We experienced a very sad episode in our lives last week. A former student of mine died in his sleep at the age of 20 from complications related to sleep apnea. Through the funeral I thought about Justin’s sweet nature, his angelic little 4-year-old face surrounded by a halo of shaggy blond hair. He lit up when dinosaurs, volcanoes and any kind of art was on the agenda. He didn’t love the academic part of school but resigned himself to that inevitable responsibility of growing up and went along with lessons good naturedly, if not happily. One year we hosted a garden party for the moms and his mom showed up in a fabulous hat and dress worthy of a royal wedding. He, in his neat little button down shirt and slacks, met her at the door, escorted her to their table for two and sat gazing up at her as if she was the most beautiful mom ever.
At the funeral they talked about Justin’s love of art and displayed some of his drawings. Friends and family talked about all the crazy ideas he and his sister had brought to life such as riding a mattress down the stairs and making a dirt track out of the front yard with their go cart. His fiancée told the story of how they met and his proposal just three days before his death. It occurred to me that even though his life was far too short he had lived it well. He had already found his true love and was developing a unique artistic talent. Really, if you’ve only got 20 years to live what more could you want?
This is what we want most for our students, our families and ourselves, to live our lives mindfully and well, to bring the very best of ourselves to every moment, the moments spent in the loving embrace of family and friends, the discovery of clouds changing shapes across the sky, watching colors mixing on the easel, seeing the class lizard catch crickets, smelling and tasting foods from another part of the world, listening to music, snuggling in bed with a book.
We teachers look into the faces of the children, these small people we’ve gotten to care so much about, and wonder what their lives will bring. The talent of a Montessori teacher lies in the ability to see into each child’s spirit, understand how she sees the world and identify her needs. The teacher prepares a curriculum for each child that will address those needs. We want the child to feel independent, responsible, peaceful and confident. Academic success falls into place because the child has all of these attributes well established. The teacher knows she is successful when she sees her students succeed, knowing she has brought the very best to every moment with them.
If we knew this little boy only had 20 years, what would we do differently? Allow him to spend a little more time with dinosaurs, volcanoes and art? Do more to encourage him though the lessons that are difficult? Let him know he is loved. Send him out into the world with everything he needs to make his own happy, peaceful and mindful way in life. Make every moment with him the best it can be.
Last week began with a funeral, but ended with the news that one of my interns in Ogden is expecting her first child. This kid, if you’re under 50 you’re a kid to me, is just completing her second year as a Montessori teacher and has such natural talent, strength, courage and determination that I can see she will become an incredibly talented teacher. Her baby will come to class with her and enjoy a Montessori upbringing. Her mom will consciously give that baby a childhood full of happiness, peace and fulfillment and make every moment the best it can be. What more could anyone want?
Duna Strachan, AMS
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA