Nearby by Elizabeth Yates – Susan’s Newsletter January 2015

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Susan’s Thursday Morning Note January 15, 2015
Nearby by Elizabeth Yates
Beauty of spring.  Teacher’s thoughts on unable to help her students entirely.  Pursuing life of excellence.

Good morning!  Silence.  Hot coffee.  Darkness.  Beautiful words.  Mid January.  Just those two words make thoughts freeze and coffee pots work overtime.  Yet, regardless of the point in our eternal scheme of life, our angel of dawn again has arrived.  Quietly offering us the gift of another day.  Moments handed to us today as they one-by-one will pass through our sand timers.  Each moment before us our gift.  Silence mixed with a little song about a large state of Texas from the perspective of a three year old fireman pretending to be a squirrel…let the gift of this day begin!

I have just finished another book highly recommended by one of you, Nearby, by Elizabeth Yates.  Elizabeth Yates won a Newberry Award for her book on the life of a prince kidnapped in Africa in 1725 and brought to America as a slave, Amos Fortune, which patiently awaits my time on the table beside me.  Nearby was written in 1947 and describes the life of a young school teacher working with impoverished children in a one-room schoolhouse set in New England.  Below I will write out different passages I underlined as I read this charming book.  Thoughts on working with those who have more problems than we can possibly penetrate and help; thoughts describing beauty during the onset of spring; a poem from the 1600’s on absorbing nature to fully live; and misc. other thoughts I felt worthy of rereading.

Frustration of young teacher and response from physician friend on handling problems seemingly too big in some children to even begin to make any bit of influence:

…”There were others who needed all the help she could give that they might lit themselves somewhat out of their backgrounds.  With them, Mary had often to make a conscious effort to keep from being appalled by the enormity of the difficulties and the brevity of good influence.”

…“Mary, don’t take all the children to bed with you at night.  Leave them in the schoolhouse. that’s where your battles are being fought and that’s where your victories will be won…And another thing, Mary, assure yourself constantly that your work does count.  Sometimes I can only bandage a finger when I know the whole body should be cared for, but all that I am and have goes into that one thing I am allowed to do.  There’s so much darkness everywhere.  In some cases the work you do may seem like only a pinprick of light, but what matters is not that the darkness is immense, but that it has been pierced.”

“There was so little she could do to save them from the strange fates that lay ahead of them.  Only one sure thing seemed to be within her power and that was to give them moments of joy that would lengthen into memories.  Like some wellspring within them, they would find that they could draw upon those memories when loneliness closed in upon them or need yawned hungrily before them.”

Books becoming friends to children – dialogue about importance of getting a chance to fall in love with books vs. kids being too hard on books:

“…How can they ever really love books unless they take them home – get the feel of them at all hours, read them when they’re in bed, or curled up in a chair, or stretched out on their tummies on the floor?  Books won’t seem friends to them, they’ll be too proper for that, if they must always read them sitting sedately in chairs.”

“Dear, you don’t seem to realize how hard the children are on books,”

“Does that matter so much as learning that books are friends?  Can’t the books be replaced?”

…She decided to give them something she liked; so a slim little volume, long loved and gently handled, came with her that Friday in her luncheon box.  Anyone opening it might have seen the inscription made when she was a child of six by an aunt who had long since died.  “To little Mary, hoping she will love this book as I have.  Mary, always treat good books as your best friends.”

On mind constantly going:

I suppose this is why I never get lonely, she thought; these endless conversations I have with myself, trying to see the one clear way from the maze of many problematical.  She still her thinking with a conscious effort and though sleep was slack in coming rest was there. 

Description of love of outdoors by very sad, neglected, poor child in her class followed by description of this little child:

..“My Friend.  I have a friend in the woods.  In the summer I sit beside him and listen to what he has to say.  He never speaks but sings, because he is a brook.  In the winter I kneel down and bend my head to listen to him.  He is still singing under the ice.  I know what he says to me, but I don’t know where he comes from…”

“He still was an insignificant little boy – plain of face, retiring of manner, yet therein was his charm to those who could see it and his protection against those who did not understand him.  Walking with Nezar would always be a silent procedure, there was so much for him to see and think about.  His mind was full of secret places into which he could retreat with perfect immunity.  It was this, more than any attitude or ability, that made Mary sure of some creative power within him.  Nezar never told all he knew.  It was that knack of keeping a secret almost from himself that would one day be the life-giving impulse for his ideas.  He had it within him.

