How To Saunter

(For Owen)

Forget what you left behind if possible; think ‘wander’,

Look ahead, nonchalantly, toward the path,

Only as far as the flowers and

the birds that have nested near the climbing hydrangea.

While we’re on the subject of birds,

study them quietly — let them teach

you about what’s important; notice

their priorities (do they spend time worrying over small things?).

Sauntering requires that you dismiss

the minute, mundane worries of life

and remain free to inhabit

the joyful moments of life instead.

To enjoy life, even the slightest bit,

one must saunter.



Afraid of life, she listens to

them tell her how different

she is; she takes it to heart

at first. Watch her try, try

try to be like them but

no matter how hard she tries,

she is not like them.

Somewhere along the equation

she realizes that different than

is not less than;

it is equal to. Sometimes (maybe

mostly) different than, plus

different than equals a sum

far greater.

The Color of Your Heart

(Written for my art students at Howard Street Charter School, 2012)

The color of your heart is deep and wide–

It gathers all around me

And fills my days with laughter rich

And teaches me to be

More colorful myself, spilling all

My deepest hues

(Those I tend to hide inside)

Instead of showing them, like you.

Together we can paint the world to

Create a masterpiece

Of love and harmony and then

Our world can be at peace.


“This is a story Veron Goin told many times: Jesse Looney was the first to settle South of Salem in 1843. He had many kids and later each son had a farm on the old 99E Highway South of Salem and just North of Jefferson. The Goin Farm was on the same road. The mail boxes read–Looney Farm, Looney, Looney, Looney, Looney, Goin, Looney.”

–Smith Cox

Silent Boy

IMG_8568_2After leaving my two-week teaching assignment in Cambodia (which is after I left my 17 year teaching assignment in Oregon), I neglected to write about The Silent Boy,  though his story continues to weave itself through my own being ever since meeting him. Just yesterday, at the fragile point of tears, I thought of him again and his immense strength; I wished then that I could have borrowed some of it.

In January of 2016, our small team of 5 adults taught English at a Cambodian public school for almost a week before we travelled to an orphanage in the Southwestern part of Cambodia. We were thrust into this day and tasked with “making the students speak English as much as possible.” I jumped into this task with as much enthusiasm as any introvert could and found myself at the outskirts of conversation as my team members, who knew more about the orphanage than I did, tried their hardest to dive into conversation with everyone.

The January climate in Cambodia is mild, if you are from Cambodia. If you’re from the Willamette Valley of Oregon however, it’s quite  hot–90 degrees F with killer humidity. As initial  bursts of conversations died down, we gathered under the gazebo in the center of the lawn. I found myself watching a very young boy (5 or 6 years old) who was walking by himself out in the lawn. “Who is that little one,” I asked. An older boy answered, “We call him Silent Boy. He doesn’t talk.”

Maybe because it appealed to the teacher in me, maybe just because I love challenges, I went to him with the intent to strike up a conversation with this ‘Silent Boy’ immediately. When we first met, he was near a little flower garden, observing something. It turned out to be a giant seed of some kind. “What is that?” I asked, not sure how much English he understood. This Silent Boy looked up at me and smiled. I continued, encouraged, “Is this a seed?” He pointed across the lawn to a tree growing along the edge. “Is this from that tree?” This was enough encouragement for him to begin walking toward the tree, pausing to look back at me; inviting me to join him.

We stood near the large tree and the Silent Boy looked up, pointing to the large fruit growing high above our heads. “Is that where this seed came from?” I asked. My new friend was busy looking for a stick, which he found and was already using to try to knock the fruit down. Clearly, the lower hanging fruit had already been knocked down and he would not reach the remaining fruit without help. I asked to borrow the stick and easily knocked the fruit to the ground, which the Silent Boy immediately collected, biting into it with the clear purpose of showing me the seed inside. The same seed I observed earlier.

