26 June 2016

Day Eighteen: A little bit naughty, a great bit inspiring.

It's inevitable when you spend enough time on the Tube that you come across some rather interesting characters.  There's actually a "People on the Underground" Instagram account I follow that calls out the particularly strange.  More commonly you run into drunks or overexcited teenagers.  With Pride yesterday there was loads of color.  I thought the celebrations were only on one day, but apparently they went on to today as well.  How do I know this?  A man that looked like Jeff Daniels wearing a Jack Daniels tank top, short shorts and eighties style trainers (sneakers) sat opposite me this morning, carefully covering himself in glitter.  It was a very thorough process that reminded me of my cat grooming herself.  (I miss my cat!)  It was fabulous.  (In every sense of the word.)

We played tourist today by walking by Buckingham Palace and through some of the parks on our way to our matinee.  Buckingham is generally an area I avoid because it can be so horribly crowded, but we missed the changing of the guard crowd by at least an hour and it was actually pretty empty (at least by Buckingham standards).  After visiting so many different estates across the country that have had to open themselves to tourists either in part or completely, it's pretty insane to imagine having an entire estate to yourself.  (Granted, the queen doesn't have the land that these other estates do immediately adjacent to this house but, you know.) It's still pretty wild.  I'm pretty glad I don't have people outside my windows at all hours taking pictures.  I did enjoy the brief visit, though - it seems more recognizable after the last several years of William and Kate events than it did the first two trips to London.

We were lucky to get tickets to Matilda today.  Most shows are dark on Sunday, but Matilda has a Sunday matinee.  It was immediately apparent why: unlike the other shows we've seen, this show was positively swarming with little girls.  I've hardly seen any children in the other shows (with good reason, I guess.  1984 isn't exactly light fare, and Harry Potter is pricy, tickets are hard to come by, and really more attractive to children of the 90s who grew up with the Boy Who Lived.) No worries.  Matilda is a fabulous show for children, and aside from the one that literally could. not. stop. squirming. in front of me, it was fun to have their reactions all over the theater.

Matilda was the heroine I related to most when I was really young.  Of course, I loved Anne Shirley, but I aspired to be her, I didn't think I really was.  Her world was too different from mine.  I loved Mary Lennox as well, but my life was so different than hers that I didn't really relate to her that much.  Matilda, though - Matilda was an inspiration (before Hermione came along).  Matilda was smart.  She loved to read more than anything and had an inner confidence and spunk that I shared.  She got on better with adults than with children and had an utterly insatiable desire to learn and make the world right.  Matilda, like Hermione did later, reminded me that even if people thought I was a nerd for loving school and reading, that knowledge made a person somehow powerful and someday they would understand.

I've loved the music for this show for a long time and the show was wonderful.  For a show that places so much weight of the storytelling onto the shoulders of nine children, it was really impressive.  My favorite song in the show is at the beginning of act two - the kids come out and sing about how everything will be wonderful when they are adults.  They'll eat sweets all the time, they'll go to bed late, play with toys their parents don't think are fun  and they'll never get a sunburn.  Then Miss Honey comes out and sings the same song - she's not waiting to be a grown up, she is "up" - and she's still waiting for that bravery.  This is why Matilda is still an inspiration to me - she reminds me that, years ago, I was a really confident (probably to a fault) little girl that worked through bullying in elementary school and still came out of it with head held high and priorities set.  She was brave.  When I feel small, when the adult world in which I live suddenly seems overwhelming or disappointing or even frightening, I can call on that voice for help.

After Matilda we went over to Westminster Abbey for the evening service. Come to find out that the normal service has been cancelled in favor of a special (free) ticket only event in honor of the re-dedication of the English Holocaust Center that serves not just survivors of the Holocaust but also survivors of other genocides or abuses.  We were told that there might be room if we waited, so we decided to wait and find out.  I'm glad we did because they were able to fit us in - just barely.  We got three of the last four seats (everyone else had to stand). It was a beautiful service.  Several speakers from various religious organizations around the country spoke about the role the Holocaust plays in our present and future decision making; about the power of choice; about the way that choice enables us to be humane at all and that without choice we would only be automatons; about our responsibility to build a world that doesn't just allow all people or even simply accept them, but enriches them.

It's so easy to live in fear of what we don't understand.  I see this with my students - given a piece of literature or an experience that they don't get, or don't feel prepared for, they tend to shut down in anger.  I see this in my church - when someone asks a question or wants to discuss something uncomfortable (LGBT issues, for example - feminism for another), it's not uncommon for those issues to be shut down, glossed over, moved on from or even referred to as sinful.  I don't think it's necessarily because people on either side of these different situations is right or wrong.  I just think that when you don't understand something or are ignorant of something, fear is a natural reaction to it.

This is why I am constantly trying to find books that challenge the world view of my students.  They live in such a vanilla world most of the time.  And I'm not even referring to Utah Valley and Mormon culture.  I'm referring to the whole existence of teenager life which can, at its worst, be extremely self centered and frivolous.  I don't necessarily fault them this - there is a real luxury in being a teenager.  You are old enough to do good and influential things in the world without, for many of them, the pressures or fears of adulthood as a regular part of life yet.  But that self-centered world is not ideal for creating kind, considerate, charitable adults.  I choose to teach what I do because I don't know how else to encourage my students to be empathetic and generous humans for the rest of their lives.  They may not leave my class being the most brilliant writers.  They may still hate reading.  But, God willing, they will be better people, because that matters infinitely more to me than the writing and the reading.

(Do you hear that, Federal/State Education dimwits?!)

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