Things to Remember After the Storm

Be careful: those steps out the back door are slippery when they’re wet; the last thing you’d want right now is a nasty fall.

Take walks whenever the weather permits: sometimes that slow pace is exactly what you will need; other times the simple, miraculous act of putting one foot in front of the other will be good for your soul.

There is a difference between belief and believing: the former is a reserve to be drawn upon now and then; the latter is the act of carrying that reserve from here to there—and the bigger the load, the bigger the challenge.

Replace some of the canned goods and emergency supplies for the next time you can’t make it out to the store.

A downed power line could kill you in an instant.

People were very kind, some of them went out of their way, and others even had flat tires themselves but still showed up anyway.

You sunburn easily, and there’s some history of skin cancer in your family, so don’t think a sunny day isn’t—in a way—its own danger.

There are seasons for fruit-bearing; and then there are times when the best that can happen is that your leaves don’t wither and fall off: Hold on to your leaves.

There’s work to be done after a storm; take that work very seriously. All of it.

But there’s also no need to rush from the door to the car or to give yourself extra time on the road; stop and talk. People matter.

Lightning separates nitrogen molecules, which then become part of the plants we and the animals we eat; our bodies can’t do that alone.

Thinking metaphorically about lightning—along with just about everything else—can be exhausting, but so is a good workout.

Storms are forgotten, and while no one ever complains about a beautiful sunny day, nice weather has its own way of spoiling you, making you lazy, and lulling you into some really dark places*; if that doesn’t tell you what a weak and pathetic creature you are, nothing will.

There will be other storms; but, one day, there will be no more storms.


ancient monks recognized this and called it acedia

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In the Shadow of the Cutwater

We were writers. Our identities were forged by our actions. If anyone was to ask, our response was to be: I am a writer. We could say this in part because we were with others who would respond: we are writers, too.

We sat at a small concrete park with our notebooks on our laps. Across one street, people gathered outside a homeless shelter. The sound of construction across the other street—another building in the revitalization of this downtown area—drowned out the animated conversations of those milling about the park, people who knew the place well enough to know we were not a normal part of it.

We had dedicated four weeks of our summer to reading and writing. We had our own reasons for coming and our own reactions to being there. And when the time was done, we went our separate ways.

Through the weeks there was one true constant: the river was flowing. We spent time writing each morning, some of us by the windows that overlooked the city, the river directly below us, a peaceful and pristine vignette that belied the rockiness and pollution.

restoration-by-artprize-artist-ben-clore

Photo by Ben Clore

In the morning, when the sun was reflecting off the water, the true nature of the river revealed itself. Thousands of glittering ripples, like clamoring paparazzi, spoke of the flow’s forceful and relentless turbulence. But there were other places where the water was smooth, where things looked still. On the lee side of the cutwaters—the rock columns that support the bridge—the river seemed to turn back on itself; it was as if this shadow would provide some escape, as if the force of the water coming back might hold us against the stone pillar.

Here perhaps, if only for a time, the river might just stop.

After the four weeks, we rejoined the flow, as all must. We became part of that river again, the river that flows not with time’s measured pace, but with swirls and eddies that disorient, over and around rocks that batter without mercy.

We lingered in the stillness of our writing community awhile; we had spent more time together than with our own families. For some of us at least, the time and quiet allowed something to find footing in a place some of us never knew existed. To those who have not discovered that place, who have not found its home, we have only three words, which we will share over the noise of construction in a concrete city park.

Don’t Call That Dog Lifesaver

Disciplined (as a transitive verb, or a verb that requires an object to receive the action): The father disciplined the child.

Conviction: a final declaration of guilt

3D_Judges_Gavel The voice that spoke in the middle of the night said, yes, indeed it was God’s punishment. The voice, I would come to recognize, had the same sadistically sympathetic tone of the impaled pig’s head that spoke to Simon in Lord of the Flies.

In the daylight a different sense overtook me: this form of punishment and of punishing didn’t seem like the God I know. I’d suffered an injustice, that was all, a life-altering and a question-everything-you-know injustice. I deserved pity, not punishment; compassion, not correction.


Was God punishing Joseph for the arrogance of his dreams—the dreams that, in the end, were prophetic? That never seemed to come up in Sunday school. The Bible glosses over how agonizing it must have been for Joseph in that pit, his brothers plotting his fate above ground.

I’d more or less decided “no.” God wasn’t punishing me for any particular sin or strain of sin (most likely of omission).

Then I turned to the Bible and read what I didn’t want to hear. Oh, I shied away from the Old Testament; I didn’t need any fire-and-brimstone God. Like many Christians in adversity, I’d been cherry-picking verses as if I were picking out clothes based on the day’s weather: I went to Hebrews 12—Turn your eyes on Jesus. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I should have stopped there.

But I kept reading: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children… God disciplines us for our good… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.

Conviction: the act of moving a person by argument or evidence to belief, agreement, consent, or a course of action

dunce-cap1The word disciplined has negative connotations. I automatically associated it with punishment, of being sent to some spiritual corner to “think about what I’ve done.” I associated it with be a child.

Mostly, I didn’t like thinking I was wrong, especially about something like the very nature of God.

What followed got me thinking about myself as a father: “For what children are not disciplined by their father?” I wondered, do I really discipline my children? I’ve hidden IPods. There were some timeouts. I yelled. A lot.

Now, however, it more often it goes like this.

One of my children accuses another of being mean or unfair. The other says that’s not true, and this goes on until I step in and mediate. Sometimes somebody says, “You’re just trying to get me in trouble.”

