Saturday, February 25, 2012


“The footsteps of the Apollo astronauts left on the moon will never blow away, never erode; they will be there forever.”
 I heard or saw this quote somewhere; I gave it to my students, too, as a journal to think and write about.  But I couldn't stop there--I had to write about it, too.  I claim I write what I ask the students to write about so I can "model" the way to write... but in all honesty, I write what I ask the students to write because I, too, am a student...still learning and still "growing my thoughts" about my world view.  So here is my response to that quote....

Henry David Thoreau wrote about the earth being soft and how easily it is for mankind to leave its mark on it. In Walden he said, “The surface of the earth is soft and impressionable by the feet of men.” He wasn’t happy with that fact—that mankind has such an impact on the face of the earth. He also says, “It is remarkable how easily … we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.” Years later, even, the path that he unintentionally made from his front door to Walden Pond was still visible. 
He didn’t like it; he would rather “go where there is no path and leave a trail” instead of follow in the tracks of those who walked there before him. He felt that it was the height of conformity to do as others had done. He, in his rebellion against conformity, wanted to break the mold, to do that which hadn’t been done, and to carve a new path.
But what about us? What are we to do? If, as Thoreau said, the earth’s highways and byways are worn smooth by the many feet of those who have gone before, how are we to make our marks on the world? The Apollo astronauts, in their “one small step for men, one giant leap for mankind,” have left behind prints that no wind can erase, no water can erode, nor moth and rust destroy. Is there any place that no one has ever been? Is there something that no one has ever done? How are we to leave behind us the indelible footprints that show where we’ve been?
Some people, in order to leave behind them a legacy, build monuments to themselves; others give money to charities or create scholarships in their names; still others, without the means of the first two groups, have children in order to pass on the family farm, name, or other boon. But what if we’re not supposed to look merely at the stuff one leaves behind, but the WAY one walked as one left footprints? What if ALL of our footsteps were indelible? What if when we walk, we ARE the Apollo astronauts stepping onto the moon for the first time?
Thoreau and the Apollo astronauts had the right idea—this path we take is not for the faint of heart.  We must be willing to face up to those who say we cannot do it and show them it can be done.  We must live our lives with the knowledge that we are leaving a path for mankind to follow.  Our path may not be on the soft surface of the earth or the powdery surface of the moon, but we do leave a trail.  People all around us notice our walk—our path—and that fact means we need to be careful in choosing it.
What will those who come behind us find when they follow in our steps? Will our footprints show us to be true to the path we were walking? Thoreau mentioned it—he didn’t want to take a “cabin passage” on his journey. He wanted to “ride before the mast,” but even in his doing so, he found he could not help but make a trail. 
What, then, about my path? Will those who come behind me find a path that leads to new discoveries, gracious footsteps that lead one further on and further in, faithful to the end? Or will they find that my path went wandering down rabbit trails, loitering in front of scurrilous shops, or down dark and desolate alleys?
What will my footprints say of me? I pray that those who come behind me find me faithful to my calling. I hope that my steps lead people toward the light instead of into the darkness. I want my life to leave a legacy that shows I was about the Master’s business instead of my own.  I must determine what those people who follow in my footsteps find.  I must choose the narrow way, even when that way seems hard and lonely.  I must walk the righteous path, even when I would rather find an easier way.
Will my indelible footprints on the surface of the road I walk lead others to greatness?  Will they show that I gave my best even when I was weary?  Will they show that I helped others when I could?  Will they show that even in my darkest moments I was walking toward the light, even if I couldn’t see it at the time?  Did I strive toward the goal set before me to win the prize?  If I stumbled, did I get back up again?  If I strayed, did I get back on the right path?  For if I did… then I will not have walked in vain, and I can trust that those who follow me will not be disappointed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Building Cathedrals

    I suppose I am, in a way, a devotee of Maurice de Sully (for those who don't know, de Sully was the architect of Notre Dame Cathedral), but my reference is a little different.  "Build Cathedrals" means more than the building itself--which is a good thing because I am not an architect or a construction worker. 

    A couple of years ago I was at a teaching conference where this story was told:
    When a great cathedral was being built, workers from all around the countryside came to help in the construction, and the little children of the area could be seen watching the amazing structure rise from the formerly bare ground.  One little boy, watching three stonemasons, asked the first man what he was doing. 
    Seeing that the boy was curious, the man answered, "I'm laying bricks.  You take the bricks and lay them on the foundation; then you take the trowel and add the mortar that holds them together to all the sides that touch other bricks.  That's how you lay bricks."
    The boy moved on to the next mason, and asked him what he was doing.  The man said, "I'm building a wall.  You take the bricks and lay them on the foundation; then you take the trowel and add the mortar that holds them together to all the sides that touch other bricks.  That's how you build a wall."  The little boy nodded and moved on.
    He watched the third man, doing the exact same job as the other two--buttering bricks with mortar, laying them on top of the rows of bricks already there in the same way the others were doing.  He watched for a while, and then asked the third man what he was doing.  The third man looked at him with shining eyes.  "I'm building a cathedral."
    A second story that shaped my motto is similar to the first.  I read it in a book called Keeping a Princess Heart in a Not-So-Fairytale World the same summer I went to that conference.
    When St. Peter's in London was being built, a skilled woodworker/artisan was hired to create the ceiling joists for the building.  He could have just carved several rough beams out of the logs he was given, but he spent hours and hours on the joists--intricately carving flowers, gargoyles, images, etc. into the beams.  He was asked why he had spent so much time and effort adding all this artistic beauty and "wasting" his skill, especially since the ceiling joists were all to be covered up--no one would ever see them.  After he heard that--the part of no one ever seeing his work--he answered simply, "God will."
    The third man in the first story, although he was completing the same task as the other two men, had a greater vision than the other two.  He saw the end result of his labor, not just the labor itself.
    The artisan, although he was "simply" supposed to carve rough-hewn beams for the joists, had a greater understanding of audience than most.  He understood that he was working for God, not men.
    So I began to look at my job in light of those two epiphanies.  My job is more than just laying bricks (i.e. teaching lessons on grammar, making sure the students understand the story plotline, struggling to comprehend Shakespeare's language, etc.) and building walls (i.e. giving tests and checking mastery); I am building cathedrals (i.e. having a vision of what these kids COULD be).  My Audience notices the intricate details of my work--those things I do all the time and never get praised for, and/or those things I do to make my teaching better that no one will ever see--and is pleased.
    Some days I build cathedrals.  Some days I just lay brick.  But all the time I must remember that my vision and audience must be greater than what I can really do or see.