Ernest Hemingway once wrote that the wisdom of old men is a fallacy, that they do not grow wise, they grow careful. They grow careful with just cause. The world we live in is not pretty. I don’t intend cynicism; it’s the way things are. So, yes, handle carefully. Old men are right. Right, but not wise. Real wisdom resides at our core, a core all too often nurtured into self-righteousness and selfishness, trappings that accumulate as we age until (and here I borrow a Hindu metaphor) our inner lamps can throw no light. They are covered with this world’s dust. Thus I come to this: I believe in eternal youth.
I am thirty four years old and a teacher now. I should be an adult. In some respects, I am. I have responsibilities. I carry them out. I stand in front of my classes and teach things like Faulkner and deconstruction, Viet Nam and Iraq. Heavy, dusty things, but what is under them all is an intense want for my students to see the good beneath the dust – to see the world, not for its complex vexations but its wonder – the wonder at the way all things are connected, even when they aren’t.
To see the world with wonder: that is youth. That is look in my toddler’s eyes when he sees a tractor …or a rabbit. It was the look in my eyes when I first saw the imposing form of Darth Vader and when I first heard the cracking whip of Indiana Jones. I took today off work to see Dr. Jones in action on the big screen for the first time in about twenty years. No job is so important that it can’t take a backseat to childhood wonder – at least from time to time.
Inevitably, both the world and human nature intrude. I recently witnessed a little boy snatching my son’s toy train from him at daycare. I wanted to smack that little kid with a foam bat. I dread the day that my son doesn’t share or snatches another boy’s toy. I know it will happen. It’s nature. Like another of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, I see humans for what they are…a disappointing species, full of beautiful potential, struggling against their own nature.
I’m not in Neverland, I know the world must be dealt with, but the wonder doesn’t have to succumb to it. Maybe that is why I teach. The dust hasn’t settled over the wonder of youth. In my classroom I can still see beautiful potential. When telling the story of Dresden it helps to look up and see that glow and think that the world can be better. I see in them what I see in my son and I want the same thing for my students that I want for my son: A good, light heart. One that is full of wisdom and youthful wonder. One that is happy and glowing, even through the settling dust – glowing.