Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Invitation to Novelty

I often take brain breaks from my lesson planning, my eyes crossed from internet searches, hunting for a creative way to teach the present continuous.  Leave space in the lesson, a friend and former ESL teacher in China told me.  That way the students have room to create as well.  It's hard for me to do this. I fear sitting in a quiet room, all eyes on me, waiting for me to impart knowledge.  But when I DO leave space for creativity, wonderful conversations happen. Stories of falling in love, a debate about the best age to get married, a lesson in Albanian culture about family planning (you must keep trying til you have a boy).  And how much all of this has changed in the last ten years.

John O'Donohue writes about advice given him by a philosopher of science.  "Try to discover a few questions in this area that no one has thought of asking, then (you) will have discovered something truly original and important. This advice was an invitation to novelty, an inspiration to perceive a given situation in a completely new way."

I want to ask new questions about why I am here, what it means, what life is like for Kosovars, 10 years after the war.  I want to introduce my students to the opportunities of imagination, in studying and in the workplace.  Yesterday I wrote an excerpt on the board of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, "When Death Comes."  Grim subject, you say?  The language book was introducing the idea of a "bucket list," things you want to do before you kick the bucket.  So after teaching the class of hospital administrators and public health students another crazy American idiom, we read through the poem on the board.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver

There was a pause after the students finished reading the stanzas aloud.  This is beautiful, one said.  I like this very much.  Can I get a copy?

In that moment I saw not only how important imagination is to everyone's day and workplace, but how important it is for me, in my current work teaching.  To share something that means so much to me, and see another person, almost a stranger to me, who has lived through and seen so much pain, fear, anger and tyranny of humanity, respond in a similar way. 

I reminded them to look for the details of life, that we'd be using more poetry and story to improve our writing and our work, how we see the world.  In the words of Mary Oliver, "Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work."

Cows grazing on the hospital grounds

Ferris Wheel of Death?  Just outside hospital, hearses and a carnival.

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