Saturday, March 31, 2007

At this moment, I'm at the new library in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This is my first visit and it is a beautiful facility. I brought my laptop and am logged in to the wireless system.

There are wonderful things that being married and having a family bring to a guy. First off, I married into a love of libraries. My wife Jean has been the director of our Carnegie Library for many years, and is now both director of that library and director of the two county library system. So, while the Fayetteville library is kind of a cold, new place in comparison with our very much loved and incomparable Carnegie in Eureka Springs, it is a library, and libraries are the best man-made places on earth.

I came to Fayetteville this morning because this is one of the last trips I'll make as a "ballet dad." I'm a "soccer dad," too, but my daughter Lucy has been a dancer from the time she was three and demonstrated for me how she could spell her name by moving quickly, shape to shape through the letters of her name. We have logged thousands of car miles taking Lucy to lessons in Berryville, Fayetteville and Rogers as she has moved through a progression of teachers and performances. Today I am here as Lucy has her dress rehearsal. The performances are tonight and tomorrow.

I guess I should be talking today about the "wisdom of the feet." Or maybe I should be talking about "the wisdom of the body," as described in poetry by former United States Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz. It was Stanley Kunitz's writings that led me to the title of our Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School.

Kunitz once said poems are "born of the wisdom of the body." And he deliberately kept his tools simple. Physical. Pencils, paper and an old manual typewriter. "I usually start with notes and keep pushing ahead in my notebook, working with pencil or pen," he said. "And at a certain point when I feel the poem is beginning to roll, I turn to my trusty old Hermes 3000 and I start to type."

We hear so much about the brain these days. There is a great deal of excitement as researchers are enabled for the first time to view the inner workings of this mysterious organ.

But it is always a mistake to look too closely at the parts without the essential understanding of the whole. I am reminded of some of my first efforts at investigating the mechanical world. When I was 4 or 5 years old and for several years after, my father would give me anything that stopped working, along with a screw driver and whatever wrenches were required to take it apart. I found great pleasure in the discovery of the inner workings of things, in the same way that scientists now are discovering the inner workings of the human brain. My own enthusiasm got the best of me when I decided to take my sister's sewing machine apart. I wanted to see how it worked and what was going on inside, but not having any knowledge of the whole of it, my efforts had a devastating outcome. I couldn't for the life of me put the darned thing back together so that it would work.

Have you been to car dealers to look at the latest models? They are burying the working parts under shrouds of plastic, barring the consumer from the discovery of complexity and depriving him or her from even a glimpse of the inner workings of the machine. The effort, no doubt, is to give the buyer a sense of simplicity. Simplicity can be re-assuring in a complex world. But, in the meantime, we are building a world of simpletons... mechanical morons who have no sense of the inner workings of things, and who lack confidence in their abilities to take apart, to fix and maintain and are doomed to the endless cycle of unsustainable earth-wracking consumption.

There is something wonderful about ballet. It engages the feet and the hands and the body in the creation of form and movement that uplifts the spirit. I have to say that Lucy's love of ballet opened that world for me. Today, she is performing a dance choreographed by her favorite ballet teacher. It is a simple story told on stage of a simpler time. Having seen it in the past, I can hardly write this moment without the tears forming in my eyes from the remembrance of incredible beauty. I will get to see it again this evening, and then again tomorrow afternoon. The brain is a wonderful organ, but it is nothing without the body, and the brain without the dance of the heart, or the wisdom of the hand might just as well be pickled in a jar. It is what Stanley Kunitz brings to mind in the Wisdom of the Body, and what I hope comes to mind in your reading of this blog.

My time as a ballet dad is drawing to a close. I am thankful to have had one more chance to bring Lucy to her dance... I am thankful also to be sitting in the Fayetteville Public library, watching the Saturday morning parade of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons in their weekly pilgrimage to the joy of reading. What the heart desires, the feet proceed toward without a moment of hesitation. As I close here on my laptop, my fingers still on the keys, I observe through the corners of my eyes the parade of feet. Large and small, driven by the heart toward the engagement of the mind and spirit. Do we call it wisdom, or knowledge, or wisdom of the feet? Or of the whole person... Mr. Kunitz' wisdom of the body? Is it all covered by a plastic shroud, beyond the comprehension of the human spirit? I'll just sit here and watch a few moments more. If I discover something, I'll let you know. The photo above is our Carnegie Public Library in Eureka Springs.

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