This Graduation morning, 2014, about 7 o,clock, I walked around the Holy Ghost Prep campus. Such a flood of memories after 40 years. No no captions necessary.
Back in the early 60s, I joined the Columbia record club. So many introductory records for a low, low price — remember this was Columbia not Cameo or Motown. One album and song I remember was Barbara Streisand’s “Funny Girl” and the hit song “People.”
“People , people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I know I can’t sing but I remember singing “People.” On the street, in the tub.
I am not sure when the importance of the line struck me. It certainly hits home today. I’m talking people not just family or friends. Just people. All kinds of people. White people, Black people, Asian people, Gay people, Strange people, Radical people, Latino people, Italian people, Young people, Old people, maybe even Conservative people . “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
I remember one of my first days at Boston College. We were waiting for an orientation session. Standing on a deck, waiting, I thought, ” I want to meet people, I want to make new friends.” I swung around, hand out stretched, and there was Gerry Masculo with his had reaching for mine. We both seemed to have had the same idea. “People who need. . . . “.
Usually our need for people is below the surface. We don’t recognize it. But then like the killer shark in Jaws it rises up and we realize how important people are in our lives. In my early years at Holy Ghost Prep, I consciously made “young friends.” I realized that young people (not just students but teachers) were important. They would keep me young, hip, alive. For 40 years I have continued to make “young friends” at HGP?
Sometime in the 80s I got more involved in community activity. I ran and served on Yardley Borough Council and joined a lot of community organizations. I realize I was seeking new people.
Sometimes the people in our lives have nothing to do with community or work. In the early 70s, I took some workshops with National Geographic photographers in Maine. Bruce Dale looked at my portfolio and said “There are no photographs of people.” In the next week Bruce taught me to photograph people. My camera became a tool to meet people.
The next year Diane and I went to England. My purpose: to meet and photograph people. Many of the images I took record fascinating encounters with local English people. I have had similar experiences on the streets of Philadelphia — meeting and photographing homeless people or Italian Americans at a street festival. For me the ultimate use of the camera as a tool to meet people happened in Nicaragua. For 10 years Rob Buscaglia and I took students to Nicaragua as part of a service project called Ayudanica. In the villages, streets, and markets I photographed people. The next year I took my subjects some of the photographs. They were surprised but thankful. One year led to two to eight. I made many friends. People, people who need people are . . . . .”
As I look around the corner, I realize the critical need of people. Friends “young and some older” have helped me through my last working year. As I begin to explore the world with multiple lens, different perspectives, I want to remember “we all need people.” When I take a train to Philadelphia (senior citizen $1); I meet people. When I take a walk on the Canal, I meet people. I want to take the time to stop and say “hello.” I want to come back tomorrow and see how someone is doing.
In college in the 1960s, I read “The Secular City” by Harvey Cox. Although I have not reread the book (yet); I think I remember Cox saying that in the modern world we don’t have time on our commute to work or we are really not interested in knowing that the bus driver’s daughter is sick or his wife has a new job. I am not sure if I agreed or disagreed with Cox back then. Or maybe that’s not what he said. Maybe I need to reread “Secular City.”
But I do know that today, I want to have the time and the interest to ask the bus driver how his daughter is doing and to congratulate his wife on the new job. “People who need people are the happiest people in the world.” Thanks Barbara and whoever wrote the line.
On May 27 during my last faculty meeting at Holy Ghost Prep I made the following remarks:
Last week Tom Murtaugh, Joe Cannon and I went to Seorabol, a Korean restaurant in the Olney section of Philadelphia. For weeks, I’d been suggesting that Tom go to the Korean show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Finally we decided to go together. Tom invited Joe and picked out a lunch destination. You may or may not know — Tom was a Fulbright scholar in Korea. At the restaurant, he proceeded to order us a feast using some Korean and some English. It was amazing. The food was delicious. At one point I asked Tom why he had never taken any of us from HGP to a Korean restaurant? His answer, “No one ever asked me.” I was set back. Surprised. A bit ashamed. Why had I never paid attention to Tom’s Korean experience? Why had I never asked him to take me to a Korean restaurant?
