Education

Miracle on Mill Street

— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

 

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How much would you be willing to pay to spend a night in this?  (Here’s a few close-ups.)

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Still undecided?  This might sway you.
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Imagine waking up to the dawn chorus of larks and sparrows, and gazing out on the rolling, bucolic landscape through this splendidly arched window.  A mug of hot, steaming coffee in hand.
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Still wondering?

Don’t bother, ‘cause you don’t have a chance of staying here.  For starters, it’s booked solid through December 2017 — at a cool £475 per night.  That’s 475 British pounds sterling.  That’s $732 USD.

Obviously, I left something out of this little story.  Omitted was (a) someone with a vision and (b) someone with skilled hands.  People like this:
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A visionary and a pair of hands, the two ingredients missing from my little story.

Think of Rodin’s hands.  Fingers that, from indifferent, unyielding marble, created “The Kiss.”  Think of the mind of Steve Jobs, the visionary who could thrill an audience with the challenge, “Let’s go invent tomorrow, rather than worrying about what happened yesterday.”

With these two ingredients, we’re ready to reconsider that pile of rubble, above, currently renting at $732 per night.  We’re ready because somebody like Steve Jobs looked at that pile of rock, and didn’t see a “mess”; he saw “possibilities.”

The visionary happened to be 3 men, and this is what they saw:
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To make it happen, they needed a pair of hands that could perform magic on that crumbling mass of stone and mortar.

They got lucky.  They found a master mason.  (Actually, they found a number of master craftsmen.)  And this is what their hands built:
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Look carefully.  What you’re looking at is a 21st-century building erected within a ruined, 13th-century castle in Warwickshire, England.  It goes by the name “Astley Castle.”  Strictly speaking, it was never a castle; it was a manor house that was added onto over the centuries, including the addition of decorative parapets (i.e., “gingerbread”).

Ingenious!

Okay, how much would you pay to spend a night here?

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Winter solstice

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— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

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Winter solstice.  Christmas eve.  And I am a hibernating bear, deep within the cave of winter dreams.

All my life I have sensed a strange convergence between solstice and Christmas, like two vast planets wheeling into near collision.  Then each slowly spinning off on its separate course into darkness, the dream of deep space.

For a moment the realms of mythology and history nearly intersect, the one briefly illumining the other.  At that instant we see more of each than we ever do.

In the eerie light of mythology I recognize that Christmas is old mythology.  We fool ourselves that it’s history.  The Kiowa poet N. Scott Momaday taught me years ago that we all live in myth.  We live in history too, but history is veneer.  Beneath the mask of history is the truth that never happened, it just always is.  Scott went back to his grandmother’s cabin and her gravesite at Rainy Mountain to realize this.  I have never forgotten his story and its lesson.

For years I have hunted for the crackup of myth into history—the  shattering of the flawless sheet of glass into shards.   When mind that thought in union with the earth collapsed into the mind that now observed the earth—mankind apart.

Socrates, Plato’s teacher, illustrates the point.  The Socratic method:  we’re all more or less familiar with it.  Teaching by questioning.  But it is more radical than this; it is a clue to the beginning of the modern mind—the collapse of the quantum wave into something stunningly new.  And dangerous.  The teacher would have his students recite truth and mystery, and perforce they would recite myth:  the ancient thing, the unquestioned thing, the thing that got its power through the telling, the repeating, the power in the words themselves.  The thing that never happened, it just is.  Now Socrates questioned it.  “How do you know?”  Over and over, he sowed doubt.  They were dumbfounded, his students.  There was no response.  It is said he created an uproar in Athens.

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Words now became different.  Instead of being the thing itself they began to refer to

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Antidote to the (ghastly) world news …

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— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

I was 17 at the time.  In Southern California.  A college friend, Mike Madden, had invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him and his family, since I couldn’t go home for the holiday.

Mike and his mom lived with his mom’s dad, a retired medical doctor.  I remember sitting in the living room with the old doc.  Just the two of us.  Around 6 pm, Mike’s mom brought his dinner on a tray, turned on the evening news and left the room.  I stayed with him, the two of us reviewing the events of the day around the world.

