April 2018

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer #9: 'Tis a gift to br simple.

Summer #9: My godson Sam, Ann, my sister-in-law Kristin and my nephew Hayden all have birthdays in the next couple of weeks. They will be a combined 128 years old. Fortunately, we have a family tradition of giving gifts only evey other Christmas, so we'll celebrate with cake and Pin the Tale on the Donkey but don't have to wrap.

I guess the main idea of celebrating birthdays is celebrating the gift of life. That, of course, is the best gift, but the second best gift I think I ever received was a silk white rose on a plastic stem. My African-American student Rosa brought it to me a few years after I'd had her in class. "This reminded me of you," she said. "It's white and symbolizes peace and harmony and all that stuff you believe in." I keep it in a vase at school under a quotation from the Buddha that was a gift from another student: "If we could oly see the miracle of a single flower blooming, our whole lives would change." As my students would say in their most appreciative whispers, "That's deep."

My best gifts through the years have been my students, and sometimes they hav brought me symbolic gifts that mean so much to me. My student Tressa once gave me a paper mache yellow and blue sun. I hang it in my office wherever I go. It was several years before I realized the sun's face is Tressa's face. For that, I like it all the more.

Last week I received a birth notice from my previous student Molly: a beautiful little girl. When I last saw Molly, she was a high school freshman. Since then she's graduated from college, taught English at two high schools, gotten married and is now having a child. A couple of weeks ago, my previous student Chancy visited. Chancy, like Molly, is teaching English and is an amazing spirit. It's such a gift to me that they and others keep in touch--a signal that jsut as so many of them stay in my heart for years after they've left my classroom, perhaps I stay in their hearts, too. In the wake of this tumor and my inability to teach in the classroom anymore, this gift feels all the more poignant.

Even though I think the expression, "It's better to give than to receive" is trite, it's also true. One of the best gifts I ever gave was a tub of Vaseline to my brother in acknowledgement that he has reached the age of colonoscopies. Anoher exceptional gift was the gift of college scholarships to four Somalie graduates of the high school where I last taught. I wish I could give such fine gifts all the time, but genuis strikes only so often. I hope Ann likes her birthday present.

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