Tuesday, February 10, 2009

St. May's and Potiki

I decided to participate in the service-learning aspect of this course because I really enjoyed the service-learning project I did for another class last year. For my second Theology core, I volunteered at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Mount Washington. I figured that it would be interesting to work with people on the other end of the spectrum. After only one session at St. Mary’s, as expected, I am finding that working with kids is much more uplifting than working with the elderly. I do, however, believe that both opportunities will prove to have been enriching in similar as well as unique ways.

When I first began reading Potiki, I was already anticipating some way in which to link the novel to my service-learning experience for this blog. Some of the initial, more obvious connections I found were in the novel’s treatment of education and formal schooling. Personally, I truly feel that school is absolutely not for everyone. It was not right for Manu, Toko, or Reuben for example. But at the same time I see how it is extremely beneficial to developmental growth as well as social and intellectual stimulation in the society we live in. I am in a first grade class at St. Mary’s. When I first entered their classroom, memories from my own life briefly ran through my mind. A first grade classroom offers a great deal of warmth, artwork, and security. One isolated classroom is a homeland in itself to the class that inhabits it. Each day of the week the same students fill the room. The little desks as well as the alphabet and number line suspended above the chalkboard all reminded me of what an elementary classroom was about. The environment in this particular classroom visually expressed the progress the kids were making in their studies. During my time there, I graded a math quiz, a spelling test, helped kids with exercises, and sat with them while they attempted to spell challenging words. It was strange being on the other side this time around. I can still remember when I was the one in the little desk taking the spelling test. I was pretty surprised when a handful of girls came up to me individually throughout the class and, without even saying a thing to me at first, hugged me and touched my hair. Being in the class reminded me of what it is like to think with the mind of a child. I forgot how open kids are and how they do not put up the guards many adults do; they are not afraid of being vulnerable and seeking connections. There is that cliché about never losing the child part of oneself, but there is really no denying or stopping this to a certain degree. It happens to everyone as they grow older.

This brings me to another connection I found to Potiki. Toko has a special duality that is quite rare. He straddles the line between the everyday and the sacred as we spoke about in class, but he also conflates the young and old. We know that Toko has a special knowing, but he is still a child essentially. He is very much aware of his position too: “But the people knew that I would never be old, and that is why they allowed me oldness while I was a child still. Some would say that I had never been a child” (154). Whether or not Toko was or was never really a child, he shares some qualities found in children. They are more susceptible to many things often overlooked or not recognized by adults. There is a special knowing, or hypersensitivity in children also found in the elderly. “The past is the future” (94). In this, there is a connection or a reconnecting of the young and old. The beginning and end of a life are actually closely tied together in many ways. The perspective of the child before his or her life is pierced with adulthood is uniquely fresh. This allows for wisdom in itself. When you are old, there has been enough experience amassed in order to regain a bit of that childlike perspective. The elderly person recognizes the value of a child perspective. I find myself reminded of a child’s outlook during my time at St. Mary’s.

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