“A penny for your thoughts.” Does anyone say that anymore? Probably not.
Part of being retired is that I get to do more sitting and thinking than usual. (“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits,” to quote Winnie the Pooh.) And the penny for my thoughts here is Louise Penny, one of my favorite authors. She’s Canadian, as you may guess from the map. Let’s start with her own decision to open her latest newsletter by quoting Pooh — no, not Pooh, Sydney Harris:
The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.
And that got me thinking.
But first let’s spend a little time with Louise Penny’s own thoughts before you get to hear mine. Below the quotation from Sydney Harris, her September newsletter unsurprisingly continues to discuss the opening days of school:
A Labour Day doesn’t arrive without my thinking, ‘Summer’s over. School’s about to start.’ It still gives me a slight sinking feeling in the stomach.
I was not a natural student. In fact, I worked very hard, and still barely managed Cs. Except in PhysEd.
The classroom wasn’t an environment where I flourished. Can’t say why not, it just wasn’t. And so I grew up thinking I was slow. Perhaps even stupid.
That sentiment has to resonate with any teacher who has taught students with low self-confidence. I’ve taught many of them over the years. It’s not that Weston has more low-confidence students than average — it’s just that Weston’s highly demanding culture is likely to create self-doubts in many teens who wouldn’t have such a problem in an average community. Students who are constantly looking into a virtual mirror may well have doubts about themselves, until they look through a window and see what’s on the other side. As Penny says:
I stopped staring into a mirror, turned, and found a huge picture window through which I saw a glorious, wounded, fascinating, diverse, scary, wonderful world. And the only thing that could limit me was me.
So far, by all accounts, we have not as a society done a good job. That needs to be admitted, and changed.
I’m a recovering alcoholic. Been sober thanks to a 12 step programme for 24 years now. I know what despair feels like. I know what wanting the pain to end feels like. And I know what it feels like to have a hand reach down, and help me up. To feel that first unfamiliar tingling of hope.
I have written about Louise Penny once before — four years ago in this space. That was mostly a somewhat pedantic screed about her linguistic and mathematical errors, surrounded by praise for her writing, her characterizations, and her sense of place. Now that I’ve read this issue of her newsletter, I have a better sense of why she might have made these linguistic and mathematical errors. Understanding helps. She concludes with a Leonard Cohen quotation that occurs in at least two of her novels:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.