Morning Coffee Reflections – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

As I sat on my front porch drinking my morning coffee, alone, I was thinking about today’s Writing 101 assignment.

“ … today, write an update post in the form of a virtual coffee date.”

I watched the birds playing in the scruffy fall gardens, hanging from the spent cone flowers and eating fallen crabapples scattered on the lawn and sidewalk. I wondered what I could possibly write. A curious little grey squirrel walked up the steps and stared at me, sitting on its back legs only a few feet away with its tiny front feet reaching toward me. I spoke to it in a gentle voice, “Good morning, little one.” It cocked its head in reply, turned, and scampered down the stairs again.

I realized I’m far more comfortable being here, alone, with trees and plants and birds and squirrels, then I would be having coffee or tea with a group of people. I thought about the photo my daughter took of me not so long ago. It’s the one I still use as my avatar.


Photo: On the Southwestern Shore Of Lake Superior, Duluth – 2010 (photographer, Jnana Hand)

I wonder if she’s captured the truth about who I really am deep inside. Someone who is more at home alone, contemplating deeper questions of life, breathing in the beauty around me. Storing it for later when I need to return to the social world.

I’m often not a fun coffee date. My social encounters almost always have a purpose. I won’t refuse an invitation to share tea or coffee. I may sometimes even be the one to propose it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love to listen to other people’s stories and learn about who they are. Yet today, I realized when I leave my sanctuary to interact with others, I put on my professional, purposeful persona. I wear my symbolic protective necklace to help me stay centered, tucked out of sight close to my heart. If I have the luxury of being part of the woodwork, I listen, watch, and feel what’s going on, hoping I won’t have to speak much. Hoping when I do feel the urgency that glows in my heart telling me that I need to speak, my words will be gentle and true. Or hoping that they will at least be true and effective when my task requires confronting injustice.

I remember there were times when I was younger when this wasn’t so – times when I played joyfully with friends as a child, or stayed up all night talking and laughing with college friends. As I think about this now, it seems this was before I realized that being on the margins does make me different, before I understood the responsibility that position conveys. Maybe it was my first performance – reciting a poem to my third grade classmates and teacher that showed me how precarious it was to reveal who you really are.


Third grade. Our assignment was to find a poem we could memorize and recite to the class. I grew up in a working class home with few books: my mother’s text about practical nursing and her high school English text, Adventures in American Literature, and my father’s set of Popular Mechanics, the poor man’s version of an encyclopedia. Given the limited choices, I read through my mother’s English literature text and selected the poem that had the most meaning to me, “The Fool’s Prayer.”

The Fool’s Prayer
Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: “Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the Monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
The hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept –
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say –
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

“Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders – oh in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but ‘Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!”

The room was hushed: In silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”

(H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann, Eds., 1936, pp. 670-671 )

Presentation day was one of nervous anticipation for me. I was excited to share what I thought was an important message with my classmates. But my anxiety grew as I sat through the recitation of nursery rhymes and “Twinkle-twinkle little star.” “Oops,” I thought, “Maybe I made a mistake, but it’s too late now.” When my turn came, I walked to the front of the class and began. I don’t remember how my peers reacted as I recited the poem, probably with exaggerated drama, nor could I see my teacher’s expression. She was seated at her desk behind me. All I remember is from that day forward, my teacher treated me as if I were a leper. The first time I talked to a classmate seated next to me after my performance, the teacher singled me out in front of the class. “You may not need to listen to what I’m talking about, but the rest of the class does. From now on when we are discussing reading, your job is to stand by the side blackboard and draw.”

Perhaps it was meant as a punishment, but it didn’t seem to be a marker of shame to my peers so I was okay with it. And I really didn’t mind being freed from the prison of a desk as the teacher droned on and on, talking at us. I was free to daydream and create. I was free to ponder the message of the jester. Perhaps my role in life was to let kings and teachers know that they were as human as those over whom they exercised sovereignty. Yet unlike the jester, I couldn’t wear a painted grin. I was born with a face that couldn’t mask feelings, and I didn’t have the playfulness and self-assurance necessary to be a clown. So instead, I became quiet. I learned not to appear too smart – to avoid drawing any attention to myself. But it was too late. I had already learned that those of us who are not kings cannot remain silent forever. If we don’t find effective ways to rein-in kings, things will never change.


Photo: Jester Logo by Lesley-Lycanthropy


Sometimes, like today, I’m really not a fun coffee date. I can’t always forget that there’s a reason why I’m here although I’m not at all sure what it is. I do enjoy the peace of a solitary morning drinking my coffee. But afterwards, it’s time to be part of a social world that sometimes brings beauty, kindness and laughter, as it often does in this virtual blogging community. But sometimes the injustice and cruelty of the world around us forces me to speak with passion and a sense of urgency. I prefer to highlight the beauty and strengths of others and paint hopeful possibilities. Yet other times, like today, I’m reminded that I too often feel the need to play the jester.

