Be Curious

One afternoon she waddled like a duck into my classroom. A heavy woman with flighty gray hair shooting in all directions, Mrs. Reed glared at me harshly. “Are you teaching music?” she blurted. I nodded. “That needs to stop. We teach English in this department—not music.”

“But they are reading the lyrics from the ‘Sounds of Silence’ and learning to understand” — but the door had already slammed behind her. Of course, I understand this better now. Mrs. Reed was a school fixture who had haunted the halls of Mesa High for decades. I was the new reading teacher foisted on her. Hired by a principal, not her.

By now I have seen many young teachers charge through the doors of schools with new ideas that rocked the way the elders had taught for decades. It can be unsettling. Reed loved “Dover Beach,” and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and everything Advanced Placement.  But the problem was half of the students didn’t love this curriculum and many struggled to read any of it.

My first year of teaching psychology in Indiana, a shy senior named Tommy pulled me aside one day after class. He told me nervously he could not read our textbook—and he wanted to. I was stunned. How could this happen? How could a teenager weave his way through a decade of schooling and not be able to read well? These questions morphed into–how could you take a sixteen-year-old and inspire them to learn to read? How could we excite young minds to explore words, to question, and to discover ideas? Could we teach curiosity? For me, these questions became a long-time passion.

That summer I headed west to graduate school in California, and in the twist and turns of living, I fell in love and married Steve. We landed in Arizona where the Air Force assigned him to teach pilot training, and I enrolled at ASU. Down the street from our new home was Mesa High School. The first time I saw it, I felt a shock of energy run down my spine. Surprised, I turned to Steve and said, “I think I am going to teach there.” In the coming year, as I worked on a graduate degree in reading, I landed a job at Mesa High.

In August I moved into room 202 with boxes filled with lesson plans I had been crafting and books with song lyrics from the pop artists I loved–Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course, the Beetles. Songs the kids would know, and I hoped they would want to read and talk about. While graphic novels had not appeared yet, I had collected a box of Marvel comic books and stacks of old Road and Track and Seventeen magazines. I stocked my room with adolescent novels that I was devouring in my spare time–books like I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan and The Outsiders by SE Hinton.   When I hung my inspirational posters in the room, I knew I was ready.

The first week of school was a honeymoon. I liked the vulnerability of my adolescent reading students and their questions, and they welcomed my youthful enthusiasm. But of course, the head of the English Department was not so enthusiastic. After complaining to me that I was teaching music, not English, Mrs. Reed rejected my request to order a classroom set of The Pigman, a book that had been lauded by librarians across the country to hook teens on reading.

A week later I sat in my first English Department meeting during our lunch period. I was slated to share with the other teachers what I had been hired to do–test students, teach reading, and support teachers with reading materials. The principal had set it up.

For forty minutes Mrs. Reed droned on telling teachers about the open house, the new xerox machine, and how to manage school photos. Five minutes were left before the end-of-lunch bell would ring, and Mrs. Reed turned to me. “We won’t have time for you today, dear.” She called me “dear,” but she said it like I was pure poison.

“Oh,” I stammered as I quickly stood and began to pass out a simple sheet with the services I could offer. “I would love to work with this department on reading or on strategies to involve kids, and I welcome your questions—”

“Dear, we are English teachers, and we don’t need reading services,” Reed’s voice thundered across the room like a foghorn. “There is no time for questions. We are here to teach.”  Her right fist slammed across her podium, her left hand waved us toward the door, and English teachers hurriedly scattered.

I didn’t sleep well that night because I had begun to wonder if I were going to survive this new teaching home. Would I be allowed to test and serve students who needed reading help? Could I provide support for teachers? Or would the long-time English department chair make me the school pariah?  She had made a good start at it.

There is an old adage in teaching, when things are tough, close the door to your classroom and teach. And I did. Without sets of books or textbooks, my students and I initially undertook the news as a topic for learning. I assigned every student to dig through magazines and newspapers to find articles to share in class.

“Be curious!”  I advised. And we started to keep “curiosity journals.” On those pages my students reacted to what they read and raised questions for our discussions. Who are hippies? Why are Beetles so popular? What caused the war? How do we stop it?  Charged with student energy, I forgot about how the English department had shut me out.

Then a couple of months later at the faculty mailboxes, I met a new English teacher. Billie Cox. “I liked your handout,” she said. “You are bringing important work to this school—and I have questions for you,” she said this with a warm smile and a face framed by honey-colored hair.

“You have questions?” I asked with surprise.

“I have many questions! As a matter of fact, I think learning is all about questions!” Her laughter tumbled over the top of her words, but her voice was no-nonsense. “Let’s start with—how can we help kids at this school with their reading?”

