March 18, 2012
An End and a Beginning
Plato wrote that "(n)o man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education." This quote resonates with me this year, as I have two children, out of two, who are now only months away from completing college graduate studies. Here I am, a little more than a half century old, and a quarter century from bringing two children into the world, and can I now say that I have persevered to the end in their nature and education? Probably not, but work with me here. Let's pretend, for a while, that I can.
My children may both deny that I have persevered in any way in this latest stage of their education (I hesitate to say "last stage," because really it probably isn't, nor should it be). Their graduate work has been theirs and theirs alone. And the cost of their graduate studies is chiefly theirs, as well. Nonetheless, I have been a major player in their respective journeys. I have devoted a great deal of my labors and my life to my two "children" for the last 25 years, and I am pleased and proud to see them coming to these plateaus of education and accomplishment.
Plato correctly taught that "the most important part of education is training in the nursery," and also generically that "the beginning is the most important part of the work." What their mother and I taught them in their early years, and what we modeled, are the foundation on which their natures and their educations rest. So while we may not claim the full credit, nor even the fuller part of it, for their accomplishments, they really did get their start from us.
On the other hand, since we can't claim the full credit for who they become, neither are we ultimately responsible for who or what they finally become. When our children are infants, we have 100% of control over them and 100% of the responsibility for their well-being. If we are parenting correctly, we gradually give our children more responsibility and more control, until, at some point, they have 100% of the control over their own destiny and 100% of the responsibility for what they do. If there is anything my children regret about who they are, about their character, or about what they know or don't know, it might be easy and convenient to blame their mother or me. But they're both smart. They got that from us. And if we taught them anything, we taught them to think critically, and we taught them that ultimately they have to claim responsibility for who they are, and who they become.
The end of childhood is both an end and a beginning, and that's true for both the child and the parents. Similarly the end of a formal education is both an end and a beginning. A new life, and the end of life, are both an end and a beginning. Even a decision to become something other than what you are, and the giving and receiving of grace, are both an end and a beginning.
Now, maybe, my childrens' continuing educations will include new lessons that are as old as man -- lessons that I have learned but which I am unable to teach them -- like that being a parent is both the most wonderful experience in life, and also the most challenging; like that it isn't easy being a parent, and sometimes you make mistakes. You don't always know what to do, or how to do it. It was Aristotle, the student of Plato, who observed that "the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."
And so it is with life. Life really is a dance we learn as we go. And each step we take, each phase of life, each sunset and every new day is both an end and a beginning.
Posted by by George!