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GRAVES: Birth of grandchildren renews commitment, faith

Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent  Three weeks ago today, my eldest child, Catherine, gave birth to her first child, a rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed, raven-haired cherub named Emily.

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And for the last fortnight-and-a-half, I have been able to think of little else. What is it about an infant, a new life, that has such a transformative effect on us?

My father, a man who knew much of — in his own view, much more than he wanted to know of — war and the senseless death and destruction that are its fellow travelers, had a palpable and ongoing concern for most of his life about the Cold War that prevailed between the Soviet Union and the United States for more than 40 years. He worried that the Cold War would turn hot and result in a war fought with conventional weapons. And he worried that it would end in a full-blown nuclear war. He did so for many reasons, but mostly, I think, because of the impact that such would have on those he loved — not just his sons and grandsons of draft age, but on everyone he loved since nuclear warheads can be so very indiscriminate.

It’s not as if he ever mentioned these war-born anxieties to me or others. Rather, I saw it one day as he was reading a Time or Newsweek article on Leonid Brezhnev, then-ruler of the Soviet Union. With the article was a picture of the usually stone-faced dictator with several of his grandchildren. His face was lit by something other than a commitment to the Proletarian struggle. A smile covered his countenance and his eyes beamed with undisguised love for the little ones surrounding him.

Upon seeing that picture, my father audibly sighed with relief. “And by such is the world saved,” he said, looking at me and handing me the open periodical, “for no grandfather would ever risk a nuclear holocaust.” Such an inference would never have occurred to me.

Until now. For as the faithful wit has offered, the birth of a child is proof that God has decided that the world should go on for at least a bit longer.

For me, as an educator, it is more than that (though that is certainly enough). It is the realization that, unlike so many other tasks, the job of education — of teaching basic skills, of cultivating independent and critical thinking, of passing on the distinguished heritage of Western Civilization — never really ends. It is the obligation of every generation to ensure that it is passed on to the next one. And if any single link in this chain should ever abrogate that duty, the world would fall into darkness.

Now I consider myself a highly focused and committed educator. I love my profession both because it matches my predilections and because it is a task of the highest importance. But even the most committed person, even the most zealous of protagonists can have an off day, or week or month or year. We all have times when our enthusiasm flags a bit and we are in need of a shot in the arm. And even if we aren’t in any particular need of such, a reminder of why we do what we do can inoculate us from such, and carry us on in our commitment to forge ahead across even the stormiest seas.

Which is precisely what Emily has done for me recently, something I did not foresee. She has reinforced my love for and dedication to the education of the next generation. For that, I thank my granddaughter Emily, her mother Katie, her father Nathaniel, and God who has seen fit to continue this world a bit longer and to provide me with the life’s work and vocation of educator.