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Fading Footprints

by on May 28, 2014

Fading Footprints
by Marco M. Pardi

โ€œThe best leaders are those the people hardly know exist….The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task, the people say, ‘Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!” Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I have been serving several concurrent life sentences. Most know me as one sort of inmate, some as two, and a very few as more. Certainly, in terms of visiting hours my most frequent visitors have come to me in my college instructor role. They have been students. And, solicitous of my guests, I have tried to dissolve the bars and mute the garb which institutions erect and dictate to separate those who know from those who do not. Yes, I did briefly wear coat and tie, usually to mock the system but also because I just owned them.

My field, Anthropology, was often close to unique inasmuch as it offered more opportunity than any other single field to holistically examine the phenomenon of Man, and to at least intellectually explore alternatives to the life ways given groups of people had been enculturated to take as normal. I say “often” because that opportunity was not always fully on offer. Too many times I encountered instructors who were either unaware they were in barred cells made by their own chosen discipline or who frankly reveled in the authoritative protection the bars seemed to offer. Their idea of connecting with the students was simply testing how far through the bars they could reach in order to deliver a set package of goods, getting it back piecemeal in the form of tests and papers. I remember a cartoon in the ’60’s depicting a large tape recorder on the table at the front of the class and smaller tape recorders atop each classroom desk.

Repelled by the presumptuous notion that an instructor was in the room to “change minds”, I pursued an effort to simply open minds to other possibilities, including those which ran contrary to the received wisdom of Anthropology. My approach was in no small part influenced by the fundamental meaning of Tao as expressed in the Tao Te Ching.

In no way a theistic religion, Tao speaks simply of Way; not “The Way” defined by a supreme cabal of people and enforced upon all others within their grasp through enculturation of children, threats of eternal retribution, infiltration and takeover of civil institutions, forced “conversion” and even murder. Even the commonly cited author, Lao Tzu, is apocryphal; the name is not a name but an honorific, most commonly translated as Old Man. It explicitly pays homage to the wisdom of the elders, gained through long and thoughtful lives, an ethic common to many non-Western cultures, in this case the Chinese.

Of course, there were students who confused the messenger with the message. Several came to tell me they had elected Anthropology as a major, or had switched to it from some other major, because they were inspired by the life I had lived and by what I had learned.

Different traps use different baits. I’ve had plenty of stunning coeds begin undressing in my office while offering any form of sex in return for a good grade. A fool might have thought himself so attractive that these women were there only partly for a grade; that degree of self esteem has never been my problem. These women were the “lay their way” types, apparently successful with enough other instructors to pump up their confidence to somewhere near their breast size. I’ve often been willing to extend myself to others, just not this way.

Certainly there are other, more benign traps. These are the categorical ones that people put us into and we unwittingly accept. I was doing the grocery shopping, pushing my cart along the aisles in best Formula 1 form when a young woman rounded the far corner coming straight at me. Just as I recognized her from class she braked to a stop and exclaimed, “Professor Pardi! What are you doing here?” “I eat,” I said, while squeezing the Charmin.

No, the most enticing of traps is that which uses ego as bait. And in all fairness, the trappers themselves rarely understand what they are potentially doing. Students coming to me declaring they have found their major, or they have changed their major because – in so many words, they want to be like me required careful handling. First, do they really understand what Anthropology is? Second, are they really capable of pursuing this choice to the automatic exclusion of other choices they might have made? And, finally, do they realize and understand that the life they see standing before them is only one manifestation of a man living multiple lives, lives they almost certainly are not going to live and which I would not disclose?

The ethical option, then, was to bring them into my office for discussion, to grasp the hidden triggers of the trap and let it close slowly and harmlessly, leaving us both free. If they “passed” questions 1 – 3 above then we could explore their interests and abilities further and begin mapping a possible academic course for them. If not, we had some adjustments to make.

As time passed and I returned to the classroom after a lengthy hiatus elsewhere I began seeing students from a different perspective. No longer was I the age of the “average student”, or even close. Indeed, being a grandfather perhaps affected my vision in ways which made me see so many of these students as much younger than they actually were. The intervening years had not been devoid of human contact or variety; far from it. I had been involved, far more so than during my pre-teaching and early teaching years, with a gamut of humans running from tragic victim to what seemed to be the very incarnation of evil. Throughout those years I intensified my lifelong quest to understand the nature of the spiritual component to all forms of life. I’m not talking here at all about some concept of a god or chief spirit; I have written elsewhere about how that, to me, is utterly nonsensical. I’m talking about the inner voice that many people hear and some people heed, the inner voice which challenges us to reconsider our actions, to do what is right, the voice originally known throughout the Middle East as Shaitan before the Christians externalized and personified it into Satan. In Christian hands Satan certainly was the enemy of the faith; oh so clever, the voice of reason, The “Silver Tongued Devil”, suggesting there are other ways beside The Way.