Later that night I was feeling great — flying high, nothing more that some wine. But I was feeling exceptionally good. Why? To my surprise, it wasn’t because I was retiring. Almost the opposite. I was happy because for several weeks so many HGP people had been paying attention to me. Both students and staff. Some were thanking me for my years of service; others asked what I would be doing with my time. Some congratulated me on 40 years of teaching. They communicated that I was appreciated, even needed. I would be missed. In short I was happy because I believed I had the respect of my colleagues and students.
I don’t mean that previously everyone ignored me or told me I was a failure. But in our busy lives we often forget to affirm each other. I know I do. We all know about the need for affirmation — we have heard of Maslow. But we are busy grading papers, preparing classes, taking care of our kids, shopping. We are preoccupied with personal needs. Why had I never been to a Korean restaurant with Tom or gone to a play with Tony Figiola (which I did recently)? The list could go on with every person in this room.
When my father worked in his appliance store in Bristol, he would always engage customers in questions. What were they doing, what were their interests. What did they think about this or that? Many times he asked questions and I knew he knew the answer. One evening I asked him, “Why do you ask questions, when you know the answers.” He responded, “because it makes people feel good, it shows you care about them. As I leave here today to look around the corner, I ask that you try to take the time to affirm each other. Ask Tom to a Korean restaurant; ask Tony to a play. Celebrate individual interests and talents. Respect and understand differences. My thanks to each of you.
I concluded with a handout (once a teacher, always a teacher) and gave one or more used books to each staff member. Some were mine; some donated to the library but not needed. They were books that I though reflected their interests or our relationship.
As it turned out it was not my final talk (no surprise). At a Wednesday night retirement party at the Yardley Inn for John Buettler and myself, I felt compelled to give another talk. It went something like this:
This morning when I arrived at HGP the halls were dark, no one was there. But as I walked around lights automatically turned on. I was reminded of a retirement party for my father many years ago. He was part of the maintenance staff at HGP and he had a great respect for teachers and learning. He gave a short speech. “Each morning I go around the school building and turn on the lights,” he said. “I am proud,” he continued, “I am turning on the lights so that all these great teachers can teach and students can learn. . . I feel that it’s a small thing but it’s the way I contribute to the educational process.” I was amazed. My father was very humble, not given to speeches. I was also very proud. Since my father worked at HGP there has been a lot of technological change (we discussed it endlessly at faculty meetings). It’s intended to make for a better education. The lights go on automatically. There are computers, smart boards, phones, this program and that program and on and on. Always changing. My father is no longer needed to turn on the lights. But is it better? I wonder is technology making for a better education?”
I was coming to my conclusion when a voice in the back of the room shouted. “Yes.” The room broke up. It was my grandson, Eli. He was listening closely and shared his opinion. I thanked Eli but suggested that I might disagree with him. I thought it was the teachers, not the technology that made a better education.
But the reality is actually (one of my grand daughter Vivienne’s favorite words) a lot more complex. Eli is partially correct. He reads at about a 4th grade level. But he is only in first grade. The reason to some extent is an I-pad that he has used since he began cancer treatment. Technology in many forms helped him get through the ordeal and cured him of cancer. He learned from it. And yet we all know that machines, technology can’t fully replace the human touch. The teacher in the classroom remains extremely important.
As in the past I think Eli and I will continue to learn from each other. For that I am so grateful.
P.S. The drawing in this entry is not Eli’s or Vivienne’s. It’s Jason Fisher’s who gave me a nice tribute at the party. Somehow he claimed the drawing helped him to write his speech. We all Learn in our own way.
Another final Comment: Thanks to everyone at HGP for making my past few so joyful.
