An unusual wistfulness has accompanied my sojourns through Beasley in recent weeks as I have felt the absence of the many student self-portraits—since replaced with other delightful artwork—that earlier this year charmed the south end of the JK-3 hallway. In French (always my toughest class in school), “I miss them” is “Ils me manquent,” the syntax of which is the inverse of its English form (“They are lacking from me” is a more literal translation than “I miss them”) and captures better, I think, the sense of loss that the verb “miss” intends. So, “les autoportraits de nos étudiants me manquent maintenant.” Our students’ self-portraits are now lacking from me. I am infinitesimally diminished by their absence. If you had enjoyed them as much as I did, you would feel a little diminished, too.
I had a fine time projecting some of these self-portraits—the enthusiastic artistry of Andrew, Heidi, Miles, and several other Beasley Rams—at Wednesday morning’s faculty and staff meeting in Brauer Auditorium. I was sharing their work to illustrate the ubiquity of joy in the world, notwithstanding the frequent cold weather, gray skies, election-year misgivings, economic uncertainty, and news- and social-media outrage that permeate our present lived experience. “We often look to the Lower School for an injection of joy into our day,” I said to my colleagues, “but joy is available to us all across campus and constantly, in small ways and large, in our interactions with students and with each other—and in our lives in general—if only we will embrace it.” I have referenced previously the wisdom of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi:
Why, when God’s earth is so wide, have you fallen asleep in a prison?
Avoid entangled thoughts, that you may see the explanation of Paradise.
Refrain from speaking, that you may win speech hereafter.
Abandon life and the world, that you may behold the Life of the world.
The first of these lines posits a subject-object inversion similar to that which comprehends absence not as “I miss them” but as “they are lacking from me.” Rumi does not suggest that our lives imprison us; he suggests that we imprison our lives. The fifth track on In Rainbows, the 2007 album by the English rock band Radiohead, plays a similar grammatical game: “I’m the next act / Waiting in the wings…. / I am all the days / That you choose to ignore. / You are all I need.” In this inverted construct, we do not need opportunity; rather, opportunity needs us. We do not need joy. Joy needs us. “I’m in the middle of your picture,” the song insists. “You are all I need.”
Aren’t these self-portraits fantastic? I told the faculty and staff on Wednesday that I like to imagine titles for each of them. Maybe the first one, on the left, is called Email. (I did my best art critic impression when I shared it. “An unflinching exposure of the ‘electronic communication’ oxymoron and its terrible costs.”) I find the second one endearing but also a little frightening if you give it a minute. A working title, for all you horror movie buffs, could be The Call Is Coming from Inside the House! As for the third, its subject bears more than a passing resemblance to Jim Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill character from In Living Color, but even so, I like to call this particular self-portrait When Orthodontists Dream.
“Avoid entangled thoughts, that you may see the explanation of Paradise.” Explanations of paradise surround us at MICDS. Invert the subject and the object like Rumi did, or Radiohead, and we surround the explanations of paradise—a child’s artwork in Beasley, a student’s sudden conceptual grasp, a perfectly executed pass, laughter between friends, a saxophone solo, a door held open, curiosity, success after a struggle, kind encouragements. We are all they need.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. My best wishes to you and your families for a happy weekend as we welcome the Lunar New Year.
Head of School