About this time ten years ago I was packing up my car to move to a small New England city to work as a full-time volunteer teacher as part of an Americorps-esque post-graduate program. While there I met some of the most important people in my life and worked in an area that needed some assistance. I also did some of the worst teaching you can imagine.
I don’t want to get into too much detail, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I was not a very good teacher there. My purview spanned four grades and four subjects (including Latin, which they had delegated to me because “your resume says you know other languages, so how hard could learning Latin be?”
The memory of my work at the school does not make me terribly proud. But for whatever reason, this morning while I was getting out of my car a thought dashed through my head: you had seven preps, no training, no experience, and minimal support. You did the best you could, but you were never going to succeed there. You did enough.
I guess that’s that.
It’s a new feeling, being able to reflect sagely upon incidents in my adult life. I have enough distance from the teenage angst to have been able to process it, but up until very recently all of my adult experiences were still too close for much critical or insightful reflection.
At the advice of a wise person I am currently reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, a book which manages to be both sentimental and clear-sighted at the same time. It’s been slow progress, because there are times when I have to put the book down and sit with whatever it was I just read. The book is beautiful to be sure, but there is a ruthless truthfulness to it that can make the reader ache.
Although the book is a novel, through it Bradbury tells the story of his childhood. It was written, of course in adulthood, with time and distance informing the narrative of one youthful summer. There’s something a little charmed about his protagonist seems to already see the truth and beauty the author recounts.
So I wonder, was Bradbury preternaturally insightful? Or was there for him, like all of us, a day clarity slapped him and he saw what really was?
I want there to be some equation that tells me “after x amount of years, accounting for y amount of significance, z event will make sense to you”. I don’t think that particular equation is forthcoming. Maybe all we can do is wait and look, trusting truth and beauty to leap out of our memories when the time comes, when we’re just standing on the sidewalk in the sun.