A Constellation of Sorts

I often think about ancient astronomers, staring at the night sky and looking at the thousands and thousands of stars above. I think about how the creative ones would assemble these celestial bodies that were separated by millions of miles and tell of the grand things they could see in the sky. A ram. A crab. A lion. While the stars are real physical objects, the constellations emerged from the astronomers’ imaginations, gathered for and from the stories they were telling.

I sometimes like to think of my blogging as constellation building. Some of my blog posts are ones where I’m working through an idea or a concept I’ve come across. Others are ones where I’m telling a story about an interaction with a colleague or a student with the hopes of learning and growing from its retelling here. But there are also the “constellation ones,” those posts where I’m assembling disparate quotes, statistics, ideas or theories and bringing them together to form something through my own imagination. And that was my intent with this post. I have a bunch of quotes that have been buzzing in my head for the last week or so. I’m sure if I worked at it, they would converge into some creative object (maybe a crab or a lion?) that I could share here.

But instead, I’ll leave the meaning making and constellation building to you, dear reader. Some of these quotes (stars?) are ones you may have seen before, especially if you read this blog regularly. Others may be new. Regardless, ponder their connections and how they can help to guide you as you navigate the weeks ahead.

“What are you leaving behind? For me, the solution is children and art. I’ve got four kids. So far as I can tell, I’ve raised them well, and I’ve not broken any of them, and they get to go off into the world. Then there are the other children you leave behind because you affected them. You made something that touched or changed them. I’m one of the children of C.S. Lewis. I may be a grumpy and rebellious child of C.S. Lewis, but I am a child of C. S. Lewis. I’m a child of Tolkien. I’m a child of Zelazny. I’m a child of E. Nesbit. P. L. Travers. These are the people who got me at a young age. I love it when I get readers at a young age. So it’s all children and art. That’s what it is.

-Neil Gaiman, in a recent interview with the New York Times Magazine

The biggest act we can perform for another is sacrifice: where we surrender something important for someone else, where we take a risk for someone else. The step below that is generosity: where we surrender some share of our time or resources for another. Kindness is entry-level caring: kindness is just the temporary suspension of indifference.

The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan is a story about kindness. The Good Samaritan finds an injured man by the side of the road, stops, bandages him up, and takes him on the back of his donkey to a nearby inn. Where he gives him to the innkeeper, with some money to pay for his care. The Good Samaritan doesn’t fight off a band of hoodlums, single-handedly. Or sneak the injured man past an enemy checkpoint. He’s kind. Not brave.”

-Malcolm Gladwell, Revisionist History podcast

Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest. The concept of hospitality arose in ancient times when this reciprocity was easier to see; in nomadic cultures, the food and shelter one gave to a stranger yesterday is the food and shelter one hopes to receive from a stranger tomorrow. By offering hospitality, one participates in the endless reweaving of a social fabric on which all can depend—thus the gift of sustenance for the guest becomes a gift of hope for the host. It is that way in teaching as well: the teacher’s hospitality to the student results in a world more hospitable to the teacher.

-Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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