Desiderata and The Teacher
I was 15. A great deal had already occurred in my life. If you asked my father he would tell you that I wasn't 15, that I had never been 15. He would tell you that I grew up too fast and learned too much at a young age. But I can assure you. I was 15 and I had A LOT to learn.
I sat in my music teachers classroom and fidgeted and yawned as I always did. I had this woman for Chorus too. She kicked me out. I was fidgety and distracted in that class as well. I had since learned to keep my mouth shut although my 8th grade English teacher Ms. Koster said "AnnMarie cannot keep her mouth shut for one minute". I actually could. I just didn't want to give her a chance to speak and bore me to tears. She might say something intelligent but I wasn't optimistic.
Mrs. Hochman, my music teacher was babbling on and on this bright sunny Spring day when I turned to my left and started reading a poster on the wall. Reading anything at all on the wall was an improvement to having to listen to Mrs. Hochman. It said "Desiderata" and I wondered if it indeed sounded the way I was pronouncing it. Sounding it out slowly over and over again. Pretty name, I thought. Then I continued...
"Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence..."
Oh, Mrs. Koster would have loved that line! "placidly" what did that mean, calmy? I would look that up when I got home.
"As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons" Nice. Good rule.
I found a lot of good rules in Desiderata and made a mental note to come in with my notebook and start writing it all down. I would copy Desiderate so I wouldn't lose it. So I could memorize all those beautiful words to live by. But I had to hurry, I only had 5 more days of school left.
It wasn't easy copying all those words with old Hochman always looking in my direction. I was in the second to last row, last seat, although there were about 3 more desks behind me. The class was small, only 12 kids. She could easily watch all of us.
The third day I forgot my notebook. This put me in a bad mood and I refused to answer any questions Hochman asked and told her flat out to leave me alone I was in a bad mood. She was not pleased. I worried that I would not have time to copy all of Desiderata down. I only had 2 days left and this was a long poem!!
But what wonderful beautiful words to live by. Simple rules. These made sense. It said it was found in St. Paul's church sometime in the 1600's. I would later find this to be false. It was actually written by a man named Max Ehrman. It was supposedly for a Christmas card although I have never seen a card that could clearly, legibly hold all those words.
By the 5th day I only had the final paragraph. I rushed to music class to get a jump on my project and maybe get it done before Hochman arrived. I took my seat, opened my notebook and excitedly perched my pen over my page. I looked up to the right and saw a huge space where "Desiderata" had been. I just sat there, my mouth hanging open in shock. I stared at this space for a good minute before coming out of it. Where did it go? Who took it? I barely noticed Mrs. Hochman's arrival as I sat bewildered and disappointed throughout class. What did I do now? I was missing lines, important lines to be sure. Where would I find them?
The bell rang and I walked slowly passed Mrs. Hochman. "AnnMarie" she said "Can I see you a minute?"
Oh crap. Now what did I do? I never made a sound all day, what was she going to tell me, she had to fail me or something?
"Yes Mrs. Hochman" I dragged myself over to where she stood in front of the blackboard and next to her desk. Her disheveled mass of reddish hair in need of brushing. Her stomach sticking out bringing up the front of her dress. This lady was always a mess. She wore no make up but she seemed to enjoy smiling quite a bit.
"AnnMarie, can you play an instrument?"
"No, I can't"
"Why don't you play?"
"I wanted to play the flute, but my dad said we couldn't afford it".
"Well you could have played that in school, in band. They give you a flute"
"And it costs $25" I interrupted.
She understood "I see, did you ever think about the piano?"
"My fingers are too short"
"Don't be silly, come here" We sat at the piano and she taught me the beginning of "Color my World" by Chicago because it is pretty easy. I liked being able to do it though and it made me smile.
"You are a very intelligent girl AnnMarie" she said it almost lovingly. "I believe you could do anything if you set your mind to it."
For some reason, I believed her. Then she handed me a rolled up poster. "I think this is yours" she said.
I peered inside and could see it was my "Desiderata".
I just looked up at her from the piano bench. "I don't understand"
"I saw you staring at that wall for days and then writing furiously, I thought it must have meant a lot to you to want to write it all down, so I took it down for you to take home. I knew you would appreciate it".
I could have cried, but I was way too tough to do that in front of Mrs. Hochman. She must have read it too, no, she read it and she understood it. I just read it. I thought they were excellent words to live by, but I wasn't even doing that. I needed to study it and learn it and truly live it if it meant to me what I thought it did. I smiled and thanked Mrs. Hochman again and again.
Over the years I have thought about her and wondered if she had any idea what that small gesture had meant to me. How one day I would grow to love her for it and for the wonderful teacher that she was. Perhaps Desiderata would not have become one of my mantra's for life, had Mrs. Hochman not demonstrated how I was supposed to use it.
And I do. Particularly the last several words that spoke to me the loudest through Mrs. Hochman's always smiling, cheery demeanor and trying to make US happy through her teaching. Thank you Mrs. Hochman, where ever you are. (oh and Mrs. H., I play the flute now too).
Go Placidly amid the noise and hast and remember what Peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others; even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself withothers you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, howeverhumble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is, many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as thegrass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears areborn of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child ofthe universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labor and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all it’s sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.