Work Cited:

H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann (1936)(Eds.). Adventures in American Literature. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, and Company.


46 thoughts on “Morning Coffee Reflections – Writing 101

  1. That post was MAGICAL…I keep reading it again and again…all I want in life is to spend an hour or two sitting with you and drinking ..TEA (don’t do coffee !!) ..and listening to your words. Magical !!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I would love to have tea with you any day, Pat. I could listen to your wonderful stories for days and days and I know I’d never be disappointed. I appreciate your kind comments so much. Thank you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comments, Bernadette! I did understand the poem and thought all of my classmates would too. I really thought they would like it. I was honestly shocked when the teacher seemed pleased with nursery rhymes but not with my poem.

      Looking back, I think I scared the teacher. And working in academia, I discovered that teachers (professors in this setting) are often scared by the most gifted, unconventional students. Like my third grade teacher, they often tried to shame gifted students into conformity. I’m grateful for this early lesson – it helped me realize the importance of buffering students in a similar situation.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. This business of your teacher’s reaction, and your reaction to her has been on my mind. From her point of view, t wonder whether she simply realized you were so far beyond what she needed to teach the rest of the class, that you didn’t need to sit there and listen to the lesson. In “our time” 🙂 there weren’t normally “enrichment activities” offered as today, so to allow you to do something creative instead was actually wise, both to keep you from getting bored and “getting into trouble.” Her harshness may have been due to fear of losing disciplinary control in the class (e.g. “just ’cause you’re so smart, you think you can get away with talking”… etc.), or letting this amazing performance “go to your head” for special privileges, etc. I suspect that’s often a big fear that makes authority figures say harsh things. As a sensitive child, and “different” both culturally and intellectually, and wanting to fit in, that this made you feel ostracized (“leper”) is a natural response. I suspect the other kids would have realized that your performance was far advanced, and may have envied you a little for getting to DRAW and ON THE BLACKBOARD no less (2 bonusses!) during their lesson. If they treated you as always, kudos to them. If the teacher had been kinder, you might have been called a teacher’s pet, which could crueler than being a leper for the teacher. For the sensitive, gifted, bicultural child, childhood can be a hard thing to slug through! Sorry this got so long. ❤

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I appreciate your thoughtful comments a great deal, Hildegard. And I admire your ability to try to make sense of the teacher’s actions in such a compassionate, constructive way. You have such a kind and tender heart!

          I have no way of knowing why the teacher chose this method for dealing with a precocious, inquisitive child who may have made it more difficult for her to maintain discipline and teach her class. But I suspect, if these were really her intentions, I may have understood if she had chosen to tell me the things you listed in a private conversation. In retrospect, I’m grateful for the lessons I learned, but I don’t know that the wisest choice for teaching those lessons, if indeed that was the teacher’s intention, was public humiliation. In effect, it silenced all voices though the fear of public shame. It’s easier for me to see her actions as the accepted way for enforcing student docility and conformity in a banking model of education (filling empty minds with the facts).

          But as I just commented to Raj, from my vantage point on the margins, silenced by the person in power, I learned greater compassion for others who are silenced and relegated to the margins, and I learned greater humility. But I have yet to learn how to use a jester’s tools when dealing with those in power who silence and humiliate others. Despite my efforts to be reasonable, the oppressive use of power unlocks deep fiery anger. Your generous and thoughtful comments suggest a way to look at situations from different vantage points as a counterbalance before I act.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Thanks for YOUR kind comments, Carol. I wouldn’t consider myself as compassionate as you say, but I’m trying to get to the point where letting go of some of that “righteous anger” is a personal “survival technique.” I do not justify the teacher’s behaviour, I just try to explain it by way of how things were back then. My husband (from Europe) has terrible personal stories of his teachers humiliating or even giving a rap on the head when he didn’t repeat the information back verbatim (i.e. he understood the concepts, but expressed them differently than in the textboook); or in writing stories (I read one he kept – very creative) but always got a low mark, without any explanation of what was “wrong,” whether it might have been spelling or grammar, or even HOW to improve. He wasn’t on the margins culturally, he only had the “bad habit” of thinking for himself. The scars that kids like him carry are long-lasting, sub-consciously. That still makes me angry, but I hope the days of that kind of “pedagogy” are over, hence I try to let the past be past and find a better frame of mind for us as adults (=forgiveness). (In first grade I had a teacher who picked on me and humiliated me in a certain way in the class; I had no idea why, except that I figured I was awkward and inadequate in almost every way. I was also totally shocked one day when she commented that I was the best reader in the class–didn’t know what to make of that. I finally understood the situation when I was older: she was Jewish; this was postwar Canada, and I was of German descent. What personal and cultural pain did I trigger for her by just being there, even though an innocent child of DP refugee parents?) Of course, for a social worker and advocate like you, your righteous anger fuels your important work to doing something about changing the world; I’m just talking about making and finding peace for your own heart. 🙂 I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “to look at situations from different vantage points as a counterbalance before I act.” I admire your determination and courage to act! “Jester’s tools” – I like that! 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Thank you for the beauty and truth of the profound stories and insights you’ve shared, Hildegard. (I hope you consider turning this comment and your others into posts on your blog. Your stories and insights are so lyrical, important and powerful!)

