The Illusion of Learning

Education is beautiful. What a dream, to be numbered and lettered. There are tiny ink-strokes on blank paper that unlock doors to all of human civilisation, perhaps since the beginning of time. Who are we to deny anyone such a treasure, should they wish to acquire it. Who are we to deny anyone the joy of exploring stories, uncovering the world, delving deep into the secrets of the universe. It is all to be found within the written word.

Is it really?

What is the difference, I ask you, between loving, and singing of love? What is the difference between dying, and singing of death? What is the difference. What is the difference between knowing how to share a loaf of bread with the hungry and a cup of water with the thirsty, and writing laments about the poverty of the world? What is the difference between reading of violence, and fighting in a war?

Dear reader, you are precious. If you cannot read the joy in the rays of the sun burning ever so bright, what hope do you have hunched over musty pages? Some hope, you say. Yes. The tragedy is that we learn to sing of love before we learn to love, and we learn to sing of death before we learn to die, and sometimes ten lifetimes cannot teach us either one. That is the tragedy.

It is the numbered and the lettered who sway generations with false dreams and honeyed words. It is the numbered and lettered- the very exceptionally numbered and lettered- who set black against white against brown, who set westerner against easterner and the child against the mother, the human against the earth. It is the numbered who record coins and their counts, and the lettered who write impassioned speeches spewing hate. And I have seen the unlettered finding complete peace in the antics of children and small animals, in the first fruit of the new season appearing magically on wintry branches, and smiling in welcome with all the generosity of their heart when a guest wanders in uninvited.

I have seen aged, bent backs that have never recognised a written word tending flowers in a wild garden and minding grazing animals, shepherding sheep through long winter evenings under an open sky. In the long watches of the night, in the silence of solitude, in uttermost grief and uttermost joy- the whetting stones of the heart- it is not words that are your truest companions. When life comes knocking all my numbering and lettering are mere afterthoughts and the more I learn, the less I know how to use.

Despair does not lie in a lack of numbering and lettering. It lies in a heart that does not know how to use them. How do we learn that? Learn, first, to live without them.

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