Columns » John Brummett

Today’s thanks, tomorrow’s wisdom

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In honor of the week’s holiday, and to help get us in the mood for something beyond gluttony and football, I’ll relate a few of the things — people, mostly — for which and whom I am thankful.

And I’ll wish for enough wisdom and perspective to sustain this conscious gratitude every day, which might be the very key to sanity.

There’s the young man, about to turn 12, and the beaming of his face when he nears the principal’s office and spots me waiting each Tuesday morning for our “mentoring” sessions.

There’s his mom, who approved me to get that password so that I can go on-line and monitor his academic performance. There’s the assistant principal who had the idea.

There’s the young man’s English teacher, who e-mails me to share her frustrations, but then, as on one glorious day last week, her delight.

She wrote to say that my young friend had clearly loved writing a story. He hadn’t wanted to quit at the end of the class. He had seemed genuinely excited when he grasped one bit of instruction: When he changed speaking characters in his relating of dialogue, he needed new paragraphs.

There’s that book, “Freak the Mighty,” which he was reading and loving. So, I read it myself, and loved it, too. It’s a compelling and artfully written story about the strength drawn from friendship. I don’t remember reading anything as challenging or meaningful in the sixth grade.

There’s public education in general and the efforts I see in it amid daunting socio-economic challenges. Maybe we could try to make our public schools better without getting on their case quite so vigorously. That goes double for columnists touting charter schools.

Then there are the 150 or so retirees in the “LifeQuest” program — retired from careers, but hardly from what they call “adventures in learning,” meaning living — who showed up every Wednesday morning for our class, “Behind the Headlines.” That included the unscheduled ninth class of the eight-week term so that we could chew on the elections of the day before.

These folks keep me as sharp as I can be kept. They are my role models, in fact, along with the old boys in their 70s and 80s with their replacement hips and replacement knees and their regular doubles match at the tennis club. They don’t get around the court so well anymore, but the hand-to-eye coordination remains keen. If they can get to the ball, they hit it cleanly and direct it deftly.

One day I heard one of them call a “let,” asserting that the serve had nicked the top of the net as it came over. His opponents berated him by saying no one in the group could possibly hear well enough anymore to call a let.

So, I’m thankful for feistiness, competitive spirits, vigorous debate and senses of humor.

Then there’s the friend in East Arkansas who thought enough of me to send me that book, “Night.” It’s Elie Wiesel’s account of being a 15-year-old laborer in a Nazi concentration camp with his father — until his father, to whom he had literally clung for weeks, fell ill and then, one night shortly before the American tanks brought liberation, didn’t make it.

I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t read the book before and that somehow my friend knew it.

He inscribed a note saying he hoped I’d read the book not at all for enjoyment, but to endure it and try to come to terms with it.

I read it. I did not enjoy it. I did endure it. I’m struggling to come to terms with it.

Among other things, I’m left with the thought that it surely would be easier to endure your own dehumanization than to watch your father’s beside you.

One way to come partially to terms with such despair and evil, I suppose, is to keep in mind the things and people you’re thankful for, and to read back over them and behold what fine and noble things and people they are.

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