By Eric Thomas Weber
In the dozen years that I have been teaching, two moments stand out as the most gripping experiences I have had in my classes. With a group of freshmen sitting by the Honors College fountain at the University of Mississippi, we once talked about philosopher John Lachs’s book, In Love with Life.
Lachs explains some ways of thinking that are instrumental for living a happy life. We so often focus on things we cannot change in the past, or we worry intensely about the future, forgetting to live in and enjoy the present, he explains.
Just when we had gone over one of Lachs’s beautiful passages covering that insight, thin and golden autumn leaves from a tree overhead began to fall slowly all around us, flipping as they descended, as if they wanted to be noticed. I could not have dreamt of a more beautiful illustration of the joy we can find in appreciating the present.
The next teaching moment that stands out most profoundly for me took place in a very different and unlikely setting. Undergraduates at university are energetic, but often need coaxing. I was startled, therefore, to see just how eager and enthralled a group of students would be when I met them at Parchman Prison.
This past Spring, I had the good fortune to witness Louis Bourgeois’s memoire-writing course, the Prison Writes Program, put on at Parchman Prison. I served as the outside evaluator for a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, which supported Bourgeois and Vox, an incorporated nonprofit in Oxford, MS.