Archive | June, 2012

A Nose Grabbing Poem

30 Jun

I wrote an email in a form of a Dr. Suess-type story to Cara, my 1st and 2nd grade student. She is now 9 years old.

Well greetings, dear Cara, the one with the Rose

I come with no good-byes, but with a Snillion hellos.
That’s a lot of hellos, Dr. Suess only knows
Trust me on this one, or else I’ll have no choice BUUUUT……
To grab for your nose

And the game would continue
And continue it must
For if nose-grabbing stops,
Then our snouts will surely rust!

And perfectly well, I am sure you’re aware
That a 1-0 nose-game is a tragic affair
And you’re sure I’m aware, with a hope to improve
I’m already planning, the next nose-grabbing move

It won’t be too early, and it won’t be too late
You won’t see it coming, it will be so great
But I’m sure that you too, are cooking up a plot
To grab my nose back, but beware…
I’ll come with a nose filled with green snot!

Ok ok fine. I’m getting a bit silly
But that’s kind of your fault
Because you inspired me, really
To always be a kid, and indeed kids are silly
Especially while farting and eating hot chille
Now, Cara Rose
I have something to say
It’s something important
And as precious as today

You see, Cara Rose,
You have a great gift:
You bring joy to others
And that is quite a nifty nift.
You show that you care
You put other’s needs first
You bring out the best
In what could have been worse

You’ve opened a door, the door of your heart
And shared it with many
Now THAT’s quite a start
Even if you decide to put a fart in a cart
But if you instead, hold a smile for a while
And say something kind in that super Cara-style
Then others will listen, they won’t fear…no no no
Instead they will say, ‘My compassionate hero!’

Always remember the coolest of truths:
That your actions will always bear some kind of fruit
They may taste like poop, or they might taste chocolate cake
It all depends on the choices you make
Like listening to your Mom
To make sure she’ll buy you candy
And reading good books
Will surely come in handy
And playing a lot
Because playing is awesome
And hanging from monkey bars
Upside-down like a possum
And using a special part of your mind
The part of your mind that will make you be kind
And I’ll end my letter here
Like I started up there
Up at the top of the page to be fair
Smile for a while
Then draw a big dial
With numbers

I wanted to thank you


Love Surrounds You

22 Jun

Two weeks before my departure for Thailand, a group of parents of children whom I taught in the last 4 years took me out for drinks and dinner. Patrick, Layla’s dad, handed me a piece of white paper folded in half. On the front cover Layla (8 years old) wrote, “I miss you, Allen.” On the inside it read, “I miss you Allen! You were an excellent teacher. Lot’s of love.” At the bottom of the page Layla wrote, “I made something for you” with arrows guiding me to the second page of the inside cover, where I found a multi-colored bracelet that was fastened by scotch tape. Next to the bracelet was a very sacred message that Layla had written in red ink: “Love surrounds you, Allen!”

Love surrounds you. How precious it is to encounter a human being like Layla who’s already discovered so much of her true nature of compassion and wisdom. How dear it is to have an opportunity to listen to such an important teaching from her. I think that in order to understand the omnipresence of love, it takes a whole lot of practice, meditation, perseverance, discipline, and lots of random acts of kindness.

In the last 4 years as a teacher at KMS, I certainly learned a lot. But all of that alotness [1] can be summed up into one important fragment of understanding: if I make an effort to push my ego to the curb and view everybody I encounter as a teacher, then I find a spiritual entourage of peace, wisdom, and joy knocking on the door of my heart, coming in to say “hi.”

[1] Not a word…Thank Roald Dahl and Dr. Suess for spoiling me

A Train of Events

20 Jun


 “Today I’m taking you on an adventure,” Baba-Luba (Grandma Luba) whispered in my ear at my bed-side.  That word, ADVENTURE, was enough to pump the necessary levels of Dopamine and other happy chemicals into my brain and wake me up instantly.  I remember my response as if it were yesterday: “Where?! Where are we going? To the pool?  To the Playground?  To the doughnut shop?” 

