Photo by Michał Słupczyński © Copyright Asmodiel.de
My decision, at the age of 17, to leave the established school system and join with some friends to start our own high school was inspired in part by my sophomore-year high school English teacher, Mr. Gimbel.
Inspired, though not in a good way.
One cold gray November day, we were all bent over our desks, quietly studying a chapter on poetry. Mr. Gimbel was bent over his own desk likewise. (Perhaps he was grading papers, or preparing a grocery list.)
The kid seated next to me nudged me, then without a word nodded toward the window. I looked up. It was snowing: big, fat, luscious flakes. The first snow of the season.
We both stared in awe at its silent beauty.
Another kid, sensing the shift in our attention, looked up as well, following the direction of our gaze. Soon half the class was looking out onto the world, transfixed by the glorious spectacle of crystallized water vapor pouring over the planet’s surface in eternally non-repeating manifestation. It was as if heaven itself had chosen this moment to sprout a chorus of ethereal dandelions, blanketing the earth with its milky-white seed heads.
Suddenly Mr. Gimbel glanced up and realized we were all staring out the window. Leaping to his feet he shouted, “Hey, stop looking at that snow and get back to your poetry!”
It was the single funniest thing I heard during all that year. It was also the moment I thought, “We need a new high school.”
We went on to build that school, and it was a great success. We studied history, writing, dance, music, physics, computer engineering, nutrition, great literature, and, yes, even poetry.
And Mr. Gimbel’s unfortunate example has stayed with me as a cautionary tale: Don’t let your focus of the moment blind you to the poetry around you.
There are an awful lot of snowflakes to see.