Good Company

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Whene’er a noble deed is wrought,

Whene’er is spoken a noble thought,

Our hearts, in glad surprise,

To higher levels rise.

– Longfellow

The longer I stayed in institutional education (particularly grad school), the more insecure I became. I learned that, contrary to my natural inclinations, beautiful things like spirituality, virtue, and passion were decidedly not intelligent. The Smarties deconstructed things, they situated texts and criticized any poem, essay, or novel they could get their hands on. If you are a poem about faith, hope, or love, stay out of the way of a literature student’s proud grasp. God might say that those three things have divine eternal power, but a Master’s student will belittle them in a five paragraph tirade banged out on an old laptop the night before class. Classics were usually addressed with pitiful sneers, while edgy counter-cultural books about smut and despair were touted as superior literature. At some point in grad school, I developed a suprisingly heavy cloak of shame for my obviously naive tendency to enjoy a story for its own sake or to make personal connections with poetry before criticizing it. I never got invited into the Smarties Club because I always let something about God, feelings, beauty or morality slip out. Shoot.

Once, I had the nerve to purport that Romeo and Juliet is really about love – messy, petulant, imperfect human love. (Note: One should never ever ever purport such a predictable and naive thing in graduate school. Never ever. But I did.) The entire class looked at me patronizingly, encouraging me to become an elementary school teacher or a university chaplain – the two cozy spots where they relegate idealistic folks like me. For three hours, my classmates bantered about the political, ethnic, and psychoanalytical readings of R&J. I slunk down in my chair and wondered what I had missed during my reading. At the end of the discussion, the humble professor (perhaps humbled by grad school as well), said that he agreed with me: Romeo and Juliet is primariy about human love in all of its deep and shallow undulations. At the time, his support was sweet, but not powerful enough to salvage my confidence from the day-in, day-out deconstructive Smartie Club.

Since grad school, I’ve continually had to address that bugger of a question: “Am I smart enough?”

A worthless unanswerable irrelevant question, really. But pesky… and persistently demoralizing.

You can imagine my relief to have graduated. Now the University is just a nice place to hear a concert or pick up an ice-cream cone every now and then.

You might also imagine my relief to discover – within a library of home-education resources – a world of people who are quite intelligent, and quite humble, and quite admiring of spirituality, virtue, and passion. Charlotte Mason, Karen Andreola, Gladys Hunt, and Susan Shaeffer Macaulay write about how we can live nobly and richly without selling our souls to intellectualism. I needed their confident voices to remind me that our very smartest moments are to be spent on beauty and are to be shared with children and other people who are humble enough to converse with us there.

These women have revived my spirits by writing that there is nothing more worthy of our pursuit than virtue,

nothing more worthy of our vision than beauty,

nothing more worthy of our hearts than love,

and nothing more worthy of our intellects than Truth.

They wrote over the pesky question with far more honorable questions like, “Whom did I love today?” “Whom did I serve?” and “What did I notice about God’s artistry today?”

They remind me of poems like this one by Emily Dickinson:

Have you got a brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so?
And nobody, knows, so still it flows, 5
That any brook is there;
And yet your little draught of life
Is daily drunken there.
Then look out for the little brook in March,
When the rivers overflow, 10
And the snows come hurrying from the hills,
And the bridges often go.
And later, in August it may be,
When the meadows parching lie,
Beware, lest this little brook of life 15
Some burning noon go dry!

How refreshing to be in the midst of this affirming company who are fierce and smart guardians of hearts.

Even if you aren’t considering homeschooling, you might enjoy:

A Charlotte Mason Companion – Andreola

Honey for a Child’s Heart – Hunt

For the Children’s Sake – Shaeffer Macaulay