Last week as a Lincoln School Board member I participated in a three day intensive strategic planning exercise with students, teachers, parents, administrators and other Board members. The sessions were facilitated by a education specialist from Upstate New York, not far from where I grew up, outside Syracuse.
As one of the first exercises in this process, Steve (the facilitator) asked each of us to make a list of some of our core beliefs that we would share with our small group. Then the small group made its own list of core values that were later merged with the other groups working on the same task. These then were an initial step in creating a set of Core Values for Lincoln School.
On my personal list of core values, I included:
1. Nature is the greatest teacher.
2. Wisdom is shared, never personal.
3. Every person has a voice.
4. Life is sacred.
5. Anger is a form of hurt.
6. Truth is usually hidden.
7. Trust is a form of love.
I think I'll spend some more looking at my own list and reflecting to myself on why these were the thoughts that appeared to best represent the higher values that 54 years have offered me. There must be more for me to 'see' within these brief expressions. Some aspects that distill all I have felt, learned and lived.
Some of the words pop out to me even now. If I was to reduce each of these seven aphorisms to a two word koan, they would be:
* anger- hurt
I think that there's a lot for me to still 'unpack' even these seven word tennis matches... Maybe a lifetime of contemplation...
Curiously, my friend, Roger, who used to work with me while I was at Save the Children, at one point during those three days turned to me and said to me, out of the blue: 'Keith, you missed your true calling, you should have been a poet.'
Strange, no? I've spend a quarter century as an INGO community development director and human rights advocate, but a person-stranger-colleague who knows me (methinks) only slightly turns and says that I should have spent those years doing something different.
Yet, what I think Roger was saying was that I should spend more time with words. Poetry or not, I do know that words touch me almost like nothing else. Roger must have heard that in my voice, I suppose. It's fascinating what others see in each of us that we have a hard time perceiving as directly in our selves...
Even during our evening Board meetings in the LS library I can't stop myself from bringing a book back to my seat to glance at while the meetings go round and round. Last time it was Styron's "Sophie's Choice" and a verse novel set in California by Vikram Seth. I half wished I could just curl up on a couch there and just disappear in to those great and rich worlds far from the necessary demands of Board debates, discussions and decisions.
Even 34 years later, I still recall the last lines of Elie Wiesel's poetic, humanist novel, "The Gates of the Forest" where he describes the commitment the protagonist makes to be 'honest, humble and strong'. Four simple, unexceptional words, except for the fact that they touched me so deeply that they remain etched in my long-term memory while so much else has faded away.
Ranier Marie Rilke did the same to me in a book I first saw about the same time in my early life (at Jane Leiper's lovely hillside Berkeley home) of Ben Shahn etchings titled, "For the Sake of a Single Verse". In a handful of expressions, Rilke's words (and Shahn's prints...) seemed to encapsulate the nature of life and the raw, irrepressible fact of being alive.
A few years ago, when Amazon.com said that copies of the Rilke/Shahn book was completely out of print, I went on a hard-to-find book site and bought a $100 copy for either Shakun's birthday or our wedding anniversary. Honestly, I don't think I know of a more beautiful book...
Does it ever get better than being alive? Fully alive. Awake.