Few things inspire as much awe and curiosity for us mortals as a sky full of stars. The history of our species is dotted with celestial flirtations. From building a tower we thought would take us straight to The Almighty to strapping ourselves on rockets and blasting towards heaven mankind has, from the start, been obsessed with what’s out there. So I guess we’ve come full circle…a space shuttle is simply a high-tech Tower of Babel.
Sitting on my patio appreciating the grandeur of a starry night doesn’t take me to the planets or galaxies. It doesn’t cause me to feebly ponder infinity or deities. It takes me back to my childhood home in Stone Mountain. There, at Rockbridge Elementary School, Jack Hawkins taught us how to make all types of gadgets out of cardboard, drinking straws and fishing weights that would help us find The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and Orion (and his trusty dog Canis Major.) He told us what planets would be visible at what times of the evening and how to find them. Back on earth, we tracked hurricanes and raised tadpoles into frogs. His were the only homework assignments I looked forward to completing. Now grown, I still look for Orion anytime I stare at the night sky and silently thank Mr. Hawkins for knowing where to look.
My mother used to say that only God and mamas could love sixth graders. I think she left Mr. Hawkins off the list. He had to love us to put as much effort into teaching lessons that would last into our adult years. It had to be more than just a job for him. I’m not an educator. But many in my family are teachers and administrators. I have a special place in my heart for those who teach. I liken them to those who work in the mortuary science fields – I’m glad somebody wants to do it but I’m glad that someone isn’t me! There probably are educators who don’t care about the difference they make and treat their jobs as, well, jobs. But I haven’t met them among the ones I know.
My father-in-law has been retired from school administration for over ten years. Yet there’s not a meal-time blessing at his dinner table that doesn’t mention our schools and our teachers. I’ve heard him imply many times that it’s not so much the career he misses as it is the kids. The fondness with which he remembers those kids tells me that he made as profound an impression on those children as Mr. Hawkins made on me.
Jack Hawkins probably never got famous. He probably never got rich. But what he did accomplish in the course of a career was to make children better people and, in turn, make the world a better place. There are CEO’s, presidents and prime ministers who can’t make that claim. I’m not even sure that Mr. Hawkins is still living or that he’d remember me among the hundreds of kids he taught. But I’d like to have the opportunity to thank him. He didn’t just teach me how to find Orion…he taught me how to find my way through the universe (and that it helps to have a good dog watching your back.)