Midnight and Midwinter

At this time of the year I think about two things: giving and darkness. The giving, of course, precedes from the holiday season and the mad rush to buy gifts. The darkness issues from the Celt in me sensing the solstice. When I think of gifts—I mean the really big gifts—that have landed at my feet they are never from stores. They  always call up the images of teachers. Not only martial teachers but teachers of every stripe and persuasion.  Some teachers have small roles, one-line walk-ons at best where a single sentence—often a sarcastic comment—has nudged my prow and moved me to calmer waters.

You have to admit it: there have been those people who entered your life, taught you something, and then left never knowing what they’ve done or the impossibility of paying it back. Among the stock cliches now we have “Pay it forward.” How dumb. How do you pay forward what you can’t count and if you could count it would strike you stumbling with the depth of your gratitude? Teachers are the ones who show us the side doors, the backstage entrances, the secret words and the inside poop. They educate us with information while actually honing our skills for avoiding the phony trails that all stretch out before us, inviting us to commit desperate mistakes and life-robbing errors.

What has this to do with the solstice, that tipping point of winter and spring, that midnight of the seasons where dreams are so substantial they can sit by your elbow before the fire, just out of sight? When you glance their way they slump, huddled with hands folded over themselves, clutching a bizarre trinket of prophecy and fantasy. It is teaching that guides you through all shaded solstices in life, that affirms first and foremost that someone has been there before. The ability to teach, to really teach, is and always will be a magical method to battle discouragement, failure and depression. Teaching makes us stretch our intellectual limbs, it confronts us with our prejudices and our laziness and sets a standard not for test results and recorded scores but for the force of our curiosity, passion and playfulness.

Teachers need not even be pleasant people. I have known teachers who were destructive, negative and defeatist. I believe that even they started as hopeful advocates who fell on wrong times, bad administers, mistaken policy. It is good to see even the failures because you then realize how much teachers have to go through just to remain teaching.

When we live in the solstice of our wintry doubts, watching the fire, companioned only by the ghosts of abandoned opportunities, we hear the latch click and the footsteps. Come to keep us company are the teachers out our past who have looked at us with mixed hope and expectation and support. They return to remind us that beneath the snow the sprouts are stirring, that  despite any amount of darkness we can dispel at least a hatful of ignorance. This is a time of staying in front of the fire and inviting others to come around;  of giving out whatever we can teach. Here we tell the legends of our lives, and the fortuitous hands that reached into the picture and caught our arms before we stumbled. Here we grab an ember from the bricks and hand the heat on to the next one who may catch fire.

One Response to “Midnight and Midwinter”

  1. steve weinbaum says:

    A very elegant, eloquent, authoritative and authentic reflection.

    Thanks you very much, Ted.

    Steve Weinbaum

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