I have three walking sticks in my office, each with a slightly different meaning, each reminding me of the support needed to navigate different aspects of the life journey. I talk about the life journey and Proctor journey and the challenges that will come at the start of every year. I bring a walking stick to make the point. We like to believe in the myth of “I got this,” that we can do it alone, that we are self contained (or should be), an independent collection of consciousness sailing through time. Totally self reliant. And the truth is that we’re not and we need others on the journey.
We need others to help us meet the challenges that arise from within and the challenges that come from without. We need others to help us discover strengths and talents, and we need others to help us refine those gifts that we might possess.
The first one I received when I graduated from Warren Wilson’s creative writing MFA program. It’s carved from rhododendron, a slight bow giving character, a walking stick with some style and a message: the creative journey stretches for years and everyone needs support. It’s a reminder of the creative journey and the support and editing needed as new ideas are discovered and flushed out. These Notes? At least two other sets of eyes will read them before they are published and I would not have it any other way. I need that check, that feedback, that help polishing. We all do. So I am not wholly self-reliant as a writer. None of us are at our best when we operate in complete isolation or arrogant singularity. I keep that walking stick as a reminder that the self-discovery road stretches out and we need support to journey down it. So when I see students hunched over an essay with a Learning Specialist, going for math extra help in Shirley Hall, getting feedback on an art project in Slocumb, or heading to the music studio for a lesson, I think of that particular walking stick. Ah, that wonderful journey of self discovery.
The second walking staff that I have in my office came from the Proctor woodlands. It’s a slight, sturdy, peeled piece of ironwood. It has a few initials carved into it from a Mountain Classroom group who took it with them on their cross-country trek a number of years ago. This walking stick was seeded on Proctor land and it seems to pulse, for me, with a particular community energy. It reminds me of the support we need when the outside world, or our inner world, crashes into us in painful ways, upsetting equilibrium. And those challenges? They are coming. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, they will pop up. The hurdle might take the form of a personal relationship, sickness, the loss of a parent or grandparent, an injury suffered playing sports, anxiety or depression, worry about climate change...who knows. The forms are variety, protean, customized, constantly shifting. For me, this summer it was the loss of a parent, my father, who passed away at 91. The support I received from my Proctor community was powerful, strengthening, and it helped me navigate a daunting time. It helps me still. The cards, the calls, the conversations - they still resonate and remind me that support is here at Proctor, part of the DNA of the school. That piece of Proctor ironwood that sits in the corner of my office is a symbol of that support that we all need to meet some of the challenges. Whether it is an advisor, a dorm parent, a counselor, a coach, or friends the support within the community is palpable. And necessary.
The third walking stick just landed in my office the other day. It came from the Science Department and had been in the old Wilson Building leaning in the corner of Dave Pilla’s classroom. It’s a stout limb pulled from a beaver dam and gnawed clean. To me, it’s a reminder of those who have come before us, who set the example and the standards, who inspire us to take up the journey and push on to try to make this community a better one and who remind us that the work is unfinished and always will be. Which, for me, is part of the joy and the wonder of community.
In 1972, Bill Withers released the song Lean on Me, and as I finish this weeks Notes, I find myself looking at the walking sticks and humming the tune and reminding myself that we all need someone to lean on….
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School