This year, I’ve tried to make more of an effort to model assignments in the classroom, particularly the presentation style assignments. As comfortable as the majority of my seniors are with presenting in front of each other, they have developed the safe and true method of speaking in front of a slide presentation. This has them relying on an oral essay style delivery with slides that are there to give the half interested members of the audience someplace other than the presenter to look.
With a bit of creativity, presenters can say more with some well crafted implications than they would otherwise be able through plain language. What’s more is that for the IB students, providing a creative outlet should be seen as therapeutic, giving them a break from straight up academics.Today, I took on the role of Warren from Robert Frost’s “Death of the Hired Man” in a monologue reflecting on the events that took place on the night the poem is set. There are mixed feelings here, as I am stepping into the teacher-library role next year. It hit me tonight that this shift moves me out of the classroom and I may not be finding myself doing things like the monologue for my class, focusing specifically on what my students need.
As much as my students needed modelling of creativity, so do I. Pushing myself to show creativity is difficult and vulnerable. Like so many other things, if educators cannot show themselves as vulnerable, how can we ever expect that from our students? The monologue was not supposed to be perfect, it was an opportunity to illustrate what can happen if you take risks and step out of the standard “stand and deliver” mode of safety. From “doing fine,” to “great and having fun.”
I would like to share the monologue here, as I did spend some time writing it and I’m pretty proud of it. Hey, if we can’t find outlets to share things that we are proud of, how can we expect students to do it?
The years don’t make the memories easier, but they sure make them clearer. And the strangest seem to be the clearest.
It was many years ago, when I still had my Mary, and she approached me as I came back from market. She greeted me before I could get into the house, pushed me out the door, can you believe it? But I went, ‘cause she had that look… that look of, not worry, but like she’d been a-caring for something that wasn’t going to get better. Of course that is easy to say now, but I had seen that face many times since that day, though that was the day she first tried it on.
She broke the news that Silas was back, and in our house . I thought I was going to spit, I was so angry. How could she let him in with the lurch that that fella had left us in by not attending the last haying of the previous season?
There was a softness in Mary’s eyes that gave me pause and allowed her a word in. ‘He’s worn out… A miserable sight,” she says.
Now I was a younger man then, just getting the farm turned around and at a place that we could pay to get the occasional help to make sure that all of every one thing got done and fields didn’t seed, and hay wasn’t wasted. Pretty full of my success back then. Men wanted to work for me as I was a fair man with enough motivation to get a bit more done than not. I’m humbled and embarrassed now by thinking my first thoughts were about the farm, thinking about the promise that the fella in our house had made me before he left and not his well-being… not a very Christian thing to do or think, or speak to Mary like I did, but Mary was…. Was distraught at his condition… she was an angel and most likely is now. I eventually got it out of her, made her ‘confess’ that he remembered about ditching the meadow for me, and I should have realized a lot more then……
The fella in our house, Silas? Well, no one would mistake him for being motivated, nope. Would stay around one place to earn just enough to get him to the next, that and a cigarette between his lips.
In one of her angrier moments with me, Mary accused me of being jealous of Silas. Well, now, that sent me into quite a rage, madder then hell, if you’ll excuse me sayin’. I just could not imagine what I would have to be jealous about that flea-bitten, low-life gadabout for.
I just wish that Mary was still around, so that I could-a said sorry when I figured out what she meant by it. Truth is, Silas’ choices allowed him to not have to worry about a farm, crop failures, droughts, loans, children……… a wife *pause*
It wasn’t the life that I would have chosen for myself, but I shouldn’t have faulted Silas for making it his choice, After all, he didn’t hurt anyone, to my knowledge, lived a life that did no harm to others and took care of himself. Even if he didn’t go out of his way to be charitable, he was no less Christian than any of us, if a supposen I was in a position to judge. Giving it weight was the notion that, as ill as he was, he remembered his promise about ditching the meadow as well as clearing the upper pasture, too. That we should all be so thoughtful of others in our own times of need.
