Embracing Beauty • Day 2 • A Teacher’s Story


Today’s example of embracing beauty comes from Blythe, a dedicated kindergarten teacher from Canyon, Texas.

Blythe writes:

I have been contemplating your request for things of beauty. I did not want to send you a picture of a sunset (though I find that to be of great beauty) but instead a story of grit, determination and beauty.

14466880_10100829653395510_1911851069_oThis is the story of one of my sweet littles. I will call him “Cal”.

Cal came into my class with a bright personality, a twin brother, and ears that could barely hear. He wore powerful hearing aids, and I had a special microphone that I wore that would take my voice directly to his ears.

Still, he struggled with learning.

It was my great dilemma as a teacher: how do I teach someone to read when language is made up of sounds, and he cannot hear the sounds?

My heart ached for my sweet Call, because he wanted to learn to read so badly. He would sigh as he realized he had gotten something wrong, and sometimes his resigned face would send me from the room in tears.

Over time, my dilemma went from how do I teach him to read to how do I teach him to not give up? How do I teach him to keep trying when it is going to take him 75% more effort than every one else to do things that come easy for others? How do I teach him to love learning and to fight for it?

And then I remembered sitting in the office of one of the university teachers who inspired me to be a teacher. She was reteaching me a lesson that I had not understood from class, a lesson that I still did not understand, and when I was ready to give up, she stopped me, and said “Blythe, your job is to show up ready to learn and my job is to teach you. If you do not understand it the way I am teaching, it is my job to find a way to teach you so that you DO understand. Your job is to show up, my job is to teach. You showed up, so I will find a way, and I will keep at it until you understand.”

Your job is to show up, my job is to teach. You showed up, so I will find a way, and I will keep at it until you understand.

This teacher changed the way I looked at learning. Suddenly things seemed possible with a good teacher and lots of determination. This is what I wanted my sweet Cal to understand, so I would research and try new things, and if it did not work I would look for something else. I was determined, and I wanted him to know it.

Around spring break and I was starting to become discouraged again. But then it happened.

Beauty came on a Thursday afternoon.

Cal was practicing sight words on my iPad when he walked over with the most delightful grin on his face. “Look, Miss Chapman! I wrote a sentence!”

I looked at the iPad to see “I see a cat” written in kindergarten script.

“I see a cat.” It is a deceptively simple sentence until you know that the word cat was not on any papers in our room, nor was it posted anywhere on the walls. Cal had sounded out the word cat with no help. He had put together that sounds go with letters, and letters make words and words hold meaning.

The smile on his sweet face is something I will always remember. He fought for that moment, and it was pure joy and beauty (with some tears mixed in). I don’t know if Cal will remember writing “cat” that day, but I will always hold that memory close. I was reminded that faithfulness and determination are built upon daily. I was reminded that the fight to learn is worth it.

Beauty comes in many forms, and on that day it was a six year old boy whose ears did not work, but who figured out how to write words!

Nate’s note: Blythe sent me this story as an example of the beauty of a child overcoming challenges to learn, but I would add that it’s also a story of the beauty of a persistent and invested educator, determined that all of the children in her care will succeed in learning.

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty, and please share these posts with your friends each day this month! Remember, this blog doesn’t have any advertising, and I make no money off of getting hits on stories. I just want to counteract the ugliness we see each day with small and huge examples of the beauty that exists in this world!

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!


Remembering Scottish Musician Martyn Bennett

Martyn Bennett.

Do you know the name?

If you know Scottish music, it’s a name you might know.  If you know Scottish music, it’s name you should know.

His could have been a name that most all would have known, regardless of our fondness for music from Scotland.  There are some names that deserve to be known.  But life has a way of writing our scripts in surprising and sometimes cruel and tragic ways.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I tell you more about Martyn Bennett (the bloke in the picture in the header, picture credit to B.J. Stewart) and why I’m writing about him, you need to hear him.   I think we’ll start with the first track from his second album, Bothy Culture.  The song is called Tongues of Kali.

Oh, and make sure you turn up the volume.

How I heard about Martyn Bennett is a bit of a story.

My wife and I were married in 1998 on New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, the day of Hogmanay (the last day of year in Scottish).  It’s also the day of one of the biggest New Year’s Eve parties in the world, as Edinburgh is transformed for one night into a citywide mix of free concerts, dancing, celebratory kissing, and the kind of joyful revelry that should always happen on New Year’s Eve.


The crowds at Hogmanay.

Considering we had a small wedding that included only five, we made the decision that Edinburgh’s festivities were actually our wedding reception, with thousands of guests and music and fireworks.   As night fell, I put on my rented kilt, and my new bride and I headed out to see what the city had arranged to celebrate our new marriage.

Weaving our way through the festive crowds, we came upon a stage on a fairly empty city square being prepared for a concert.  We had no idea who would be performing, but since few people had yet stopped at the spot, and since I saw different kinds of Scottish musical instruments being handled on the stage, we decided to park ourselves and enjoy watching people until the concert began.

