I was sitting at a festival enjoying a beautiful morning yesterday when my phone vibrated. I figured it was Katie checking in on me, or CNN reminding me once again that Lebron was going back to Cleveland. It was neither. Instead, it was a dear friend delivering this message: "Mr DJ passed away this morning."
I'm sure I'm not exaggerating when I say thousands of people received a similar message yesterday informing them that Mr. Desjardins had passed away. Many of them, including me, had long ago anointed him as their favorite teacher ever, or at the very least, had acknowledged the impact he'd made on their lives having been in his classroom. That's why many of those messages were met with great sadness.
I know I was initially sad, but then more reflective. And the more I reflected, the more I was reminded how I too frequently give myself more credit than I really deserve for where I've landed in life. I get so caught up in "me" celebrations that I overlook the paths I've been blessed to cross in my life, many of them where people have walked that are far more deserving of praise and gratitude for the me I've become than I am. I think from time to time we all get swept away in the current of forward progress - a current so swift it makes it hard to look back at the seemingly meaningless streams of yesterday that give life a current at all. Much too often I'm swept away from remembering how much an elementary school teacher has shaped the life of a 50 year old father of two elementary school children of his own - some forty years later.
In one of life's cruel ironies, it's often when a great man like Mr. Desjardins passes on that many of us push life's pause button and then rewind. When we do, though, we recognize clips from our past - lessons we've been taught - laughter we've shared - as far more integral to where we are now and where we're going than we ever imagined. In those moments of reflection, maybe for a memory or two we don't feel as far removed from those days as life tends to convince us we are. I know that was the case with me yesterday.
In those days, Mr. Desjardins was considered, how shall we say it - an unconventional teacher. Today, though, he'd be considered a raging lunatic and in direct opposition to current public education philosophies. I find that sad. There's no question I packed away more of Mr. DJ's lessons in my suitcase for this life journey I'm on than those I received from all other teachers combined, to include my college professors. And please understand, I had some great teachers I greatly admire to this day.
Granted, I wasn't the easiest student a teacher could have. I was never a big fan of school, at least the learning part. The act of learning itself was never exciting enough for me, so I usually found ways to create my own classroom adventures. Mr. Desjardins seemed to understand that about me; he seemed to assume it was the case with every student. If the kids in his class weren't excited about learning, he saw that as a teacher problem. Instead of hopelessly writing us all off as poor students or worse, he dug deeper for more creative and exciting ways to engage us.
Mr. Desjardins' most powerful teaching tool was no doubt music. He spent hours of our classroom time teaching students to play musical instruments - mostly the accordion, harmonica and melodica. To this day I'm not sure how he got away with that; I can only guess it's because principals and parents and anyone else who might have taken exception to it couldn't dispute the fact that the more his students got interested in music, the more they got interested in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
In addition to the music, we baked cookies in class. They made great prizes for those who were quickest to locate the words in their dictionaries Mr. Desjardins called out, or towns in various states we raced to find using a simple and now antiquated atlas and the indexes of towns in the back of it. The guy loved competition. Outside of the times when he was playing the accordion, I'm not sure I ever saw him smile bigger than when he was watching one of our fiercely contested kickball games on the playground.
I reflected on many of these things and more yesterday. But in recalling all the memories and lessons, one thing stuck out I'm not sure I ever thought about before. And maybe it was his greatest lesson. Whatever we were doing, Mr. Desjardins encouraged all of us to be involved. For those who couldn't afford musical instruments, he loaned them his. The rich and the poor, the big and small, the brown and white - we were all Mr. Desjardins' students. He never tried to hide the fact that he thought we were the best students in the school, he never quit driving home the fact that each of us were special. Every single one of us.
I have this belief about heaven. When we get there, we discover for the first time, in brilliant detail, just how much we impacted the world we left behind. All of the lives we touched, many that we were completely unaware of, come alive in an eternal highlight reel. Today, Mr. Desjardins is beginning to watch his life story, and maybe for the first time understanding that by touching the lives of his students, he touched the lives of their children and their children's children. You can be sure his is a long highlight reel, but it's a story he deserves to watch from beginning to the never ending end. I know it will make him smile; he always loved seeing his students do well.
Driving to church this morning, my 7 year old son Elliott asked if there was a reason we didn't have the music on. Elliott's inherited the love and ear for music taught to me by Mr. Desjardins. I turned the music up. And as it played, I couldn't help but believe that as beautiful as the band must be in heaven, this weekend their music just go a whole lot more heavenly.
Enjoy your show Mr. Desjardins. I look forward to catching the reruns with you one day.