Happy spring! I can’t believe we are almost finished with April – with the snow outside, it doesn’t quite feel like it. As we speed through the final quarter of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about some recent experiences. First, during Winterim I headed to Snow Mountain Ranch with Ms. Fisher and eleven middle schoolers. While our main activity and purpose was cross-country skiing and map-making, we shared many other moments while digging snow caves, preparing meals, stealing mascots (long story), and playing games. During vacation, my family went to New York, where I grew up. For this trip, our main purpose was to see a show (Mean Girls, which was fantastic!) and some other sites. The show was definitely a highlight, but some of the smaller moments will also stick in my memory – walking through Central Park, walking on the High Line Trail (lots of walking on this trip!), and introducing my kids to some old high school and college friends.
The other day, my husband and I listened to a podcast from the Aspen Ideas Festival called “Living a Moral Life.” In it, a panel of writers and philosophers discuss what it means to live a moral life. One thing they all agreed upon was the importance of finding a larger purpose. Writer David Brooks, one of the panelists, described it as a figure sitting at the end of your bed that may show up anytime, asking “Why are you here?” He also talked about the idea that we all climb two mountains in our lives. The first is the mountain where we establish our career and our families. We typically find at least some measure of success in these areas at some point in our lives, but then we find ourselves unfulfilled (hence, the mid-life crisis). And so we discover this other mountain, the mountain where we discover our purpose and where we work on our character (Brooks calls this our “eulogy traits”, as opposed to our “resume traits”).
I get the feeling that Brooks sees it as inevitable that we can’t fully get to the second mountain until we conquer the first, and this idea intrigues me. As I reflect on my life so far, I see his point and feel that the older I get, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. At the same time, I feel incredibly lucky that my chosen vocation has also been my avocation. I can’t imagine having a job or career that could be more fulfilling than working with students. And going back to the idea of purpose, I feel that one of my greatest charges is guiding students to discover their purposes as well. Of course, I don’t expect them to have it all figured out by the time they finish middle school (heck, I haven’t figured it all out yet!), but I do hope that our students have a strong sense of what they are good at, what they struggle with, and how they feel they can make a difference.
My other hope, which circles back to how I began this blog, is that along the way, they will discover the multitude of smaller moments that make up their lives – the games they play on the bus with friends, the story they read with a parent before bed, the snuggle with a beloved pet at just the right time. Too often we focus so much on figuring out who we are and what we should do that we forget to relish these moments.
I was recently at my 30th(!) high school reunion, and we held a gathering honoring one of our classmates who tragically passed away during our college years. We each shared a memory we had of our dear friend and speculated as to what she would be doing now were she still alive. As I shared a silly memory of a road trip she and I took together, I was reminded that she really did live with the idea that she never knew which moment would be our last. She always kept one eye on the future and worked hard so she could be in a position to make a difference, but she also took every opportunity to look at the world around her, enjoying it, but also figuring out how she could make a difference right then and there. I don’t think I’ve known anyone else who lived life so fiercely, filled with passion, sometimes anger, and mostly joy.
When I think about the small moments in my life that have had meaning, I realize that so many of them actually led me to my purpose. The times I gathered my stuffed animals in a circle to teach a math lesson, the goofy skits I made up with my students on backpacking trips, the visits from students when my son was first born, the guitar playing and singing with teachers and students on the Moab trip. The moments I cherish connect together in a way that makes clear what I value. At a young age, my friend taught me the importance of these small moments, and I love her all the more for that lesson.
And so in her honor, as I work on climbing these two mountains, I will always be filled with a sense of purpose and also with a mindfulness of the smaller moments of my life. And I hope to help our students do the same – while they may have to climb two mountains no matter what, hopefully I can help them enjoy the journey!
p.s. If you’d like to hear the aforementioned podcast, here
is a link.