Email to My Students: “the luxury of being thankful”

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Final Words of Advice”

“I am a writer, nothing more, nothing less,” begins Roxane Gay in the wake of a grand jury decision not to charge Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, adding, “In the face of injustice, I only have words and words can only do so much.”

On a much smaller scale, I too am a writer—and I am a teacher, Selves inextricable one from the other. My initial response to the grand jury’s inaction has been near paralysis, especially as a writer who mostly offers this blog; it seems appropriate that I shut up, take a moratorium and do as many have requested—listen.

Gay’s “I only have words and words can only do so much” haunts me, haunts me in the context of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words offered above—that tension between “indirect” and “direct” action.

Teaching and writing often feel merely “indirect”—symbolic, impotent, shouting down an empty well.

This is an awful feeling if, like me, you are compelled to be a writer-teacher, a teacher-writer.

Not as a conscious plan (in the way I am a poet), but typical of my twin compulsions to teach and to write, I finally landed at the keyboard this morning, composing to my three fall classes of students an email—such arrogance, such intrusion while these beautiful and wonderful young people slip away from college for a holiday, Thanksgiving.

Being a writer is the perpetual state of hyperawareness of one’s frailty and inadequacy combined with the relentless inevitable, sharing your words with a mostly anonymous audience. A writer’s writer, J.D. Salinger (flawed possibly to the inexcusable) has already captured how I offer my email below to the readers of this blog: “As nearly as possible in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean” (dedication for Franny and Zooey).


[Email to my students]

I do love you all. It is a very special thing to be given the task of teaching, to have students randomly assigned to your care, your responsibility.

Sometimes, that charge is more than I can handle, but I am only human (and aging, slipping into decrepitude, and thus, not as flawed in some ways as in my youth, but flawed in new and different ways).

Especially at Furman, and especially in our teens and 20s, it is easy to miss the world around us (I did mostly, and often, and well past then)—to empathize fully and genuinely with that world, those people unlike us.

So excuse this intrusion on your holiday … and do not feel obligated in any way to care about this now, or instead of turkey, or instead of just doing nothing, or instead of enjoying family or friends or someone you love … no one should deny you any of those things, and especially not me …

And now, teacher-Me: This essay is wonderfully written (what it says, yes, but how it is written, crafted):

Why We Won’t Wait, Robin D.G. Kelley

And here are some poems of mine pulled out of the rubble of this horrible thing we allow in the US, a callousness about the lives of (especially) young black men:

Four Poems: For Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin

I think, let us be thankful for we have many people and things that bring us happiness, but could we also find ways to insure that everyone has the opportunities to share the luxury of being thankful?

To you, then, accept as you wish a virtual side-hug, handshake, or your preferred virtual display of affection.


One thought on “Email to My Students: “the luxury of being thankful”

  1. So I have come across your blog in my research into building a small enterprise to serve kids who want to learn creative technology outside the system. But from a guy who’s been around the block a couple of times, your note resonates with a troubling tonality of a foreboding, growing darkness. I remember the night my friend’s older sister’s friends came over with haunted faces and spoke of a massacre of protesting students, perhaps hundreds, no one knew. And then cleaned up. Buried away. For it was not white cops on black Americans but Mexican special police against protesting students, in a place called Tlatelolco, in the heart of Mexico City. Sort of like turning a dozen machine guns on a couple of thousand protesters in front of the National Press Club. You see, the Olympics were coming to Mexico, and having rabble-rousers and out-speakers would just not do. The invisible scrim of the Cold War and the battle for control by criminal warlords hung over the scene like an evil shroud, hiding the corruption and systemic avarice behind the scene.

    And then the Olympics came as they always do, the parades, the display of cultural magnificence, the mindless tourists with boatloads of money, etc. It was the usual perfect Mexican sunny day that found me in the stadium for track and field, and mostly boring except for the soda vendors who had the coolest portable soda-dispensing backpacks from outer space.

    Then a moment came where the USA National Anthem spun up and on the podium I saw two black guys with their arms up in fists.

    Even as the scraggly 10 year old white kid with my coca-cola cup in the stands, I knew something was up.

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