“I don’t know where we’re going yet,” Luba said with a grin.  I could tell my sneaky grandma was hiding some really exciting news, which would be revealed in some tactful way.  I gave up hope for instant gratification and just decided to go along with her plot.  I got dressed, brushed my teeth, put on my glow-in-the dark KEDS sneakers and we walked out the door. The sky in San Francisco’s Sunset district was eclipsed by a grey pother of fog.  She held my hand as we walked up to a platform next to the train tracks.  My heart leaped and missed five beats as my brain was concluding its final calculations of possible answers to the ADVENTURE equation.  Then I saw the two bright headlights of the Muni train car approaching our platform.  “Aw shit, grandma!  That’s fuckin awesome, dawg!”  I exclaimed in excitement.  Not really, but if I were a hard core 4-year-old gangster kid, maybe I would have said that.  I did jump up and down and screamed in a high-pitched voice like a happy 4-year-old white boy.  Finally, after months of wonder about these things called trains, I was finally going to ride on one!  I ran into the train car and glued my nose to the window.  There was something just so damn cool about riding in such a huge machine that carried all these people down a pair of tracks.  And then when I thought my life couldn’t get any better, it did: the train entered a dark tunnel.  Where the heck were we?  I had no conception of space.  In my 4-year-old mind, we were in the underworld, miles and miles away from civilization.  I watched the darkness through the window as the train whizzed from station to station.  I was in ecstasy.  I was in love.   Life only got better: Luba took me into the heart of downtown San Francisco for a field trip to Woolworth, a huge department store full of toys.  Incidentally the one toy I decided to get was a small blue plastic train with a bell attached on the top.  It was enough to fill my juvenile heart with endless joy for days.  For years my grandma would take me on the same N-Judah train, with the same itinerary. 

That was 27 years ago.  Just the other day I shared the news with my grandmother that I would be going on another adventure.  This time it would be on an airplane to teach elementary school in Thailand for at least one year.  My grandma then said, “You’ve always loved to travel, Allen.  All your life you were so excited to go places.  And I know where it all began.”   She paused to give me a few moments to think about it.  And my heart missed five beats as I was trying to figure it out.  But I couldn’t. 

Luba said, “You became a traveler the first time you rode the train.”  She explained how I didn’t care about the destination, how I never asked for toys, and how I never complained about not getting any.  “All you wanted to do,” Luba said, “was to ride in that tunnel.  This is how it all began.”

I expressed my gratitude to Luba for not only helping me understand the roots of my excitement for travel, but also for being the one to introduce me to it. 

I leave for Thailand in two weeks.  As every day draws nearer, I reflect on the insurmountable flow of emotions that pop in and out of my consciousness.  Most of the time, the emotions are deeply insulated by love.  Love for my grandma, and all my family, and for my friends, and for my students.  I have yet again a new and deeper understanding for the silly four-letter word, LOVE.  Love is felt when the present moment is so damn real that words get lost at sea.  And often it’s the tears that do the talking for you.  If you find your eyes dry and your voice completely mum, your heart surely makes up for the silence by jabbing you where it hurts most.  It’s fucking love, man! It often hurts like a bitch.  But it’s crazy-beautiful. 


My Going Away Speech at KMS

1 Jun
I was 5 years old when my heart shattered into pieces for the first time. Saying good-bye was tough business.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I whimpered in heartrending sorrow.   I couldn’t believe it was actually happening: Peter Pan and Wendy were parting ways.  They were such great friends.  I didn’t understand it.  I stared at my parents’ television screen in disarray.  It’s taken me 25 years to appreciate the moral of Peter Pan’s story: Listen to your heart – your heart will remind you to do the right thing no matter how old or young you are, even if the right thing means to say good-bye. 


I’ve had a lot of time to listen to my heart, especially its supplication of me to move on.  And I’ve had the honor to share these thoughts and feelings with so many children, families, and staff.  The teachers and students spent precious moments dialoguing about what it means to say good-bye.  I’m so grateful to be part of a community that allows for such a confortable space to talk about these things…because sometimes it’s not easy to say good-bye, especially to those who we’ve developed strong relationships.  So what does good-bye mean to me?  Well, it actually means hello.  It means both.  Many languages only have one word to mean good-bye and hello: Shalom in Hebrew, Aloha in the Hawaiian language, Ciao in Italian.  Even the Beatles understood this singularity as they cheerfully sang, “Hello hello, I don’t know why you say good-bye I say hello.”  So hello to you all! 


