Saturday, October 25, 2008

Merle

A week ago today we lost a dear friend and my heart still aches for him.

Merle was the cat who said his own name. We got him when he was a tiny, black as coal kitten nearly twenty years ago. He grew up with our kids and tolerated several other cats, dogs and even a pig in what quickly became his kingdom.

He was the coolest cat I ever knew.

Unexcitable, always able and willing to defend himself, Merle was never the aggressor. He put up with a lot of nonsense from kids and puppies. He grew to be nearly thirty pounds of impressive reflexes, muscle and sinew. But near the end he had withered away to merely ten pounds and was having trouble finding a reason to eat.

Merle wasn't in pain but he was tired. Our backyard was still his domain but he patrolled it less often near the end, preferring a soft basket chair in the shade of an enormous avocado tree. We prayed for him to slip away quietly in his sleep but when he stopped eating altogether we knew it was time to say goodbye to one of our babies. Quality of life is a subjective call but Merle's magnificent integrity deserved preservation. It was time.

He loved us deeply. He was purring loudly and looking calmly into our eyes as Carolann and I gave him our tearful goodbye kisses.

Even then he gave us comfort.

The backyard is awfully empty now. When I open the screen door I still expect to hear him calling his own name, "MURRRL!" and to see him ambling toward me with his graceful, regal gait so that he might allow me to scratch behind his ears.

And as I think of him now I am painfully aware of how the hearts of our beloved pets are so great as to selflessly wrap us in their furry, purry love when we are in need of compassion.

I wish I could hug Merle one more time. I certainly owe him that.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I get to.

A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.” ~Author Unknown

These days teachers come under fire from all sides. They’re pressured by bureaucrats, abused by parents; disrespected and ridiculed by their own students. They work longer hours under more stressful, thankless conditions than anybody in any other business I can imagine. And, on those rare occasions when they’re forced to stand up for their own needs they’re often shouted down with scorn.

How dare they be so selfish!

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.“ ~Jacques Barzun

Some who become teachers can’t hack it, and how can you blame them? Overworked, underpaid, hardly ever appreciated, they continually reach into their own pockets to buy school supplies and to decorate and liven up drab classrooms in the hope that they can excite and ignite a fire in their students, many of whom would rather be anywhere else.

Those who do manage to hang on grow. The good ones grow large enough to find a higher regard for themselves and humanity. They become leaders. The occasional great teacher grows large enough to inspire greatness in others.

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” ~Khalil GibranEmily's 7th grade science class

This week my daughter-in-law, Emily Williams, was named one of sixteen Teachers of the Year for all of Los Angeles County. That’s sixteen teachers out of eighty (80) thousand!

To say we’re proud of her would be an understatement of the magnitude of saying it’s nice to be alive.

I could write pages of praise for Emily and the extraordinary, loving family that raised and still nurtures her. I could enumerate her higher qualities until I simply exhaust my own limitations in recognizing them and still she would have more. When looking for the right words to express gratitude for teachers even Shakespeare came up wanting:

“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.“ ~William Shakespeare

It’s enough for me to know that Emily is the perfect wife for my son, a truly wonderful mother for my grandson and a teacher of such high standing that she has earned the adoration of her administrators, her peers and her charges.

But what blows me away is how she does it in the face of all that pressure, abuse and disrespect. How she does it and why.

She is simply head over heels in love with life. She possesses an eternal wellspring of idealism and hope. She never thirsts for a dream.

And while the rest of us open our eyes each morning and think, “I have to go to work,” our Emily explains, with perfectly ingenuous wonder:

“I get to.”

Emily's award

There was an error in this gadget