Monday, April 30, 2012

A Philosophical Foray on Life, Teachng, and Attractions to the Past

Having just finished off  summaries of this year's travel to Cancun and the Yucatan,  I pause briefly to consider  the question of what attracts me to ancient civilizations and history.  I'm not sure I have an answer, but I can say that this affinity has lurked in my life for as long as I can remember.  

The books and movies I loved as a child were generally adventures taking place in far away places.  There was Peter Pan, Treasure IslandKim,  and King Solomon's Mines.  My all time favorite book between the age of eight and ten was Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels.  I still have a copy on my bookshelf and it has little check marks after the places he wrote about that I have now visited. There are still enough to keep me traveling for a few years, but I'm well over half way through his list. 

C.W. Ceram's Gods, Graves, and Scholars  was another favorite of mine in high school.  It focused my academic interest in archaeology and anthropology even as I was continuing to idolize that strange and mysterious uncle (John) who would periodically appear at our house and who would occasionally send me some stamps or a carved elephant from Siam.  I can see from where I am sitting right now, a wooden plaque holding little tin knives, titled "Weapons of Moroland" that he sent to me from the Phillipines some sixty years ago. 

Having been a teacher for over forty years, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the impact of "mentors" on lives.  There is no doubt now that Uncle John was clearly one of mine.  Yet since he appeared so infrequently, I don't think he ever was truly conscious of that influence.  Even after I turned down an offer to go to Carroll College (where my mother and my pastor wanted me to go) to accept the scholarship from Beloit College (where Uncle John went), I don't think he really made the connection. 

So I went off to study Archaeology and Anthropology just like Uncle John,  until like a lot of other young folk, my initial career ideals toppled like bowling pins.  Anthropology soon gave way to Geology. I was going even further into the past. Then just as fast the Speech/Theatre bug knocked the Geology pin into the gutter as well.  

What is clear to me now is that I had always loved to read and had always wanted to travel to those far off places that I read about. In the theatre I found a path that nurtured both the literary and literal worlds.  I directed plays that spanned history from Sophocles and Shakespeare to Ibsen and Pinter.  For me at least,  getting inside those dramatic worlds required an actual committment to see the places in Greece and Rome and France, and Europe where those works were created.  I felt and still feel that putting your own feet on the stones of the past creates a new mortar--a glue that binds you to those who came before and to those who will come after.  

Alan Bennett puts this thought far better when at the end of his brilliant play, The History Boys, he has Hector say,

"Pass the parcel.
That's sometimes all you can do.
Take it, feel it, pass it on.
Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, some day.
Pass it on, boys.
That's the game I wanted you to learn.
Pass it on."

While you are thinking on this, I will start preparing to pass on a few items about our February trip to Arizona.  

Take care.  

Drama Jim

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