At one point I happened to glance at the old man.  He was quietly weeping.  Tears streaming down his face.  He said not a word, just tears — which said everything.

“He does it every night,” Mike later explained, obviously embarrassed.  “He insists on watching the news, alone, and without fail he weeps.  He’s getting senile,” he added with lowered voice.

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No.  This wasn’t senility, I decided.  The old black-bag healer who had brought children into the world and watched over the feverish and dying — had the courage and wisdom to weep at the horrible spectacle we casually refer to as The News.

Daily, I read the NY Times.  (I don’t own a television.)  The stories appall me.  I am grief-stricken as I read.  Even so, something compels me to read on, day after day.

I read on, even as I am wounded.  And feel helpless.  That is, I felt helpless till I discovered this poem.  Its message whispers to me.  I have fallen in love with it.  It tells me I need not be the hapless victim of human folly and tragedy.

It tells me to wage peace and goodness.

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:

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What is death? — Part 1

— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD
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Open this video.  Sit with it for awhile.  (Turn up your speakers.)

Achingly beautiful, isn’t it?  You could listen forever, couldn’t you?

(The other day I happened to be in a café, quietly playing this on my laptop. “Oh, so relaxing!” exclaimed the waitress.)

Keep listening.  I’m going to say something you will have trouble believing.  You won’t believe it for the very good reason that you won’t “feel” what I’m talking about.  (Generally I don’t feel it either, despite knowing it’s true.)

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That stream is you.  And you do, in fact, listen to it and live it.  Forever.  And so do I.  Although neither of us realizes this, save for rare moments when we sense we’re in the presence of something infinitely larger and more powerful than ourselves — something almost painfully beautiful and yet incapable of being expressed in words.

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You have always been suffused with this stream.  Dissolved in it.  Even before you were born and after you die.  For the stream is eternal.  It is the universe.

When I say “universe,” I’m talking about more than deep space, whether it be the breathtaking beauty of a cold, clear February night or the esoteric study of black holes, supernovas and galaxies — the field we call astrophysics or cosmology.  I’m talking about a great, patient Intelligence that created you and me, spring peepers, whales, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and night-blooming jasmine, along with birth and death.

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Cosmologists and astrophysicists know a great deal about the mechanics of the universe, such as space-time, gravity, the strong and weak force, dark matter, the Big Bang — phenomena that yield their secrets to mathematical interrogation.  What they don’t know is the answer to Einstein’s famous question:  “Is the universe friendly?”

It happens the answer depends on who’s asking — a fact confirmed by quantum mechanics and implied by Einstein’s special relativity.

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Let’s go outside and have a smoke.  (Mind if I bum one?)  Yeah, heavy stuff.  If we’re going to ponder death, we must first understand how “reality” works.  Which means we’ve got to come to grips with 

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New School Blues

—Op-Ed by Calvin Luther Martin


Amish community building (photographer unknown)

The New School Blues.  I’ve got ’em bad.  The “new school” being my shorthand for the Malone School District’s two-phase school renovation & construction project.  Whose advertising blitz in the Telegram is surpassed only by the daily series of approving articles by Connie Jenkins, the editor.

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Malone’s New School: Part 1

—Op-Ed by Calvin Luther Martin


(Photographer unknown)

To:  Wayne Walbridge, Superintendent of Schools Malone Central School District
From:  Calvin Luther Martin, PhD Associate Professor of History (retired), Rutgers University
Re:  Proposed new school project

I greet you as one retired teacher to another.  I have a warm place in my heart for all teachers, as I know you do too.  Like you, I consider teaching to be a high and sacred calling.  (Remember that schools began in the Middle Ages as extensions of the Church, and for many years all faculty were clerics.  Knowledge, itself, was sacred.  Indeed knowledge is always sacred.)  I regard teaching as the finest of professions.

That’s why I’m writing about the proposal to overhaul our existing schools (some of them).  An ambitious plan, which comes with a huge price tag.  I want to suggest we rethink this.  As a community:  rethink this.

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