“little geniuses”

“I’m an alphabetical order genius!” he exclaimed, long ago in the children’s room of the Warren A. Hood Library, from whence we scoured the web compiling annotated bibliographies and pages of obligatory research on things old and obscure and odd.

He works on a Colorado oil field now, and I alphabetize stacks of literature tests, stacks of Profile Essays. Another of that brave number is a mommy now. A fourth is flying to Israel as I type. The list could go on.

We sat surrounded by stacks of reference books. They napped under library desks. Once we smuggled a half-gallon of cookies-n-cream ice cream to one of those tables, scooped it into plastic punch cups with plastic spoons, tried to eat it all before it melted, before we were found out.

What was it we were learning, writing pages of blank verse fantasy about obscure characters from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House interacting with theories out of Marx, Freud, Wollstonecraft? What was it we were learning, trying to find out the names of the little ballerinas who appear in the closing scene of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas? What was it we were learning, the evening we all went to my parents’ house to bake Cornish hens?

I wax nostalgic, alphabetizing my papers and tests, and I wonder about it. How we learned patience, persistence, how we made it a project in camaraderie rather than competition, how they called me from the classroom the week I was sick in bed with stomach flu, how I brought a can of chicken soup and a package of crackers to the library the week they were suffering from colds. How, when it was over, that most-dreaded course of our college careers, I felt sorry to see it done, to turn in the huge notebook, to walk away.

The Venerable Bede calls us, through the voice of Cædmon, to “praise heaven-kingdom’s Guardian, / the Measurer’s might and his mind-plans,” and I think of those mind-plans, so different from mine, the strange route which brought me from there to here, from instructed to instructor, from near friend to far-away friend.

When I tell my students to study together, give them assignments to work together in class, somewhere underneath it I think I’m telling them to become good friends. To do this thing as a group instead of as individuals, to make sure that the things I say, the things I tell them to read and write, are only a tiny percentage of the things they learn while here.

Certainly, I want them to improve the way they organize their essays. I’ll be pleased if they remember that Shakespeare’s “mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” But I also want them to learn about living relationally, about forgiving, about things that can brighten even windowless library rooms, that can cheer even dreary hours spent with scholarly articles.

I may forever be confused about whether to put “Mc-” before or after “Ma-,” but I am certain that life is better because of the people in it. And for that do I praise the mind-plans of the mighty Measurer, who gives us gifts on our way to heaven-kingdom.

 

©2013 by Stacy Nott
Hubistical title taken from Dr. H., who used to thank us for being there.

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