A friend and I were admiring an early morning scene recently, when she made the surprising observation that she saw both “big beauty and small beauty” in the scene. She was speaking both of the spreading sunshine on the eastern hills and the minuscule specks of sunlight on the needles of some yew bushes outside the windows. She said she loved the greatness of the sun as it slowly showed itself, but she also took pleasure in the small signs of light in the trees and on the roofs and sides of houses. As I watched with her and thought about bigness and smallness and the numerous “sizes” of beauty, I was reminded of some discussions we had in in class last week. The students made several statements that I thought were surprisingly perceptive – filled with “big beauty”, you might say – but they also made some comments that carried the prestige of unobtrusiveness and modesty, what my friend might call “small beauty”. These were shy remarks made in passing by kids who didn’t care to show off their thoughts, but just wished to share some things they were thinking about. Their beauty broke through to their classmates the way winter sometimes works its way into autumn in indiscernible ways. Thinking about it, I guess I like the small beauties of classroom life best of all – the way the most insignificant words or actions can carry a class away to first-hand understanding, the way even a slight gesture can suggest a fresh way of finding truth in a story. I’ve seen it countless times, the soft sound of wisdom that’s heard even in the midst of the seemingly trivial talk that takes over, now and then, when teenagers talk literature with this somewhat bowed but blessed teacher.
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