For a job, I talk to teenagers all day. I read to them, lecture them, ask them questions, listen to them talk. I stare into their faces all day and gauge their interest in what I am saying based on their eyes, their mouths, and their posture. I rarely gauge their interest based on what they say, for teenagers like talking to each other, but do not much like talking to adults (I know, your teenager is different).
“You are very young and inexperienced in life, education, and business and to leave so abruptly . . .”
These were the words an irate colleague penned to me upon receipt of the letter I sent out in early July to inform my fellow faculty members and parents as to why I was resigning my teaching position midsummer.
Permit me to offer some context:
Driving home from school one day, I passed a sight that smacked of Flannery O’Connor. In the drab parking lot of a storefront church was pitched a small white tent; within the tent sat a bearded man in a lawn chair; and beside the man was propped a sign that read “Need Prayer?” Save for this, the parking lot was empty, and the bearded man meditated in the calm shade of his tent and his solitude like a modern Jonah beneath his vine. I almost looked twice for a briefcase of Bibles or a rat-colored truck.
Now that we’ve been back at school for several weeks, there is a certain type of Facebook post that has become commonplace amongst my friends whose children go to school: the drop-off and pick-up line angst post.
This should really be a Facebook post genre in its own right, up there with posts about politics, extreme weather, and arguments about obeying the gods.
“At a school like this one, you hear quite a bit about the importance of having a servant’s heart. In fact, you hear enough about service that you might be quite tired of the subject by now and think that adults only speak to you of service because it means less work for themselves. After all, when teachers talk of service, they are usually asking students to do things which will make their own lives easier. “Service” usually means picking up trash on the quad, moving and setting up chairs for assemblies, and tidying the men’s room before leaving.
Summer fades into autumn; one season wanes, another flourishes. This is the undulating pattern of life, as well as that of our home-centered liturgy of education since my husband and I married and began a family.
This liturgy is like a familiar hymn, one that began with the births of our children and has been accompanied by ever-more-familiar grace notes—from the ABCs, fairy tales, and chants of the multiplication tables and Latin declensions, to high school speeches, thesis papers, and graduations.
The most fashionable critiques of any institution will always be the ones people from within the institution borrow from those on the outside. The thrill which comes from conversing with one’s peers and casually letting drop a little cool approval of detractors and naysayers, then watching the faithful turn their heads in confusion and dismay, is more than many postmodern men can pass up.
Over the summer my eleven-year-old daughter read a contemporary piece of young adult “literature.” This is not a genre I enjoy, but I read the work with her so that we could discuss it together.
“Was it a good book?” I asked.
“Yes!” she answered.
“Why?” I followed up.
“Because I liked it.”
As I continued to press her, she continued to locate the book’s objective goodness in her subjective enjoyment of it. I was unsurprised by this. It is a natural human tendency to conflate our subjective preferences with objective qualities.
While Americans have been bemoaning the loss of “sir” and “ma'am” for forty years now, these greetings are not entirely absent from American society. Like most Americans with a car and a blue blazer, the poor and homeless regularly ask me for money. On street corners, they ask with signs. In parking lots and gas stations, they ask directly. When they ask directly, they call me “sir.”
The Pietà is my favorite work of art. I’ve always thought it was beautiful, but since I listened to a lecture by Jordan Peterson,1 Michelangelo’s Mary reminds me that she brought her son into this world not understanding his divine destiny and fully understanding that he would suffer and die. All the same, her face is peace.