Archive for June, 2014

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Darkness

June 30, 2014

Darkness has descended upon Raven. The blindness came on suddenly, though the causes had no doubt been building to this end for quite some time. Diabetic glaucoma was the diagnosis, and now poor Raven can’t see.

Raven is a thirteen year old Shiba Inu, an ancient Japanese hunting breed which looks like a smaller version of an Akita. He belongs to our old friends Felix and Joan. Not that long ago we spent time with them at their place in upstate New York, and of course Raven was there. He seemed fine, though not quite as spry as he had once been back when his housemate Hunter was around. I just saw him again, now in his new and unfamiliar situation, and it was heartbreaking.

Joan and Felix’s daughter was getting married out on Long Island. In spite of past experiences of nightmarish traffic on the Long Island Expressway, we left in what we thought was sufficient time; after all, it was early in the afternoon. What we didn’t factor in were several accidents, the perpetual construction, and people leaving work extra early on a beautiful June Friday heading out for a weekend of fun in the sun and sand. Three hours later, we arrived at the church, ceremony over, just as the last cars were pulling out to leave.

Since the reception would not be not until seven o’clock, Joan had kindly invited us to hang out at her home with some relatives in the interim. We arrived at the same time as Felix’s ninety-four year old dad. I sat on the porch with him chatting for a bit; he is a most interesting man, eager to tell his stories of years gone by. He had been in the Italian Army during World War II. After being captured, he found himself in a prisoner of war camp in North Africa, the very same one where my father-in-law had been stationed. The son of an Italian immigrant, my father-in-law became the camp’s interpreter. We often wonder if the two hadn’t met there all those years ago.

My wife ushered me inside to be introduced to other family members. Feeling out of place amidst the bustle of activity there, I wandered outside to enjoy the peacefulness of Felix’s backyard. As I walked towards a lounge chair under the shade of a tree, I saw Raven lying on the grass near the pool. I didn’t disturb him in his repose; he’d come over to me in good time to communicate his hello.

Soon Raven stirred and got up. He began walking very slowly along the low wire fence along the poolside. I wondered about the deliberateness with which he proceeded and about the wire fence, the type usually used as a border to gardens rather than by a pool. Raven circled around, now heading toward the patio area where I sat. A stone fire pit stood in the path between us, and he bumped into it head-on. As he then cautiously made his way around it, I first noticed the cloudiness in his eyes. He sniffed the air and took the final few steps to my chair where he nuzzled the hand that I offered. He didn’t look at me but rather past me, and it struck me then that he must be blind.

I watched Raven for quite a while. He would walk in this deliberate manner in ever-widening circles around the patio where I sat, stopping frequently to sniff, occasionally bumping into objects around the yard. It became clear that this exploration was purposeful. Raven needed to map out his old territory anew to accommodate his sightlessness. This old dog was indeed learning a new trick, one that would now be essential for him.

Once at the reception hall, Joan and Felix told us that this had occurred just this past week. The vet confirmed what they already suspected. What would happen next had not yet been decided.

The reception was wonderful, the beautiful bride and the smiling groom basking in the glory of their special day. Felix delivered the best toast I’ve ever heard with verve and both his characteristic humor and heartfelt love. Joan was a most gracious host, glowing in her sparkling gown as she mingled amongst her friends and family. The food was terrific, but as the music played on and the guests danced the night away, my thoughts kept drifting back to Raven.

Aging inevitably brings challenges to members of all our families, both human and canine. These are not easy to deal with in either case. I know those who don’t have animals that are part of their lives will find this hard to understand. Those who do know exactly how hard it is. Watching Raven that afternoon tugged at my heart, and I couldn’t help but think of the dogs in my own life. Like them, he has been a faithful companion to his family for a long time. Hopefully with their love and care, in spite of the darkness that has descended upon him Raven will be able to live out the rest of his days in happiness.

 

 

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The Last Class

June 23, 2014

It is June. Summer weather is finally upon us. A perceptible shift in attitude can be felt as people’s vacation plans grow closer to becoming reality. It is a season of beaches and weddings and college students returning home. And, as it happens each year, it is when another high school class graduates.

This year, though, it is not just another class that is graduating. It is my last class, the one I had four years ago as eighth graders. This is the group of youngsters who helped me write the final chapter of my forty-year career in the classroom, and a special group it was.

It was a fitting class to be my last, one that left me with so many fond memories, one with so many unforgettable students — good scholars, creative thinkers, free spirits, and kind-hearted souls. And some of them were amongst the best young writers I’d ever taught.

This means quite a bit to me, and not just because I was an English teacher. Through their writing, I learned much about these developing minds as they struggled to make sense of this crazy world. I witnessed their growing sense of how they fit into it and the many possible paths that may lie ahead of them. I got to know them, and that is why I will remember them even as they move on into their futures.

I saved copies of many of their compositions, and looking back at them makes me both proud and happy. They wrote about a great variety of topics, often pushing themselves far beyond what could have been just one more school assignment. They put their hearts and souls into their words, writing about 9/11, what it is like to experience the injustice of prejudice, the true meaning of Memorial Day, how it’s not easy being green. They listened to me ramble on about the road to real learning, what John Dewey said and the kitchen table vs. the file cabinet. They visited the Little Rock Guys with regularity, depositing the results of their ruminations for me to marvel over. I hope they know how much I appreciated their efforts. I hope they know how much I miss them.

I was fortunate to be able to watch their continued growth through high school. Some of them became part of the track team on which I was a volunteer coach. Others continued writing for the school newspaper or in the literary magazine. Chance encounters revealed the many changes they had undergone, and I couldn’t help but think of the profound ones looming ahead as they become adults.

Part of me is saddened, for their departure is a symbol of my own. I had felt a connectedness to the school and the community that I’m not sure will remain. Tomorrow they will walk together one final time to receive diplomas and venture forth into the next chapters of their lives. I know that as they make their own way in the world, my last year together with them will fade in their memory. But in the end, I feel most fortunate to have had the opportunity to share, even if for just that short time, a part of their journey .

class of 2010