Monday, June 12, 2017

#SOL17: Love and Love and Teaching and More Love

painting (May 2017)


I was reading a post by Kathleen Sokolowski,The Knowing #SOL17. I was touched and honored that she wrote the post in a style I often use these last two years as I have made my way in and out of the twists and valleys that so often typify grief and solace. I leave spaces in my writing--gaps where a reader might roam a bit. I do this by numbering sections, knowing the spaces between numbers will be the gaps readers compose. It's a nod to Wolfgang Iser who first named this for me.  

As lovely as it was to find Kathleen's statement about my style, what caught my eye was a quote at the top of the post:

"As a general rule, teachers teach more by what they are then by what they say." -Unknown

It seemed to demand a response.  


Devon and Rob at his 8th grade graduation, 6.14.2013
This morning my son, Devon, graduated from high school. Four years ago--almost to the day (June 14, 2013) Devon graduated from eighth grade. I wish I had taken a better photo of Rob and Devon, that day, but I didn't. Nonetheless, can't you just see the love on Rob's face for his son? Who could know that four years ago would mark the only graduation Rob would be alive to witness? Who would have thought that the day his son completed high school he would be dead for more than a year? 

Devon and Rob in Tuscany, 8.10.2013
What I want to write about here though is not that, but rather about a single moment during the graduation that meant more than I could say here.  After all of the speeches had been given, three academic awards were presented to students by faculty. The first one was given to my son by a teacher who taught him every year and befriended him surely. He began by telling a funny story about first meeting Devon as an eighth grader and then spoke about how Devon became more and more a partner than a student during his time at the school. And when he started to mention Devon leaving and going on to Stevens, he choked up, stopped speaking, and momentarily cried. In that moment, Rob Houghton taught more by what he fundamentally is, than by anything he might have said. 

These are moments to notice and savor. 
Don't look away.
We must commit such expressions of love to our memory. Our lives depend on it.


Devon left the house this morning carrying one unwrapped gift in his hand. Just one.

What's in the box? I asked as we drove to graduation.
A motherboard for Mr. Houghton.
Is that something he wanted?
Couldn't find wrapping? I teased.
We nerds don't wrap. And Houghton? He's like an original nerd.


If you listen to pundits talk about education and there's lots of chatter about higher standards, grit, data driven instruction, performance gains, STEM, and being college-ready (whatever that might mean). We pay big bucks, billions actually, to annually measure how well every learner can perform on a narrow set of outcomes so often determined by pseudo-educators and then we claim that those results represent the value of their teachers and schools. 

Pure idiocy. 

Frankly, such tests are woefully incomplete, often erroneous, partial snapshots at best, and very costly to students, teachers, and our wallets.

This morning, Mr Houghton got it right. He showed us what matters more than the ed buzzwords and is a much finer expression of a teacher, a student and the learning they have composed. Great teaching isn't about stanine growth. 

Great teaching inspires us to compose better versions of ourselves. That's what Mr. Houghton's actions were teaching us this morning. 

Love endures.  It inspires. It is the energy that survives well beyond the breakdown of our human bodies. 


It has been a tough, tough six weeks--in many ways the toughest I have ever known. And after the ceremony I made my way to Mr. Houghton to simply thank him.  

What Dev has been going through these last weeks? he began, sounding so certain.
I nodded and said, Yes.
It's been good for him. May not feel like it. But it's been good for him. He needs to get this out.

I nodded and touched his arm and think I may have said, thank you although I am not sure.


A doctor explained that for Devon it's like his dad died a week ago. Delayed grief is the psychological term. 

He was my best friend, my son would tell me. I miss him every day. 

Some pain is so big it cannot find expression until it bleeds out of us.


I wish I could have done better for my son at this moment of great pain. I wish that when I had to fail him, it would not have been now--not when the stakes are so very high. There simply is no one on this planet who I love as I do my son.  But in his eyes,  I failed him in ways that have scarred him, in ways I cannot find the words to say here. 

What I learned this morning is that others have stepped in to love him when he would not allow me do so. And for that I am grateful.


