Students/2

Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, photo by Mev

Before Class

In the School of Revolutionary Mindfulness
When students arrive early to class

No smart phones are anywhere to be seen
In the minutes before class begins

Students and teachers are sitting
Breathing calmly and smiling

Unasked for Letter of Recommendation

Her I call a healer who recognizes toxicity in her environment
And resolves to protect herself and others accordingly

Her I call a healer who swims against the fierce current
Of conditioning of GPAs and rankings

Her I call a healer who remembers the truths
Learned in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras

Her I call a healer who remains unfazed
By future income, inflated status, and other monuments to ego

Her I call a healer who understands
That to care for the world is to care for herself

Her I call a healer who realizes
That to care for herself is to care for the world

Her I call a healer who honors the teachers
Who have shown her how to be still and how to move

Her I call a healer who seeks integration
Of the left and the right, the light and the shadow

Her I call a healer who knows
Staretz Zosima was on to something

I Daydream, Seeing…

Your hand the first to shoot up in Torts
You smiling serenely at the gunners

You checking off your To Do list with equanimity
You noticing the unjoie de vivre jaws of your friends, knowing, sooner of later, those dentist bills will come

You taking off two Thursdays evenings a month to reread The Book of Disquiet
You realizing, “Yes, I’m a law student, but I am six other Pessoan selves as well”

Waiting in Line To Order My 5,050th Espresso

I overheard Sylvie Smith ask Emma Wong
“What’s up, haven’t seen you on Snapchat?”

“Yeah, I haven’t looked at Snapchat
In three weeks”

Sylvie looked horrified
“THREE WEEKS?!!!

What’s going on with you?”
“Just into other things”

“You’re dating someone?”
“No, I’m reading someone”

“Reading? Seriously?”
“Wang Yangming’s book

Instructions for Practical Living
Sylvie was baffled blind-sided beyond belief

Her jaw dropped: “What has happened to you?”
Emma smiled, “I got acquainted with my liang-chih

Then Emma noticed me and said,
“Professor Schimmel, I think it’s time for a walk in the gardens”

Cambridge

Now that you’ve been accepted
To the Kennedy School of Government
Where you’ll have access
To current and future movers and shakers

Where there’ll be balanced discussions
About “America’s humanitarian role in the world”
Where professors are civil, assured
Savvy, and so very smart

Once a month (or, if need be, once a day)
Return to some touchstones
Like one of Mev’s photos from Haiti
Or one of your photos from Gaza

Meditate on these images of people
Whom Chomsky and Herman described
As the “unworthy victims”
Of the United States

They are worthy to you
Their suffering is real to you
Their dignity radiated out to you
And vibrates in you to this day

Guest Speaker

You came to class to tell your story
As you surely had done many times elsewhere

How you became a serious Muslim
While at a West Coast Catholic university

I’d heard many stories about you
From my Muslim students who were mesmerized by you

So I wanted my new students that spring morning
To be face to face with you for 75 minutes
|
Smiling, you sat in front of us
Sharing the steppingstones on your path

Opened yourself to our questions
As if there was no place you’d rather be

Mentioned casually you were in your residency
Had worked 110 hours the past week

It was a mystery then
And remains so all these years later—

How you were the most radiant and serene person
I had seen in years

Being with

I have some grand notions in my head
But they often fall by the wayside
When I’m sitting at the table
Talking with one person
Hearing all that has happened
In that one life.
–Dorothy Day

I’m with you Dorothy
Whether it’s being with one aspiring PCT at Forest Park Community College
Or
One doctor on the phone for an hour who is bouleversée after a colleague is murdered
Or
One bodhisattva nurse celebrating milestones at Local Harvest Cafe
Or
One Palestinian teacher who reminds me of the presence of history as we sit at Starbucks
Or
One daughter of a World War II veteran recollecting his youth at Fatima’s Laclede salon
Or
One young poet weeping her truths at Northwest Coffee
Or
One friend who beamingly tells us at Sasha’s about her first date (with her future husband) when she was 16
Or
One Iraq war veteran who lingers after class
Or
One sage storyteller who reads me poems out back at Café Ventana (she ought to have a weekly hour on NPR)
Or
Anyone I happen to give more than five minutes to
Because a lot can be revealed in mere minutes
Whether by rhapsody or wrinkle or whisper
Yes the grand notions dissolve
And that line from Levinas lingers:
“Ethics arises out of the face of the Other”

Exit-Interview

She’s spent four years at SLU
And is moving on

I’ve spent fourteen years at SLU
And am moving on

We had class together fall 2008
Her tender sophomore year

We’ve met ten or twelve times since that class
Invariably in cafes and restaurants

(I never once used the “adjunct office”
For “office hours”)

And there was that spending binge downtown
At Left Bank Books right before Xmas break

I knew that she was a writer
From the student profile she turned in the first day

(Maybe I was too exuberant about it
She sometimes eyed me as if I had a screw loose)

She’d come to my mind when I’d read
What Brooklyn College teacher Allen Ginsberg said

“Older people gain vigor, refreshment, vitality, energy, hopefulness and cheerfulness
From the attentions of the young

And the younger people gain gossip, experience, advice, aid, comfort
Wisdom, knowledges and teachings from their relation with the old”

She wondered if Kerouac meant, “Accept loss forever”
Or “Accept loss forever

During the 75 minute conversation amid Café Ventana sunshine
We drank champagne

I toasted her with a clink
She took a photo of me from her fancy phone

Sitting there she looked out in the distance as if in a trance
Watching for Ecstasy to come around the corner

I didn’t tell her
That Yeats’ “For Anne Gregory” didn’t apply to her

I said “good for you!” to refuse the Fulbright and instead
To embrace Teach for America in D.C.

(Love conquers all
Besides, prestige is so overrated)

The word “soteriology” was never mentioned
The word “diarrhea” was used once

Karl Rahner never came up
But Shawn Copeland did

We agreed “women’s ordination” doesn’t go far enough
If it only installs women in hierarchical power position

(Still, I ponder
How many kids & women & men

In Catholic churches may never hear HER
Illuminate Word & World & Wonder)

There’s Marx’s thesis on Feuerbach that the philosophers have interpreted the world
The point, however, is to change it

There’s Jesus’ vision of the brokerless Kingdom of God
A program of free healing & open commensality

Broken Spanish & homesickness
Barbed wire & acrobatic empowerment–all shared

I invited her repeatedly to be guest speaker in social justice classes
For her riveting, no bullshit Nicaragua testimony

In a parallel universe Mev at 25
And she at 22 would be best pals

She’s soon to move to Washington DC
Accompanying the kiddos

She’s not got mind-reading power yet
But she knows how I am going to end this–

I can’t give her a big official prize for scholastic achievement, GPA, something quantifiable
I can only remind her: “Alexis Mary Lassus, You’re a Genius all the Time”

with Alexis Mary Lassus at Northwest Coffee, CWE; photo by Lucy

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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