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What is a teacher?  How do you measure the effect they have on the countless numbers of children whose live’s that teacher touches?  How can I look back on the career of my dearly departed friend, Arty Miller, and properly evaluate his role as a teacher in our community?

Our government and pencil pushing bureaucrats think they have the answer, and it looks like this:

value-added-formula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the bureaucrats and policymakers who dictate education policy, we can effectively measure the worth of a teacher in a calculation that is more complex than Erwin Schrödinger’s differential equation which explains the quantum nature of matter and light (see HERE if you wish to get an idea).  You can, apparently, boil the life’s work of an educator down to a single number.  A good teacher, according to those who don’t teach, can be quantified.  Tell that to my friend Arty…

Over the past 14 years I have been blessed with having the opportunity to be friends with a man whose dedication to my profession was beyond compare.  From my first glimpse of him rolling his “wheelie bag” down the hallways of our middle school – until the last day I sat with him in his room last June, I saw an educator who made a real difference in the lives of all those who sat in his room 180+ days a year.  Whether it be dressing up in traditional Chinese attire to teach about his experience in China and the “China Ship” (inside joke), or his daily, boisterous greeting of his students with “GOOD MORNING CLASS!!!” – and their equally enthusiastic reply “GOOD MORNING, MR. MILLER”, my friend always went above and beyond.  Even after 14 years of teaching, Arty would confide in me that he still spent hours EVERY night, grading papers, writing lesson plans and putting together presentations for his classes.  He could not grasp how I actually had nights where I did not have to do any school work.  For 14 years he asked me for my secret to cutting down on my workload, and for 14 years I was too afraid to admit that I wished I had his level of commitment…

While at school, Arty was a teacher first and everything else came second.  But what is a teacher?  What makes a good teacher and why was my friend the very best one I have ever had the pleasure of knowing?  Simple.  It’s heart.  His was unmatched and bigger than anyone else I have known in my 39 years.  You can’t measure heart.  There is no metric that can adequately define it or quantify it.  My friend was all heart.  That is why he was such a great teacher.  Ask any student who had him and the answer is the same:  “Mr. Miller was the best.”.  No doubt.  The best.

Someone once shared with me this “poem” about a good teacher:

a good teacher:

is kind

is generous

listens to you

encourages you

has faith in you

has time for you

keeps confidences

shares their love

takes time to explain

is a helper

tells you how you are doing

allows you to have your say

does not give up on you, ever

values your opinion

makes you feel clever, imaginative and worthwhile

stands up for you

tells the truth

is forgiving

-anonymous

 

My friend Arty Miller was all of these things and more.  There is no equation that can measure that.  Notice that poem does not mention data, or numbers? Why not? Simple: There is no test a child can take that can demonstrate the effect a great teacher like my friend has.  My heart is breaking – and has been for some time now, that our profession is moving in a direction that values numbers above all else.  Arty often shared his frustrations with me over this.  He never spoke out.  He never complained.  He soldiered on and accepted every rating he received, and yes – many of them told a different story about his ‘effectiveness” than you would think… yet he kept doing the best he could.  Arty confided in me on more than one occasion that he wasn’t sure he could keep going on teaching, not because of his students, not because of his workload, but because of a system that seemed to take more and more heart and soul out the profession he had poured ALL OF HIS into.

My friend Arty was the best teacher I have ever known, and every student who sat in his class can corroborate that. If I were not here to share that, and if you went by the rating system that he was judged under, he would just show up as another average educator.  My friend Arty wasn’t average.  He was the best.  He is what every teacher should be.  My friend was all heart and his teaching was testament to that.  You don’t have to take my word for it though.  All the evidence you need to see that truth is the sadness and devastation his loss has created in our community.  I would share with you EVERY note, comment and post that parents, students and fellow teachers shared with me over the past two weeks, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to it.