A powerful surge of warmth flooded through me. “Gr—great question!” I stammered. “Can . . . can we get together?”

This, of course, was the real beginning of our work to bring reading and questioning to students who needed it in the English department and across the school. By the end of the year, even Mrs. Reed was sending students to be tested.

But more than that, this moment was a turning point in my life. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship with a no-nonsense educator who cared not only passionately about our students but about the beauty to be found in questions, in exploring ideas, and living a life where curiosity could be at the center. I am grateful she remains my friend. I am equally grateful she still peppers my life with questions.

A Captured Moment

Dephi, Greece – October 17, 1990

By Judy Reeves

After a visit to the Archeological Museum and the Sanctuary of Apollo, I seek refuge in the Sanctuary of Athena, another ancient site excavated and preserved in Delphi. To get there I follow a road for a short distance from Apollo’s Sanctuary, down a hill, then down a path, and down and down into a tree-shaded site much smaller than the one I’d just explored with its theater encircled by five thousand stone seats and the nearby vast field where the Pythian games were held, and where stone seats for seven thousand still rise on the hillside above the green.

Storyyoutell,A Captured Moment

Here in Athena’s Sanctuary all is still except for the birds in the many olive trees and the soft breeze high above, which causes the leaves to reveal their silver-gray shadings. Few other visitors wander the site.

Two women from Spain and I share a stone bench where we speak softly, honoring the holiness of the place. The Temple of Athena in the Parthenon in Athens is a holy place too. But in this sun-dappled sanctuary I am more aware of sacredness, though I can’t say what I am worshipping. I am sanctified, at peace. There are only our voices, the birdsong, and the dry green smell of the olive trees.

After a few moments I separate myself from the others and slip silently among the ruins, placing my palm against the columns as if taking their pulse, a physical connection of two living beings. I do this: palm to tree trunks; palm to wooden doors and beams and tables, against the curve of clay pots; palm against the earth, against the stirring skin of the ocean, lakes, ponds; palm against paper as my other hand travels across the page, chasing language. And yes, palms against necks and faces and lips.

“You will experience many heartbreaks,” a long-ago palmist intones, holding my hand in her two and skimming her finger along the Heart line. “Your Heart line is broken in many places,” she says, shaking her head, uttering a sigh.

My right hand, the one I write with, was tattooed decades ago when, after sharpening my pencil on the hand-crank sharpener adhered to the wall of my sixth-grade classroom, I accidentally stabbed myself in the palm just above the Heart line. A residue of lead dust stained the small puncture and is still there today, faint and barely visible but present. Though I had been writing my stories and poems and plays for a few years already, I believe I marked myself there and then as Writer.

As I’ve confessed, I am a superstitious woman, always searching for signs and omens. I give significance to flights of birds, try to read the hieroglyphics of fallen rose petals, and attempt to translate hidden messages in the words of a book left open on a table.

In Athena’s Sanctuary shadows grow long and the sun glows golden against Mount Parnassus—home to the Muses—as it sets below the rocky walls of the Phaedriades. The afternoon cools as I ascend the hill back up along the path that will take me past the ruins of Apollo’s Sanctuary, the theater, the field, those three iconic columns, back into Delphi itself and my hotel.

Alone, I follow the path high above the sloping hill of olive trees and come upon a bench where I stop and gaze into the valley and far, far below where the silver ribbon of the Pleistos curves sensuously. The sheen on the olive trees gilds the gray leaves. No wind bothers the leaves. All is quiet and serene.

A tabby cat wanders up and winds himself around the legs of the bench then against my legs, bare beneath the length of my skirt. I bend to pet him. “Hello kitty, kitty,” I croon and scritch behind his willing ears; his tail curls next to my calf. “Kitty, kitty,” I say again. He talks back, a soft meow. I pat the bench beside me, inviting him up. At first he doesn’t respond. “Kitty, kitty,” I say in that high voice we sometimes use with cats, patting the bench again. This time he joins me and we sit, kitty and I, at rest. My hand lightly on his head rubbing his soft gray ears.

Then there is a man behind me. He may have come along the path and I didn’t see him because I was leaning over attending to the cat.

“You are the queen of all this,” the man says and sweeps his arm to take in all that is below us—the steep hillside, the silver-and-gold olive trees, the gleaming Pleistos.

He wears workingman’s clothes, hair the color of coal and eyes appreciative of the vista; he’s short and broad-shouldered. He smiles. Sincere. I smile. He sweeps his arm again. “All of this.”

He stands there for a moment, then moves on. The cat jumps down and ambles away, too, sauntering nonchalantly as cats do.

