Saturday, September 8, 2012

Reading eyes

Life’s what you see in people’s eyes; life’s what they learn, and, having learnt it, never, though they seek to hide it, cease to be aware of . . .  (Virginia Woolf, from "An Unfinished Novel") 

I have to be quiet long enough. Reading eyes is easier when listening, than when talking. 

I was listening to a student talk about changing his mind about becoming a lawyer after being in a jury selection pool. "It was like because this lawyer was wearing a suit, the people in the room believed him, whatever he said. It made me sick. I had wanted to earn a lot of money. But now I want to be a teacher instead."

And I looked off to the left, to the bare white wall, as if abstract ideas about value and fulfillment floated there and I might see the possibilities. Excited and wanting to talk and talk but also to hear what else he had to say, I remembered something someone said in a speech at one of the campaign conventions the night before on TV, about how working is more than just earning money, it's taking care of your family and your community. I looked back to the student, his eyes reflecting the window light behind me. 

"It was a hard spring term, I lost interest in life. I was smoking too much weed, several times a day. But then something happened."

"What happened?"

"Working with kids at the YMCA. . . . God . . . "

And I remembered how he looked when he came in, before I'd heard his story. So happy. The dark time a few months past hidden, or healed. It was Life in his eyes.


  1. "Harlan disliked handling money because of its abstractness and impersonality; for he did not enjoy either paying it or receiving it in payment. He felt a social embarrassment in monetary transactions that country people still feel, as if money is simply too crude a means of exchange between human beings."

    ~ Wendell Berry

    from Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work

    and this interview between krista tippet and mike rose at on being which i wish delved deaper but touches on a more rightful way to regard intelligence and work:

    your listening is a good strong yard stick for me. sit down erin. be still.

    and yet i want to say, we need a fundamental reorganization of our basic philosophy of living. my god if we do not stop valuing the sepulchre of money and status - what a sad sad draught we are in in this growing season of the human soul.


    1. erin, I love this flannel place you take me, and Wendell takes me. A place of trade and human bargaining. I will listen to the interview tomorrow. I'm with James today, who is trying to go to sleep with his mama.

      I heard someone talking the other day, can't remember who, about how the economy is not a thing, or a being. We have turned it into the most important entity in our culture. As if, if only it were right, somehow everything would be better and fine. We mistake the value of life if we look for a future day when it will be better, and if we believe more money in the bank account also means better.

      Sure, times are hard for too many. But wasn't it someone's greed that made them so? To live with just what I need, that's my goal.

    2. erin, first off, thank you so much for the introduction to On Being, a program I have missed somehow. "Intellectual and spiritual"—how thrilling! My mother tried to drive out any affection for the intellectual mind in favor of religion. It worked for a long time, and then I discovered Christian intellectuals, and felt relieved. But her warning has informed me in ongoing ways to keep the mind and heart in balance, along with what I value in human experience in the face of what the media and government throw at us.

      Since the economy tanked in 2008, I have been trying to understand the tendency for parents to want their children to pursue "economical" degrees, and then the way the University responds and wants to push economical degrees.

      I really appreciate the things he says about human experience, value, intelligence, working with our hands, etc. Thank you for this lead very much.

  2. What a light-filled post!
    And comments!

    1. Thank you, rosaria. I am so grateful for the light, especially how it is magnified through my friends.

  3. If you could remember all such conversations with your students, dear sister, and write a book about it, I'd buy it with a snap of my finger!


  4. “If the Golden Rule were generally observed among us, the economy would not last a week. We have made our false economy a false god, and it has made blasphemy of the truth. So I have met the economy in the road, and am expected to yield it right of way. But I will not get over. My reason is that I am a man, and have a better right to the ground than the economy. The economy is no god for me, for I have had too close a look at its wheels. I have seen it at work in the strip mines and coal camps of Kentucky, and I know it has no moral limits.”

    ~ Wendell Berry

  5. I am so glad that of all the blog post I could have chose to read I clicked on this one


All responses are welcome.