In the wake of the loss of my only son, I started a movement to make the world a little kinder.  We are well on our way to our goal.  I now have an added mission, to advocate for all the Arthur Millers out there who never had the chance to say how they feel our profession is being usurped by profit driven, data hungry, heartless bureaucrats who are sucking the heart and soul out of the profession he dedicated his life to.  I  know how you measure a good teacher.  You compare them to my friend, Arty.  There is no equation that can do that.  His life’s work was more than just a number.  How do you measure heart?  You don’t.  You feel it.  You see  it.  You experience it.  My friend understood this.  The reason he was the best is because he was all about that which is inherently immeasurable.  I didn’t just lose a best friend… the world lost a great teacher.  Arty didn’t break the mold for being a good teacher: He IS THE MOLD for being a good teacher.  Don’t let the numbers fool you.  You can’t measure heart…

heart-pieces

I love you, my friend. Rest in piece.  I will never be able to walk down into your classroom again to share a story or give you advice.  The world many of us woke up into this morning is a diminished one.  I vow to make sure we work towards making it a better one, in your name.  Godspeed Arty… heaven’s gain is our loss.

If your life was touched by Arty, please share below in our comments.  Let’s show “them” that my friend was more than a number…

 

 






 

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As I sit to write this blog entry my best friend, Arty Miller, is dying  has died in a hospital 50 miles away in New York City.  I wrote the other day about our friendship (Click HERE to read) so I wont go into details, suffice to say he is the definition of a true friend.  Over the last week, as his health continued to decline, I found myself faced with the spectre of losing yet another person whom I expected to share the remainder of my time under the sun with.  With each new day’s progressively worse news I found myself taking a mental role call of all the souls in my life that I have lost: All 7 of my uncles, nearly all of my Aunts, several close cousins, both of my Grandmothers, my father and finally Rees.  My family tree, which once was full and verdant – now finds itself almost as barren and grey as a winter oak.

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After losing Rees, I really thought I couldn’t lose much more.  I was wrong – and now I find myself on the verge of losing the friend who helped steer me through my greatest loss. I keep trying to wrap my head around how a good man can be taken from a world that clearly needs more goodness in it.   I shudder to think of the effect the loss of his kind heart will have on an entire community of people whose lives he touched.  What purpose does taking a 36 year old man with a heart of gold from this world serve?   How can I lose my son, my childhood best friend and my adult best friend all within the span of two years??  I am sick of losing.  I have lost too much.  My friends and family have lost too much.  The very simple question remains: Why?

“How can God let this happen?” – is a phrase my ears keep hearing from those closest to him.  In our inability to make sense of the senseless, we search for answers in a place we will never find them.  I don’t blame God for what is happening.  I can’t blame something that I have no evidence of even existing.  There may very well be a God, but I certainly have never met her or have seen compelling evidence that proves his existence.  I recall denying the existence of one when my little boy died.  I vividly recall the priest coming over to me after Rees was declared dead and offering prayers and comfort – and citing God as a source of both.  My answer was an angry, profanity laced tirade that was as much about anger as it was about my pre-existing skepticism.  When I responded with words I would have never said to a priest at any other time, I immediately regretted them.  I walked over to the priest and apologized and he told me that he forgives me and so does God.  I walked away feeling better about the forgiveness the priest gave me – but as for God?  I am still not sure.

I am not sure whether or not God exists.  I know there are many people who have a belief that leaves no room for any uncertainty.  I wish I felt that way.  I think that most people have some doubt – and I also believe that is healthy.  We are supposed to question the world around us.  Questioning and asking “why?” is what makes us human.  I think that every utterance of “How could God let this happen?” stems from that doubt.  When God is a part of the equation, we don’t have the answers and therefore we are left with a mystery that has no answer.  This combination is one that leaves us more hurt, as God’s perceived silence acts like salt added to a fresh wound.  It is in these times that I find looking at what we know to be true offers more comfort than the question of whether or not God is watching over us, and how he can let terrible things happen.  I find comfort in the things I know…

If we look at the universe from a fundamental perspective you see that we live in a random universe that shows no bias- good or bad, dark or light.  When you take everything that we know about the natural world a realization forms that we are all the stuff of stars…every element in our body was forged in the heart of dying star billions of years ago.  What we are, at an empirical level, is a collection of atomic legos improbably put together to create the vessel our souls hitch a ride in.  Our very existence is so improbable that it borders on impossible, yet here we stand – granted a moment in space-time to bask in the warmth of our own star.  Our moments in the sun are astronomical improbabilities, yet here we stand; capable of understanding our infinitesimally small place in the universe.

We are more than just atomic legos stitched together randomly.  The sum of our parts does not equal the whole.  There is an undeniable “spark” that grants us the ability to look up into the vastness that surrounds us and wonder “why?”.  Call it our soul, ka, vital essence, etc. it’s all the same: it’s energy.  Energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed.  Matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely transformed.  When the atoms that make up our shell break down, they rejoin the milieu from which they came.  Logic then dictates that when we die our energy, our soul must go on.  If that is the case then, upon our passing, we rejoin the flow of energy that binds the universe together and become part of a larger “force”.

