The Way It Is

William Stafford

There is a thread you follow.  It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what things you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
But you don't ever let go of the thread.

The Gift

By Alan Cohen, cofounder of The Cargo Project

It should be the peak of my teaching career. I have spent years devising techniques to engage the students in my class, and they have been successful. But this year is different. No matter what I do, I cannot generate any spark of excitement in the kids. The techniques I have integrated into my work fall flat, one after another.

I blame the students. They have no interest, no leader, no love of learning. I blame their parents, who do not offer support. Their previous teachers, who failed them and brought them to this mediocre state. It certainly cannot be me.

I attend a week-long workshop in the mountains of North Carolina. I think I am going to learn about myth and story, traditional culture, and multicultural healing. What I bring back is a precious lesson, the gift of a teacher from an African tribal background.

It is a most important part of life to discover one’s gift and grow into it.

I learned that many tribal cultures had in the basic tenets of their philosophy, the idea that everyone enters this world with a unique gift. The idea was passed to the ancient Greeks and expressed in the writings of Plato. It became widespread, but seems to have gone into hiding in these modern times. The gift comes with each newborn child, but in the cosmologies of each particular group that embraced the idea, the gift is forgotten upon entering the world, whether from stepping in the river of forgetfulness, hugging a tree of forgetting, or the birth trauma itself. Once here, the child holds great potential. It is a most important part of life to discover one’s gift and grow into it. Everything depends on this. Once the gift is known it is an obligation to give it generously to one’s people and the world.

One rarely knows the gift until it is seen by someone credible. Then it can be activated. In our culture the person most likely to see it is a teacher. Hmmm.

Returning to my class I began the process of seeing the gift in each student. There was no dramatic epiphany, but I now felt different about my purpose.

Over the years, as in any serious practice, my ability grew. I was able to recognize gifts in particular students and convey this to them. I taught the ‘gift’ idea to them so they could see gifts in others. I realized that students shifting their own thinking could not marginalize others as easily as before. They respected each other. Denying or bullying another person prevents them from giving you their gift.

The idea of building my career by using techniques slowly died into the practice of creating an environment in which the students felt gifted and seen. They learned in order to gain skills that would help them give themselves to the world. It made all the difference.