Garden Road 2-20-18

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For 2018 National FFA Week, a few Wayne Community High School students drove their tractors into town. On the icy morning of Feb. 22, the extra traction couldn’t have hurt. / Photo by Jason W. Selby

In Cambria, like Sewal now an unincorporated town, my class attended junior high. In first grade, we were bused to Allerton’s old high school. I spent too much time squirming in a seat.

The consolidation of schools has been taking place since one-room schoolhouses made of pine, and the fear for some is it will continue. Spending several hours a day on a bus is not conducive to a good education, nor is the removal of more options a sign of progress. Children should have public education available to them as a basic human right. Intelligence and book learning are not everything, but their availability is essential to the gifted, and I do not mean in the athletic sense.

Reverence for learning was ingrained in my family, from the artwork of Professor Edward Churchill’s mother’s paintings in our house, to the Time Life books my grandmother bought to teach a history of the world she did not necessarily believe in, that the universe might be billions of years old, and her children might be the children of stars.

I have seen the work of modern day therapists, who in college gave me stones with ‘energy’ and ‘focus’ to take home for the summer. They were reminders to work without attachment for whatever I created.

In the past, psychologists used crystals and ceremonial rights to heal their people. But they were called shamans then. Not much has changed in thousands of years. Men still feel the need to experience the energy that surrounds them, to be consciously and unconsciously absorbed, and though they cannot make sense of it, at least it is a first step in healing. It is a human tradition to feel lost or disconnected from some earlier period, whether to childhood or to the beginning of the universe. The world was once a volcanic, sulfuric mixture with a moon 10 times as large in the sky, but for some reason we wax nostalgic for the heat of an Iowa summer, and 17-year cicadas filling the front yard with empty shells and noise.

Though they might not have had words written on them, they were meant to represent a form of energy, something fired in the stones and minerals long ago, when there was only ash and smoke. I held energy and focus in my hands, and attempted to convince myself that doing so was enough. The problem was one of effort. They were not magic crystals. I had free will to act upon my abilities and gifts, limited though they might be in the larger scope of world history.

Even the greatest men who have ever lived questioned whether they were worthy. Shakespeare wrote a poem speaking of ‘Desiring that man’s art, and this man’s scope’ and ‘Wishing me like to one more rich in hope.’

He knew his work would live on, and questioned at the same time whether it mattered.

In a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, an old teacher, in a moment of hopelessness after being laid off, considers suicide. To his rescue come the spirits of old students, whom he changed in ways he never imagined. One boy died in World War II, but a poem the teacher taught him comforted him in his last moments.

Of course, it is the students that save the teacher in the end. He walks out into the snowy evening without having discharged his pistol. The way is now evident to him. There is no time to consider too long or too short, because the substance of the universe is snow. He tramps through this world without end. He is walking away from his classroom, but always returning to a first chalkboard, and when necessary, the playground.