A letter to a gifted prep school friend
You are caught up in a hundred little deaths of your soul these days. You are forced to sit through classes which are beneath you.
You know more about these books, these histories; you understand them better than your peers. You are better read than some of your teachers. This is really true, at least in an academic sense.
In other classes you are made to study material you know you will never use. Odds are good you won't need that quadratic formula in graduate school or in cooking your dinner.
And this is an indignity. You, O Suburban Minion, must abide the endless chores of polite conversation, lunchroom shufflings, leading questions, obvious observations, endless chores, polite conversation....
You have better taste.
Every day you are forced to eat food lacking in subtlety, speak to people lacking in insight and nuance, and grind through homework assignments lacking in imagination and spark, taught by adults who punch the card when you include "setting," "characters," and an ample amount of ham-handed adverbial verbiage. Similes that sit like a knuckle sandwich in your mouth.
What's the use? Where are Sartre and Camus and Kerouc and Woolf in all of this mundane flotsam and jetsam? Where is the Green Knight?
Where is Keats in this tedious homework assignment to analyze Fanny Brawne -- 'til the Bright Star herself becomes thick-limbed, ugly, and graceless with dead eyes? Nothing like the sun.
Oh to be one of those noted intellectuals! Those brilliant sparks, caught up in thought and conversation, and not hampered by The Daily Bourgeois of suburban high school and carpool line and vacuuming the stairs.
Oh to feed that bright fire of the mind, all day, with people who understand and appreciate the heat!
Yet, you are well-read. What about those characters you know so well?
What about Saruman in his tall tower hanging in the thin air far above the plains and the little men and the beasts.
What about Uncle Andrew and Queen Jadis, and their "high and lonely destiny"?
What about that invisible man, and his lone scientific pursuit of autonomy, fed by a withered heart lacking in human connection?
What if Dr. Frankenstein was a monster and the Monster had a soul?
What about Virginia's Lighthouse? Did it help her see the rocks?
And you have read The Intellectual Greats. What if:
What if many of those ivory tower intellectuals were tiresome bores in the pub or the parlor?
What if it would be insufferable to share just one drink with them? What if they were the ones everyone avoided at the cocktail party or on the street?
What if they were people that made other people look at the clock to mutter about appointments and traffic and "needing to go, so nice to touch base with you...."
What if -- in their rejection of humility, humanity, and the simplicity of duty -- they lost touch with glory, divinity, and the deeply complex?
What if, in their single-minded pursuit of truth and beauty in isolation -- in the rarefied company of themselves and their toadying salons -- they lost both. (Truth and beauty, that is.)
What if we all felt sorry for their wives and children and dogs and next door neighbors?
What if Mother Teresa was a genius and Sartre was a fool (himself telling tales full of sound and fury, signifying nothing)?
What if Einstein practiced piano scales daily as a kid?
What if the capitalist down the street is a philanthropist, the humanist down the street is a misanthropist, the scholar is a bigot, and the small town sheriff is a sage?
What if theology is the queen of the sciences?
It's complicated, isn't it?
What if we maintain our connection to the divine, in part, by maintaining our relationship with the human?
What if we love God in part by loving others and performing daily duties?
What if even the Word Himself became flesh. And dwelt among us.
And what if to love and know and learn, we have to go where the unwashed they are, and live where the un-nuanced they live, and eat their casseroles, boiled vegetables, and drink their iced tea, and do their homework assignments?
And in meeting with daily life and daily people, what if we find not just truth and beauty, but also ourselves right there?
What if we find that we, in fact, are just another one of them: merely a co-regent of all creation. (Nothing big.)
My friend, what if we find our best selves in the mundane performance of daily duties that bring order and abundance, done with love, joy, and humility?
Here is your next homework assignment for "Life 101"
* Read the Gospel of John to yourself aloud and slowly
* Read "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Andrew
* Read "Intellectuals" by Paul Johnson
* Discuss with your fellow co-regents. (Ie, your middle class parents, teachers, and friends. You might be surprised at how much they know.)
An old friend who once hated homework, wore black turtlenecks, and choked on both gnats and Camels