Parallels

15 January 2008

In spite of the myriad of things I am working on this month, I took a couple of hours last week to read Mariette in Ecstasy. The story centers around a small convent in the early 1900's. A 17-year old (Mariette) enters the convent---and in the next few months, things change. She is often found in a state of ecstasy, even acquiring stigmata...but perhaps she is not really having a religious experience. Perhaps, as her father had tried to warn the nuns, Mariette has some mental problems (and is inflicting the wounds herself). The story has no ultimate explanation, but that doesn't seem to matter. The message is not one of belief and experience, it is about how we as observers attempt to understand ourselves and others---how we choose to make sense of the world around us.


The book is a showcase for some of the most beautifully written prose I've run across in a long while. It is as unfurnished as a novel as the convent it represents---each word carefully chosen, each image simply, but elegantly, constructed. I chose to reread many snippets, just to soak them in another time. I wanted to make some remarks here about the book, not for its content or style or ideas, but because of the parallels it offers for teachers and schools.

All remarks about vows of poverty aside, there is something about the structured and ordered life of the convent that I see reflected in the schools. The bells that signal the events of the day. The times to gather. Opportunities for thought, work, and play. The influx of new energy is disconcerting to the old guard. The parents with uncertainties about their children entering the cloistered atmosphere---and how a town and social order hold a certain reverence about the institution, with expectations that those inside will be role models. Indoctrination will occur and questions will be raised.

Maybe it is part of being human to have these constructs---to order our time and develop ways to create meaning...some order from the chaos. We pattern our days and hours along the same lines as other organized bodies. We use stories to connect our own experience with that of others. We may not all find ecstasy in this, but perhaps we find some comfort in the parallels.

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