I walked into an office building the other day when a man in his 40s, with a shaved head and an open face, came up to me in the lobby.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
I hate it when people — usually former students — do that. I’m sure my face looked as blank as my mind was.
“You probably hate it when students do that to you.”
“I was in your introduction to business class that you taught with Kevin Learned.”
We taught that one year, in 1994, so we’re talking more than 20 years ago.
“I remember the classroom, where I sat, the speakers, the topics. I was an information-systems major, and that was when we had to take business classes. So I took yours.”
He brought me up to date on the last 20-plus years of his career, how he has moved up and does work for a firm he loves.
After several decades of teaching, I have probably had thousands of students, and it’s always nice to hear from one of them, even if I don’t recall the face or name.
And that’s why I think of myself as a farmer.
If you know me, you would scoff at the idea. I am a town slicker (not city) of the first order. I am not much of a “get down in the dirt” type. I can’t even get tomatoes to grow in my yard. The crocuses, daffodils and tulips I planted one Thanksgiving weekend never came up.
But I really love it when someone else can get plants going and I can reap the benefits. Trees we had planted 20 years ago now provide perfect shade from the heat on our deck. I love raspberries in season or mint when I smell it.
In my imagination, I see farming as a process of planting a seed, creating the right environment and conditions so that it will sprout, and nurturing the small plant enough but not too much. I suspect that key to all of this is patience and knowing when to cut away parts that may hurt the bigger gain. Finally, I wonder if a farmer needs to know when to let go and cut it off, once a plant or vegetable is strong — or tasty — enough.
While I don’t know much about sowing seeds in the earth, I do know something about planting seeds in minds, which is farming of a different sort. I do the best I can to plant a seed, create good conditions and hope it takes. Sometimes, I wonder if those idea seeds were actually planted, since it feels like the wind — or other distractions — carries them away.
So it is a pleasant surprise when I run into someone who has used those seeds to build a good career and life.
Then I imagine I’m a farmer, inspired to put in the work and plant more seeds.
I just need to get better at names.