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Lessons Learned, in Memory of Katie Borserio

Last week the community said goodbye to long-time Queen Charlotte resident Katie Borserio. Her memorial service was held in Skidegate on Monday. According to speakers at the service, Katie died as she intended — at home, with family and surrounded by love. This love extended far beyond her immediate family. To me, a relative newcomer to Haida Gwaii, the love of Katie extends to every part of the islands and her life is a testament to the power of goodness. As members of a small and tightly connected community, we each have critical roles to play in shaping the values and future of our community.

Even though I only met Katie once, her love certainly extended to me. And while I did not have the chance to get to know her on a personal level, I feel that I know some of her from the amazing legacy she has provided as a teacher at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay  (I arrived after she had already left her position at the school). I also know her from her many other roles in the community that I now call home. Every member of any community creates and sustains the culture of that community. We do this as much in our daily interactions as we do through big initiatives. A community that gossips, shuns, shuts out, and does not share is because of how individual people act toward one another. So too is the community that builds up, welcomes, includes and supports.

Listening to Katie’s memorial speeches last week, including speeches from Hereditary Chiefs, elected community leaders, co-workers, friends, doctors and family, I realized how much I am indebted to Katie. This community is what drew me to live here, and she was one of the many people whose lives have created, sustained and passed on the community in its present form. This community is why I love my job as a public-school teacher. It is also what I hope will keep me here for years to come. I expect that most readers know Katie better than I do, so I won’t pretend to know more than you. But I would like to share with you why I am deeply inspired by her work and why I am grateful to her for helping create a wonderful, loving, connected, creative, alive and unique place.

Here is what I’ve learned about Katie from her legacy alone. First, she was an artist who loved teaching teenagers about art. She built an arts program that others look up to, inspiring not only her students but also the community of professionals with whom she worked. I often hear how inspiring she was. I hear this from other teachers who look up to her as an exemplar of good teaching. These are teachers whose own work I look up to, because it is grounded in critical thinking, student engagement, respectful relationships and engaged creativity. That they look up to Katie as a role model means a lot to me. But even more inspiring than what other teachers say is what her former students have said to me about Katie. Former students tell me that she respected them. Cared for them. Challenged and inspired, always. And shared her gifts freely and passionately. In my work at the school now I feel many echoes of her work, echoes that continue to reverberate throughout the school.

Life is lived out in a continual series of small details. We are not only connected to each other but we depend upon one another for every aspect of the human experience. I moved to Haida Gwaii because I wanted to teach in a living, growing, thriving, connected, loving and joyful community that cared for the people within it. Thank you, Katie, for the legacy of your work and for inspiring so many of my students, colleagues, friends and neighbours.


4th Sunday of Advent

Today is the final Sunday of Advent.

Last week I wrote about death and life. Two weeks ago I wrote about Donald Trump and George Bush. And three weeks ago I wrote about tradition and family. Boring.

As I get older I realize that I am as unique as everyone else; we are equally special in remarkably ordinary ways. This is to say in as many words as possible that we are all, in fact, boring.

Nobody can be more unique, differently special, less unordinary or even less boring. As for boring, we can surround ourselves with more or less stuff – which can serve as a proxy for interesting. But we’re just as boring, just the same.

True, a less boring environment will seem novel and varied. But the person in it will be just the same. Take away the stuff and all that’s left is a perfectly ordinary person.

So while a person can bore, she can’t be boring. Rocks aren’t boring, either. But a person can be bored looking at them. Unique, special and ordinary are inherent qualities of human existence. Like rocks, we are incredible simply because we exist.

Back to me: I, like everyone, am simply incredible because I exist. That’s not saying much. But since I do exist, at least it makes me incredible.

Incredible, right? Let’s look at what makes me so. Beyond existing there’s my job, home, family.

As for job, I sure didn’t think that I would teach middle school math for a living. I’d love to keep doing it. For one thing, it’s novel and varied. But for another thing it reminds me that who I am matters more than what I do. Well, that statement always puzzles, since what I do does not matter. For one thing, what I do is a reflection of me.

Now that I teach math I want to cling to the idea that it’s a reflection of some inner core, my identity being defined by more than the presentation. But all that really matters is that I exist and that I am existing. You don’t need to be a middle school math teacher to matter.

Of course, perception is shaped through action and reaction. So what I do shapes at least one part of my identity. This is to say that how I am perceived is totally transformed by my role. Being a high school teacher is a lesson in the power of being constructed by outsiders. Giving up a sense of control over one’s identity is a requirement of the high school teacher’s job. Teaching in a public high school is far from rarity. It’s ordinary. Some would say boring. But I prefer to identify with the perfectly ordinary extraordinary nature of the job. Like everything that exists, my job is simply awesome. Extraordinarily ordinary.

Okay, enough rambling. I am feeling good. Today marks the final Sunday of Advent. Lots to think about, to be thankful for, to reflect on. Still growing. Good. I am alive.


Ten Historic Events that Shaped the US

The New York Times recently covered a story on the question of what Americans think were the ten historic events that most shaped the country (in their lifetime). I felt the question was somewhat lacking, so I modified it a bit. Here are my modified questions/answers:

What 10 Events Most Shaped America in Your Lifetime?

  1. Deindustrialization, Automation, Globalization, Union Decline
  2. Just Say No, War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration
  3. Bush Torture Regime (+Contra War) (+9/11) (+Iraq War)
  4. Cell Phones, Internet, Mass Surveillance, Snowden
  5. Vietnam War
  6. Katrina
  7. Watergate
  8. Fall of Soviet Empire
  9. Florida Recount
  10. Roe v. Wade

What 10 Events in America, in My Lifeline, Most Shaped Me?

  1. Iran Hostage Crisis
  2. Martin Luther King Day Holiday
  3. Iran-Contra Scandal
  4. Gulf War
  5. AIDS Crisis
  6. Anti-LGBTQ Referendums
  7. NAFTA, Battle in Seattle (+WTO) (+World Bank)
  8. Clinton Impeachment
  9. Iraq War and Afghanistan War (+9/11)
  10. Bush Torture Regime (+Contra War) (+9/11) (+Iraq War)

What 10 Modern Events in History Most Shaped Me?

  1. “Manifest Destiny,” Indian Wars, the Reservation System
  2. Common School Movement, High Schools
  3. Factories, Electricity, Railroads, Cars, Telephones, Computers, Radio, TV
  4. Rise and Defeat of Nazism, the Holocaust and Nuclear War
  5. Slavery, Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Movement
  6. AIDS Crisis and LGBTQ Rights Movement
  7. U.S. Military Dominance after World War II
  8. The Cold War
  9. Social Democracy (Social Security, Medicare, Pell Grants)
  10. Charles Darwin