Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I Usually Call It Love

(Note: Several weeks ago, my blogger friend and fellow teacher, Pumpkin Delight, posted her answers to a questionnaire that had once been a popular party game around the turn-of-the-century. The writer Marcel Proust completed this questionnaire, twice, and his answers were published in Andre Maurois’ book, Proust: Portrait of a Genius.  To this day, Vanity Fair magazine uses this set of questions in a regular feature.
The lure of thoughtfully participating in a game played by Proust is really too much for me to resist. My intent is to create intermittent posts out of my answers as I complete them.)
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
(Love) is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another. –Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve experienced perfect happiness, usually in fleeting moments, felt as a joyful connectedness to everything. I usually call it love.
Happiness is not an emotion that stands up to much introspection. I can examine my sorrow or anger, while remaining sad or mad, whereas happiness tends to disappear the moment I become conscious of it. That suggests to me that the state of being unaware of my own emotions is an essential element to achieving happiness. I’ve most often experienced what I’d call perfect happiness during those times when I was operating outside myself, connecting meaningfully with the other living things, forgetting me entirely. And as much as I sometimes fantasize that I might find contentment in withdrawing from the world, I know that, for me, happiness requires reaching out and engaging the rest of you. I usually call it love.
I’ve long been aware that one of the fundamental, selfish reasons I teach preschoolers, is that it takes so little effort for me to want to engage them. I easily lose myself in their world. Perfect happiness often comes to me when I’m lying on my stomach under the loft, taking dictation from a 3-year-old telling a sad story. Perfect happiness catches up with me in the middle of a song about a big ship sailing on the “Illy Alley Oh.” Perfect happiness is the hot and muggy co-mingled breath of a dozen kids engaged in the magnificent feat of an all-class group hug without anyone falling down or being squeezed too tightly. Perfect happiness is a child’s hot tears soaking through my shirt and onto my shoulder while she cries for her mommy. Every preschool teacher knows exactly what I’m talking about. I usually call it love.
In these moments, I’ve achieved a state of desirelessness, the Buddhist nirvana. It is enough to be there, with that person, or those people, helping them, or playing with them. I usually call it love.
The subtitle of this blog is “Teaching and learning from preschoolers.” The capacity for happiness is one of those things they teach me. Children innately know the answers to Tolstoy’s famous Three Questions and they remind me of them every day:
The most important time is now.

The most important person is the one you are with.

The most important thing to do is to be kind to that person.

Those, for me, are the conditions that produce perfect happiness. I usually call it love.
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Unknown said...

Wow. This is so well written. I love how you write. I love how you teach. I love how you live.

I am thankful to have encountered you in the land of blogs.

Jenny said...

Have you ever read Jon Muth's book The Three Questions? It is based on Tolstoy's work and has absolutely beautiful watercolor illustrations.

Michelle said...

Teacher Tom you have summed it up so well... Again!! You are so right; Children, Preschoolers, Babies, Toddlers... they teach us so much... if only more would listen :) I too am glad I found your blog!!

Eternal Lizdom said...

If only you had saved this for one more day!! This is my WWW topic for tomorrow! "Happiness is..." I just might have to be forced to link to you anyway. :)

Floor Pie said...

I couldn't have put my finger on it, but you articulate it so well here...that aura of happiness in our classroom. I don't know if it originates from you, or from the children, or if we're all collectively inspiring each other or what. Or maybe it's just the way the sun pours through the windows on days like today. But it's there, and I'm so glad to be a part of it. Great post.

MOM #1 said...

Great words of wisdom, as always.

Anonymous said...

Happiness can also be elusive, so we need to hold onto those moments when we find them.

Teacher Tom said...

Yes Jenny, I love the Muth book! In fact, it's through that book that I found the Tolstoy story. I used to read it to the kids, but I never had a group that seemed engaged by it. I began to realize that I was reading it more for me than them -- which I'm not entirely against, but I think it's probably a better book for the K-2 ages.

I have it at home and read it to myself 3-4 times a year.

And I agree, the illustrations are amazing!

Scott said...

I agree. It IS enough just being with them, listening to them, playing with them, talking to them. Many preschoolers don't have any adult that will just listen to them or be with them. And I can't think of a better place to be.

Thanks for your great words.

Deborah Stewart said...

Some of the happiest memories I have are all wrapped up in simple moments I have had with my preschool students. To tell my husband or friends the stories of something a student said or did, doesn't seem to have the same meaning for them as it does for me but I always tell my stories anyway. I like to relive those moments even if I am really the only one who can truly appreciate them.