la bella Simonetta

“Here in this vague green valley

lamb and lion, love and war are united

by indifference equally to these babies

                                    and to each other.”

Rachel Hadas on Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars”

Even as the lazy, yet fruitful, days of summer collide into the chaos of back-to-school unknowns and vagaries of the news, not totally unlike our afternoon and evening weather (who knows?), my mind spins around next year’s middle school students. Teaching pre-teen and teenagers with exceptionalities is as mysterious, but familiar, as admiring and wondering at the planets’ paths on a new dawn. Truly.

And still, this predictable churlish chaos mirrors the world and cosmos. Neurodiversity and twice-or-thrice exceptionalities have language all their own, which isn’t often heard in the classroom (although middle school students who are D/HH are the LOUDEST of all, which is a sheer delight); however, with a little discipline and homework (on the part of the teacher, not the student), one can definitely see the subtle shift of unknowing into recognition and then courage to trial and err without any assumptions or conditions. This just is…as Beauty cannot hide Beauty, but learns to make the most of it, without apologies. Most can hear the background noise (echos bouncing off the hallways of traditions worn threadbare and dirtied).

Much ado because #life continues, and not necessarily with any sense of human injustices and complaints. Love sits patiently, knowing the ins and out of War, who has His job to do (is He unaware that Love is involved?). With all the talk of hate in this country, is it any wonder that our students think hate and love are opposites (and often they believe hatred has something to do with being rich)? Does Hate make us more uncomfortable than War? And how do we express that discomfort? The answers to questions becomes a #practice of patience and presence. The balance is not giving too much away, but projecting a beautiful richness into their futures through the stories.

Without language, the classroom can become a playground. One discussion about a word can build an entire civilization. So, which word is it? Which story do you tell? Of course, I try really hard not to mention la bella Simonetta or Botticelli or Venus or Mars, or some ancient text recorded and buried in some wormhole in the Vatican, but with every weft and warp of next year’s fabric, I know I will stretch and weave strong threads which will hold. We learn dead white men? No, I say, we’re learning about something (which isn’t even the right word) really, really old (and I pull my unseen beard hairs three or four times because that’s the only ASL I can access). I’m not even sure I’ll come close to the 1400’s next year, but that’s one of the greatest layers of knowing (textual evidences) about antiquities (material evidences) that we have…

Not that it matters at all, but I think the stories about the sky say it all. My students haven’t walked the Earth through words and books, and quite possibly have never seen beyond Central Florida–even the Ocean–but many of them have experienced things that can’t be unlearned. How then do they picture a peninsula, a seashell, Olympus, a ship’s crossing? How do they see the importance of the full view of a horizon? The necessity of restless doldrums? How do dragons of limitation get sung to sleep?

Venus and Mars captures the rawness of our times. The stories will unfold, as they do, in World History, but the details take a life-time to imagine. The students will remember really, really old (with my face on it) and then I’ll get a question that blows me away, and the story changes yet again…

Venus and Mars are not caught up in their words or actions. Love and War. Just two really, really old lovers, hanging in the sky, in some small but glorious equilibrium, only held by the strength of our actions.

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