Lesson Learned (December 2)

Power of Observation

My Country Doctor Dad loved to teach us five Almond children. He seldom missed an opportunity. He really gave me a big lesson learned the day we waited for a coal train to pass. That weekend day Dad invited me to join him for a house call to Alton. Those coal trains were long in those days. We got stuck waiting, so Dad began to teach. As a teenager considering my future profession, I really wanted to follow in Dad’s shoes becoming a family doctor. I wanted to learn detail observation from the best!

“See the engine pulling that heavy load?” Dad queried. “That triangular plow up front is called a cow catcher!” Dad explained that cows and deer and other varmints standing on the railroad track might derail the train, so by design it can throw obstacles off the track. He recalled being a teenager golf caddy at a Maplewood, New Jersey, golf course frequented by rich Wall Street tycoons. One day he caddied for a man who owned a railroad. He carried a photograph of a cow his rail line killed. Dad studied the picture and observed that this was the most ordinary cow he had ever seen. “Precisely,” the tycoon said. “We pay the owner for their loss. Always before they killed prize-winning bulls costing us a fortune, but here was the only ordinary Jersey cow owned by an honest farmer.” I laughed with Dad but learned his lesson to be observant.

Now forward in time, on Friday, October 28th, I am meeting with the Board of Education in a called meeting. Others are on TEAMS computer format, but I am in person sitting in the office of Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus. Prominently displayed is a large print of “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh. Suddenly my memory takes me back to that youthful day with my Country Doctor Dad.

What can I observe about the painting selection “The Starry Night,” which is probably Van Gogh’s most famous painting?

* First, I observe that we recognize UPSHUR STARS at each public BOE meeting. A child and parent or guardian are extremely pleased to get recognition before peers, teachers, our BOE, and later honored with a photograph on the school web page or even our local newspaper.

*  Second, there are eleven stars in “The Starry Night.” I recollect Art Appreciation class at West Virginia Wesleyan College taught by Professor Stephen Tinelli. He recalled the spiritual fervor of Van Gogh, who painted probably being influenced by the story of Joseph in the Old Testament: “...He said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.’” (Genesis 37:9 World English Bible)

I laugh to myself with this observation, for Dr. Lewis-Stankus is our very able leader. However, her staff loves her because she cares so much. Her father, Rev. Ped Lewis, remains one of my favorite pastors of all time due to his frequent visits to the sick at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Really, I do doubt Sara had selected “The Starry Night” to show off like Joseph did, which made his eleven brothers envious and angry. However, her star shines!

* Third, I observe that Vincent van Gogh paints with passion. His works can draw us all into deep emotion within the raging night sky. This is what makes “The Starry Night” not only his most famous work, but also one of his most frequently interpreted and analyzed.

Yes, it is highly appropriate that Dr. Lewis-Stankus, who has served Upshur County Schools as a master educated school counselor extraordinaire, would look for ways to enhance growth and development in a child who might sit before her in this office. The counselor in her soul would draw the child’s attention to consider the peaceful village tucked in comfort beneath the dark night.

Doctor Dad, thank you for the lesson learned as a teenager to carefully observe a cow catcher on a train engine and an ordinary cow killed and paid in full. I continue observing, this time a painting on the office wall of our able superintendent. My observation is that we are fortunate to have her leading for such a time as this.


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