Call it what you want… (most simply say “God”) – Science tell us there has to be something more.   My experience with Rees has given me all the evidence I need to corroborate this.  My friend has only left his shell.  He will always be here, just a bit less organized.  If I accept these precepts as the truth we understand today then there is no need to condemn anything or ask “why him?”.   If you look at our existence this way, and realize that there already exists the evidence that we never truly die, then there is great comfort to be found there.  We will all be reunited one day, in another form. That’s why I don’t say goodbye, and also how I reconcile the fact that beautiful people are taken when others clearly don’t deserve, or appreciate, the gift of their moment under the sun.

I will miss my friend Arty all the days of my life.  I have lost someone who helped steer me through the travails of this life.  Right now I feel lost.  I have lost.  I will lose.  But I also must remember all that I gained from the fact he existed here: He made my moment in the sun a better one and his love and memory will continue to do so until that day my moment ends and I am reunited with him. I love you brother.  Give Rees a hug from his Daddy.  I know you are out there my friend. We will continue that conversation on another plane. You will always be a superhero to me.  May the force be with you, always…

supermiller

 






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There is one thing that every parent who loses a child must absolutely have, almost above all else, in order to return to a sense of normalcy: Friends.  I’m not talking your average friends, not even “good” friends, but Super Friends.  The friends that drop everything in their lives to be with you – and stay with you until they are sure you are as close to “ok” as you can be.  It is these friends, the ones who remain when your family must go and your acquaintances have moved on, who support you in the time that others overlook.  They are the safety net that remains, ever vigilant, ready to catch you if and when you fall...

I am blessed to have had several of these super friends in the wake of Rees death – but one in particular stands out.  One friend who stopped by late at night when I did not want to talk to anyone.  One friend who called me all the time just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything stupid.  One friend who continued to look after me well after others felt it was ok to let me be.  One friend who forced me to smile, when all i wanted to do was cry.  One friend who helped me reconcile the loss of my best friend.  One friend who resuscitated my soul when its light seemed like it was yielding to the void Rees’ drowning left behind.  And one friend who, while he was deathly ill, reminded me that friendship is the greatest gift we have as human beings – and how easily we can lose sight of it when our eyes become too focused on everything else.  I have many people I proudly call “Friend”, but after the loss of Rees – there is only one person I can call my super-friend: My friend Arty Miller – the real life superman who swooped in when I needed him most and lifted me up when all hope seemed lost.

 When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen,

I remember the first time I saw Arty walking down the hallways of the middle school we both teach at.  It was his first year of teaching (and my second) when I saw this disgustingly cheery guy with an earring and “rolling bag” walking down the hallways like he didn’t have a care in the world.  His walk and demeanor reminded me of Burt, from Mary Poppins; he just seemed way too damned happy.  I remember asking my other super-friend, Jim (I could write another blog entry on him too) “What’s up with that dude with the rolling bag and earring??  Something must be wrong with him.  No one is that happy.”  Jim just shrugged his shoulders in reply while we both watched him almost strut down the hallway, rolling bag in tow…  We both shook our heads and wondered what the hell was wrong with the guy.  If you told me then, at that moment of incredulity, that he would one day become one of my best friends I know I would have laughed out loud at the notion.  Yet, becoming good friends is exactly what happened.

It took a couple of years, but the moment Arty and I became friends was the day I moved into my house that I currently reside in.  I had asked Jim for help and asked him if he knew anyone who could also lend a hand.  He suggested Arty and, although I barely knew him, I figured the more help we could have the better.  Arty showed up and helped me move – even though he really didn’t know me, simply because he was asked.  This is the person that Arty is – someone who thinks of others before himself and drops what he is doing to lend a helping hand.  He stayed the whole day and helped us get everything moved on our own.  From that moment on, I gained a friend who would prove he was never too busy to help me out when I needed it.  That is the man I got to know.  My friend, Arty Miller.