For years most of my courses in both high school and college have started with “Profy’s Principles” — a few pearls of wisdom, in fact I usually say “this is all I have to offer, drop the course now.” One principle involves perspective, point of view. My belief that all information, reality, truth is filtered through our individual lens. Each lens is formed through our life’s experiences — time, age, ethnicity, religion, education, parents beliefs, travels, books we’ve read . . . the list goes on. Although there is objective truth and reality we can never be 100% sure we caught it. We may be close but. . . our vision is subjective.
There are a number of ways this concept influences me daily. First let me turn to the words of a trusted friend (some might say fictional friend, but it all according to your perspective).
In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes (yes, Sherlock) instructs Watson on the difference between seeing and observing:
“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
Some times our lens (our experiences) act as blinders we see but we don’t observe. We see what we expect. We don’t look deep enough. We don’t ask questions that don’t flow from our world view. As Watson learns we must not only see but we must observe.
I recently read a a book that opened up my eyes to another aspect of perspective. It’s called, “On Looking: eleven walks with expert eyes,” by Alexander Horowitz. Horowitz realizes that when walking what she sees is limited by her perspective. So she embarks on eleven walks and tries to see the world through the eyes of her companions — her dog, a young child, a blind person, a geologist, an entomologist, a graphic designer . . . you get the idea. And no surprise each guide sees a different world. Each guide sees the world through their lens. Lesson: walk with different people, try walking in another’s shoes, or just miss out on so much you might see.
My third concept related to seeing, looking, observing and sensing comes from a book I read back in the 1980s. It was recently part of my reread significant books program (more on that later). “Ceremonial Time: fifteen thousand years on one square mile,” by John Hanson Mitchell. He explores on small patch of land called “Scratch Patch” outside of Concord MA. He reads everything he can about the place. He walks and walks the area. He reflects on what has happened and what may happen on this small piece of land. The longer Mitchell reads, explores and reaches, the more things become connected (connectedness in another Profy Principal). Ceremonial time (maybe a Native American concept) is when past, present and future come together in our sense of place, in our understanding of reality. It is not an easy state to achieve but it moves us to another level of understanding. A fuller perspective.
As I begin my new journey, I want to go beyond seeing, I want to observe (thanks Sherlock)’; I want to try and walk in others shoes and see the world from their perspective; and I hope to occasionally achieve ceremonial time bringing together past, present and future.
I frequently say that Diane and I travel very well together. Our trips — long or short– always seem to be a mix — some things planned, routine, familiar; others unplanned, serendipitous, new. I usually use books and the Internet to decide what we will do, where we will eat and then on the road Diane will turn off the highway and we will explore. Seems we always find something of interest.
For or the past 40 plus years, most days and weeks have been the planned. We follow daily routines; even free time is measured out — weekends and vacations. Although I often said I liked teaching because there was change — new students, new courses, always new things to read and learn, the truth is unfortunately we teach within pretty well defined walls — the community, the school, the classroom. Most of the time we don’t move outside the box. In fact teachers are notoriously wary of change. There are complaints about new policies, new operating systems for computer, a change in the school calendar or a room assignment. I remember decades ago when I was an Assistant Headmaster, the English department resisted word processing and I felt the need for an executive decision — word processing is acceptable.
I hope to introduce much more serendipity into my life now that I am free from the routine of going to work each day at seven. I want to be more foot loose, travel the path not taken before, explore, wander, look around the corner. At the same time I will enjoy some routines — a morning walk, a newspaper with coffee or tea, making bread, growing tomatoes, Sunday visits with family, a vacation at a familiar spot or dinner at a favorite restaurant, rereading a book.
Yes I want my life to be a mix — some routine spiced with serendipity. Always ready to look around the corner.
Today is the first day of my retirement. Started with a walk on the Delaware canal. Posted a few photos on FB. And began to think about what is coming next. I have lists and plenty of ideas. Travel events booked through November. One idea was to publish thoughts and photos on a blog.
My theme comes from the paraphrase of an Isak Dinesen quote from Out of Africa. John DiGiesi wrote “The world was made round to allow us not to see what awaits around the corner.” Dinesen wrote “Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see to far down the road.” I like John’s paraphrase, beginning today I will look to see what awaits around the corner.