Overheard near Massey College earlier this evening…
Do you remember being a student at university? On the brink of becoming keen?
Do you remember being surprised by learning? By how someone, reading a poem aloud, would make you cry and think and connect, and then talk, and think again?
Suddenly grades and regurgitation took their backseat.
Do you recall Learning revealing herself to you? When did you greet her? Her unfolding process, inherently incomplete, continuous complicating yet simply exquisite? Crazy tireless because timeless crazy, swaying wide, dipping narrow – her movements the motion of Life itself? Learning as Life’s Dancer, for whom one may always yearn but never reach.
Do you remember finding out that the so-called disciplines and fields of knowledge often seep into one another?
Do you remember discovering that natural intelligence and width of knowledge might be discovered almost anywhere, in nearly anyone?
Discovering the power of evidence artfully portrayed? That proof needs persuasion? But that book learning of the mind hungers for the body, as the heavens need the earth?
That intellectual courage and conviction, and generosity of spirit mixed with humour, with wit, are the things truly to seek and to admire?
Do you remember when you first felt the immense privilege of belonging to an intellectual community, in whatever nook or cranny – however humble? What are you reading? Why did that film move you so? What from your childhood is there, pressing in, and never goes away?
When did you realise the preciousness of a great library? Of browsing its unexpected stores? Of time to read, to study simply and profoundly and open-endedly?
Do you remember when it dawned on you that research is not work, but rather a vital, recurring, habit-forming gift — that research is a capacity?
Was there a teacher who changed it all? A presence, a curious – restlessly contextualising — person who caught your interest, who was nourishing and courageous? Rigorous and imaginative? Practical and passionate? A flawed and flailing and therefore infinitely more convincing mentor?
Was there a course of study, a research assignment, a challenge, an opportunity, a trip, a single reading, a discussion, that clinched things somehow? An experience that has –despite the distance between your personal and professional trajectories — remained a touchstone in your life, however built upon by need, and by the restless work of memory?
How much of your core being truly took shape during the opportunity of your years of university study? To draw attention to, and to nourish these kinds of experiences and attitudes before learning are why we are here.