Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's it all about, anyway 6?

On Acquiring a Course and a Compass

Self all dressed up for my debs, Oct. 1977
I have been a Bob Dylan fan for the last forty years or more ever since my brother Gerard bought his then latest LP.  The old rocker's songs run to hundreds if not thousands at this stage and each song can be read as a poem, for Bob is as much a poet as he is a song writer.  His lyrics are nothing short of brilliant.  Anyway, one of the things we desperately need in life is direction.  I have already written in a more recent post about being lost and quoted in full William Blake's short lyric Little Boy Lost.  When we are growing up, especially in our teens and early twenties, one of the pressing concerns any of us has is finding our direction in life.  Indeed, it is so easy to lose one's direction, to go off course, and worse still to founder on the rocks of our own destruction.  Anyway, I have always liked these lines from Dylan's song Like a Rolling Stone which refer to being lost:

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

Existentially, I think we all know only too well what its like to be rootless, lost, unanchored - call it what you will.  Needless to say, very few of us know what it is like to be homeless in the literal sense without a roof over our heads.  Writers like George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and Jack Kerouac in his famous On the Road wrote from personal experiences of homelessness to great effect because their reflections were based on lived experience.  But, it is to the existential sense of alienation and rootlessness that I am referring here.  What we need, then, is some kind of compass to keep us on a steady course.  We also need someone to point out to us what course we should follow.

What Course should we follow in Life?

This is a hard question for anyone in life.  Some people are very lucky in finding a career which is essentially their vocation and a job they truly love.  When I left primary school as a young boy just gone thirteen years of age, I knew that I wanted to do one thing only in life and that was be a teacher.  If, good reader, you have been reading these more recent posts you will have learnt that I was lucky to have had two wonderful primary school teachers - one, a Mr. Murray and the other an equally old man, called Seán Ó Sé.  Both of them had teaching down to a fine art, and learning was so easy under their skilled tutelage.   Outside the fact that I wanted to do what they had done for me - to make learning and the love for learning easy for others - was all I knew as a little boy. 

Ireland in the 1970s was beginning to throw off, albeit slowly, the chains of repression whether of the State or of the Church or of a very conservative Society.  The Roman Catholic Church still gave/gives good guidance in social policies and in looking after the poor, though its moral teaching on matters concerning sexual issues was/is, to say the least, arcane, if not silly and injurious, especially to women.  Be that as it may, the Church did lay down good parameters of general behaviour.  At this stage in my life as a non-practising Catholic of more than twelve years now, I still admit that much of what I learned from the Church did give me a sense of direction in life, even if I did abandon it in later years.  My point here is, that as a youngster, one needs to look to others like parents, teachers, youth leaders, trainers to have some sense of a course in life.  Otherwise, one is rudderless.  As a youngster one has no other option but to follow the lights of direction given by these adults.  In the years since I have followed my own lights, but only when I had been given the stabilising assistance of my elders.  A friend of mine puts it well when he says: "I have always brought my children to Mass on a Sunday as I wished to give them some symbols in life, some sense of mystery, some sense of ritual even if they go on to reject that religion.  They have to have something to reject, I feel.  Otherwise they'll be totally lost!" 

And so you could say we were educated well academically.  I did my Intermediate Certificate as it was then called through the medium of Irish or Gaeilge, and my Leaving Certificate though English, because in 1974 the Christian Brothers no longer had enough teachers able to teach all subjects through Irish. I did well academically and learnt much under the watchful eyes of wonderful teachers.  I cannot think of one dud teacher we had at secondary.  Perhaps, the best teacher we ever had was a  Bro Martin Collins who taught us Mathematics and Latin.  Practically all us us got an A in both subjects in our exams.  To this day I owe my deep knowledge of both subjects to this wonderful teacher.  I also maintain that my facility with languages such as Italian and French is due to the fact that my knowledge of Latin was so well acquired.

I have got to admit that I did not enjoy secondary school as well as I had primary school. That was because every youngster who leaves primary school leaves the watchful and caring eye of one teacher and then is "subjected" to a system where s/he has some ten different teachers during the course of any one week, and perhaps at least eight different teachers a day.  The secondary school pupil now has some ten different captains on his ship of education, if I may use a rather tortured metaphor here.  Hence, it is easy to be confused and confounded as regards which leader to follow, which course to steer one's ship by.

Self as a student, about 19 or 20
When I was a secondary school pupil, life was painted in a very black and white way by society and by the church.  There were few options of career unlike today, and there was precious little variety of courses to follow at university.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did well in my Leaving Certificate and accepted a scholarship to college from the Christian Brothers to study English and Religion (Theology) in Mater Dei Institute of Education, and then return to my alma mater to teach.  I was also accepted for courses in St Patrick's, Dromcondra for Primary school teaching, UCD for Science and also for Arts and Trinity College Dublin for Medicine.  Now, I hated the sight of blood and did not want to be a doctor, so that ruled that one out.  I certainly would have accepted UCD, but given that my parents would not have had the money to pay for me there, that ruled that one out, too. Then, given that my fees would be paid for the four years at Mater Dei and that I really wanted to be a teacher, and that  I was guaranteed a job at the end of my college career, then that was the course that was somehow the only one I could possibly follow. 
To be continued

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