Saturday, January 14, 2012

And what's it all about, anyway 4?

Little Boy Lost

Self, around 6 or 7 years of age
The tenor of this series of notes, dear reader, is existential.  What I am doing here is attempting to get in touch with the lived experience of being human in this oftentimes sad world of ours.  I always return instinctively to literature for inspiration, solace and no little comfort.  Poetry is often a refuge I seek out.  I find a lot of inspiration and comfort in the lines of that wonderful pre-Romantic poet, William Blake.  Like all good poets, he seemed to cut through the superficial and hit the "human" nail on the head as it were.  As a young boy I often felt lost, and indeed I was literally lost on several occasions as a little boy in the frightening crowds of Dublin city.  Here is a very relevant poem which sums up neatly how I experienced my lostness then as a little boy:

Little Boy Lost

“Father, father, where are you going?

O do not walk so fast.

Speak, father, speak to your little boy,

Or else I shall be lost.”

The night was dark, no father was there,

The child was wet with dew;

The mire was deep, and the child did weep,

And away the vapour flew.
(William Blake 1757–1827)

A Personal Memory

I attended a primary school called St Canice's primary school on The North Circular Road in Dublin which was run by The Irish Christian Brothers.  For the most part, it was a good and humanising establishment and not a place of physical or sexual abuse as far as I was aware anyway.  I was happy there, if lost as I have explained in my opening lines.  I am talking about the dreary and poor nineteen sixties in a working class community in north inner city Dublin.  The only bright light in our lives was our education.  I entered St Canice's in September 1966 at the age of 8, having spent two happy years in North William Street school run by the French Sisters of Charity (Sisters of St Vincent de Paul).  I often think that we can be singularly lucky or unlucky in the teachers we have at school.  I count myself fortunate to have had several wonderful teachers.  As it happens these teachers were coming to an end of long careers in the teaching profession.  My first great teacher was a Mr Murray who taught me both in class 3B and 4B.  He explained things so clearly that I always understood everything on first explanation.  I never remember having to work very hard, even though I was a diligent student.  Things were seemingly very easy.  Under Mr Murray's good care I came first place in my tests at Christmas and summer over the two years I was with him.  I remember him calling me up at the end of fourth class to tell me that there was nothing more he could do for me, and that I was now ready to be transferred up to the A stream class.  After that I was always in the A class right up until I left school at eighteen years of age.

However, it was the habit of reading that Mr Murray inspired in us children that left an indelible mark on my young mind.  The prizes we received for doing well academically in those years were books for the most part.  I remember getting Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe for one of those prizes in class.  I was really delighted with myself, and ever since then I became hooked on books.  Since then, this obsession with books and with reading has never left me.  It was as if there was a whole world of delight to be discovered within the covers of a good book.  As I have already intimated, I in no sense experienced a childhood of poverty or deprivation as we always had enough to eat and enough clothes to wear,  and got a least a week's holiday back in Tipperary each year, outside that we just played football in the local park and on the streets.  My brothers and I read to escape into the wonderful world of the imagination.  We were, looking back on it, escaping from relative poverty.  Indeed, again in hindsight, I realise that we were rich in imagination as a result of our love of books.  Now, while my parents were readers of newspapers and magazines they were not book readers as such.  It was rather the schoolteachers and the local libraries that encouraged reading in us youngsters.  I always loved going every two weeks to the local library to take out yet another two books to read.  Hence, I have always believed that not to give a young person "the gift of reading" by either example or encouragement or by buying books for him or her is almost tantamount to neglect in my book, to use a rather  pun-like cliché, but let it stand.  To this day I love bringing some of my small resource classes to the local library to explore the shelves and dip into whatever book strikes their fancy.

Always at Home

Self on left with my father (before he got polio) and my brother Gerard

In my last post I wrote about Peter Berger's definition of "the homeless mind," and I proposed my own concept of a healthy mind as that which is essentially always at home and comfortable with itself.  If one is comfortable in one's own mind, then one is essentially happy, or at least relatively content.  I have also always loved the concept of "mental furniture" which I found mentioned many times over the years of reading all types of books devoted to good and clear thinking.  I also loved such phrases or descriptions like: "He or she was/is possessed a well-stocked mind."  The image of one's mind being either a book-lined sitting room or a book-lined study I always found highly appealing and indeed highly satisfying and even relaxing.  Good books and good literature are great companions.  As I am growing older, I find that the number of books about me are expanding almost exponentially, although that is, of course, a gross exaggeration, but I'm sure all book lovers will forgive this excessiveness of description on my part.  Write it down to passion or to love.  I was struck recently when struggling with some article or book by the contemporary Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor that one of the faults he finds with modern civilization is its singular lack of passion.  I'm heartily in agreement with the learned gentleman.  The passion here, of course, is a passion for truth - as opposed to some doctrinaire or dogmatic sense of the Truth in  capitals - by which I mean the personal truth of integrity, wholeness, congruence and authenticity.

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