In Part I, I suggested that rather than try to pigeon-hole a CM education as either rigorous or gentle in its approach, we might consider it as both. A CM education reflects what it means to be a person, accommodating both our individuality and those natural laws that apply to us all by virtue of being human. The result of this inherent adaptability is that this educational lifestyle can be just as full as it needs to be.
In Part II, I asked the question: what is it about a CM education that enables it to meet a person where they are and be the education that is just as full as is needed? We recalled those words of Mason and her co-workers that what was offered was not a recipe, a system - but an art of living, a method. A method can fit a person’s particular situation and needs because elasticity is its key characteristic. Elasticity does not mean ‘anything goes’ or a lack of structure, a letting go of sorts. Rather that there is an ease, an accommodation to one’s circumstances and needs, that characterizes its application. We looked at Miss Mason’s personal schedule to see just how this elasticity appeared in her day-to-day living. She adhered to a time-table that gave a definite allotment of time to her tasks and she varied the type of activity in each time period to ensure a freshness of mind and body.
In this third part of the series, I would like to continue our look at the types of activities Mason allowed a place in her schedule and see what we might discover.
She tells us that Mason had a morning routine that she accomplished prior to 9am, but that it contained time with ‘gospel books’ is our only description. If we confine our attention to the time that followed her morning routine until she retired for her personal reading, we have roughly 11-plus hours of her day by which we can make some observations. Here is a rough breakdown.
In broad strokes, we could say that half of her waking time was given over to work and half to leisure, excluding mealtimes. In our multi-tasking, efficiency-driven world today, I can hear some folks wondering what she might have accomplished had she spent those leisure hours in work instead. But then we tend to devalue leisure - true leisure, that is, and not the ‘flop on a couch and tune out’ variety of non-activity. Others have spoken very profoundly about the subject of leisure, but I’ll include just two borrowed thoughts here that I think apply.
In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry’s main character describes admiringly a man in his community. He says, “He had been a good man always, I think, but this tenderness was new. It was a tenderness of an old man who had been busy all his life but now had time to pay attention to useless things.” (emphasis mine) Blogger Allen Levi had this to say about Berry’s ‘useless things’: “By ‘useless’ I interpret Berry to mean objects – sunsets, spiderwebs, leaf buds, letters, running water, spoken words and facial expressions, maybe even experiences – small talk, contemplation, memory, walking, listening, which are financially meaningless and which popular culture might regard as wastes of time. Useless does not mean worthless.” (emphasis mine) Source: allenlevi.wordpress.com.
Mason had time for useless things. Former students told of lunches spent comparing nature notes and time spent in conversation. Her coachman, who accompanied her on her ‘walks’ as her health deteriorated, said, “Each drive seemed to yield something of its own. One snug corner produced Hazel Blossom, another Coltsfoot flowers…and even the small Milkwort did not escape Miss Mason’s keen eye…and, had our drive been prolific in birds, etc. [she would thank me with a] ‘We’ve had a splendid bag.’”
We tend to consider - or at least to act as if we consider - leisure as the flip side of work or the absence of work. We so value productivity, efficiency and results that that which is not work must be frivolous and extraneous. Marcie Stokman, founder of the book club Well-Read Mom (wellreadmom.com), has this to say about leisure: “The opposite of work is idleness. Leisure is a work, a work that helps us ‘be’ rather than ‘do,’ to receptively receive rather than grudgingly give, to empty rather than fill.”
Does this bring to mind those students who came to Mason’s teacher-training college and said not that they had learned so much of this or that subject matter, but that they had learned how to live; how to be.
In that context, reading and out-of-doors time are not dispensable. They are not luxuries. They are valuable and utterly necessary.
In Mason’s biography, Cholmondeley noted that some days Miss Mason’s health was particularly trying and at eleven, she would be unable to continue. “’Give me Punch,’ she would say…or ‘a Trollope, and come back in twenty minutes,’ and she would start again rested and refreshed at the end of that time.” Whether it was a novel or a satirical magazine or even making the acquaintance of yet another wildflower, these seemingly minor occurrences illustrate the priceless value of useless things in Miss Mason’s life.
What do you reach for on those days? Do you make time for useless things?