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January 27, 2014

The Prayers, the Heart-Work

by Brendan

This story goes back 20 years or so in my life.  I had a friend named Michelle, whom I met at a conference.  So she was an English teacher — well, a “writing coach,” as she put it.  She’d devised a scheme whereby her writing classes were more like training for sports events, where her students were like a team of which she was the coach.

We lived hundred of miles apart, and there was email even back in 1994 (a new-ish thing).  But, believe it or not, we wrote paper letters to each other.  (Wish I’d kept some; sigh.)  By 1997-98, I was heavily into developing computer applications for my English classes, made in software called Asymetrix Multimedia Toolbook — my first one was “How To Read a Poem,” and it took a poem and hyperlinked it abundantly to commentary\explanation.  In fact, the husband of one of my colleagues, who was a Sports Physiology professor, saw it and commented that he wished there was a Toolbook explanation app for every poem.

Toolbook Product Box

Toolbook Product Box

At the time, I was heavily involved with taking my daughter Becca ice skating, which involved a 90-mile trip to Jacksonville 2-3 times a week.  Also with developing Toolbooks for all my classes, associate with each writing assignment.  I got a sabbatical, and an opportunity arose to go up to New Jersey and work for ADP in Roseland, developing Toolbooks for their HR and Payroll software.

I agonized in letters to Michelle — would I actually be making the world a better place working for a large corporation, and would I be letting down the side.  Michelle was very much into changing the world, very much into being a good neighbor to those near and far, to her students and to the actual sick old lady who was her next-door neighbor.  She explored spirituality in all sorts of ways, in church and out, reading Matthew Fox and other spiritual writers — we discussed this a lot in our letters.

So she wrote to me once: “We change the world one skating trip with Becca at a time, one letter to a weary friend at a time.  These are the prayers, B.  This is the heart work.

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