Due to the nature of the way things are these days, this experiment has already been altered in that the person I meet each day is connected to someone we both know. Which, in the case of Daniel, was my daughter. Although she has never actually met her teacher, unlike her sister who took Daniel’s history class her sophomore year. Instead, she is just a small square picture in a sea of students watching from home.
Like me, Daniel wasn’t the best student. He confessed high school wasn’t a great experience. “I have a theory that all teachers got into the profession to deal with the stuff they didn’t work out when they were in school.” I wondered exactly what it was that Daniel was trying to figure out. I asked him what advice he’d give his younger self. “Trust yourself more. You don’t have to please everyone.” That’s a hard lesson for some to learn.
As a young teenager, Daniel began to deepen his spiritual journey, becoming a true Judeo-Christian. By his senior year, and many lessons on social justice and civil rights, Daniel became involved in the Farm Workers Movement. for Daniel, this would be the real classroom, a place he learned some of his best lessons of life. He also helped create a communal living co-op in the Yakima Valley before leaving to work on the McGovern campaign in Washington, DC.
During all this time, and the years afterwards, Daniel has never shot a crossbow. And although he grew up near the Pacific Ocean, he’s never sailed a boat. He tried once to help a friend, but that was enough to know he doesn’t need to do it again.
“Life is a struggle.” Especially for those who dare to engage in life like Daniel. When I asked him to describe himself in ten words or less, he gave me a long description. He’s a history teacher after all, not math. We agreed on this: “I’m somebody who likes to do my best.” He has the scars to show for it.
Every scar tells a story. . He got the one over his eye in his early 20’s, in a fight with a guy he didn’t believe knew martial arts. Turns out the guy did. Lesson learned. “Always pay your taxes, always vote, and always believe a person when they tell you they know martial arts.” Wisdom for any age.
We shared sage wisdom and wonderful personal stories. We discussed deep historical and theological ideas, and constantly surprised one another. And there were many laughs in-between. I can see why my girls enjoyed taking his class. He taught me that we are all students. And we all have something to teach. “I’m learning a lot from you. What you’re saying speaks to the place where I want to be as a teacher.”
Daniel is a man in search of himself. He might be a high school teacher because he’s trying to repair damage from his past. But really, he’s just a person who isn’t afraid to engage with the struggle of life. In Hebrew, his name means God is my judge. “It’s what keeps him in check.” But it doesn’t stop him from trying to engage his students or staying engaged in a two-hour conversation with a total stranger.
Daniel is more than a teacher or a student. He is a father, and grandfather; a caretaker and someone who loves art. But more importantly, he is a physical reminder that change happens only if we get involved and engaged. Daniel gets up every morning, drives to school, struggles with technology and the new school norms, to make a difference in the lives of people he has never met. He is a lesson for us all.