A few years ago, I mentioned in a column my childhood dream of being a hermit, living in the top of a lighthouse and writing great literature. I no longer express that dream as I subsequently received numerous emails and comments regarding lighthouses for sale – in Wisconsin. When a link was forwarded by my husband, I decided to stay away from the topic.
I have since changed my dream. Feeling generations of farming blood from South Hall and South Georgia, my dream now is to buy a tractor and cut grass for a living. In my dream I am on my husband’s family farm, bush-hogging fields all day. Now, I know that perpetual bush-hogging is not the only aspect of farming or land management, but it is the only part I care about.
I typically dream that dream of driving a tractor in the warm Georgia sun, as birds sing overhead and the deer dart about, around Thursday night or Friday morning of a long week of teaching. By Monday, the dream is tucked away for a few days.
It is not because I do not care about teaching that I dream of running away with Massey Ferguson and John Deere, but rather because I care too much. I take the life of each student as a sacred trust, with each day a make-or-break journey of education and self-empowerment. Those can be some mighty long days. By the end of the week, well, I see that tractor in my mind.
Then on Saturday morning, I feel the soothing effects of cleaning house and listening to the soundtrack of “Les Miserables.” I begin the pre-Monday restoration.
Today, however, the process is accelerated by former students. They infiltrate my vision of dust and seeds flying around as I imagine slinging my bush-hog about, leaving clumps of flowers untouched in my pure focus on the task at hand.
First, I find an index card, one side decorated with blue marker and gold glitter, the other offering a sweet note from a former eighth-grade student, now a senior at Gainesville High School. And what a senior! Stellar student, drum major, guest drum major last weekend at the UGA pregame show — but then, she was a student in my English class.
A few minutes later, I receive a Facebook message from a former student, now a college freshman. “I hope you are doing well, Momma Morris!” from Andy Mai. The tractor is now long-gone from thought as I write my typical essay-length response to him.
I begin to think of the last time Andy came to visit, an afternoon of pre-planning just before my new school year began. He would soon leave for college. He and his mother had talked until 2 a.m. the night before as she related her journey from Vietnam to this country. As he discovered this part of his past, he began the heroic journey of college — his own path of discovery and fulfillment.
Of course, my response was that of teacher/momma. For I love to capture these stories of real history, valuing not just the events but the impact they have on my students and our community.
Now as I ponder these things, a line pops into my mind from a short story my students recently read. In “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote, a character referred to only as Friend is in an open field, her 60-something eyes following the line of homemade kites dancing across the Alabama sky, celebrating Christmas with her dear friend “Buddy,” the narrator and Truman Capote himself.
She states: “My, how foolish I am! ... I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are ... was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.’”
My tractor dream is not a random dream. Yet if I cease dreaming and look around me now, things as they are — well, there are days at school when I feel so full of love for my students and the pure joy of teaching that I could leave the world with that day in my heart.
A former student, goddaughter, Gates Scholar and Agnes Scott senior, Veronica Leon, recently sent a quote to me: “Some people care too much. I think it’s called love,” from A.A. Milne in “Winnie-the-Pooh.”
It has become my gmail signature. I think I need to lose the dreams of lighthouses and tractors, seeing rather the seeds of encouragement and empowerment that I try so very hard to daily plant and cultivate.
I guess I am a farmer after all, and I think the generations of farmers on both sides of my family would be pleased.
Renee Hand Morris teaches English/Language Arts with Gainesville City Schools. Her columns appear occasionally.