Well, the semester is over; those uneducational final grades that have little if anything to do with learning are in; my angelic Susan thankfully is recovering slowly but nicely from her successful spinal operation; we’ve got relatives coming in from out-of-town to be with Susan next week; we have my sons on call in the wings thereafter if they’re needed; and, reluctantly–very reluctantly–Friday night I’m off to China for a tad over three weeks to teach in the remainder of the Study Abroad program.

A few days ago, as if I was a guest on “Actor’s Studio,’  a student asked me how would I like my life to be measured as I stood before the pearly gates.  Her question took me back to an incident that occurred the previous Sunday.  Well, it didn’t really take me back since it never has left me.  Anyway, that Sunday was the first day of my congregation’s fund-raising corn-beef sandwich sale that has become a tradition in Valdosta.  I was running around like a proverbial chicken without its head.  I was especially working hard since I couldn’t help significantly with all the preparations leading up to the sale because I was tending to Susan; and, on Monday, when the rush really would hit and we’d push over 3,000 sandwich luncheons out the door, Susan would be in surgery.  As I was filling orders from the endless line of cars coming through our makeshift pass-through, a friend came up to me and grabbed my arm, telling me that someone inside the synagogue wanted to see me.  I replied that I didn’t have the time and to tell him I’m busy.

“Make the time,” Carl answered firmly.  “He said he came to eat his sandwich in the synagogue especially to see if he could talk with you.”

Reluctantly, I got off the line for what I thought was going to be a mere hello and handshake.   Carl brought a gray haired man up to me.  He tightly grabbed my hand, looked intensely into my eyes, and with a shaky voice introduced himself and said, “Dr. Schmier, I know you don’t remember me, but I had you for class the first quarter you were here at the college ….”

“August, 1967?  I don’t want to know about that.  Hey, I’m too young to have had you in class way back then,” I interrupted with a laugh, making a joke about my longevity at the University.

But, I did not expect what he was about to say.  It certainly was neither “mere” nor “joke.”  Not hearing me, keeping my hand firmly in his grasp and his eyes focused on me, he went on, “I know you’re busy, but for a long time I’ve wanted you to know that you changed my life in that class.  You kept on me and forced me to see abilities and potentials in me that you saw and I didn’t.  You never let me settle for ‘getting by’ because you saw how ‘amazing’ I could be.  Because of you, I am the person and businessman I am.  You taught me what I needed to be a successful businessman and live a good life.”

After all these decades!  Twenty-five years before my epiphany! In the years that I later judged myself to be an aloof, demanding s.o.b of a pontificating, judgmental professor intent on making a scholarly name for himself.  You want to talk about being stunned?  I felt like all the air had been sucked out from my lungs.  I froze.  Stopped breathing.  Went limp.  It was suddenly hot.  No, there was nothing “mere” or “joking”  in the sincerity of his words.   He said more, but I don’t really remember.  Now, it was my turn for glassy eyes and shaky voice.   All I could muster was a soft, humble, stuttering, “Thank you, that means a great deal to me, more than you can know.” I promised to have lunch with him immediately after I returned from China in June.  With a deep breath, a very deep breath, I wiped my eyes and I went back on the line.

