Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Simple Gift

I'm not sure what sparks our dreams, but last night I dreamed of my high school history teacher CW Stevens Jr. In grades 11 and 12 I was his student assistant. I graded papers, kept the bulletin board displays current to the subject each class was studying at the time and led the occasional class.

CW was a meticulous man, immaculately groomed and tailored, like no other man I'd ever known. He was not handsome. He had a bald head, a small jaw and weak chin. No difference. I adored him. He was witty and intelligent and he'd travelled the world - he'd even been an intelligence officer in China in the late 50s and had some truly awful stories to tell.

He told of one spring day when he took a visiting friend to lunch at a local cafe. The friend needed to use the "facilities" which meant he had to walk through the kitchen to a latrine in the alley. When he came back he was green-faced and had lost his appetite. He urged CW to take the same stroll. "Oh, he said, "Look at the stove as you go by."

CW went, and as he passed the large cast-iron stove he cast a glance at it. Encrusted with grease, and in the grease thousands of fat and happy blowfly maggots wriggling away.

"Ewwwww!" I said, when he told me this, "What did you do?"

"Went back to my table and enjoyed my lunch," he said, his blue eyes dancing with mischief. "If you're worried about eating a maggot in China you'd starve in a week."

But I'm profoundly grateful to this lovely little man for something entirely different. He introduced me to classical music. One day he brought a record album to school and asked if I had a phonograph. I did, so he lent (or perhaps gave) me the album. This was followed by others. Operas, symphonies, a whole range of composers. His favourite was American composer Aaron Copland, and I never listen to Copland without thinking of my beloved teacher. Thank you sir.



Copland "Simple Gifts" from Appalachian Spring is based on the tune of the Shaker Hymn "Simple Gifts";

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,

'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.

To turn, turn will be our delight,

'Til by turning, turning we come round right
'Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,

'Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,

And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,

Then we'll all live together and we'll all learn to say,

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,

'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,

'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",

And when we hear what others really think and really feel,

Then we'll all live together with a love that is real. 

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