“He would one day push his head out of the grey waters and see the universe.”
-- E. M. Forster, Howards End
How often I live in the “grey waters” of small-mindedness, searching for solace for my small, separate self and seldom noticing the loveliness of the universe that surrounds me! In Forster’s novel, Howard Bast feels beleaguered by the boring aspects of his world, and wants to somehow rise to see if there’s anything wondrous that he’s been missing – and I can sympathize with him. I have had a life of relative leisure and satisfaction, but, like Howard, I hear the call of a still finer life, a way of living that’s boundless and fascinating. It’s as if I’m living in “grey waters” with a vast and flourishing ocean just beyond my sight. Perhaps surprisingly, I sometimes think my first task as a teacher is simply to show my students this wondrous life that surrounds them, and to help them learn to live in it and love it. I’m just an English teacher, certainly not my students’ minister or psychologist, but still, given the literature we read and the essays we write, I wonder if some of the mysteries of life can loom a little larger to my students because of English class. I wonder if working with written words that spring from honest hearts and minds -- theirs or the great writers of the world -- can lead them to where they can get a look at how miraculous life really is. No doubt the lives of my teenage students can seem somewhat “grey” now and then, monotonous and mind-numbing like Leonard Bast’s, and maybe my modest, commonplace English class can call forth some of the astonishment that this kind of universe deserves.