the time that period of celebration ends, it would almost have coincided with the Christmas holidays. So we lumped them all together, and here we are—a month-long break. As our headmaster warned us, “this won’t come along together like this for another 33 years.”

By that time, come 2041, I may be retired.

But this song, now on an endless loop in my head (just try and escape it!), also works as a metaphor for the stage in child development infamously labeled, the “terrible twos.” “No one looks forward to the terrible twos,” writes a psychologist on one of the websites associated (I did a google search and it came up with 1.6 million sites!) with the ‘terrible twos.’ As we all know this stage is characterized by toddlers being negative about most things and often stamping feet and shouting “No!”

As my brilliant psychologist friend Sue would remind each of us, the child isn’t trying to be defiant or rebellious on purpose. He is just trying to express his growing independence. Moreover language skills have not been perfected yet.
But we all have to live through this stage fraught with tantrums and testing limits. As we came to this end of our first term, in spite of the many positive and wonderful things about life at KA—it seemed this autumn we had definitely entered a stage in school development that mirrored these notorious “terrible twos.” There have been scenes of antagonism, backbiting, frustration, some employees resigning, negativity and emotional wobbliness. Indeed, the school is in Year #2, and why shouldn’t there be some problems as we adjust to the intermingling of languages, cultures, religions, classes, backgrounds, nations? But there is a gnawing fear sometimes that the wheels have fallen off the bus.

Vision is one of the hardest things to implant or to nurture. Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture—literally a vision—in the minds of those who built them. King Abdullah, in my mind, is certainly a visionary in how he imagined and worked to create this school. But some people do not realize that a school, or any of the aforementioned projects, does not emerge fully complete as Athena did out of Zeus’ head.

And so, at the moment, we are suffering through, aching through the “terrible twos” of a school project. I suppose it is inevitable that with such a heady project hoping to stimulate world peace, that there would be a clash of ideals, and a clash of egos. The limits and tantrums of a small child stretching through the second year of life is mirrored in the struggles at our wonderful school. It also comes at a price trying to find financial aid money so that half of the KA students can be supported and the school can be need- blind. We can look to another verse in the school bus song, reminding us of pressing needs in a time of economic dislocation:

The money on the bus goes "Clink, clink, clink,
Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink, clink"
The money on the bus goes "Clink, clink, clink"
All through the town.

Just this week I suffered through the worst night in the dormitory in my 17 months at KA. Exams had ended Wednesday by 11:00 a.m. and there would be a truncated day on Thursday to return exams—but somehow it escaped all of us to plan anything with the students. So for almost 24 hours there was nothing for them to do. That night, on one of five forays out of my apartment after midnight on a rampage, I encountered one of the nicest students, and I asked him why in the world they were still running around at 3:15 a.m.?!?!?!? He said they felt “entitled” to stay up all night and run around. Just as you want to do with an inconsiderate two-year old, I wanted to shake some sense into him.

So on our last day of the term, yesterday, there was a scarred and defiant attitude, among everybody I think.

Here is where you, the adult, need a time-out. It is not only instructive for the two-year old, but the adults, and the school community as a whole. Here is where we need to seek some wisdom from sage philosophers. I am reminded of writer H.G. Wells, who commented, “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

This has been an extraordinary fall, with great progress made, but we sometimes gripe about the imperfections. Why isn’t there more money for this, or why can’t we just get past the writing difficulties, why can’t the Americans do this, or why can’t the Jordanians do this??????? BREATHE PEOPLE! We need to look for that moment instead, and it might be a quiet moment, when the door opens and the future comes in. For while there are certainly flaws in this human endeavor, we have touched children’s hearts. If we can reach a child’s heart we can reach the world’s heart.

In the midst of our exam period (seemingly endless!) my dear friend Tiffany initiated a project of charitable giving in the last 12 days, a project enormously successful in giving back to our staff, to a nearby school, sheep for a village, clothes, food, money, and time to help younger students learn to study. One day students were asked to send thank-you notes to teachers if they wanted. It is interesting that one of the kindest notes I received was from that dastardly defiant boy who met me in the hallway night before last refusing to go to bed. His note, in part, reads, “Thank you for making sure I am on the right track and doing things the way they should be done. Thank you for caring. I know it isn’t going to make you rich if you care about us, but you do…”

Oh, the terrible twos! Just when you think you should give up, you see the future, you sense the greatness beyond the exhaustion, beyond the silliness. I looked on-line at the lyrics of our schoolbus song, and there is a cloying last verse:

The mommy on the bus says, "I love you,
I love you, I love you"
The daddy on the bus says, "I love you, too"
All through the town.

So as I profess in my bio, that Yeats quotation that “education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire,” sometimes the kindling is just difficult to assemble and the fire is slow. But just as with every two-year old, we live through that stage, we sing the silly songs, we discipline, we hold our tongue, we hope and we must revel in the madness.

I recently saw that Pete Seeger, that iconic American troubadour, has another album out, commemorating his 89 years on earth. One of his tracks picks up on a theme to which he has devoted his life—trying to urge us to make the world better. Pete Seeger and King Abdullah have a great deal in common, and for those of us fellow lodgers living in this house, we need to keep the faith to survive the stage of “terrible twos” and all the other growing pains in life. Here are the words Pete offers us, hoping we continue to try as hard as we can:

“If This World Survives”
If this world survives,
And every other day I think it might,
In good part it will be
Because of the great souls in our community.
There are a lot of them.
I've seen them walk
In lonely thousands down the city streets,
Or stand in vigils in the rain,
Or turn the handle of a print machine,
Or empty their purses as the plate comes by.
Or gaze into the camera's eye,
And answer the question: ‘Will the world survive?’
And they have said,
’We'll try. We'll try.’