“Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together.” – Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
2 days ago, I had a delightful conversations with my kids regarding specific teachers in their past. The topic of the week was history class. My middle child made the decision to ditch AP World History for on-level, much to the shock of her brother and sister. Here was the gist of the conversation.
The child making the move had very mature reasons for doing so. She is wise well beyond her years sometimes.
My oldest said he understood, but thought if she had Mr. Parson’s for history, she would love it. He concluded that Mr. Parson’s had not only given him a love of history, but also encouraged him to engage with philosophy and read great books. I would add that I think Mr. Parson’s also gave my kid permission to be his quirky, nerdy self no matter what other kids thought about it.
My youngest chimed in with a story about 2 of her teachers. In 2nd grade, her teacher managed to connect the dots of modern community, ancient civilizations, and dinosaurs into some creative, engaging project that ended with breaking open concrete eggs — or something like that. My kid found a T-Rex toy when she broke open her egg. She said, “T-Rex was my favorite, so I thought it was a sign that I would always want to learn more about history. I was hooked and have been ever since.”
Then she launched into reflections about Mr. Novosad and how she hoped she would one day be able to make kids love history and science the way he made her love history and science. A side note about how deep this love of learning runs with this one – I found her secretly studying her older sister’s AP Human Geography study guide, to which she admitted to stealthily doing at night throughout the summer.
After all of this, my middle child who started it all said, “I’m still going to on-level. Maybe if I’d had a teacher like Ms. Eaton for history when I was younger, I’d love it, too.” Then she went on to explain that Ms. Eaton had changed her life, made her love writing and feel confident about it, and made her want to ask better questions about spiritual things. Wow. I think she is still sneaking back into Ms. Eaton’s classroom to decorate her whiteboard.
In his beautiful book, Learning the Vocabulary of God (amazing), Frank Charles Laubach asks, “God, what is a man’s best gift to mankind? To be beautiful of soul and then let people see into your soul…” I think that is what these teachers did for my kids.
Maybe all of these teachers know what a huge impact they are having on the world, but I wonder if they have days like me, when they wonder what it’s all about and if it’s worth it. If they had a bigger platform than a single classroom, would the power of their reach grow? I’m not so sure.
In the introduction of Gilbert White’s book The Natural History of Selborne, this caught my attention this morning: “By focusing attention on Selborne alone, White was not limiting the reach of his work but expanding it.” I think it might be the same with teaching, and with parenting and mentoring, too. By focusing our attention on a small group of individuals, the depth of our imprint reaches further than it would if we instead had a diluted influence over many.
I contemplated the math of a teacher’s influence this morning – take the 100’s or maybe 1000’s of students a teacher has over his or her career. Now, let’s be conservative and say that even a great teacher only makes a huge impression on 10 percent of those students, but then those students have children and enter into their own careers. Who will those students then influence? What about their children? Their children’s children? It starts to boggle the mind.
In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster contemplates the age-old conversation concerning the sovereignty of God and the power of the human will. “He invites us into the workshop of his creativity, where we can be co-laborers with him, working together to determine the outcomes of events.” What a wonderful filter for the way we view our work!
Much of what most of us have to offer seems small. I photograph my corner of the world and write my little words. I volunteer and vacuum, clean toilets and grocery shop in order to create a kinder environment for my family. It is easy to write off these simple tasks, but they are important. Who knows what trembles on the web of humanity my small acts of kindness might cause?
French philosopher (as well as Jesuit priest, paleontologist and geologist!) Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.”
For good or for evil, whether you know it or not, you are changing the world.