Little Gidding

Maybe the thing that keeps me Anglo-Catholic is that T.S. Eliot is so ingrained in my soul that I hear his words cascading through my thoughts as they begin to converge into something that starts to make sense (Note: that's not the thing that keeps me Anglican- that has more to do with simply being unable to breathe when I step outside of the bounds of the Church of England, as odd and Provincial and Uppermiddleclass and White as that sounds).

And in  the end of Little Gidding (itself the ending of his magnificent Four Quartets), Eliot somehow manages to hit one of his most bewildering, obscure, truthful moments:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.

We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.


There have been a few moments to pause in the past week, and much to reflect over. My father delivered my diploma (it had been mailed to his house) last week, I was hooded, inducted into the honor society for my discipline, my students took their final exam, I graded it, and picked up their course evaluations (not in that order, necessarily). We're looking for a new apartment- our first home together. I'm preparing (bracing?) to start my Dr.P.H. (and constantly having to explain the choice *not* to do a Ph.D. to people - somehow "this program is more applicable to what I do and the  skill set I want to build" doesn't seem to get across), finishing jobs, trying to find time to finish old projects...and getting married, and adding a name to mine (yep. Hyphenating: it seems the best of both worlds). Many, many things to call forth Eliot's words from the scattered corners of my brain.

But they're most connected to my teaching right now. I recycled some essay questions from the first exam on my final, and I was SO thrilled to see the growth over the course of the semester. They LEARNED. Somehow or other, through all of my stumbling naivety and clumsiness, they realized that our lives and health are shaped by the places we live and work and who we interact with, and that it matters what people's rights are, because we have the responsibility to defend the rights of others. These were the core principles of my class (and my professional work, really), so it's pretty great to see that.

Their evaluations- well, one student was rather critical of my teaching (just criticisms, though unhelpfully vague). Several of them ranked the class roughly average, and some of them raved about my teaching, intelligence, and how much I cared about them. General observations- they all hated the text, some of them remarked on how softspoken I am (not meek&mild, it's just hard to hear me if you're sitting in the back of a room of 40 people) and inexperience (and some observed growth throughout the semester). One complained about the depressing nature of the course, and that's something that needs to be addressed (Oddly enough, I think I can start to remedy this with a change of textbook). But it's prompted a lot of thinking about what I brought to the classroom, what they brought to the classroom, and what all of us took away.

A book one of my mentors loaned me when I started teaching was Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach . I've had time to pick it up again, and it's been encouraging (in the true "strength-giving" sense of the word) and reminescent of the handful of good things I picked up in my undergraduate education, and Eliot too.

At the moment I'm soaking in one quotation:

"As a young teacher, I yearned for the day when I would know my craft so well, be so competent, so experienced, and so powerful, that I could walk into any classroom without feeling afraid. But now, in my late fifties, I know that day will never come. I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears - for there are other places in my inner landscape from which I can speak and act.  Each time I walk into a classroom, I can choose the place within myself from which my teaching will come, just as I can choose the place within my students toward which my teaching will be aimed. I need not teach from a fearful place: I can teach from curiosity or hope or empathy or honesty, places that are as real within me as are my fears. I can have fear, but I need not be fear- if I am willing to stand someplace else in my inner landscape."

Teaching, because of the subject matter I taught and the different students in my classroom, made me more aware of my inner landscape than I had ever been before in my life. And that  daily choice- to position myself, to select what to give them- has hopefully made me more deliberate and conscious of everything I do. That inner landscape will change. It is my responsibility to both explore and craft that landscape, in a way that is honest, humble, fierce, wise,compassionate - in order to bring those qualities to my students and to everything I do when I'm not teaching.

This series of thoughts can only be laid aside (half closed, ready to be picked up again) with another few lines from Eliot:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
     Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

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