Friday, August 12, 2016


Almost 15 years ago, I planted a grape vine and for a few years I meticulously pruned and shaped it. My hope, like all farmers, was to lie on a chaise eating grapes while a servant fanned away the heat. Ha! All I ever wanted were grapes. My hope was never fulfilled.

Perhaps the plant isn't in a good spot, I thought, so I dug it up and moved it. It continued to grow long green vines, but never a grape. I kept pruning and shaping like a good lord of the vineyard.

The tree perplexed me. It lived, it seemed to thrive. But it never filled the measure of its creation. One year it had a few strands of green balls and it looked like they were going to be my first grapes! It didn't happen.

I moved the grape plant again. This time, I had the landscaper build a special arbor.  I wound the vines carefully through the wires that we're screwed into wooden stumps. Two years later-- you know.

I moved the apiary into the small space from which the grape vine was about to be removed. What should I do with this grape vine now? I was through pampering and pruning. I still wanted grapes but I was more casual in my care. It didn't seem to matter anyway. I dug a hole in a small space and wished it luck. I consciously decided to let it roam and grow however it wanted to. I hoped it would get enough water and sunshine; it was now up to the grape vine to nurture and grow itself.

Which brings me to a student who was as perplexing as the grape vine, yet I only had one school year with this boy, not fifteen years.

"James" was a popular boy and seemed to hold a kind of power over his friends. They'd all come into class, sequester themselves in the corner surrounding him, giving him the privacy he needed. Despite the deception, it was easy to see his bent head was looking at the phone within the spine of his open book.

 I am not the kind of teacher to lock horns with a disobedient student-- especially when he was 18 and needed to start making better choices on his own. I let him know I was aware of his behavior. "James, what game are you playing?" Or "How do you convince your friends to circle the wagons, to protect you from the teachers sight?" I'd give short lectures on the importance of being present, on the importance of letting a phone serve the person and not the person serve the phone, and the threat of selling one's soul to a phone.

Always, my teaching partner and I waited for him to take responsibility; his rebellious behavior needed to change from within. We were patient and tried to provide the environment to do so. We gave it our all, we taught the best we knew how.

At summer's end two miracles happened.

The first was several vines filled with plump, juicy, delicious grapes. Unexpected. Appreciated. Reason to feel awe.

The second was an email from James. A short note of gratitude for being such an amazing teacher and teaching him so well. Unexpected. Appreciated. Reason to feel awe.