Though Devon's dad was not there this morning, my brother, Jack and my friend, Jane each assured me that they strongly felt his presence throughout the ceremony.  Jane told me in an email late this afternoon, and Jack told me before he left our home today. 

Mary, I felt him. Rob was there in that auditorium. He's watching over Dev and you. I know it. 

Each was so certain and each is gifted in such ways. We have long joked in my family that my brother is like St. Francis of Assisi. All the animals come to him: abandoned dogs and snakes; raccoons and birds. They all seem to sense that gentle kind soul he harbors.  And Jane? Well, she dreams. Always has. I imagine always will. Prophetic dreams that open her to what most of us simply miss and keep her open when she is no longer sleeping. 

Mr. Houghton, Jack and Jane remind me that there are many ways to be in this world--ways that my son has learned as well. 


Stay open to love, I tell myself--for even when I cannot feel Rob, others do and that fills me with hope.

Stay open to love I say to Devon, for it heals and redeems us when we cannot seem to find the road we most need to walk.


  1. This is probably the best graduation tribute I've ever read. A tribute to your deceased, beloved husband, your lovely, sensitive son, your kind brother and his wife, the dreamer, and, of course, Mr. Houghton, who played such a special role in your son's life. You are completely right about everything you said about taking the measure of a good teacher. It's all about the kind deeds done, the love extended toward the needy student, the legacy of caring. I am glad you will have such a loving memory of today. And congratulations to your son, and to you, for raising him to be the special kid he is.

    1. Thank you Barbara. It was a special moment for all of us. The teacher is wonderful.

  2. Kathleen often inspires me. I'm so glad she inspired you to write such an eloquent story of your son and about your husband.

    The big messages here (e.g., stay open to love, notice and savor the little moments, commit yourself to expressions of love) are universal. Thank you for reminding me of what matters today, Mary Ann.

    1. My pleasure Stacey. I love the themes you found emerging. Helped me today as I responded.

  3. I love your writing every time I read it- you are so honest and find a way to make simple things and not-so-simple things be clear and true and right. You inspire so many and it was lovely to read your recognition of influences by others. Your son is lucky to have such a wise mom.

    1. Thank you so much. Needed to read your words today. Not sure my son finds me too wise today:)

  4. The circle continues... reading, writing, sharing, responding. I'm a better writer for reading your writing and today my heart is a little bigger for reading your story. I could cry thinking of the teacher who loves your son so much, he cried. Rob'sspirit present at that moment. Your whole fourth section about teaching helping us to compose a better version of ourselves. What an incredible piece. Deeply inspired again. Be kind to yourself. Congratulations to your handsome,kind, brilliant Devon.

    1. I am trying to be kind to myself these days. Kind to my son. Appreciate your comments, Kathleen.

  5. What wonderful moments of tears... teacher tears are powerful
    Bravo to Devon, to his mom and his dad.

  6. It's powerful for us, and for our kids, to learn that they have other adults who love them, who can fill some of the spaces we cannot.

  7. I love the way you framed this story of Devon's graduation, and this line:Love endures. It inspires. It is the energy that survives well beyond the breakdown of our human bodies.

    1. Love does endure and inspire. It is often what makes teaching so grand.

  8. What a beautiful tribute-- to love, to Devon, to Mr. Houghton, to Rob and to family. Thank you for having the strength to share it.

  9. Mary Ann, today is a day for celebration-your son's graduation, teachers, especially one, that you spoke highly of, your supporters, and above all the presence of Rob in your life and your son's. Of course, he would be present in spirit on this amazing day. You shared with us your life in sections, your feelings in whole, and your spirit as a guiding star. "Great teaching inspires us to compose better versions of ourselves."

    1. Love inspires us to compose better versions of ourselves. So too does sharing and testifying. All of it works.

  10. How lucky Devon is to have a Mr. Houghton in his life, and Mr. Houghton is lucky as well. Wishing you a summer of continued healing. -- Christie @

  11. Every time I read one of your posts, I feel I've not only gotten a lesson in writing but a lesson in being human. Thank you.


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