Asking Why Not.
If you have ever gotten an email from me or looked at my list of mentors on my webpage, you will know that Bobby Kennedy helped form who I am. I have used his paraphrase of something George Bernard Shaw wrote to create my Weltanschauung. Bobby’s redaction of Shaw’s sentence was, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
As I look back upon my life, I’m haunted by what drove me and where I am today. A large part of my dreaming dreams has as its genesis my father being transferred to Pittsburgh. While looking for a home, he asked a realtor about the best school system in the Pittsburgh area. Mt. Lebanon was the answer. My father didn’t go to college due to WWII, but he wanted his three boys to do so.
My father sacrificed a great deal as a result of moving to Mt. Lebanon, which was the best school system, but it was also the 19th best in the nation. Mt. Lebanon was the wealthiest town in the area also. Both those issues had a profound effect upon me...a very negative effect. I left high school having learned two things about me: I was dumb and poor. For a good part of my life, I fought against feeling that way, until I realized that I wasn’t either. There were people that helped me discover who I was like Brooks Oakford, Louie Palmer, and Anne Perry.
A decade ago, I danced with death twice due to a traumatic brain injury and prostate cancer that had gone outside the prostate. If living and going to school in Mt. Lebanon was finally seen by me as a blessing, doing those two dances were blessings on steroids. I’m a different cat today. I am alive...even though I thought that I was alive prior to the dances.
Granted, I need to come up with a different word than driven to explain who I am, but I’ll work on that after this essay. Nonetheless, feeling dumb caused me to teach in various ways during most of my adult life. I have taught at the college level for over a couple of decades, and I’ll never stop. Teaching is my means of avoiding having other students suffer the way I did. We are all able to do better academically merely by being encouraged to push ourselves.
When my grandson, Jack, wasn’t even three years old, he wanted to know what was on my laptop. I told him that I was teaching an art history class, and the picture on the monitor was a famous painting. That answer satisfied him for several minutes. However, he returned and asked what was on the screen now. It was obvious that Jack wanted to know about paintings. Several years later, Jack and Owen, his younger brother, know many dozens of paintings and sculptures along with the name of the artist.
A couple years later, Jack was in my backyard. He and I were throwing rocks into the lake. Then he asked about what he discovered. I looked, and he had found a rock containing fossilized sea shells. Thus, began his fossil collection. Today, Jack and Owen have their own fossil collections. Either one of the boys have more fossils than nearly any child in the entire country.
Therefore, teaching is important to me. However, I want to learn. After graduate school, I did post-graduate work at New College of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Additionally, I traveled all over Europe. Thus, began the greatest learning experience for me. In the half century since going to New College, I have traveled to Africa, the Middle East, Indochina, the Indian subcontinent, Tibet, China, South America, and several islands in the Pacific. On many occasions, I have revisited countries several times. During some of my travels, I went to school overseas, and in others, I taught overseas. I have been on tours, conducted tours, and have traveled on my own.
As you read this essay, I’m somewhere between Chicago and Yangon, Burma. I have two reasons for wanting to return to Burma. Four years ago, I went there hoping to contact Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Lady. I would love to interview this recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Additionally, I want to offer her something that I would be willing to do to help make Burma more democratic.
I also want to spend some time with my tour guide from four years ago, Moh, and her family. Of all the places in which I have visited in the past half century, spending a month in Burma four years ago was the most transformative trip of all my overseas adventures.
Finally, the pièce de résistance, which drives my hopes is to find a teaching position at a small college. I mentioned Louie Palmer as a person who helped me determine who I was. Louie taught a required 10-hour art history class at Muskingum College. Students could take it in either their junior or senior years. I took it in my junior year and did well in the class but didn’t ace the class. However, Louie saw something in me about which I wasn’t fully aware. He asked me to be his teaching assistant in my senior year.
Essentially, I took the class again, taught several subsections each week and wrote and graded both the midterms and finals for each semester. That single opportunity helped transform my thinking about myself.
Louie Palmer teaching a subsection of The Arts
Along with being his teaching assistant, I babysat for his dog, Bimbo. However, when he’d take a class overseas during winter break, I house sat for him and took care of Bimbo for several weeks. I felt quite honored to be Bimbo’s caretaker. The entire student body loved Bimbo. This is Bimbo sitting in the subsection classroom.
That teaching experience was at the beginning of my adult life. However, at the other the other end of my adult life, I have a dog. Her name is Ginger.
I have many yet unrealized dreams. However, beyond interviewing the Lady, I want to teach at a small college somewhere...and do as Louie did with Bimbo. I would love to take Ginger to class and have her sit watching the exchange within the class. Ginger would love to be with my students. That would be a great academic swansong for me.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Bobby Kennedy page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the My Hauntings page to read more about this topic.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Thus Spoke Ginger page to read more about this topic.