          Liked by 2 people

        4. Well, thank-you very much AGAIN! I truly appreciate your kind and encouraging comments. My own blog post on these comments? Never thought of that – scary actually! 🙂 I will certainly give this serious thought as I continue searching for my voice and focus. Thank-you very much for your loving care. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, I can so identify with this. After so many years of dealing with noise and often difficult situations in teaching, I love my little sanctuary here in my house and garden that I seldom want to be around too many people any more. Hugs, N 🙂 <4

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Another lovely write, Carol! For our shortcomings that we cannot see, may we have the good fortune to have a mirror / jester who will wisely remind us, and the wisdom to heed “as we would, a map to hidden treasure” 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The court jester, the fool, or more gloriously an advisor, is a convention drawn from royalties of yore, so well used in drama and other art forms. It would surely remind one of the Fools in Shakespeare’s plays, more intelligent, wiser, and full of foresight than the lead characters themselves. Your recitation of that poem in front of the class is so reminiscent of situation of the wise Fool in Shakespearean drama, Carol. It was the antics of your teacher that was amusing, even though you were temporarily left with thin end of the wedge. Your reflections make me wish about the privilege it would have been if you were in my neighbourhood..stay blessed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. These are such important insights about roles of court jesters throughout history and literature, Raj – often the “real” power behind the throne, and not always benign or altruistic.

      As I look back, I’m grateful for experiences like these. What kind of person would I have become if I hadn’t spent time on the margins, silenced until I found more compassion for others and more humility? I am truly grateful that you are part of my virtual community, now Raj. Thank you for your kindness 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

    John Donne

    I find myself isolated, alone, and sometimes this is very difficult. But I am beginning to realize that this is the way now, this is my way now, and I have no choice. The light that cannot be turned off has been turned on in my mind and heart, and I can no longer rest completely while the bell tolls for so many of my sisters and brothers around the world.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Brilliant Carol! I loved this post and I agree with you I am more the spend the time with me than the social kind. I still have too many questions to ask me and to answer to myself and Nature lately has been teaching me a lot!
    Wonderful Poem and have a coffee on my behalf please!
    Thank you for this wonderful post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspectives, Hector. I’m not surprised to hear that you find inspiration in nature and prefer alone-time more than social-time. It shows in the topics and thoughtfulness of your writing.

      And thank you again for your ever-kind comments 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. We don’t have squirrels in New Zealand, but I talk to the blackbirds that have taken over my back yard. I’m learning to differentiate their different calls – the territorial call they do as it gets dark, the raspy alarm call when they’re nesting and their conversational human speech imitation. This is the one they do when they want me to come out and dig up worms for them (they’re very self centered and think this is the main reason I pull up weeds).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. These are such lovely observations, Stuart 🙂 I love hearing about the blackbirds’ demands for worms. The robins here do hang around when I’m digging but they wait patiently until I leave. Today, I even got to talk to a hummingbird when I was in the front garden this evening. It flew up to me and stayed about a foot away just looking at me for a few moments Perhaps it was telling me to put up a feeder, but so many kinds of flowers are still blooming. (I really don’t think it’s healthy to feed them colored sugar water anyway.)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is such a lovely post. I don’t know you at all but feel, somehow, that I do, a little, now. Teaching methods then or perhaps the teachers were often cruel when I hear such stories recounted. Control always seems to have been the objective – above all else – don’t overstep the mark. I agree with you that had the teacher’s intentions been positive she could easily have taken you aside and explained what you were so obviously well able to understand. The best of teachers I ever had were those who looked for and found the individual gifts and nurtured those.
    The consolation seems to be, that in doing what she did, she helped form the character you would become and the understanding you hold for the voiceless. I can’t condone her behaviour but I’m sure, from what I’ve read here, there must be many who are thankful for that understanding.
    I read a while ago that the mark of an introvert was not one who shunned company but one who needed a lot of time on their own to recover from it. 🙂 I rather liked it as an explanation of why I do enjoy socialising – up to a point – then can live without it for rather a long time. I’m sure I would enjoy taking coffee with you. Or, as Tubularsock suggested, something a little stronger. Smiles on such a community you have gathered here.x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your incredibly thoughtful and kind comments, Scottishmomus. I am deeply grateful for the time you put into reading the post and comments, crafting such compassionate observations and insights, and for sharing a little about your self. I look forward to learning more about you through your blog, and would loved to share coffee or tea with you some day. I send my best wishes 🙂


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