One of the essays I wrote for the Staten Island book not included in the printed edition. And appropriate for the month of April – when we have gorgeous days like today, it is enough for me.
The edition of the Staten Island book is very nearly sold out. Now is the time to order a copy if you want one! There will probably be a second edition, done slightly more economically – probably without the fold-out map – in order to make it a bit cheaper and hence easier to sell in bookshops.
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts, of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” – THOREAU
Each of the ancient professions registers the seasons of God’s grace in a different way. As spring comes on the farmer watches the thaw of the soil, the hunter the movement of game. The teacher does not look for the bluebird or the daffodil, but for a more reliable signal more attuned to nature’s mysteries: the teenager. There comes a day when even the best teacher with the most thrilling lesson-plan turns from his blackboard to his pupils, and finds all the most lively of them gazing longingly out the window, staring at the wind and the warm spring light. Five thousand years of civilization have not entirely debased the human race. They still maintain some of the primeval innocence of the Golden Age, when there was nothing but nature in a perennial spring. The teachers who attempt to beat this longing out of their students, with force or threat or histrionics, forget that it is this longing which is the parent of all our arts and sciences, and all our moral progress: a longing for a world more real, more beautiful, and more true than any we have succeeded so far in institutionalizing. I was happy when my students would rather be out in the world than in my classes. It meant that I was teaching well, or, more likely, that they were growing nonetheless.
I taught most of my last-period classes out of doors on fine days, and neither I nor any of my students remember any of the details of what we discussed. It was enough perhaps to be out there. The boys would look at the girls and then try to wrestle each other. That ancient behavior had apparently not grown old. Neither I nor my students quite knew the lesson-plan, but perhaps we learned that the goal of the true education is satisfaction with the gift of life. They had a field of grass beneath their feet, the close presence of their friends, and the warmth of the sun upon their back. Any more would have been clutter, a kind of subtraction by addition. We have our spring cleaning for good reason. The warm breath of spring is a call to a higher and simpler life than we have known before. As one ascends a mountain there is less to see; that is why one may see so far. The tallest point on a pyramid is where it is narrowest. It touches heaven at the moment of pure simplicity.
I do not know a single man or woman who in the spring is happy with any of our business. We all then have a longing to work less, and enjoy more. I would catch myself staring out the window too, or at pictures of friends, which is much the same thing. When the term came towards its end and I had large amounts of grading to do, I used to stop work to watch the colors of the sunset on clear evenings. How then I would promise to myself that this spring I would truly feel, that this spring I would be a lover, that now that the winter was passed I would begin to live more genuinely and according to higher laws.
But the world remains always better than we. Spring comes upon us and finds us unreceptive and cold still. The warm air and peerless green spring up all around us, and we still sit in harsh judgement. Beauty and wonder, when we do not resist them, always incline us to humility. If we take humility as our guide, we see that the deep question the mind must ponder is not why there are awful things that happen to us worthy people, but why there are any good things that happen to us who are so unworthy. The problem of evil does not tax the deepest minds for long. They have better things to do. It is the goodness of the world that is the miracle and the mystery.