The Bastard Does Not Soar - He SinksTuesday, June 30, 2009
Students are much in my thoughts these days. Schools have changed or at least the ones where I teach have. Gone are the days when you respected a teacher because of age or erudition.
It was sometime around 1972 when I had a pair of students who are possibly the best I ever had. They were both in the 9th grade (let's be Canadian and make that grade 9)in a high school in Mexico City. One was a young girl called Wendy Shanken the other a young man born in Switzerland called Andy Broennimann. Andy came to Vancouver in the late 70s to study at UBC. When he first arrived I told him if he planned to cycle in the winter that he needed to buy chains for his bicycle tires. In his wonderful naïve youth he did go to a bicycle shop to enquire about them! Later on he graduated to a motorcycle and he would take my daughter Ale who was around 10 for thrilling rides up the hill of Springer Avenue in Burnaby where we lived. He left Vancouver and a few years later he sent me a postcard from Cairo. He vanished after that. Wendy showed up in Vancouver perhaps some 10 years ago. She was organizing conferences. She lived with her husband in a small town near Montreal. A couple of years ago she sent me an e-mail and told me how she was traveling for her job all over the world. She named a string of countries in Africa I had never heard of. I became annoyed when she said, “I love to travel and to study different cultures.” It struck me sort of like Barbra Streisand loving people who love people. In another communication from her I decided to reply making believe I was my wife Rosemary. “Rosemary” informed Wendy of the sad occasion of her husband's recent death. It had been sudden. Wendy answered with a poignant letter of condolence and how I had somehow been a part of her life as a teacher. I responded with a statement that my death was a bit premature. Wendy answered, “You bastard.” I have never heard from her again.
Today I reached for my copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Back in 1972 I had read the story to my 9th graders using a library edition. I had the class mesmerized with the idea that one could will hard enough and be able to soar. When the term ended Andy and Wendy gave me my own copy and reproduced here is their dedication.
It seems now that the last paragraph of the little book might appropriately convey how I feel about students and that perhaps I should give the unruly bunch I face these days more of a chance.
And though he tried to look properly severe for his students, Fletcher Seagull suddenly saw them all as they really were, just for a moment, and he more than liked, he loved what it was he saw. No limits, Jonathan? he thought, and he smiled. His race to learn had begun.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull