“Last summer I walked through the valley of the shadow of death…”
I first “met” Peter on the stage at Marlboro College where he and Stephen Stearns, offered their comic rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk. I was seated in the third row, and I remember the moment exactly, because in addition to the laughter, I felt the baby move inside–for the first time–and I knew he liked comedy too.
A handful of years later, Peter (aka. “Pedro”) became this same child’s Spanish teacher, and later accompanied his Junior High class on their trip to Costa Rica; and in his graduated year assisted them in preparing for their annual Cabaret.
Last year, he retired from his role as Spanish teacher extraordinaire following a health crisis.
The next fall, I found Pedro’s words at taped the teachers’ bathroom wall–a long held dedicated place of poetry, humor and inspiration. I wrote Pedro for my own copy and he gave me his permission to share it here. No doubt you will find it as inspirational as this place called Vermont:
Last summer i walked through the valley of the shadow of death one night. My heart stopped while i was riding in an ambulance. i was in a beautiful, calm, and fearless state of mind—you could almost say, of meditation, grace and patience—when i nearly died. and this is exactly why i live to talk about it. The technician sitting next to me walloped my chest, and i returned from where i had gone to. He welcomed me back warmly–one of the three percent who live to talk about it.
i now live my life with four principles up front, as often as i can keep them in my mind:
Have no fear.
Inhabit your life.
Maintain your belongings.
These have seemed to work very well for me for the past 14 months. Number one and number two are fairly easy to parse, and both have reverberated clearly since that night.
The third is really about envy, or haste, or that feeling we may carry around, of always looking forward to the next thing—i have tried to relax and be here, in my life, my house, my marriage, my work, and my town, not rushing through these, not regretting, not craving some other life, not thinking about change.
Strangely, number four has been the richest vein-—maintain your belongings. Not just what belongs to me but also: what i belong to. Taking intense pleasure in cleaning out a drawer, fixing a broken anything, bringing a box of clothes to the thrift store, getting rid of books, taking the time to PLAN maintenance too–taking quiet delight in visualizing all the important steps.
The most amazing things happen: i decide to mend a hole in a dear old cashmere sweater. i decide to put it on the car seat beside me and drive to delectable mountain quilts in downtown Brattleboro to find just the right color thread. when i enter the store, jan, the owner, is leaning over her counter listening to a beautiful piece of female music. she is crying. i lean over and listen too. when the song ends, she says, “do you want to hear it again?” i say yes, and we listen.
Now we are friends who share music. Now I have brought her a cd of songs that speak in the same way to me, and now our friendship has hit a whole new level. Not just cloth and thread, but music, too, and the mutual appreciation of the place where women sing from.
When we decide to live in a different way, taking the time to take care of what belongs to us or what we belong to, we open ourselves to a revolutionary way of being in the world, which flies in the face of our history, of north american conquistador/militaristic materialism. Since pioneer days, we have moved on to new fertile ground after we have fouled the place we’ve been. We leave our unportable junk behind. That’s how we have behaved in Iraq, in so many places…
A great feeling of peace comes over me when I stop and say, I could fix this, I could maintain this, I could work on my relationship with this acquaintance i see coming down the street toward me. I could clean up my email inbox. I could sort through the boxes of papers under my bed. I need to tie up the pea plants: instead of trying to hack apart this garden string with a shovel blade, i could gently lean the pea plant against the fence, put the string down and go into the kitchen and get a knife. i could walk slowly and breathe deeply while doing this. i could stop in the kitchen and have a drink of water on the way.
The key word is “belonging” and imagining all the different aspects of that word. Maintaining the whole web of relationships we belong to… It’s become a whole new way of living, for me. I don’t have to retire my ambition, in order to be this way. I have to take the time to consider quality in my actions, visualize it ahead of me and in the path i leave behind me.
It’s the way I want to be, now.
~Peter Gould, 2010