And I laugh. “Who said anything about being in trouble? What ‘trouble’ have I ever really gotten you in? We’re just figuring this out together, that’s all.”

What I’m saying to them, essentially, is that I want them to see some bigger picture, that whatever issue they are fighting over is trivial—that they need to be able to work out, collectively and individually, the problem facing them, because there will be others, many, many others. And I am here to help them.

Disciplined (participle). He is disciplined. The disciplined runner…

Conviction: the state of being convinced

The voice that comes to me now sounds more like my own, as I both comfort and discipline my children: “Who said anything about being in trouble? What ‘trouble’ have I ever really gotten you in? We’re just figuring this out together, that’s all.” It’s the voice of a father. To His child. I’m more than all right with that.

“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.” Hebrews 12, The Message

Real Learners, Real People, Real Responses

The vision: a book of responses from professional athletes, celebrities, musicians, and other well-known, successful individuals about the impact of education on their lives. (An example from Peyton Manning is here.)

The background: School isn’t ultimately about content, test scores, or even skills; it isn’t even about college or career readiness. Rather, it is about character, discipline, and the habits of mind that apply to all aspects of a successful and fulfilled life.

The problem: we spend so much time preoccupied with the former—because it is, after all, the stuff we are teaching—that we lose our credibility when it comes to the latter. Consequently, students don’t believe teachers when we speak about the benefits of education.

Who: responses from people who are…

  • finished with school (or could be)
  • successful and well known in their professional area
  • reasonably positive role models
  • could speak to the impact that education makes in their lives

What: explaining a message about education…

  • Not: stay in school, or you should go to college because…
  • Instead: forcing yourself to get out of bed on a cold winter morning to go somewhere you don’t really want to be… or you should work with that teacher you hate because…
  • Work and study habits that have carried on into their careers
  • The ability to get what you want from people who don’t agree with you
  • The ability to see another point-of-view
  • Conflict resolution, or how to stay out of trouble
  • How to get noticed, and when not to get noticed
  • Increased empathy
  • Instilled motivation

How you can help:

  • Suggest people to reach out to
  • Help me reach out to them
  • Re-tweet and share
  • Encourage the idea

How Education Can Help You Throw 500 Touchdowns

I’m a middle aged white guy who was always more comfortable on the golf course than the football field. I have hands that are poorly suited for palming a basketball but come in surprisingly handy when getting the last of the Pringles at the bottom of the can. I know some Kanye West lyrics but am more likely to sing Frank Sinatra. I care more about my vocabulary than I do about my wardrobe.

All that is to say, I’m not that cool.I want it now

My passion and purpose is reading and writing, so of course I’m going to say reading and writing are important. I realized several years ago that I would never be able to convince students by telling them this. I could demonstrate it over time, but I was impatient. There wasn’t time; I wanted students to know right away that reading and writing, and that education in general, held value for them–even if they were going to be a professional athlete or movie star.

Students needed to hear those words from people who were cool, from people they wouldn’t expect, from people they would assume were beyond the demands that education demands.

So I wrote some letters to actors, athletes, and musicians. The list included Kanye West, Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy), Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg, and Mary J. Blige. I chose people for a few reasons:

  1. recognition factor
  2. some demonstration or involvement in charity
  3. method of contacting them (not surprisingly, their home mailing addresses weren’t listed)
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The thoughtful, kind response from Peyton Manning (back when he was still with the Colts).

To date I have received one response: from Peyton Manning. It was thoughtful; it was honest; it was exactly what I was looking for. Manning spoke of the hours of studying he still does. He credits the study habits he developed in school for helping him as an NFL quarterback: the study habits in classes like science and English. That is the message I want students to hear. And they can only hear it from me so often.

Now I want more letters. I want to hear from people who are past their education days; I want to hear what difference education makes, particularly in surprising ways: how, for example, did learning to deal with a difficult teacher help you to deal with a difficult manager, director, or coach?

I’m looking for suggestions. I’m looking for addresses. I’m looking to maybe edit a book of responses.


The Generic Form Letter I Started With:

Dear [NAME]:

I am writing to ask a small favor of you to help inspire my students. Many of them do not see the value of an education, and even those who do view it as a minimal prerequisite to their future success. Most of them see it as an obstacle to their future. This is particularly true for students who dream of being a rapper or professional athlete, which is not an uncommon dream. I am writing to you because my students respect you as [WHAT], and I know [HOW] that you respect the importance of education.

As an English and history teacher, I don’t see it as my job solely to prepare my students as future workers. Nor do I pretend to believe that the basic facts I teach will be essential to them as adults. The facts, I tell them, are an avenue to critical thinking, to a better understanding of themselves and their world. Moreover, education is about learning to interact with people; it is about disciplining yourself to accomplish tasks especially when you don’t want to; it is about developing habits of mind that will guide you in all aspects of your lives.

Of course, I am their teacher. I’m supposed to say things like that. What I am asking for is a letter from you that I can post in my classroom, encouraging them to embrace the challenge of education and recognize its value beyond the traditional workplace. I would like you to explain what difference education has made in your life, even your life as [WHATEVER]. Are there aspects of education that actually directly assist you [WHEREVER]? Looking back, what characteristics of yours were forged through education that have helped you personally? Given your present circumstances, how would you be different without the education you received? Are there any specific educational experiences that made a demonstrable difference?

Thank you in advance for any time and attention you can give to this matter. My goal is to inspire all students to see education as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.


I am looking for collaborators in this venture. I will post a follow up this week to explain.

If you would like to see a copy of the letter or hear how I shared the letter from Peyton Manning with students, feel free to email me using the contact form at the bottom of this page.