A man with baggy camouflage pants and long hair in dreadlocks came out on stage and started tuning instruments, creating an immediate disconnect for me.  He didn’t fit my image of a traditional Scottish musician.  With the dreads, he looked more like a reggae artist.  Were we really about to ring in the new year in Scotland with reggae music?

But since he was tuning pipes and the other Scottish instruments, it had to be Scottish music, right?

The crowd had started to build, effectively trapping us at the front of the stage, and so we had no choice but to wait and see.

When the performance started, I was transfixed by what I heard coming from the musicians onstage.  It was most definitely Scottish music, but it was infused with club beats and samples and sitars and syncopated rhythms and sounds like I had never heard before.

This was music.

Music full of passion.

Music full of life and energy.

It wasn’t safe music, like some other attempts at blending traditional Celtic music with modern sounds.  It was raw.  It was risky.

muso-rest-in-peace_martyn-bennettIt was, I discovered, a musician named Martyn Bennett.

And things just got better.

My wife, who is a native of Kazakhstan, started squealing (yes, she squealed) and hopping up and down as she realized she’d seen the dreadlocked musician perform at the state opera house in her home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan just a few weeks earlier, when he and a small group of musicians had travelled there as guests of the British Consul.

It was like a special gift, to have the band at our wedding reception be so fantastic and unique, and to have them playing a return engagement especially for my wife.  Well, at least to us it was especially for my wife.

Photo credit Sadie Dayton

Photo credit Sadie Dayton

The concert that night was unforgettable, especially when midnight came, and the city erupted in a massive fireworks display.  Bennett led the now overcrowded square in a traditional singalong of Auld Lang Syne that segued into an audience-pleasing high energy song that would be well-met in any rave.  We danced and celebrated well into the night, one of the best nights of my life, and an amazing way to start our married life.

In Edinburgh, in the days that followed, I managed to find a copy of Bennett’s Bothy Culture, which we would listen to frequently, fondly.

Soon after, my wife and I moved to Kazakhstan, where we lived for fourteen years.  One day in 2005, I decided to hunt down information about the dreadlocked musician that we had enjoyed so much that New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh.  I loved the CD, and wanted more.  We would be returning to the U.S. for the summer, so I went searching, knowing I would stand a pretty good chance of tracking down any new music in the states.

To my heartbreak, I found that Martyn Bennett had died on January 30 of that year at the ridiculously young age of 34.  He’d died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he’d been fighting since being diagnosed in November of 2000.

I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t imagine it.  That energetic, creative, driving force, who I’d watched blow across Hogmanay like a hurricane – was gone?

grit-albumFrom what I’ve read, as Martyn’s illness weakened him, he became unable to tour, and eventually had to stop playing his instruments.  But this didn’t stop him from recording his final album, entitled Grit.  Bennett described the idea of Grit this way:

Split between the songs of travelling people (Roma) and the Gaelteachd traditions of the Hebrides (Grit) brings together by far the strongest links to the ‘real’ folk culture in Scotland. Virtually all the songs and narrative were sampled from vinyl records or from original quarter-inch tape recordings, the sources of which were mostly recorded from 1950 onwards…

Rhythmically and sonically I have gone to great effort in this recording. In recent years so many representations of Scotland have been misty-lensed and fanciful to the point that the word ‘Celtic’ has really become a cloudy pigeon-hole. This album was a chance for me to present a truthful picture, yet face my own reflection in the great mirror of all cultures.

When I found out that Martyn Bennett had died, it’s hard to describe how devastated I felt, considering I had never met the man.  I really didn’t even know much about him.  And I hadn’t even taken the time to drop him a note thanking him for the important part he played in the start of my marriage.

His music had travelled the globe with my family several times, and I’d never tried to let him know.

That’s the kind of thing we think about doing, but rarely ever do.  And we almost always wind up wishing that we had.

So, Martyn, this is my note.  We’re coming up on ten years since you were liberated from your suffering, and this blog post is my attempt to honor you, and thank you for all the joy and pleasure you brought to so many people in the too-short time you were given to share your gift.  Especially the joy and pleasure you brought to us.

And it’s also my attempt to help more people to know your name, and your music.

Because yours is a name that deserves to be remembered.

Martyn Bennett lived a full life, pursuing his dreams of preserving the musical heritage of Scotland’s past while embracing the progressive nature of Scotland’s musical future.  He was a classically trained musician, a meticulous musical perfectionist with a love of sampling and house beats.  He was – and continues to be – an inspiration to countless young musicians across Scotland, and beyond.


Please read more about Martyn’s life in his own words, by reading the bio he wrote on his blog.

Also, read more in depth about Bennett’s life from Herald Scotland journalist, Rob Adams.

Finally, enjoy some of the music of Martyn Bennett, then share it with others.

Extreme biker Danny Macaskill’s The Ridge, with soundtrack Martyn Bennett’s Blackbird from Grit

Hallaig, from Bothy Culture, and the award winning short film by Neil Kempsell

Swallowtail, a more traditional song by Martyn Bennett, with scenes from Man of Aran

Sky Blue by Peter Gabriel, the Martyn Bennett mix.  The last recording Bennett made before his death.

And if you have the chance, try to see GRIT: The Martyn Bennett Story.