In my sophomore year of high school I took an Art of the Essay class with Dr. Donald Thomas.
I remembering reading from a weathered, mid-sized anthology with a blue cover.
As part of that class we read Charles Lamb’s Dissertation on Roast Pig in which he urged the reader to use the phrase “adhesive oleaginous” instead of fat.
We read Henry David Thoureau talking about how he went to live in the woods near Walden Pond to put the essential facts of life in front of him and to live deliberately.
We also read Thoreau’s Transcendental colleague and fellow Concordian Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense,” Emerson declared in his classic treatise, “Self-Reliance.”
As with many things in life, I have come to a different understanding in the ensuring thirty-plus years as his insight has been marinated in more than a generation of life experience.
I thought of the expression again the other day after last Friday’s launch event for On My Teacher’s Shoulders.
It was a glorious event that brought together people from many, many different parts of my life and Paul Tamburello. The project describes how I learned from Paul at three distinct points in my life.
The first time was as a fourth grade student in his classroom at Brookline’s Pierce School.
The second was a dozen years later, when I spent more than two years as an apprentice in the same classroom where I had been a student.
And the third chapter was in observing his response to learning that he had Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a non-fatal cousin of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Paul and I alternated reading, singing, and showing materials form the website we built with the invaluable assistance of Russell Weller.
The point we wanted to convey was that Paul was not a static person, but rather someone who also grew as he faced and dealt with major life challenges at each of the three stages.
Because of how he grew, he had something to teach me at each moment.
A major part of the evening was to share our creation with our community of intimates.
But another big point was to call that community together.
Several people who attended Pierce with me came to the event.
None of them were able to stay for the reading.
But all were grateful to be back in the building where they had had such formative experiences and to greet their former teacher they had not seen for many years. :
A classmate wrote the next morning:
“Last night I went to my old grammar school, children and husband in tow. Although my time was cut short I was overwhelmed with a feeling of nostalgia. My children asking a plethora of questions, as enthralled to see where their mom went to school. Looking around at this sanctuary I called home for many years. My youngest son asked if the quote on the white board was there when I grew up. The quote from Albert Einstein read as follows.
‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’
I explained that the quote was not there, but those teachings were engrained in each us. I am so thankful Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, for the invitation to your book release, and the chance to remember where I came from.”
I put status updates on Facebook about the event and was astounded by the depth of what folks wrote back in return.
One friend wrote this note:
I just read blog. Chapter by chapter. Word by word. Aside from my employer wanting a word with you, I can only tell you how moved I was. I was brought back to 4T. Although not nearly as in depth as you, your prose brought me back not only as a student, but as a college student just starting to make my way and as an adult visiting and giving guest talks on architecture and traveling the world. And today, my own daughter in forth grade, I reprise some of the lessons I learned there that may not be taught as curriculum change but the old lessons appear so pertinent. You also took me back to Nona Bock and Ginny Holmes Carrol (my 2/3 teacher). You brought be back to when the Pierce family supported me at the time my dad died. Thank you so much for bringing me back to all those times. If you are still in touch with Paul, please say hello for me. And again…Thanks.
Although more detailed than others, this response was representative in its depth of emotion.
These responses remind me both of the truth in Emerson’s words, the gift of memory and the powerful hold formative years have on us the rest of our lives.
Paul and I are responding to this impulse by creating a page on our site for people to share their Pierce, Paul or education memories and mementoes.
And I am realizing anew that Dr. Thomas knew what he was doing with the reading assignments he issued more than three decades ago.