Perhaps I was naive, thinking the students too young for some to be inhabited by evil. I do not doubt that evil is out there. I do not doubt that I have seen it wearing many faces. In fact, the variety has had me often wondering if I, or anyone else, can define evil except through the prism of what we individually consider good or bad. In general terms I began to see people as:
Born asleep and remain asleep;
Born asleep and awaken;
Born awake and put to sleep;
Born awake and remain awake.
While that says nothing about the nature or orientation of the spirit within the person, I do reject the soporific claptrap peddled by the simpleton kumbaya buy-the-symptoms-and-you’ve-got-the-disease New Age crowd, the everything is universal love and hugs crowd. There are people out there who, seeing an advantage to themselves, will harm you in any way they see necessary. And dying doesn’t make one automatically omniscient, or loving. It makes one dead. In 22 years of college teaching I’ve seen in some students what I considered evil, even if only incipient.

For the past several years Jamie Butler, whom I consider to be as genuine (100%) as she is capable (100%) has been coming into my classes to explain and to partially demonstrate her abilities as a clairvoyant/clairaudient medium. The simple fact that students from years past and community members from great distances will come supports my conclusion that she is true, and not one of the many hucksters I’ve assessed over the years.

Yet, discussion with her and with others brings up a concept which I find potentially troubling: the “Spirit Guide”. While I have no problem with the existence of disincarnate spirits, I want to include incarnate ones as well in the concept, much as Buddhism recognizes Bodhisattvas – or spirits who have chosen to remain incarnate so as to guide others. Another aspect of this is the interpretation of “guide”.

In my view, a guide – spirit or otherwise, is more a Shaitan than a leader; a guide presents all the options, challenging you to really and deeply think of the implications for yourself and others. A guide does not say, “I know the way. Only I can be right. Follow me.” What lesson is learned by following? What kind of person, spirit or otherwise, wants blind followers?

Although I’ve been called a “Silver Tongued Devil”, I hope (for lack of a better word) I’ve been a Shaitan, not a leader. I am not a thief, stealing learning opportunities from others.

Recent health developments have called for my ethical evaluation of my continued role in teaching. I have decided that entering into a full term contract with students, when a serious or fatal event could pull me from the classroom is unethical. This is particularly so inasmuch as my chosen field – in this case Critical Thinking in Thanatology, is one which, unlike almost all other subjects, cannot be taught by any other instructor at the college where I have been teaching.

So it is with regret that I must withdraw, must walk along that last beach, hoping my footprints are only a guide, not a way, until they have faded and gone.

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17 Comments
  1. Pam Wedding permalink

    Say it ain’t so, Joe!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Thanks, Pam. It is, though I have made myself available for guest appearances in classes. I don’t expect many of those.

  3. Just because you are not in a formal classroom I don’t see your role changing. I would agree, you are a Shaitan, and will continue to be. That role might actually expand outside the four walls of your classroom.
    And I’m surprised it was just the girls and none of the males making similar suggestions for improving their grade.

  4. Thanks, Mary. I am looking for ways to continue in this role, and perhaps they will come.

    Maybe I project something that keeps sexually interested men at bay. Don’t know. It never happened, unless I was too dense to pick up on it.

  5. I have always had problems with the notion that people who die automatically become angels to those that cared about them in life. My son’s first marriage was doomed from the beginning because his wife had such an ‘angel’ in her past, and no one can stack up against that imagined perfection. My recently departed friend is also attaining that angelic status; one which he, while a good man by most standards, definitely did not deserve in life.

    I believe that all of us here would agree that you have indeed played the part of Shaitan in one way or another in our lives. Your exploits (the ones I knew of, anyway) were a source of great entertainment and inspiration for me, and I should imagine many others. You, sir, are admired by those of us who suffer the illusion that we have known you. I know better than to think of you as an angel, in this world or the next, but I can promise you that your footprints will not fade so long as there are those of yet alive to say, “Marco used to say….” Rose

    • Rose, i still haven`t read Marco`s post (will later at a better moment), but what you wrote was very `visible` in my inbox, and read it first !
      and couldnt help myself commenting ๐Ÿ™‚ … well, that last paragraph is a masterpiece !!!
      THAT`S SO BEAUTIFUL and SOO BEAUTIFULLY SAID !!

