Understanding for a New Year

Many of us have spent time during this winter break with extended family and friends in closer proximity than usual and for an extended period of time.  Most days I spend my waking hours with teenage girls and other adults who spend their waking hours trying to inspire and educate teenage girls, so it is always a welcome curiosity to be with people from a different demographic.  I spent last week with my 91-year-old mother.

blue plate.jpgI have quoted the wisdom and humor of my mother many times during my years at Harpeth Hall, and as we turn the corner on a new year, I will admit to feeling a strong sense of nostalgia once again.  Bear with me as I share yet another reminiscence from a nonagenarian.  Last week my mother’s pearl of wisdom, which I had not heard in a long time, was shared while someone was discussing her frustration about another family member, who was not present.  In that moment, my mother, in her slow, deep, and molasses-like southern drawl, spilled from under her breath, “You know that people are just like a blue-plate special.  We like some of the things on the plate, but not everything.  It is what it is.”  I guess we have to endure the cabbage to enjoy the macaroni and cheese.

We all have that one friend, relative, in-law, teacher, colleague, or student who can provoke an incredible amount of angst or frustration within us.  We have to take the good traits with the ones that bring us to the brink of civility and test every ounce of our resolve.  Sometimes it is unavoidable that we have to spend time with that one person.  As hard as it is, we also have to resist labeling that person.  We certainly can’t choose our family members or colleagues, nor can we choose our daughter’s friends, classmates, or teachers.

In a school, we are all about helping students grow and learn and change.  We want our students to become better people every day, and in turn we strive to be better.  The beginning of a new year heralds the many ways we need to improve ourselves and the world around us.  Surely we are doing the right thing by helping another person evolve and improve herself, especially if that person may stand out among her friends as that aforementioned “one” person.

I think this new year may be calling us to do a little more reflecting before moving to action.  It seems that before changing other people or other systems, we need to seek first to understand them.  A Sewanee professor recently gave a lecture in which he mentioned Robert Frost’s poem, “Hyla Brook.”  He recited the last line of the poem, “We love the things we love for what they are.”  He pointed out that we love them for the way they are right now, not for what we wish they were or what they may eventually become.  In his poem, Frost admired a meandering stream on his farm and yet admitted to its insignificance in comparison to other streams.

So after some time in consideration of what my New Year’s resolution might be, I think I have it.  I will try first to acknowledge and understand the fullness and depth of something or someone before I try to change it or impose my agenda for improvement upon it.  At Harpeth Hall, we want our students to understand and embrace our world with all of its failings and faults.  Of course I still hope our students will go out there and change the world for the better, but first I hope they will seek to gain an understanding of our world and its people.  We believe we will gain that understanding as much through the literature and history we read as through the mathematics and science we demonstrate.

Last week I heard my mother, a person who may be too old to change things, but not too old to understand them.  We take the good with the bad, not because that makes us better people, but because we are all broken and flawed.  We are on that blue-plate as well, and we hope somebody will learn to appreciate and understand us too.

Happy New Year!





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