Description of arrival of Springtime:

“Loveliness had touched the earth.  Every growing thing was tipped with a candle point of flame.  Trees were burning with pale fire; bushes with crimson; a tide of color was streaking the open fields, high-lighted by sunshine, fraught with promise.  Each burnished bud announced the whole of spring.  Earth was breathing and stirring, laying treasured offerings before the eyes of each beholder. News from eternity was loosed on the world….Other seasons can be grasped and held close until one grows into their hearts, but this – this halfway moment between the year’s waking and its bloom is too short for intimacy.  A flight of wings, a tremulous mingling of reality and dream, and it has fled into the fullness of spring.  Year after year Mary realized that she had sought to capture this halfway moment, but almost before she was quite aware of it it had escaped altogether.  Loving the greening world, she would feel suddenly conscious of its lushness – with no knowledge as to when the transition took place.”

…”Let us hold it long enough to read the full message from eternity it brings us.”

…”What is it?”  “A vilet…”  “It’s a letter.  The kind God writes to folks.  Only they have to know how to read.”

Meditation by Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) from “Centuries of Meditations” printed in London in 1908 (referred to when comparing a child playing with the wind in spring):

“Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air, as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels.  The bride of a monarch, in her husband’s chamber, hath no such causes of delight as you.

“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you.  Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.”

“Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all ages as with your walk and table; till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made;  till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own; till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world.”

On finding peace when stop trying to please others:

“Once upon a tie there was a great actor and he was to give a performance in a town he had never been in before.  Just before the curtain went up he peeped through a tiny hole in it and saw only a few people sitting in the audience.  He felt sad, and then he felt angry.  He said to himself, “I shall not act tonight.  I must have a full house or none at all.  I am too great to waste my talents on a handful of people.”  So he stamped off the stage and went to find the curtain raiser to tell him not to raise the curtain.  They way back in his mind he heard a very small voice.  It told him to wait, so he stood still in his tracks.  Then it said, “For whom do you act?  For those people, or for your own high understanding of what an actor should be?  If you try to please others you will never have any peace.  If you try to please your own high understanding you will always be rising higher…He knew he could find happiness only as he lived up to his own high understanding…It is not the people on the benches you go out to please but your own standard of excellence.  Ready?”

Disconnected thoughts, but all circling to beautiful realities of this complex gift of life.  Those we love that we cannot help entirely, but can at least pierce their darkness.  The beauty of spring always arriving, usually secretively without our awareness.   Beauty in befriending nature.  Rising to excellence.  Constantly seeking beauty and meaning in this short life.  So much wisdom in less than a year for the setting of this book.  Continually seeking eternal perspectives.  Finding small messages from heaven inside spring blossoms.  Finding silence a beautiful sound in friendship.  Today.  Our gift from the heavens.  From our angel.  Graciously without thoughts to how we accepted previous gifts, gently handing us another day.  Tonight we will have the chance to carve into the stone of our epitaph moments from today.  Will any moments be worthy of inscribing?  Will we be aware?  Will we look?  Will we feel?  Will we dance with the winds as a child would?  Dance as if among the angels?  Will we somehow allow the sea to flow in our veins even though so far from the actual source?  Will we “perceive ourselves as the one sole heir of the whole world – singing and rejoicing and delighting in God?”  The winds of time…never ceasing…will we capture a few of the moments and let imprints be stamped on our souls for gifts we have today?  The eyes of our little children.  The eyes of our dearest friends.  Will we see the eyes of those we miss in our minds?  Beautiful gifts.  Even if in memories.  These are beautiful gifts, too.  And, we must never forget, one drop to our knees, one glance to the heavens, the peace that passes the understanding of anyone we know will be ours.  Our promise. 

Thank you for letting me again enter your Thursday.  For helping this beautiful store be a reality for all of us.  I hope you can come over soon.  We will have the gift of entering our small haven for a few moments, escaping your own world and entering ours.  We will have the smiles, the coffee, and friendship.  Have a beautiful day!  Susan

Latin for this week:
et luxin tenebris lucet  And light shines in the darkness.
lux ex tenebris – light from darkness
excelsior – higher, loftier, ever upward
Nova cantica – there are angels singing
coelorum gaudia – the joys of heaven
Aperire – to open, to uncover (April – opening of springtime)
 
Works Cited:
Yates, Elizabeth.  Nearby.   New York.  Coward-MacCann, Inc.  1947.