Monday, August 25, 2008

Look to This Day! And the Convention of the Class of 2009

Today, on my first day of school I started class by asking my senior English students if they were excited to get up today. It was afterall the first day of their senior year. Before they could answer, I told them I was.

If they had started with Kindergarten, by my figuring this was the occasion of the thirteenth year that the Class of 2009 convenes--and the last. I could tell by their reactions they had not thought of it that way before, but in that instant I had underscored the importance of our meeting. I told them they were born the year I started teaching. This also got their attention. So they and I had been on an eighteen-year trajectory. I had thought of them in 1991 when they had only been a thought.

To me teaching is a special calling. To teach literature and its power, nothing less than sacred. I explain this to my students with the example of the Sankrit "The Salutation of the Dawn," reciting it to them from memory as one of my great teachers had done to me:

Listen to the salutation to the dawn,
Look to this day for it is life, the very life of life,
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of our existence.
The bliss of growth, the splendour of beauty,
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well spent makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation to the dawn.

The same sun that dawned on the Class of 2009 today, rose on the same eastern horizon some 3200 years ago and one of our great-great-great ancestors realized the miracle of the ever-returning sun, ever-beginning day, and took out a slab of wet clay and reed, and carved this poem for our inheritance. That's what excites me about teaching ever-returning students, ever-beginning years. The human conversation over time and space is both our inheritance and our duty.

In this class, in this convention of the Class of 2009, we shall celebrate such conversations across cultures as take a literary travel around the world in 180 days.

We are the only species that saves its stories, I remind my students. We are stories told together. By the time my students are my age, it will be 2037 and they may have seniors of their own graduating. (This frightens them a bit--they can't imagine being my age let alone the year 2037 or having teenagers of their own.)

I tell them this is important and a key mission of this convention. They must pass on our stories. In 2060, I tell them, they'll be headed for retirement, and I'll be dead. I count on them to save the stories and share them.

"Look to this day!" It was written 3200 years ago. It's up to teachers and their students to see it through for the next 3200. "Look to this day"


The Non Catholic said...

Thank you for this post. I needed someone to remind me why I do this on this Monday. Perfectly expressed.

ceyo said...

You're welcome TNC. Have a great year of story with your students. I'll be thinking of you all on Monday.