“It is this way with wonder: it takes a bit of patience, and it takes putting yourself in the right place at the right time. It requires that we be curious enough to forgo our small distractions in order to find the world.” (Aimee Nezhukumatahil, World of Wonders)
As the year wraps up and I write this final blog, I’m feeling such a range of emotions. I’m excited about the summer ahead and upcoming travels with family and friends…and also feeling bittersweet about leaving a community I am deeply connected to and students who continually inspire me with their creativity, intelligence and authenticity. As a person who thrives on schedule, order and rituals, I’m sure I’ll miss the regular cadence of sporting events, concerts, meetings, dances and promotions. And yet, I find myself yearning to spend time diving into books I have yet to read and those I want to savor once again.
As an English teacher, books have—in many ways—defined my life. They have brought me joy, made me uncomfortable, helped me find balance, forced me to rethink and provided comfort. Books—in the ideal sense—are both “windows and mirrors,” a reflection of who we are and a window into another culture, identity and experience. Incoming Head of School, Rachel Skiffer and I reflected on our favorite books in our “Conversation Between Heads” (mine: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates and The Handmaid’s Tale; hers: Simple Justice). I also admire Ruth Ozeki (our community education speaker in March) whose recent novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, speaks powerfully to the mental health needs of our students as well as the larger philosophical connections to Buddhism and the fight against consumerism.
As I pack up my office bookshelves, there are certainly a few other texts that have brought me much inspiration and wonder this year. In my fall senior memoir elective, we read World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukamatathil; this slender illustrated chronicle of essays is on one level a study of the natural world from narwhals to fireflies and, on a more personal one, a story of a young woman of color growing up in the South, who becomes a naturalist, an academic and a parent of two young boys. I’ve discovered how resonant texts are that blend several genres, such as World of Wonders. Two other books that blend memoir and history—and that have deeply affected me are All the Frequent Troubles of our Days by Rebecca Donner and On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed. These powerful books cover difficult eras in our world’s history and are often challenging to read but provide poignant lessons.
Finally, I recommend The War for Kindness, by Stanford psychology professor, Jamil Zeki and Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready—Even Things That Seem Impossible Today by Jane McGonigal. The War for Kindness is our Professional Community’s summer reading and will also be an all-school read for the fall. In it, Zeki shares research that shows that empathy can (and should) be taught to make our world a better place. In Imaginable, readers are asked to rethink how we look at the future in a world where unimaginable things now regularly happen—from pandemics to racial hatred and violence. McGonigal shares approaches for training our minds to become resilient, creative and confident when faced with a world of unthinkable uncertainties. It is a powerfully apropos book.
So as I look to my days ahead with wonder for the not-yet-known, one thing is certain: books will continue to play a vital role. As much as books have—in so many ways—defined different parts of my life, I can only hope that future generations will have the same opportunities to read classic, thought-provoking and/or important books and determine what profound lessons they should learn from them.