“Life just got a lot more complex in the last few years :/.”
That’s what she said, a student of mine, who’s experienced so much sadness recently. Spring '08 it was her sister, her little sister, who didn’t make it through operation after operation, even though the family prayed unceasingly, as did all who knew her.
Then, just last week, a good friend, a young girl, killed, shockingly, in a terrible accident.
So when this student sent me a note to acknowledge getting her essay back, she blurted out a sad assertion and typed in a contorted computer face I’d never seen before-- :/. If I hadn’t known her story, I wouldn’t have understood the key strokes; but I knew. Interpretating wasn’t rocket science.
But it’s not just that disturbed and distorted face; what stays with me is also her words—“life just got a lot more complex in the last few years. . .”
Teaching college kids means you watch ‘em mature from the sidelines. Part of me takes great joy at witnessing the demise of silly childhood. To watch kids grow into adults is a satisfying joy.
But there’s always a death. When kids become people, they shed childhoods. No matter how you look at it, death sucks, even—and maybe always—the death of silliness, the death of innocence.
Part of me cheers. Gone forever is cocky self-assurance, that la-la happy-face stuff, and a quiver full of sure-thing opinions, all that kiddishness replaced by anxiety once they discover themselves aboard a world of gray, and feel all around them, maybe for the first time, some very real doubt.
I’ve been telling myself lately that faith without doubt—like faith without works—is dead. Wish it weren’t so, but in this vale of tears, or so it seems, it is. Some doubt can be manna for the soul. It’s all over the Psalms, all over. But I just don’t care to be its agent.
Here’s Cotton Mather defending the proceedings of the Salem witchcraft trials, quoting someone he says is “a most worthy person”: “’The Mind of God in these matters, is to be carefully looked into, with due circumspection, that Satan deceive us not with his devises,. . .” That “circumspection” created certitude that put 18 accused witches to death by hanging. Like those judges in Salem could have, some of my students can use a little doubt.
That kids shed some certitude is healthy and normal—or so it seems to me. And yet there’s this tech face at the end of my student’s note-- :/.
Good kids, right before my eyes, grow up every day. And growing up’s a good thing, isn’t it? Sure it is.
For an old man like me, it’s a triumph that’s feels, at times, more than a little cheerless.