In the past year I’ve often been blasted back to a fond memory of the last day of school one year ago. It was topsy turvey day.  We were all outside in the front, wiping off the whip cream from our faces after the pie fight.  I felt a cool and collective air of joy: parents, kids, and teachers were smiling and laughing together.  I was standing there feeling everyone’s excitement for the upcoming summer.  I was so happy having had the privilege to be part of such a wonderful community.  But I was also a bit sad. Even though I knew I would see most everyone the following Fall, I felt a pang of heartache.  I noticed Randall standing next to me while I was in my daze, and I seized the opportunity to share my feelings with him.  I told him how my heart was a bit achy because we were all parting ways.  He chuckled and said, “Man, it doesn’t get any easier.” My Mom used to tell me a wise phrase of sobering truth whenever I complained about something being difficult to do.  She would say, “Nobody said it would be easy!”  Indeed it takes a lot of effort to think and do positively in response to challenging circumstances.  But I am very lucky; I had many teachers constantly guiding me, helping me learn how to overcome difficult trials of life: those teachers are the KMS children.


Every child in this room has taught me so much.  And I want to share a story about one lesson I learned from a child, who taught me an incredible secret about how to be a good teacher.  It was 2:00pm on an April Tuesday. All of the upper elementary kids had gone downstairs to be with the kindergarten staff so that the upper elementary teachers could have a staff meeting.  After making the hand-off I came back into my classroom, grabbed my notebook, and saw this child sitting on the carpeted floor, diligently assembling a Kapla-block structure. He didn’t notice me come in at first.  I watched him just for a few moments and admired his industrious craft.  He was building an impressive structure with the wooden blocks. It looked like a Roman Pantheon.  Finally he turned his head and stole a smile from me and I seized the moment to share my feelings with him. “This is incredible,” I said! “You know what makes you an awesome builder?  It’s that you have the courage to overcome the challenges of failure.  Whenever your buildings fall down or someone else knocks them over, you don’t throw your hands up in defeat; you learn from your mistakes, and you start building again. You’ve built this incredible masterpiece because you know how to overcome your fear of failure.  Thank you for teaching me to persevere by making sincere efforts!


Then he said, “Yeah!  If my building falls, I just rebuild it even better and stronger.”


“Exactly!” I said.  “You have the wisdom to learn from your mistakes and turn them into beautiful works of art! I know people who are my age who feel so guilty every time they make a mistake, as if the whole world is ending. Many times those people are I!”


Liam looked at me with a puzzled expression.  “Why would you feel guilty for making mistakes?” he asked.  “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed with excitement.  “Why in the world would I feel so guilty about anything?”


This story reminds me of an old Zen proverb: “Take the dung that you get in life and turn it into beautiful fertilizer for your garden.”  In other words, when you make a mistake, always ask yourself, ‘what can I learn from this?  How can I turn it into a positive outcome?’  We can’t always control our circumstances, but we sure can control how we respond to them.  Liam really got me thinking about why it’s so awesome, and cool, and valuable to be part of a caring school community. I began to understand it from the tiny wisdom that bubbled into my heart every time I walked through the gates of 1335 Gurrero St.  I got it every time I put on my slippers at 7:30 in the morning looking forward to saying Hi to Randall as he sat in front of the computer, making sure the school was prepped for another day of joy from hundreds of children.  I knew that he was busy so I left him alone…most of the time, but not a day passed that I wanted to just sit down and chat about life with him.  And many times I did!  Those moments were very precious to me.  Randall inspired me to always always always, put the needs of the children before his own.  He rarely talked about this concept.  But he always showed it through his actions.  That is the definition of a hero for me.  And that is what I strived to guide the children toward: to awaken to their own potential as role models – as heroes and social engineers of harmony between all. 


So what does it mean to say good-bye?  It means to show gratitude for everything I learned from my teachers – the children, their wonderful families, the staff and directors.  It means to apply that wisdom for the benefit of others wherever I may go. If any grown-up would like to understand what I mean, I strongly suggest that you just turn to the  children.  They may not tell you.  But I guarantee that they will show you.  They will show you simply by heeding to the voices of their hearts.  I too, have listened to my heart.  And my heart has told me that it’s time for me to move on.  But not with sadness; rather with gratitude, love, and positivity.  Thank you everyone for sharing your joy and wisdom with me.”

So Aloha!  Shalom, Bonjour!  Ciao!  And Hello!!!