Monday, July 29, 2013


It is easy to find fault.
It is almost natural to begin to point out the negatives, the "yeah...buts" and the "why we can'ts or the  "it won'ts"
We all do it.
But why didn't you ...? we might ask as friend
I wouldn't have bought that one  we tell a sibling.

On and on... until in any situation we have compiled a long list of "nots", a roster of  reasons to push back against whatever issue, concern, or subject  is at hand.

But what if  we, instead, look for the most beautiful thing we know about whatever is uppermost in our mind, whatever concerns us, whatever we are tempted to initially demonize.

What if we set aside our skepticism and our doubts?

What if we ask What is the "something beautiful" in this? 

  In Something Beautiful by Sharon  Dennis Wyeth,  right outside her window, a young girl faces the not-so-beautiful aspects of her neighborhood.  She sees trash, broken bottles, and a brick wall.  Someone has painted the word DIE on her building's door, and a homeless woman lives in a cardboard box and sleeps on the side walk.

Following her teacher's request, she sets out to find "something beautiful".  Polling her neighbors, she finds each has a reflective response and names a specific "something beautiful." As she continues to search for her own "something beautiful",  she also takes actions toward making her neighborhood more beautiful, as well as finding out that she is someone's "something beautiful".

In a short creative piece, The Indian Dog, N.Scott Momaday shows us the "something beautiful " about a dog he wanted  when he was growing up, but actually had no chance of keeping. Although he had purchased the dog from the owner for five dollars, he is able to finally find beautiful the fact that the dog ran away-- back to his owner:
The Indian dog had done what it had to do, had behaved exactly as it must, had been true to itself and to the sun and moon. It knew its place in the scheme of things, and its place was precisely there, with its right destiny...
This insightful piece is included in In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal edited by Judith Kitch and Mary Paumier Jones.

It may be that it is not a negative situation with which we are faced, but rather a new or unknown one--or one in which we want to explore and investigate.

We can still look for the "something beautiful."

We can ask  What is the most beautiful thing I know about this? 

For Richard Van Camp, it is horses. Being a Dogrib Indian, he knows about dogs. Folks in his tribe are not horse people. So he sets out to find out more about these animals.  He asks many family members,  friends, and neighbors What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses?  in his book by the same title. The answers he receives are thoughtful, poetic, and practical--with each response connected to and revealing something about the responder.

 Teacher Consultants from the 2012 CAWP summer institute gathered yesterday  in retreat, to talk and catch up, to share new ideas, to commiserate and celebrate..... and... of course,  to write.

We asked collectively What is the most beautiful thing I know about___ ?

The diverse directions in responses were as many as people present:
 We found beautiful  that moment when a  child 's uplifted hands reached for her mom, the unselfishness of a son and his fiancee in changing their wedding plans from overseas to closer to home so all the family could be present.
We searched for meaning and identity in the context of  family  and aging.
We considered the beautiful and "unbeautiful" in adoption, explored the new feelings of patriotism for a new army soldier's mom
And we traveled to Jerusalem to ask folks there What is the most beautiful thing you know about Jerusalem?

We found beauty in expected and ordinary places, as well as in unlikely and surprising places.

We challenged ourselves as this school year begins, and perhaps new challenges in our personal lives as well, to ask at ever new challenge and change:
What is the most beautiful thing I know about this?
We challenged ourselves to keep this question in the forefront, asking it not only  of ourselves, but our of colleagues and family and friends, as well.

What is the most beautiful thing you know about.___?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

As you reflect on your work, your personal life, your relationships and all that is involved in being the public and personal you, ask:  What is the most beautiful thing I know about.___?

You may think about your family- spouse, child, mother or father,friend-- or an object
or you may think about your school year-- your classroom, your students or a particular student, education, teaching or a particular subject/concept that you teach.

If you are not a teacher, you may think about your  work or studies or hobbies.

Try writing  your own response to the question that you pose.  

It may be an essay, narrative or poem.
Or you may want to poses your question, and then write as if many other people are responding--write what you imagine their responses to be, write from their perspectives.


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