So, my answer to this student was quick and simple:  “I want to be measured by a man named Jim Hathaway.  I’ve concluded that by any measure, I will not be assessed by dollars or reputation, by degrees, titles, or publications, but by the individual people whose lives I’ve touched knowingly or otherwise.  I think that’s the way it works, and anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a big surprise.  For a long time, a few months short of the last twenty years in fact, I have not been concerned with the level of individual prominence I may have achieved, about my degrees, title, resume, bank account, cars, clothes, houses, or any material stuff like that; I’ve not been concerned with the length of my resume; I’ve not been concerned with awards and recognitions.  I’ve learned that it’s all about what some call ‘connection;’ I call it ‘compassionate listening’ with my ears and eyes.  I’ve learned that it’s crucial to listen with the willingness to serve and help others, not to judge or to argue or sometimes even to answer and to react.  I’ve learned to just to listen intensely with all my attention, and deeply care with all my heart, and profoundly understand with all my soul.  So, I want to be measured by individuals I’ve seen, listened to, understood, cared about, loved, had faith in, had hope for, and have helped become better people; I want to be measured by those people who I have helped graduate not just as good students, but as good persons as well.  I admit that is a very challenging commitment to keep every day, to compassionately listen to each and every student rather than conditionally and selectively as I did in the days Jim Hathaway was a student.  Every day that commitment is tested, and I don’t always pass it.  Every day I think, as I think we all should, about the measure by which my life will be judged, learn from my inevitable mistakes, and live better every day so I can measure up to that measure.  In the end, my life will be judged by the extent to which I have been significant in someone’s life, not by having been prominent and important in my life.  You see, I have concluded that to have lived a rich life is not to have lived a Metamucil life because it has nothing to do with being regular.  It’s about being extraordinary; it’s about getting the most from each moment of each day; it’s about transforming ‘good enough,’ ‘getting by,’ or even ‘not good enough,’ into ‘amazing;’ it’s about making a difference in someone’s life; it’s about doing significant things.  That’s the real substance of life.  Like I have said many times, I would merely like it to be said at my eulogy and written on my tombstone, ‘He touched one student and changed the world.’  That’s how I want my life to be measured.”



A national shoe company wanted to expand its business into rural areas.  It sent two shoe salesmen into one region of the backwoods.  After a short while passed, one salesman came back totally frustrated.  Stumping, with a dour look on his face, he angrily exclaimed with great exasperation: “What a waste of my time. None of these people wear shoes.  I’m cursed!  ” The second salesman appeared much later with a a zip in his step, an excited smile on his face, exuberantly exclaiming, “What a fantastic opportunity I have there. None of these people wear shoes.  It’s a miracle!”

Which salesman are you when you enter the classroom?  The one that spirals down into hopelessness having converted challenge into barrier or the one that spirals up into optimism having transformed challenge into opportunity?  It all just depends on what you see and to what you intensely listen; and, what you see and to what you listen reveal what you’re made of.  That must be a heck of a “just” because so many of us academics have so many negative “they’re letting anyone in” or “students nowadays” thoughts toward students which we let define us into unenthusiastic and maybe even self-pitying “alas” and “ah, me” situations and dispositions.

You know, the simplest and easiest way to improve our teaching?  Remake ourselves.  You know the most complicated and hardest way to improve our teaching?  Remake ourselves.  Simple or complicated, easy or hard, we have to acquire a habit of always seeing blessings instead of curses, of being up rather than down, of being positive instead of negative, of dancing rather than plodding, of smiling–inside and out–instead of frowning, of seeing today as nothing less than a miracle, of knowing each of our lives is a miracle.  I know, simple is not easy.  But, hard is not synonymous with “impossible!”  “Hard” is synonomous with “important,” “valuable,” “significant,” “transforming,” and “accomplishment.”   The “learned helplessness” can be unlearned.  If you have the persevering “hang-in-theredness,” if you build up your emotional and mental fitness, if you foster strong, supporting, and encouraging connections, if you replace a poverty of spirit with a richness, if you have the discipline to establish the habit of an upbeat disposition, if you lighten rather than darken, if you retrain yourself to see and listen, all this positive stuff will be powerful beyond your wildest dreams.  Trust me, I know.  I’ve been there and am still there.  Happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, significance do not rely on what is happening around us, but what is happening inside us.  True giving and service in the classroom is not rooted in information; it is rooted in connection and community; its foundation love, faith, hope, empathy, and compassion.   Our lasting impact comes from who we are, not from what we know.  Our ability to feel these feelings is among the most wonderful and miracle-creating teaching tools–living tools, for that matter— we have at our disposal to make everything serene, comfortable, meaningful, purposeful, gratifying, and significant for everyone.

