Sunday, February 10, 2013
More than 40 years have passed since I hovered in a dim light over Shakespeare’s King Lear, trying to follow its intricate trail of language, hoping to find my way to what was going on before the next exam.
Looking back at it today, I am amazed at the number of underlined phrases and scribbled notes in that well-thumbed textbook. I can barely recall the intensity I took to this task, just as I recognize how for me the plot and the sense of this play largely have slipped between the cracks of the intervening years.
But does that mean all those midnight hours were spent for naught? What is left to show for the line-by-line angst of the earnest student coming seriously to the feet of the bard?
I haven’t thought about this until the recent dust-up over the value of a liberal arts education brought on by N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory’s comments on the subject during a recent national talk radio program.
In a conversation with conservative Bill Bennett, the governor said higher education has lost focus on what should be its critical goal, especially during tough economic times: getting jobs for its graduates. The question was raised about how effectively the study of liberal arts achieves this end.
I guess I could have tried engineering or maybe medical school or law. Well, probably not, since I never had a math class after high school — I took Latin instead — and I only squeezed by in botany and geography. Law seemed too complicated, and as for most trades? No good either. I really have few marketable skills.
So the question persists: What did those university years and my immersion in the liberal arts do for me? As I reach my mid-sixties I suppose it is past time for an accounting:
Let’s start with King Lear, etc. Even though I can’t quote you a word or recall much from the other books I pored over then, I do remember how it felt to remember the poetry, and even now I sometimes can hear faint ripples from the deep river that flows through and beneath good literature.
Music, too. Through these post-college years I have brought with me the recollection of spring afternoons listening to the big speakers full of Mozart and Beethoven and the rest and learning about how they, with uncanny genius and discipline, created harmony beyond my imagination.
And Education. I studied it, practiced it, was ready to do it — until other life intervened. Still, the exposure left me with life-long respect for those in the field whose gifts of energy, imagination and determination can’t be overstated.
Finally, journalism: the waking each day to wonder what is important and interesting in our world and to discern how to take the pictures, ask the questions and report the answers that will enable us to tell these stories. That, too.
And so when I total it all up it appears to me those liberal arts have provided first a job, then a career and most certainly a big part of a life — especially the part that helps me feel deeply and rejoice in those innumerable mysteries that resist easy explanation.
As David Wilcox, a North Carolina poet and songwriter I admire, wrote: “I might look to you like nothing much to be, but you should see the way it feels to me.”
It definitely feels good to me, and if he should ever ask, that’s what I would tell the governor.
Al Clark is executive editor of The Daily Reflector. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 252-329-9560.
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