Friday, January 11, 2013

In Praise of Friendship

Charlotte Mason said children are born persons. Well, of course they are. We know that. But what did she really mean by that? I think she meant that people are born with all the same abilities adult human beings have resting comfortably within them, some still waiting to develop, much as bulbs lie dormant underground through the winter months, at any moment ready to burst through the soil with vibrant color, velvety petals, leaning toward the sun for sustenance and warmth, soaking in the rain for nourishment and succulent moisture -- full of beauty and life.

Human beings are born valuable. Even as children, as babies, as unborn babies. We are of value merely because we are human. And we should not be taken for granted. Not any single one of us. Not that child who annoys us by interrupting the lesson frequently with avid questions, few of which pertain to the topic at hand, or the infant with colic who cries incessantly, or the cranky grandfather whose stern upbringing has left him hardened and broken. We are all of great value simply because we are. Like every daffodil, rose, daisy, and dandelion.

But sometimes we forget that. Here's why, according to Charlotte Mason (volume 6, p 34):

"But truths get flat and wonders stale upon us. We do not care much about the starry firmament, the budding trees, the cunning architecture of the birds; and to all except young parents and young brothers and sisters a baby is no longer a marvel. The completeness of the new baby brother is what children admire most, his toes and his fingers, his ears and all the small perfections of him. His guardians have some understanding of the baby; they know that his chief business is to grow and they feed him with food convenient for him. If they are wise they give free play to all the wrigglings and stretchings which give power to his feeble muscles. His parents know what he will come to, and feel that here is a new chance for the world. In the meantime, he needs food, sleep and shelter and a great deal of love. So much we all know.

But is the baby more than a 'huge oyster'? That is the problem before us and hitherto educators have been inclined to answer it in the negative. Their notion is that by means of a pull here, a push there, a compression elsewhere a person is at last turned out according to the pattern the educator has in his mind.

The other view is that the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which holds the world flies up outbalanced. A poet looks back on the glimmering haze of his own infancy and this is the sort of thing he sees,––

'I was entertained like an angel with the works of God in their splendour and glory . . . Is it not strange that an infant should be heir of the whole world and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold? . . . The corn was orient and immortal wheat which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious gold. The green trees transported and ravished me. Their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap. Boys and girls tumbling in the streets were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die. The streets were mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.' " Thomas Traherne

Thank you, Thomas Traherne, for revealing so perfectly the world as a child sees it. The world we should all see. And for showing us how truly beautiful and valuable this planet and its many systems really are! And how valuable every human being is.

There are few people I feel I can count on to always be there for me, to always tell me the truth, to want what is best for me enough to give me the cold, hard facts wrapped in warmth and love and admiration for who I am as a person, of great value merely because of my humanity but also because of what my particular set of skills, ideas, beliefs, actions, and personality bring to the world. I was born a person, with great value because I am a human being. No one exactly like me will ever again walk the earth. That is almost a sacred thought. I (and you and your children and students) am 100% unique and valuable.

But not everybody thinks so.

And that's okay.

There is somebody who believes in me no matter what I do, no matter what I believe about life and the world and politics and such. I don't have to speak to her for months on end, but when we do speak, there is a quiet understanding that we are one another's greatest fans. We will love and support each other no matter what decisions we make or where life takes us. We are loyal to one another. We are friends. For life.

My friend's name is Elizabeth. I have known her since we were eight years old and in school together. She was my best friend throughout childhood. She lives on another continent, so far away that her winter is my summer and our time zones are very far apart. She converted to Judaism, so we no longer share the same religious beliefs. She's liberal where I'm conservative. And yet, we are always going to be friends. That kind of loyalty is generally hard-earned. But it shouldn't be, should it? We each have intrinsic value just because we exist. Imagine that. And imagine what life would be like on this planet if every single person was valued because we're alive and for no other reason.

Of course, virtuous people like Mother Theresa or Ghandi somehow seem more valuable than little folks like me who plod along daily, homeschooling and cooking and cleaning and driving kids around town to activities, rarely stopping to breathe in the air God surrounded our planet with to give us life. Monsters like Hitler seem less intrinsically valuable, and I can't argue that. But if we walked through life believing in one another, valuing each other as of great worth, like diamonds or emeralds or rubies, some still in need of a bit of polish, others very rough and unrecognizable yet, and some shining brightly, I believe the world would be a safer, gentler, more beautiful place.

Today is Elizabeth's birthday. Although she's in Australia celebrating with her friends and family (or maybe her birthday is already coming to a close. I've never been good with time zones), I know that she knows I remembered her fondly today. Happy birthday, Elizabeth!

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