Dreamy, flighty, “hallmarkish,” soft, touchy-feely, “new age-ish, mushy?  Heck, this is supported by the latest hard science!

Whatever it is, determined to be the likes of the second salesman, at the start of the day, before the sun rises, I have a ritual of doing five to six things.  First, I grind my coffee beans and make myself a pot freshly brewed coffee.  Second, every other day, I go out for a meditative three mile power walk while on the other days I do my dumbbell sets.  Third, I randomly pick a word from my stack of positive “Word to Live By Today.”  The other morning the word happened to be “smile.”   With my Susan having back surgery that morning to remove a cyst from her lower spine, it was a great word for that day, and while I was at the hospital waiting I made it a point to find reasons to smile and help others smile.  Fourth, I slowly read and reflect on each line in my “Teacher’s Oath” with the intention of living each word.  Fifth, I gaze at some words hanging above my computer the latest of which are those of Pablo Casals:  “Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he acts on it and listens to it, he is giving a great deal of what the world needs most. It is not complicated, but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act upon it.”   And finally, I close my eyes and imagine an angel walking in front of each student proclaiming, “Make way!  Make way!  Make way for someone created in the image of God.”  I use them all collectively to put me into a deep caring, empathetic, faithful, hopeful, and, above all, loving mood; I use them to realize how amazing each moment is; I use them to appreciate all the wonder I am immersed in; I use them to be thankful for all the good I have; I use them to celebrate the magnificent miracles in each supposedly ordinary moment; I use them to treasure it all.

All this is not a series of fluffy emotional or mental exercises.  This is visceral stuff, for as I choose to bring my purpose and vision into my consciousness, I feel a surge of the immense power of intention, an energized focus of caring.  It is an energy that grows and envelopes me, envelopes and extends beyond me, extends and embraces others.  You see, the most powerful teaching technique you have at your disposal is an empathetic and compassionate heart.  It’s a simple syllogism:  improve your heart, you improve your life; improve your life, you improve everything you feel, think, and do; improve everything you feel and think and do, you create a better world for everyone around you.

So, I ask again:  which salesman are you when you enter the classroom?



Bear with me, I need you all to share.  I was creating too much deafening noise within myself.  I was racing along as if life was an interstate highway, blurring everything around me.   I’ve been doing that these last few days what with being a tad more than concerned about my beloved Susan’s unexpected back surgery coming up tomorrow morning, regretting I can’t help with the synagogue’s massive corn-beef sandwich sale fundraiser, keeping up with class responsibilities, looking at putting together end-of-semester-final grades for 120 students all this coming week, and struggling to figure out how to handle my trip to China so I can to be here for Susan’s recovery while not wrecking the study abroad program.  It’s enough to make a guy go “whew!”  Whenever, as I did this morning, I realize I am screaming to myself and racing along, deafening and blinding myself, before the sun comes up, I go out to my darkened fishpond.  It’s always there that I find my inner silent place; it’s always at that time that I know life is constantly inviting me to grateful.  My responsibility is to accept its invitations, to be profoundly grateful, to be seriously joyful, and to look at everything with a grateful, joyful, and playful attitude.  You see, we all need to feed and keep our spirit and emotion in shape as much as we need to feed and keep our mind and body in shape. There, at the pond, once again, I realized the trees, the flowers, the plants grow in silence; the fish swim in silence; everything moves in silence:  the stars, the sun, the moon move in silence.  So, I went silent.  Sat there. Closed my eyes.  Took slow, deep breaths.  Focused.  I let the silence and gratitude envelope me; I invited them in and let them work their expunging and cleansing magic.  And, after a while, I walked away with everything once again in a proper perspective.  Now, once again, depressurized, refreshed, reinvigorated, I am following my ten rules:  relax, go slow, take more time, cover less ground, feel more aware, see clearer, feel deeper, listen sharper, enjoy more, and have more fun.  Thank you for being here.