The other truth was that, even without ambition, Silas was a likeable character. He got on with young and old, rich or poor, heck, he even got on with young Harold Wilson, and that boy was bright enough to get a teaching job at the college that he finished at. It was moren’so that it looked like they didn’t get along, always arguing over one thing or another; divining water, Latin, weather and aches, book-learning things. But my years have shown me that each had a talent; Harold’s was a book-learnin’ and Silas had a more….. practical approach to things, like his ability to build a load of hay. Another thing I should have learnt earlier from my Mary, that each creature has their talent and a man is not to judge its merit based on his own set of priorities.
Mary, God rest her, was kind. I hope she can look down on me and see that I have finally learnt something, for all my years of pig-headedness, yessir. Mary saw Silas for a man, not a worker or somehow a lesser because he wasn’t gauged by our means of what success is.
Mary called our home Silas’ home, the place that he came to die when she finally outted her inner thoughts that night. She saw that the man’s health was beyond failing and that his end was near.
Should have been easier to see that night. Maybe to me, to us, that for however I saw Silas, he didn’t see me, us, in the same way. The meaning of home to us was the place that we lived at, earned a living from, ate our meals with family. To a younger me ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.’
Silas did not apply any of these definitions to home, the way we would have. It made more sense with the years, but Silas, however he saw his time with us, applied his definition of ‘home’ more to our farm than anywhere else. I am now humbled by that, yessir, can’t claim to understand it from his point of view, but that we meant so much with having done so little should have meant something more to me at the time.
Mary, so much wiser than me in our youth, already understood. Home was a place that you needn’t ‘deserve.’ Already understood that Silas’ definition of home was different from ours, which depended on family and such. It is still a mystery, but we somehow became Silas’ home.
His brother, works at a bank, the same bank that carries my loan *pbtah*, very wealthy gent, didn’t even merit mention by our Silas. All those seasons coming by our place and time in the field, not one mention that he even had a brother. Everyone knew, but that was a fact that was for Silas to say.
His bank-man brother, offered very little in the way of assistance after ole Silas’ death. Mary made the arrangements and spoke to the church. Silas’ brother stayed only as long at the service so that others wouldn’t judge ill by him and left before final words were spoken. Would seem that even in that, he gave the wrong attention to Silas’ way of thinking. I would start to wonder if it would have been a more genuine gesture not to be there at all.
I remember how she looked that night, in the moonlight. I remember the words that she said, hoping to quell my……feelings…. About seeing him there in the condition that he was in. The light made her glow, my angel, my Mary, putting others before herself, not judging others based on the ‘rules’, but on their true worth. Not pleading with me, not telling me, but preparing me for the broken man that I would find in our house.
And she was right. I was taken aback. The man sitting in my chair was not the same man who could load hay, tend crops or offered to dig a ditch. When I entered the room, his head rolled my way and there was a shadow of a smile starting.
“Heya Silas,” was what I eventually coughed out.
He didn’t say anything back. But shook a bit and finally raised his hand to extend it toward me to take. I took his hand, meaning to shake it as a greeting, but Silas, as weak as he looked would not let go and a gentle pressure invited me to sit down and continue holding it. After an uncomfortable time, Silas relaxed in the chair. I continued to hold his hand and whispered his name, then spoke it. I’m not sure how many times before I understood that he had passed.
I continued sitting there, holding his hand and what I saw I never could quite describe to Mary, but it is of the clearest of images I hold in my mind. Silas’ in passing, sitting there, holding my hand with an ‘almost’ smile, looked …… peaceful, at rest in a way I’ve never seen before or since.
But that isn’t quite right.
He looked… as though he had a sense of satisfaction. As if he had accomplished something that he had spent years trying to achieve.
All that was left was to tell Mary he was gone. I wish I could tell her now what I have since figured out.