Transcript of Speech given by Simone Noble
Good Morning everyone. My name is Simone Noble. My two children attend this school – Jonah is in 8th grade and Danielle is in 5th grade. This is their third year as Oak Grove School students.
Jonah and Danielle may tell you that I annoy them by following them around with a camera … not all the time of course but I do see a value in capturing those moments that may seem ordinary to them, but they will remember as contributing to the rich fabric of their lives. I hope that in this beautiful valley we are creating a life they will look back on as worthwhile … and no matter where they choose to travel or live in the world, they will feel a tug for the soft light, long days, and simplicity of easy friendship. And just in case they don’t, they will have some photographs to remind them.
When we evacuated Ojai just weeks ago, it was an easy choice to take the few photo albums from my own childhood in South Africa. These albums don’t contain any works of art; the glue is peeling and the pictures are of a poor quality by today’s standards. But what they do contain is a legacy of family, and proof that there were happy moments; and parents who loved their kids; and grandparents who were present; and Sunday afternoons just hanging out together.
One of the photographs on those yellowing pages is of my sister and myself as very young children playing in an inflatable kiddie pool. Sitting next to us is a woman in her sixties, smiling with her arms outstretched should either of us need help in the three inches of water. Her name was Robbie and she was a much older friend of my mother, who had fostered a special friendship with me. She took me swimming to the public pool and I loved spending time in her bachelor apartment because the bedroom and kitchen were in the same room, that overlooked the Atlantic ocean, and I knew no-one else who lived like that. She taught me many things including how to stretch my body and about a country called Switzerland that she would visit each year. She talked about healthy food and the value of eating a baked potato every day. I didn’t realize it at the time but Robbie was also teaching my mom, specifically about yoga and vegetarianism. My parents, as a result, adopted this lifestyle for many years, which was pretty progressive in South Africa in the 70’s. Although their own practices changed eventually, those teachings continue to define my own life. Robbie was not part of my life for very long but I always remembered her and would think of her sporadically.
Some almost 40 years later I was looking to depart from the life we had been living in Cleveland, Ohio, for a new start that felt more authentic to who I was, and the aspirations I had for raising Jonah and Danielle. In search of some breathing room, I rented a little cottage in Ojai for a month one summer and brought the kids out for a change of scenery and sunshine. I enrolled them in a science and surfing camp that Oak Grove was offering.
To say I was enthralled with the campus would be an understatement. I was captivated by the energy of the school, by the beauty and the softness. I felt held in a way I couldn’t explain walking on this land … and I remember thinking that it would be an absolute dream for the kids to attend school here and then thinking of the impossibility of it all. I won’t bore you with the details of how we got from A to B, other than to say it was not without an enormous amount of compromise, upheaval, and sacrifice that I am forever grateful for. Pragmatically, it made no sense but the pull was so strong that we had to try it out. By the time the next school year started, the kids were enrolled as Oak Grove students.
They had been at the school for about six months when my mom came to visit from Cape Town. When we brought her to the school she pointed to a picture and said, “oh look, that is Krishnamurti.” Confused, I asked her how she possibly would know who Krishnamurti was. I had never heard her mention his name before and I hadn’t read his work until I had discovered Oak Grove, and I consider myself better versed in these matters than my mom. She explained, of course, that Robbie had been a devout follower of Krishnamurti – visiting Switzerland each year and introducing her to yoga and vegetarianism. Until that moment I had never connected those dots. But in an instant it all made sense. A circle closed. A circle closed across space and time. Of course, it made perfect sense that here I was living in Ojai and picking kids up from the school founded by Krishnamurti.
So that is the thing about this school. It has a magic for some of us. Being here is like stepping behind the veil in a way. It doesn’t always make practical sense but it feels perfectly right.
I sometimes watch my kids walk down the path to their classrooms, passing the pepper tree planted by Krishnamurti and the flowers planted by Jake and the lavender and the gorgeous mulberry tree, and I wonder how much they appreciate and notice, and whether they understand how unusual their school days are. But that doesn’t really matter because they are learning a way of living and engaging in the world that feeds the soul in the ordinary moments just by being present.
So just as when I photograph them in those ordinary moments at home, my hope is that wherever they live one day and whatever career or lifestyle they choose, they will carry with them an intuitive knowing of a way to live that makes sense. The practice of living in the present, and usually ordinary moments. A slowing down, a deeper listening, a kinder word, a lighter step, an honoring of themselves and others … all in the very present moment. And that is why Jonah and Danielle, are Oak Grove Students.