Thursday, June 26, 2008

Actually, it was the caterpillar

One of the things I love about teaching is how much I learn — and the surprising ways I learn it.

Near the end of a four-hour class (don't ask) the other night, I had occasion to refer to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" — wrongly as it turned out.

We had just watched a short episode from John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" documentary, based on his classic book. At one point, Berger stares into the camera and exclaims a tenet of consumerism:

"You are what you have!"

Our discussion about the statement led us to consider Gandhi, who "had" virtually nothing. Who was he?

I speculated that, paradoxically, we was everything he didn't possess. I suggested that what we are left with when we strip ourselves of possessions is the answer to...and here is where I went astray...the Cheshire Cat's sweeping question, "Who are you?"

Whereupon, Amy, attentively taking all this in, gently interjected, "Actually, it was the caterpillar."

Exactly. What a delight to be corrected with such a bizarre assortment of words suddenly and unassumedly dropped into a lofty discussion.

"Actually, it was the caterpillar." I can hear her saying the words as I write them.

They brought me right down to earth, where I belonged — especially after four hours.

Lewis Carroll would have loved it.

As I grow older, I am certain to have many more "actually-it-was-the-caterpillar" moments.

Amy's phrase will help me, actually, grapple with "who" I will have become.

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