Arty and his wife, Alice became good friends with Sam and I.  We started to get together often and really became great “couple friends”.  I wish I could say that was true today, but the arrival of six children (soon to be seven) between us really seemed to place constraints on our ability to get together much.  Regardless, Arty and I still managed to get together often and nary a day would pass in school where we would not drop by each other’s classrooms for impromptu classroom visits.  I became as much a fixture in his class as he became in mine.  In our off periods we would often talk about our problems and he would often seek my counsel on things he wasn’t sure of.  I became Arty’s “Go to guy” when he had a question about something that he figured I would know the answer to, and he became mine when I needed advice.  We both filled a need for each other – the definition of true friends.

Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.” 
― E.B. White

As I mentioned before, it was Arty who helped me through so much when Rees passed away.  I could count on his visits like clockwork – and the periodicity was comforting.  He was there for me when I needed it most, and that is the true test of friendship.  Sadly, I lost sight of the importance of that friendship not so long after things really got busy with the foundation.  Everything in my life started to become so complicated between the feelings I was having still regarding Richie’s death (which persist to this day – and I’m sure will indefinitely) and the time commitments my family, my career and the foundation placed on top of them.  Something had to give – and it was my relationship with my friends that really suffered.  I thought I had everything taken care of.  I was so careful to not let the foundation take away from family time and work that I actually, imperceptibly, lost track of the fact I was not being a very good friend to those who had supported me throughout, especially Arty.  We drifted apart and I didn’t even realize it.

I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.”  ― Jon Katz

True to Arty’s form and his character, he did not let me drift too far.  A little over a month ago, while he was in the begining of what I now know is the fight for his life, Arty stopped to talk to me about ME. Here was my friend, stricken with Epstein Barr, Lyme’s disease and Hepatitis-A, talking to me about me – and how he was worried and saddened that we were drifting apart.  He called me out on my short sightedness and spoke to me about how much he cared and how he wanted to make sure I was ok.  He wanted to talk more about us as friends, but some visitors came in and we didn’t get the chance the continue our talk.  I figured we would have the talk a few days later and I left the hospital in awe that my friend could be so selfless to take the time to talk to me when he was so sick.

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If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” 
― A. A. Milne

I may never get the chance to finish that conversation with my friend.  We found out last week that he has Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma and because of the condition he is in due to the illnesses he suffered earlier, his odds of beating this are not good.  I can’t bear the thought of losing my friend.  Life has already taken so much from me and now the specter of losing the man who buttressed me in my time of need is simply overwhelming me.  I have often said to people that I would have ripped my own heart out of my chest to save Rees that day – and I can say that I would gladly do the same for my friend right now.  I wish there was something I could do to stop this terrible disease from devouring my friend’s body.  I was with him when the Doctor came in last thursday and told him it was cancer.  When everyone left the room but me, Arty asked me “Why do I have cancer?” with a look of confusion and pain that tore open that hole I tried so desperately to seal after Rees left us.  I told him “Because you do… because it’s what you have.  It doesn’t matter that it’s cancer – it could be Pneumonia or Diabetes or heart disease, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you fight and get better.  That is what matters.  I don’t care that you have cancer… I just care that you beat it.”  That is the truth.  I don’t care that he has cancer, but I do care that he is so sick and may not make it.

We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.” 
― A. A. Milne

 

I can’t stand the thought of going through this world without my friend.  My Mother told me once that there comes a point in your life where life starts taking more than it gives.  I guess a part of me has felt that since the most important thing in my world was already taken that I was insulated from further harm.  I felt like the Universe just needed to remind me of who was in charge, and if I accepted it and committed to doing good in my son’s name that I would be insulated from more loss.  I now know that all the good in the world does nothing to stem the tide.  As I look upon my friend, sitting in a hospital bed withering away, I am reminded of just how cruel life can be.  There is nothing I can do for my friend now but be there for him.  I wish I could be the superman he was for me.  I would reverse time itself and protect him.  I can’t do that.  I can’t help him and I feel so powerless.  The only thing I have is hope.  I will always have hope.  I believe in you, Arty Miller.  If there is anyone who can turn statistics upside down, it’s you.  You can’t give up.  Fight my friend.  Fight.  Although I cannot be in the ring with you, I will be there by your side – as you were by mine, reminding you of why you need to keep on keeping on.   I’m just here to remind you of that.  I love you my friend.  I believe in you.  We are going to finish that conversation.  Your work isn’t done here.  The reason I can’t be superman is because you already are…

supermiller

 

You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle. –   Timothy Dalton