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Thoughts on Living like a Person by Laurie Bestvater

06 Mar 2010 5:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

“Children are born persons”…and grow up to be super persons? (“Honey, where’s my super suit?”)  Silly? Yes. But still, I have to wonder what our children see when they watch us.  I have had many occasions to burn the midnight oil this year, many of them seemingly good ones but a friend has provided a gentle reproof since I reread her biography, The Story of Charlotte Mason, last summer and copied notes on her daily routines.  Here they are as they sit in my day planner to remind me:

9:30am            attend to post & work

11:00am          20 minutes with Punch or Trollop

12:15 am         10 minutes reading a classic

1:00 pm           dinner with students then interviews or travel reading till 2:15

2:15-4:00         ride in the neighbourhood & tea

4-5:00              one hour with the principal

5-6:00              reading or proofing

7:00pm            dinner, then reading aloud, The Times, travel, literary memoirs

8:45                  ready for bed with Scott and devotional reading

Thursdays were a ½ day as were Saturdays. Sunday was a day of complete rest.

Are you as stunned by this as I still am?  Problems with the biography aside, this is at first glance a day with very few hours devoted to “work” for one who had, at that point, so many responsibilities–running the House of Education and the practicing school, guiding the PNEU’s local chapters, writing programmes and always reading and evaluating books. And we are told she never “worked out of hours,” or worried about problems at night.

Every day brought a heavy post, editorial duties, housekeeping details, college business, the constant work of the Parents’ Union School, and it was only by the utmost regularity of hours of work and times of leisure that work could be carried on (p.61).

Cholmondley suggests pragmatism here and that’s what I first saw.  My mind returned to Ourselves where Mason speaks about dawdling:

It is a bad thing to think that time is our own to do what we like with. We are all employed; we all have duties, and a certain share of our time must be given to those duties. It is astonishing how much time there is in a day, and how many things we can get in if we have a mind. It is also astonishing how a day, a week, or a year may slip through our fingers, and nothing done (Bk I, p.172).

It is all here; the things she was teaching the children she was doing–alternating brain activity with more active pursuits, feeding the mind with ideas and great thoughts, importance laid on relationships, time outdoors, faith practices.  What strikes you first is a woman making very conscious choices, focusing her life to a power with the “easy nag, Habit.”

While we don’t know Mason’s exact age when she kept this particular routine; it was not when she was a young school teacher, in fact, there are suggestions that this schedule may have come from hard experience–overworking in her early professional days and her ensuing ill health[1].   Cholmondley is likely right to suggest that Mason’s health and the pressing needs of the work necessitated such a careful life.  I have also noticed a much healthier and productive life as I have learned to follow certain of these habits.  Mason knew, that as human persons, we must focus our attention to work well, that we need diversion and mind food, rest and activity and strong habits help us.

And yet… as I have lived with this schedule before me it has inveigled its way into a dissatisfaction with this pragmatic argument: I can neither be satisfied to say that like some multitasking superwoman reading SELF magazine Mason so acted in order to get the most out of her day, nor can I see her the a victim constrained from the heavy demands of her calling by a body that would not perform beyond those limits.  My suspicions come from a little phrase which I copied at the top of these notes though it came many pages later…“It is well not to expect too much of ourselves. Not to be too good, nor to be happy, is the chief thing, but to know, to possess the knowledge of God….”

The more I study Mason’s philosophy, the more I am convinced that these practices, though she might have thought them a duty originally, and though no doubt they were exceedingly helpful and productive, were undertaken from the same paradigm shift that makes Mason so engaging to us in our thinking about education…she ultimately understood what it means to be human…humility.  This living within a careful routine is not a Victorian straightjacket, a legalism, a pitiful constraint brought on by ill health, but a prayer,[2] a wonderful living out of her vanguard posture…to be a person means to be rightly related to our Creator…who says,” in vain you rise up early, and retire late.”[3] When there are needs pressing in at all sides and the only time for putting two thoughts together seems to be when the rest of the world is  fast asleep and when one more e-mail will seem to win the day, this deep and faithful woman is living out a whisper that it is time to get ready for bed, tomorrow is another day, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should and after all, you are just one woman—a person, not superhuman after all.

“Humility is not relative but absolute: it does not mean that we should think small things of ourselves compared to this one or that one but that we shall have eyes so steadfastly upon our Master, our duty, our sphere of service, that we shall have no moment left in which to think of ourselves at all”[4]

[1] Dr. John Thorley has spoken about further information coming to light about Mason’s illnesses.

[2] Thanks to conversations with Melanie Walker about Mason’s life seeming almost monastic.

[3] Psalm 127

[4] The Story of Charlotte Mason, p.156

© 2010 Laurie Bestvater 

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