Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Back To The Future

A confession. I am many bad things. I am a government worker, greedily consuming all its fat perks and lazy-man incentives. I am a teacher - profession of elitists and pedophiles. Worst of all, a true American atrocity, I am a quitter. At 52 (53 in a scant five weeks), I should be settling into the juiciest portions of my American Dream. I should have my Rush Limbaugh blubber-chin that says to everyone I meet:I have fed well, my friends. I have the proportionate belly and requisite SUV to prove the wisdom of my ways. I am ready for my last move upwards, the bronze plaque on the door, the season tickets to the big league sports of my choice, the larder stocked with fat steaks and high end booze - all preview to a wonderful sunset ride of golf, consulting, and honorary board memberships.
 Life should have taken on a certain frozen cast at this juncture. I should know myself and my capabilities. I should have built my breakwater to stem the winds and create my own private halcyon...

  No such luck. I have two pounds of organic brown rice in the cabinet of my sublet condo. I have a bicycle in the garage, last year's rental stock, bought at discount, my commuter on even the coldest and rainiest of days. I am on tiptoe, the steadily rising waters of debt trickling down my nose, threatening to fill my lungs and send me to the bottom in a final, spasmodic, gasping frenzy. And I am heading to Cambodia to work with foreigners, seven to nine year-olds, on a project so far-fetched that when I describe it I sense I am trying to pitch a plan to host the Winter Olympics in Death Valley.

I have signed a two year contract to work for the Liger Learning Center in Phenom Penh. http://www.ligercambodia.org/liger-learning-center/ I am only sorry I couldn't sign for ten, or simply until death do us part. When I interviewed with the director, Robert Landau (whose father was a television writer who wrote, of all the cool possible things, for The Wild Wild West),  I told him my greatest fear was that he might consider me genuinely insane if I revealed even a fraction of the enthusiasm I felt for the position. Truth be told, it was as if I dreamed the job, as if my psychic desire and emotional need fractured the time-space continuum and placed it there for me to take. A pioneer school project in Southeast Asia for highly gifted students- for orphans and villagers. A school outside the boundaries of any institutional curriculum. A school whose sole aim is to raise up its most promising children to help direct its people towards a sustainable, positive, healthy future. Yes, my job is, in fact, facilitating the learning of the children who are going to save the world. So yeah, I am Charles Xavier. It beats the hell out of being the g.d.s.o.b. government worker who is sucking the tea party's pockets empty. Sadly, they have a point, these tea partyers(have you ever been to a less fun party?) I am ashamed of what I am accomplishing these days in the American school system. I  am doing few of the students I love so dearly any good. I have trouble believing any of what I tell them as they run bell to bell.

Going feels good. Actually, it feels ridiculously more than that. I can't wait to visit Thailand before I report to Cambodia August 1st. To visit a Thai market and see, smell, and taste non-corporate food. To see Alan and Nok and all of my Thai students. To leave what frankly feels way too much like a bit part in a brain-eating zombie movie. I'm tinged with guilt. As if I am in a raft, looking back on the gigantic, multi-tiered cruise ship, back on the folks who are quite busy arranging the deck chairs. They would wave goodbye to me, but they have to keep one hand on the railing, seeing as how the glistening icon of prosperity is listing so sharply (could that explain how those deck chairs keep sliding so irritatingly?). But everything is okay. Captain Edward Smith has just come on to say so on the intercom.

Here are the details: I am one of five teachers (two of whom I helped interview- incredible!). There are also four interns (I helped interview three - had to turn away recent graduates of Yale, Brown, and Williams!), four Cambodian teachers, and four sets of Cambodian House parents. I will be living in an apartment in the city. We are making everything up as we go based on five core values (integrity, stewardship, optimism, ingenuity, determination) and four essential "lenses of focus" (Environment, society, economics, health). There will be 32 boarding students and up to 18 local day students, for whom everything will be free including a four-year university education anywhere in the world. It's a grand experiment. A veritable wild rumpus.

 I will miss things. Will miss granite and pine; feeding Conor dinner and having him rave about my salmon. Singing Monteverdi with Voxx. The Triumph on Route 97, curving through Spruce Head.

I am rowing towards the sun, where it is rumored I will burn up. 

I will miss the cold, a little. The ice on my face as I walk the breakwater in the descending winter night. I turn my face towards the wind and inhale the snowflakes, knowing I may not see their like again in my lifetime.

Perhaps I will bring my prodigies north, since to save the world they will have to know it in all its variety.

First though, I will have to teach them to swim...


  1. Seems like you've figured it out, Peter. Maybe I'll come and visit when I can understand what's important to me-- or maybe when I establish a foothold in the first world as a mighty force of finance. For now I'd rather bear these ills I have, and hope for a time when I can do what I want with zero risk.
    America doesn't deserve you! Cambodia needs you! And, to quote Gandalf, 'Fly, you fools!'

  2. In a year and a half of blogging- this is my favorite comment. Ever.

  3. Sawadee krb Khoon Peter.

    My eyes are tired. Perhaps there is a little bamboo sawdust in them. There are monks chanting, but not close enough to overshadow the conversation my wife is having down stairs. I got in trouble today because a neighbor brought by a little plastic bag of goy oo-ah - that spicy raw beef dish. My wife was angry. She said I would have to go alone to the hospital, if it disagreed with me. I ate ALL the greens and extra rice. Then she scolded me for eating all the sweet custard treats.

    I liked your “death till us part” line……….