    • Thank you, Rose. You truly leave me unable “to say”. I count myself fortunate in having known you, to the extent I can say that. For me, life is not just a trail we leave behind us, or dust we raise in passing. I experience the fulness of it anew each time we exchange thoughts, experiences, and feelings. Marco

    • Reading all your posts, I let my imagination run a bit wild imagining your classes ! ๐Ÿ˜‰
      and I wish I could have experienced too your guidance, as so many other blog followers have.

      As I have mentioned to you before, even without having ever met you, I have always strongly felt the `teacher` in you, the one who is born to share his knowledge with others. And I am not talking only of a career .
      And to me there is no greater teacher than one who ” pursued an effort to simply open minds to other possibilities”. I must say, I am very jealous of all your students !! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Thank you, FOAL. Your marvelous book, and all the discussion which still flow from it, has been a guide for all of us. I hope to continue in this role and I hope you also do. Our world is opening before us, not closing. Marco

  6. Tany permalink

    :*( your role has always been to be a guide and you have lived a purposeful life in that way. I live in gratitude for my own strengths and explorations because of the shared wisdoms and guidance you provided! Thank you Marco for being the teacher!

    Tany Walker

    • Thank you, Tany. Your success, throughout very difficult times, is an inspiration to me and I am honored to have played a small part in it. Marco

  7. It will be interesting to see what you do with your days leaving teaching. I’m doing my best, but have not figured out this next stage of life. Work had a road map. I knew how to do it and well. This is like free falling with no direction. I could not wait till the day I could retire. My husband got to retire quite early and after all the travels he had desired, really almost went mad and fortunately was given the opportunity to return to work and not just any job, one with creativity and status. We have moved so know one knows me or what I did. There was a time I was highly regarded in my community. Head of this and that, getting grants and running programs which received many accolades, awards and visits from distinguished groups looking to replicate these programs. Since moving here, when in social settings I want to shout the line from one of my favorite movies “Boundin’, “I used to be something”. I have no desire to return to the work world. I have tried the volunteer route. I’m at a place where it seems if more than two people are involved in something, there is always drama and conflict and I want none of that. I’m really happy spending my days in the company of my dogs, but really struggle with being nobody. This is my new favorite artist:

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/obsoleteworld/about?ref=l2-about

    I’m trying to figure how to avoid committing the crime of becoming obsolete. So Marco, you might have to transition from Shaitan to guide for this journey. I’ll be watching.

    • Thank you, Mary. You really have gone right to the very heart of a dilemma. You are young (I can say that) and with so very much to offer. I think of you getting to know the trees on your property, the wildlife wondering about you, and I keep wishing you would write a book. Your life has been amazing, and harrowing. It’s almost unethical of you not to share it with us. Maybe we should join forces and start our own publishing company.

      This blog keeps me sentient. Also, I read at least one book per week. Living in one of the more conservative areas of a conservative State in a conservative region somewhat narrows the horizon. I will consider volunteering at any horse therapy ranches that are near here. They make much better company than humans.

  8. Mark Dohle permalink

    While I was always a bad student, those people who have remained alive in my mind are for the most part teachers. Some teachers can see their students, respect them and encourage. I was lucky to have a few in my life. Your students were lucky to have you my friend.

    peace
    mark

  9. Thank you, Mark. I can’t conceive of you ever being a bad student, only unreachable for those teachers who had so little to offer an already advanced and developing mind such as yours. Marco

  10. Tristan Bohling permalink

    I am saddened to hear you’re withdrawing from the classroom setting but thankful that you were able to affect many eager students as a teacher. Very few students these days, it seems, are lucky enough to have teachers who abide by the example of the “guide,” especially in a society that expects so much from its “leaders” and for others to live by their example. I consider myself more than lucky to have had a teacher who was a guide who helped inspire me to follow by that principle. I remember walking out your Anthropology class one day feeling so inspired by the material you gave that I considered changing my major to that subject, only to realize soon after that it didn’t matter what my major was so long as I kept an open mind and stayed curious (and I may not have come to that realization had I not taken your class in the first place).

  11. Thank you, Tristan. You exemplify a recurrent issue: the realization on my part that I am in the presence of an awake person, the desire to perpetuate that presence, and yet the understanding that you must move on. You are, and will be one of those people I will continually wonder “How’s he doing?”

    No need for me to wish you “all the best.” You are exceptionally able to find and see it. And, you are exceptionally able to bring it out in others. I hope that, throughout your life, you meet others who see you. Marco

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