For the last year or so, I have done a good bit of walking through the streets of Jackson. It’s one of those things I like about living in a small neighborhood in a small town. When I want to walk, I just grab my shoes, and I take off.
Other than the obvious health benefits, these walks have been a great source of peace and creativity and insight for me. It is nice to have no purpose other than to just put one foot in front of the other and go wherever you feel. Sometimes, my busy head empties itself from stress, and other times, it chews on problems and solutions. And still other days, I will get lucky and trip over an insight or two.
The latter happened to me earlier this week as I walked one afternoon in the outskirts of Jackson near the Fairgrounds. I had my cell phone in my coat pocket playing Christmas music for me and the neighbors to hear as I ambled by their quiet homes, and I had miles of quiet solitude ahead of me.
I started off with the intent to just relax, but as so often happens, my mind drifted off and started to focus on the random problems of the day. And then my head veered off to deeper, more general issues relating to my job and career of educating children in our community.
The thoughts that were going through my head were actually questions:
What kind of world are we preparing our children to face? What’s the purpose of what we do at school?
Is it just to keep children sitting in rows, to keep them quiet while the teacher talks, and then to send them off to 9-5 jobs for 40 years while the boss stands looking from the window?
Is that what I want for my own children?
Is my goal to simply make sure they are good at reading, writing, and arithmetic in this world, a world dominated by the incessant browbeating of news pundits talking over each other on TV? Or is there a purpose higher than mere knowledge? How will they use this knowledge?
What if we could teach our children to be wiser than the adults they see talking over each other on TV or than the adults who attack each other in the streets (or on Facebook)? How do you teach wisdom when everyone already thinks they have it?
What kind of education can our community give our children such that they become citizens who are far more interested in getting to know their neighbors and understanding them than they are in labeling, shaming, or competing with them?
What kind of lesson plans can we bring our children that will teach them that it is far better to come together to create solutions as a team than it is to blame others and try to win arguments and “be right all the time”?
And then I started to think about this world in which we are sending our graduates to live and work. It occurred to me during my quiet afternoon walk that the smarter we get and the louder we get on TV and our Twitter feeds, the more pain we cause each other.
With all our technology and our new-found ability to gain and spread information instantly (whether it is accurate or not), our speech has become deafening, full of sound and fury, but desperately lacking in love and mercy and grace and forgiveness.
How will we teach our children to deal with that?
And then the insight came.
Walking that day with loud thoughts of my own echoing in my brain, the world (and my mind) grew quiet, except for the sound of a song coming from the phone in my coat pocket.
It was “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Being an English teacher and all, I marveled in my slow walking steps at the theme of the song:
A child is born, and the whole world stops and takes notice. Then another child wants to bring the baby a gift, but has nothing but his artistic talent of playing the drums to offer. So that’s the gift he gives to the baby Jesus. And the gift was perfect!
I smiled warmly as I walked in the chilly air. The answer to all my questions, if I just stayed on the path I was I marching in my mind, could be found in focusing on those two children in the song:
One child serves as the ultimate symbol of purpose that is greater than the accumulation and demonstration of wealth, status, knowledge, or pride.
And the other child symbolizes you and me, encouraging us to drop everything but the talents we have… and giving our best for our babies and each other and the hope of creating a better world.
The whole world changed because of the story about the birth of a poor child. As an educator of 3400 children in a small town in Georgia, the power and message of that truth made me smile. If we will stop the noise, grow still, and lower our eyes to see the little people at our feet, we will see our purpose all around us.