I have a very good friend who was a joyous and unrepentant English Major. Lance can read Conrad or Kipling or any of a hundred Masters of the English language and glean subtleties of depth and meaning that are simply lost on us mere arts and education majors. He is one of those rare individuals who carries his education with him in his heart and lives the lessons of his youth to a depth that would make any of his professors proud.
His is academic education at its finest. Teachers, the good ones, hunger to impart to their students those rare qualities of depth and insight that will make their hearts sing, and will validate the mandatory education squandered upon America's youth. I approve of this. I envy it, actually. To see so much in so few lines of verse or prose is a valuable thing that makes one truly deeper as a human being.
Debora was not an English major. She is all about horses. From her earliest childhood memories Debora wanted to ride, to show, to heal horses. It's thrilling to ride with her. She understands every movement each horse makes, what he's saying, what he's thinking, how to touch him, how to learn from him. She sees stiffness in muscles, movement in lips, twitches of ears and tail, a glance, a change of posture, she sees all these things and knows what they mean for any given situation. I see her staring off into the pasture and I see a woman totally and completely involved in a pastoral scene of horses and meadow that the rest of us see as merely pretty. Horses, for her, touch that depth of the human experience that Shakespeare touches for Lance.
Jonathan is a geologist. A walk with him along the rockbound coast of Maine is a study of the earth from the beginnings of time. Shifting tectonic plates and melting and rocks being swallowed up in the melt and rising to the surface to form the coast we all have come to take for granted. Or, Granite, if you prefer. And the history of that granite, the reasons for the differentiations in its color, and texture. He sees it all. It touches him deeply.
Joe sees that granite from yet another perspective. He is a stone mason. Joe can run his fingers over a piece of granite and feel limitless possibilities within it. He feels the grain of the stone. He sees the possibilities of luster and light in its color, in percentages of quartz or feldspar. Where Jonathan sees the history of a stone from the dawn of time, Joe sees its future. To walk into an art gallery or a graveyard with Joe is to watch a man captivated by I know not what, as hard as he'll try to explain it. His fingers see things that mine never will.
Ian knows none of these things. A rock is a rock and ever was it so. Shakespeare was something to be endured in school until he could get home to his real love. Engines. He tinkers with them endlessly. When Ian takes an old Detroit Diesel and tunes her to perfection one gets the feeling, looking into his face, that there is more true reverence, even worship, in his garage than there was in church last Sunday. He hears the second cylinder kick in the way a concert musician hears the second violin section in a Beethoven symphony. He is a man in his element, deeply absorbed.
I do not damn academia. I truly believe it has an important place in the future of our planet, or at least in the human population living here. But I wonder if that place need be first place. The depth of understanding of the human condition that an English major will find in literature is genuine, but not unique. That sigh of feeling understood, of understanding, sounds very much to me like the sigh Debora makes looking at her horses. The complex compound equation and proof that so thrills a mathematician seem very akin to a well tuned engine.
An academic education will make your life richer by far. If you study and learn you will become broader and deeper as a human being. But a passion for gardening, farming, birds, or just about anything at all that takes study and effort to understand will yield that same depth. Something in your spirit will soar when you take it upon yourself to truly understand anything at all. Follow your heart in experience or academics, wherever it leads you will strengthen your soul.