I survey all that is before me—this magnificent view. I want to be fully present in this moment as the sun is at that precise angle, as the trees are that exact turn of color, as the river flows in just that way. I put my palm against the wood of the bench, still warm in the late afternoon; our pulses beat together. This is all it takes to be Queen of All—to simply be here and be present.

Note: Here is a link to Judy’s lovely book-



The Circle of Life

The Joy of Birth

My friends Kate and Drew are due to have a baby on May 10. This was my due date for my youngest son many years ago. As we await Baby Castle’s birth, I am thinking of how quickly the scariness and the pain of childbirth lifts and the joy of having a baby floods our lives with love. With learning. Even while serving up huge helpings of the unexpected and exhaustion.

Of course, life is always serving up the unexpected. A couple of weeks ago my hot pink Indian dress arrived for Sam Goode’s wedding.  I was waltzing around the kitchen in it, excited to attend my first Indian wedding, when my cell phone buzzed, and I heard the shaky voice of Steve’s cousin Nan who lives in Los Angeles. She is a jewel–the cousin who has always taken care of Steve’s large Italian family that is strewn across the country from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to Los Angeles. She always calls to bring us together, and that day was no different.

The Pain of Loss

As Nan wept, she explained her husband’s quick plight through esophageal cancer and sudden death. She had not wanted to concern us with it—until now. Then I was weeping, and then when Steve overheard our conversation, he, too, cried. Our plans took a tumble, and we headed to Riverside National Cemetery.

Early Friday we arrived at the committal shelter where Gerry was to be honored as a veteran. Nan greeted us warmly, and we celebrated Gerry with tributes, including a nine-volley salute and the ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag. Later over photos and memories and wine, we laughed as hard as we cried.

But late that night, on the flight back to Phoenix, I scribbled notes in my journal. I was most touched by Nan’s daughter’s tribute to her stepdad, Gerry. For he had sacrificed so much to be her dad. Nan was one of the first women making a mark for herself in the aerospace industry, and she had to travel to do it. Although Gerry worked in the same field, he made sure he could be home whenever Nan traveled. “He was the best dad,” explained Andrea at the service. Clearly the two developed a lifelong bond over simple things like grocery shopping, their love of eating at a local diner, and mainly over their shared passion for dogs. Today Andrea is a well-loved vet with her own clinic. “You know,” she explained, “I am who I am because Gerry was the dad he was.”

Sandra Marinella Circle of Life Blog

The Transformative Power of Love 

Early the next morning Steve dawned his navy kurta set, and I slipped into my hot pink dress for the Sikh wedding ceremony of our friends Sam Goode and Anjin Singh. Now I met Sam when he was ten, an energetic and cute boy. Sam loved sports and as he aged, he played first football, and then he took on wrestling and working out. But it was his unexpected love of welding that probably cemented his friendship with my husband.

Often at gatherings, Sam would be huddled with Steve in the corner of a kitchen or family room chatting quietly about machines. Sam loved welding, but he didn’t want to spend his whole life welding. Could engineering work? Could Sam eventually build machines, like Steve? Machines that make heart valves or seat belts? Or maybe ones that built work-out equipment? That was Sam’s dream.

Sometimes a girl would show up with Sam. Girls were okay, but nothing to get serious with. Until there was Anjin. Tall, dark haired, and more than beautiful. Anjin embraced life with curiosity and liked rock climbing, hiking, and dancing.  But more than that she was an epidemiologist with a passion for the work she did–helping investigate the patterns and causes of diseases while seeking to reduce risk and negative health outcomes. During COVID she was helping in the fight to overcome the pandemic. She wanted to make a difference.

Suddenly Sam went back to school to finish his engineering degree.  He began to take his career more seriously, and suddenly he blossomed into a man who knew who he was and where he was headed. And now he was wearing a red turban and marrying Anjin.

This morning, I needed to make sense of all I have experienced in recent days. As I finished scribbling these notes in my journal, I realized what a roller coast of emotions I have juggled. But these words allowed me to surface and to touch something bigger than me. Perhaps awe at “The Circle of Life.”  For I realized I loved the births of my children. I loved how Gerry changed Andrea. And I loved how Anjin changed Sam.

In my head I kept hearing Elton’ John’s voice singing the words from The Lion King theme. For life is a circle. It is hard. We face the unexpected diagnosis, the terrible losses, and the resulting sadness and pain. But when we hear the first cries come from a newborn, or the first words come from a child, or we discover a kindness, or experience love, we are lifted up and “find our place on the path unwinding. In the circle, the circle of life.”


Here is the link to “The Circle of Life”  lyrics by Tim Rice and  music by Elton John