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Friday, May 21, 2010

"Teaching will be my lifeline."

This very powerful statement comes from Joyce Carol Oates as she writes about the death of Raymond Smith, her husband of 48 years. This article from the Fiction 2010 Atlantic Magazine, a supplement to the regular issue. Though it is not fiction, it comes from one of our masters of fiction and a teacher of creative writing.

The piece concludes the issue. She begins with a discussion of how teaching filled her time immediately after her husband's "unexpected" death. Teaching was crucial in her grieving. It provided her a consistent and stable environment in an otherwise chaotic time in her life. It was normal for her. It was a familiar non critical friend. Of course she had familiar references to Chaucer on teaching and Dickinson on death. But it was the reference to Hemingway's "Indian Camp" that really stunned me. What an ironic metaphor of Hemingway's own life and quirky short story for Oates to reference with the powerful quote, "He couldn't stand things, I guess." "Teaching will be my lifeline" becomes all the more poignant. As I read this moving piece from Oates, I came to realize how teaching for me has been my anchor for these past 36 years and all of the chaos that my life has encountered. Once I got into my classroom, life was stable. I loved the line "Teaching will be my lifeline" when I read it. I reflected on how I was happy to be in the classroom after each of my parents died, after each of my two divorces, and after minor tragedies in my life. The social interaction with our scholars helps us put everything into perspective and to get out of self pity and indulgences that destroy the strongest of us. Teaching teaches us humility, empathy, and the larger picture of life. Oates says this succinctly.

A while ago I spoke about metaphors in our life. I was reminded about this exercise as I read and reread Oates' masterful piece about teaching, life, and death. "Teaching will be my lifeline" is such a loaded and powerful sentence that can be read so many ways. Oates certainly demonstrated how teaching was her lifeline in her personal tragedy not just for herself but for her lucky scholars and readers, like me. Thank you and I am sorry for your loss Mrs Smith.

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