Europe for 5 months

An Essay By Ben // 1/26/2002

Dear Homeschooling Friends,

First Rome, and then the world....

Today, I and my sophomore class at Thomas More College (all 22 of us) will fly across the ocean to spend a semester of study in Rome. We will live and study twenty minutes walking distance from the Vatican. Then, beginning in late April, I will traverse the world (actually, just Europe) for two months. Most likely I'll be looking for short-term jobs in Eastern Europe for part of that time, so if you happen to know of any, let me know! I will return to the U.S. in late June.

Between now and then, the best - and often only - way to reach me will be at my email address: ben@apricotpie.com I’m going to try to update apricot from Europe, so maybe you’ll hear from me from over there!

I’d like to leave you and the U.S. today thinking about some words spoken several years ago by the director of my Rome program. He was addressing students graduating from Thomas More College:

"...as Yeats notes, education does not progress in a slow accretion of refinement over time, but through a series of shocks, revelations, and minor miracles. We are accustomed to thinking that we do not live in an age of such things, but if we have difficulty seeing miracles, perhaps it is because our vision is crowded with them; there are too many rather than too few. We call it education, but every time it happens, it is a revelation that unfolds itself in the ordinary - yet miraculous - drama of each soul.

"Nowhere is this drama made more apparent and vivid to me than in Rome. This semester, when Sister Gaetana reported to me the death of the Mother Superior [nuns run the convent where we stay in Rome], she called it a "bruta cosa," an ugly thing. She did not say that something bad happened or something evil; death to her was something ugly. Where we would tend to make a moral evaluation, she instinctively made an aesthetic one…. In weighing the merits of the moral and the aesthetic, the good and the beautiful, the scales are tipped in this instance in favor of the beautiful. And yes, in Rome - that place where I came to know all of you best - you too tipped the scales in a similar fashion. And if most of the time you were more beautiful than you were good, it merely proved that you understood instinctively what your surroundings were telling you. It would seem that while the good has its own inviolable integrity, the beautiful radiates outward, it changes things; in fact, its ability to transform seems to be a part of its nature. Richard Wilbur, in a poem called "The Beautiful Changes," voices the transformative effect of the beautiful on whatever may surround it:

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon's tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

"The chameleon's tuning changes the forest; the mantis's arranging changes the leaf: the leaf is more of a leaf with the mantis on it and the forest more of a forest with the chameleon in it. Similarly, your own presence ought to change your surroundings, if you act like the proper chameleons you are called to be, tuning your skin to your habitat; or, if you act like the mantis - a praying mantis - pious and predatory, you can make the world greener and deeper than anyone before had known. In these images, perhaps, is condensed the miraculous core of education: the transformation of nature in unexpected ways."

I will be thinking of you on my travels....

ciao!

Ben

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