Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mr. Hawkins

(This has nothing to do with weight loss, food, surgery or, well, anything relevant. Just cleaning out the corners of my mind, I reckon.)
Few things inspire as much awe and wonder and curiosity for us mortals as a sky full of stars. The history of our species is dotted with celestial flirtations. From building a tower we thought would take us straight to The Almighty to strapping ourselves on rockets and blasting towards heaven mankind has, from the start, been obsessed with what’s out there. I guess we’ve come full circle…a space shuttle is simply a high-tech Tower of Babel.
Sitting on my patio appreciating the grandeur of a starry night doesn’t take me to the planets or galaxies. It doesn’t cause me to feebly ponder infinity or deities. It takes me back to sixth grade. In the sixth grade, Jack Hawkins taught us how to look up and find the great hunter Orion and his trusty dog Canis Major. And now, as an adult, whatever else is headlining in any given night sky, I always search for the ever present Orion and I silently thank Mr. Hawkins (who I haven’t seen in 30 years and probably wouldn’t know me if he saw me.)
At Rockbridge Elementary School Mr. Hawkins taught us how to make all types of gadgets out of cardboard, drinking straws and fishing weights that would help us find The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and Orion. He told us what planets would be visible at what times of the evening and how to find them. Back on earth, we tracked hurricanes and raised tadpoles into frogs. His were the only homework assignments I looked forward to completing.
My mother used to say that only God and mamas could love sixth graders. I think she left Mr. Hawkins off the list. He had to love us to put as much effort into making an impression and teaching lessons that would last into our adult years. It had to be more than just a job for him. I’m not an educator. But I have three sisters who are. When I grew up and got married I married the daughter of an educator. I have a special place in my heart for those who teach. I liken them to those who work in the mortuary science fields – I’m glad somebody wants to do it but I’m glad that someone isn’t me! There probably are educators who don’t care about the difference they make and treat their jobs as, well, jobs. But I haven’t met them among the ones I know.
My father-in-law has been retired from school administration for over ten years. Yet there’s not a meal-time blessing at his dinner table that doesn’t mention our schools and our teachers. I’ve heard him imply many times that it’s not so much the career he misses as it is the kids. The fondness with which he remembers those kids tells me that he made as profound an impression on those children as Mr. Hawkins made on me.
Jack Hawkins probably never got famous. He probably never got rich. But what he did accomplish in the course of a career was to make children better people and, in turn, make the world a better place. There are CEO’s, presidents and prime ministers who can’t make that claim. I’m not even sure that Mr. Hawkins is still living but I’d like to have the opportunity to thank him. He didn’t just teach me how to find Orion…he taught me how to find my way through the universe (and that it helps to have a good dog watching your back.)

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