New Years Reflection: Mr. Holand’s opus, glamor, and life plans


Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, I was going to be a philosophy professor. This wasn’t just a wierd kid’s distant fantasy. I got half way through a master’s degree in philosophy.

I literally sat around and planned out my lectures in my head. I imagined how the impressionable freshman would idolize me. I’d treat the grad assistants like full-fledged colleauges. The other professors wouldn’t all agree with me, but they’d all respect where I was coming from.

I was a believer in serial monogamy. I looked at marriage as an entrampment. Kids were so not for me. Christianity was a crutch.

In this life I planned for myself, my friends from high school and college were a constant part of my life. They all had the courtesy to avoid such inconveniences as marriage so that we could all hang out together with out complications.

By the way, I was also going to be a famous writer. Of fiction. and poetry. And screenplays.

And did I mention political activism? Yeah, I was going to go hang out with the Sea Shephards. (Yes, they existed before that great discovery channel show. However, back then, they owned a Russian Destroyer and they sank whaling vessels instead of just throwing butter at them.) and Amnesty international. And at some point, maybe I’d be A Green Party Senator.

I’m only half kidding when I tell you I was going to be a philosopher-poet-serial monogamy-screenwriter-fiction writer-Green Party Senator-Activist.

It was a glamorous life I had planned for myself.

Have you ever seen The Secret of Nimh? I think that’s the movie with the bird character who can’t resist grabbing anything flashy. I was like that: this bird, who collected anything flashy.


How did all that turn out?

Well, let’s see:

I’m the father of three. I’ve been married for over twelve years. I’m committed to my marriage and love my wife and kids dearly. I’m a Special Education Teacher. I work with behaviorally troubled adolescents.

I work a couple nights a week at a book store to help make ends meet. I’m 37. Essentially unpublished. I hear from my old high school friends a couple times a year. I vote, generally pretty left. I live in New England.

On a good day there was no fights in my classroom and I wasn’t sworn at. On a good day all the kids are healthy so I’m not cleaning up anybody’s vommit. On a good day the dishes are all done. On a good day I find time to listen to NPR so I know what’s going on in the world. On a good day I might write a page or two on my blog, or work on a poem.

On a really good day I might make it to a poetry reading or get to spend some time with a good friend at Starbucks.

Glamorous? Not so much.


I’d be a liar if I said that this was always easy, even though it’s all about a third of my life ago. In truth, it’s been a bit of struggle with my birthday a couple weeks behind me and New Year’s a week ahead.


This morning I was idly glancing at the Christmas Tree. The story of my life could be told through the ornaments. From the clothespin angel I made in grade school to the hanging ceraminc mini-wreaths which double as picture frames for my amazing children; from the tree skirt with patches that were added each year with symbols of major events to the spongebobs, power rangers, and spidermen that my own kids have been involved in contributing.

And I begin to realize that glamorous isn’t such a big thing.

When I recognize that Jesus has this central role in my life that I have my health, food on the table, my safety, and my freedom, I begin to feel rather pathetic.


And then I recognize that a lot of what I’d wanted, I actually have a better version of it. Probably I’ll never stand before a Philosophy 101 class.

But I have the honor of standing before classes that need me a lot more than most college kids ever will.

Probably I’ll never deliver a lecture about whether or not essence precedes existence.

But I’ve had this incredible privilige of standing before my church, and sharing with them, truths so much more important.

I certainly won’t progress through a parade of mates.

But I’ll grow old with my my Mate.

I won’t get to travel the world with old high school friends.

But I’ll get to show the world to my amazing kids.


Have you ever seen Mr. Holland’s Opus? I feel like Mr. Holland sometimes. There is this arrogant side of me. I am not proud of it. It says I am supposed to be doing Great Things.

I know that what i am doing is great. Greater than a philosophy lecture. Greater than all that other stuff.

At the end of that movie, Mr. Holland got to hear his opus performed. It was, in some ways, more beautiful because it was played by amateurs he’d personally shaped. More beautiful, but not more glamorous.


In fantasy, glamor is the name reserved for the magic of fairies. The fairies, for example, are often rather homely. But they use glamour to make themselves appear quite beautiful.

There’s a deep wisdom in this: glamor is an illusion. It’s only skin deep. It doesn’t change the underlying truth of things.

It doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun. I’m working through this all right now. There are days and times I would gladly take the glamour. But wanting it doesn’t change the fact that I know what’s real.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “New Years Reflection: Mr. Holand’s opus, glamor, and life plans”

  1. Jeff, you sound a just a leetle bit like me, at 37, in your musings on Mr Holland’s Opus (which BTW was filmed in my neighborhood at my oldest son’s high school and starred one of my second son’s best friends who like him is now a proto-psaltis in the Greek Church). Coincidentally, age 37 is also the year I led my family of wife and four sons into Orthodoxy. I didn’t lead them really. It was God who led all of us. But you know, “head of the family” and all that.

    I am a linguist by nature, a teacher by compulsion, an evangelist by addiction, and a dad by devotion. I never finished college, but dropped out after three years with only a semester to go to land my BA in History with a minor in Philosophy. I joined a commune. The commune self-destructed in 6 or 8 months. I got married, a year later becoming a dad at age 23. I joined the working class and learned the furniture making craft from an old Norwegian cabinetmaker, thus following the ancestral craft of both my grandfathers who passed away before I could be apprenticed to either one of them. I always wanted to go back to college and finish up, earn at least a Masters in History or some specialized area of it, teach, and maybe get involved in archaeological digs. Oh, did I mention that I am hopelessly a writer, and always have been? Duh, my blog is the latest expression of that. But I always wanted to return to school. I still have nightmares about not finishing, or being late for classes. Instead, we had three more sons, and I decided that my contribution to society would not be “glamorous,” highly visible, or even widely useful. I would be a dad, and mentor four boys into manhood. That would be my contribution. I have never regretted my decision.

    Now the boys are in fact all men, youngest 21, oldest 34. The older two involved in the Church, the oldest a graduated seminarian who could become a priest or bishop someday, the second oldest a cantor. The two younger are this world oriented, the third son an entrepeneur and inventor (as well as sportsman), the youngest still in college on an engineering path. “Dad,” after 37 years, is sending away for his college transcripts to go back to college and earn his BA, what major I don’t know yet, but ESL at least, and teaching certification, are some ideas. After all, I’m only 57, that is, I’m a 57 year old man going on 45, so I have at least 25 more years of active life for the community.

    I love the film Mr Holland’s Opus. I relate to a lot of what is in that film. How can I not? It was filmed in the streets I walk or drive down every day, in beautiful Portland, Oregon.

    Have a good and safe New Year’s Eve, my brother, and enjoy it together. God grant you many years, and a happy new year of AD 2009.


  2. Thanks, Romanos. Sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one… You share a powerful reminder not to underestimate the sacred trust and importance of being a father. (Mine are 12, 9, and 7) And that’s a phenemonal idea, to choose to be 57 going on 45. I think I’ll be 37 going on 30.

    and teaching is a truly rewarding and amazing place to be. I’m so blessed to be able to be a teacher.

    A happy New Years to you and yours, Romanos.
    (Is there an easy way to get the accent over the o in your name?)


  3. Romanos with an accented final o is easy!
    You hold down the ALT key and while holding it down, type on the 10-key number pad of your keyboard the numbers 0243. So, that’s Alt-0243 and voilà — ó it is! (This doesn’t work with the number keys along the top of the keyboard, however.)

    A few others of my favorites are: Alt-0224 (à), Alt-0232 (è), Alt-0233 (é), and the long dash, Alt-0151 (—), and the three dots in one space, Alt-0133 (…). There are more that I use quite a lot, because I write in French, Spanish and German sometimes. Just experiment, and see what you can find.

    Have a happy and prosperous AD 2009.


  4. Romanos with an accented final o is easy!
    You hold down the ALT key and while holding it down, type on the 10-key number pad of your keyboard the numbers 0243. So, that’s Alt-0243 and voilà — ó it is! (This doesn’t work with the number keys along the top of the keyboard, however.)

    A few others of my favorites are: Alt-0224 (à), Alt-0232 (è), Alt-0233 (é), and the long dash, Alt-0151 (—), and the three dots in one space, Alt-0133 (…). There are more that I use quite a lot, because I write in French, Spanish and German sometimes. Just experiment, and see what you can find.

    Have a happy and prosperous AD 2009.


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