We walked back across the hot lawn to the cooler gazebo, and the crowd gathered there. I showed everyone the seed and the fruit, which I learned is called Jack Fruit and is delicious when ripe. My friend and I had just happened to knock down an unripe fruit, but he continued to nibble on it. The American adults in the crowd informed me of Silent Boy’s traumatic past and I marveled that he had any smile left to offer anyone. He continued to stand near me and to offer up his toys for the crying babies, held by adults who didn’t know them.

The tenderness in my heart recognized the tenderness in his and I continue to be moved to tears by his kindness and compassion. He was a child and had already learned that the world is not a kind or easy place to be, and yet he offered kindness and tenderness back. I wondered at which point in his young life he had become silent, or if he had ever been able to express his voice at all.

As our van load of adults prepared to leave, I found an excuse to go back group of children now in the cafeteria for their lunch. I wanted to say goodbye to my new friend, Silent Boy. I tried to communicate this to the servers, but I didn’t know his name. “I want to say goodbye to the one they call Silent Boy,” I said. Finally, someone realized who I was looking for and went over to the line to get him. He looked startled as he walked over, but smiled as soon as he drew closer. I said goodbye the best way I could and offered a brief and gentle hug.

I walked back to the van, full of love and I wasn’t sure why. This tender sprout of a boy had spent time communicating with me and I enjoyed every listening moment. Our tender hearts had spoken.

Often, my tender heart only wants to communicate like this, silently; words get in my way at times, but silence can be hard to understand for some.

There’s so much more to say on this subject of silence–this is all for now.


Story Water
A story is like water
That you heat for your bath.
It takes messages between the fire and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself,
like a salamander, or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

– by Jelaluddin Rumi, taken from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

When I left my 17 year-long teaching experience of the public schools, I realized a part of my problem was that I had experienced a closing off of who I am: someone who believes in God. Some at my school were vocal about those who believed in God, or who went to church, or who talked about Christ. . . they had derogatory names for us. Some even put down anyone who had ever attended a Christian school. So I grew accustomed to closing the door to that part of my life while I was at work.

Then I began teaching at my current school: a small private school to prepare adult students for the American University experience. My first class included five students–one from Samoa, two from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one from Ethiopia and one from Brazil. In a discussion about persuasive essays and how to approach them, I mentioned hearing the Socratic Debate at Oregon State University. The topic was, “Is there a God and does it matter?” After talking for awhile amongst themselves, one student asked me, “Teacher, do you believe there is a god?”

I looked tentatively at them and said, “Hmmm, I’m not sure I can tell you.” When they asked me why not, I explained that in a public school setting it’s not a topic we can talk about because we want everyone to feel included. They all agreed they thought I was able to at this school. A wonderful moment of freedom and relief followed after I said, “Yes I do.” The students nodded and we moved on. A cloud lifted, a weight that I had been carrying for a very long time was suddenly not there. These students accepted me as a believer in god, religion had nothing to do with it. Two of these students follow Islam’s teaching, two are Mormon and one an Orthodox Christian. I felt welcomed by them in a way I hadn’t ever before.

After this experience, our class discussed many different topics and views, including their wonderful question: why are there so many different Christian churches teacher?” This question prompted a lot of interior dialogue for me. I answered their question at the time by saying just a few sentences about his each denomination holds slightly different views on certain ideas but that they are united by Christ.

Then I wondered if the different Christian groups are just reflections of preferences in worship practices which then led me to wonder: just what is the unifying message? For a long time before this, I thought I knew the answer but to be honest, recent politics in the larger church has me currently wondering whether we are united by a whole Christ, or just see different parts of him. Right now my faith in many things is shattered, including God, in a way it never has been before. My belief in a higher power remains strong, but what I thought I understood about God is constantly shifting.

The TED Talk entitled, “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows how one individual’s world can be shaped (or misshapen) by a narrow view of the world or any one particular idea. Chimamanda’s own view of the world was broadened by hearing and knowing different views, especially in literature. I feel as if by teaching English to my incredible students my view of God has been strengthened and broadened. My students have given me multiple stories about God instead of my single story.