The School of Life

Seems like we spend a good portion of our lives in school. The first 18 years are largely consumed by it. Besides public or private school five days a week, there is also the possibility (too often neglected) of Sunday school. Then there’s college for an ever-increasing percentage of young folks—and that’ll take you to the age of 22. Only to discover, that the highest paying jobs are reserved for Masters and Ph.D.s! So then you go after those credentials if you’re a real high flyer, and you spend another three to five years (and lots of money), when you might otherwise raise your kids, instead—or actually produce something! Then there are the other schools to learn more important stuff: a new language or job skill; the latest computer operating system; advancement related subjects, like management, counseling techniques, communication; perhaps something for complicated organizations and projects, like systems analysis or pert diagrams; oh yeah and don’t forget, how to stay married. Learning truly is a life long activity; life may in fact be a learning activity. This is true, whether in formal “school” or informed by experience and the self-teaching that comes from reading, observing, thinking, and practicing.

Let me tell you I think that life is designed a little bit like a School, so that our schools are so many artifices or classrooms inside a very big Institution indeed. You cooperate and graduate, as they say: Love thy neighbor. On the other hand, the tests are crosses to bear, and they are all your own. Cheating isn’t allowed. If you cheat, the Head Master will know about it—and anyway, you don’t cheat anyone but yourself. That is because if you copy someone else’s homework, you never learn to work the problems out for yourself—“with fear and trembling” perhaps, as the Good Book says. Learning is the point of school and the exercises in the first place. Avoid the learning, and you literally miss the point. If you make a good grade after cheating, your grade isn’t really your own but is stolen (which breaks a commandment). Then there’s pride of an ill-gotten gain, which is pure farce; or the enjoyment of something conferred that isn’t earned, which is carnal and a lie. The beginning and end of every lie is nothingness, since only truth is real. Think of a liar’s soul.

Witness the implosion of the old Soviet Union. It was an entire system based upon lies—about its economy, its military, its politics and leadership, the condition of its people, its goals and strategy, the purity of its utopian vision and erstwhile visionaries (false prophets). What Reagan rightly judged to be “the evil empire” published changes to the encyclopedia, in order to change history whenever facts diverged from official fictions and truth contradicted propaganda. Means matter as much as ends, at least in the scheme of things as I’ve presented them. That’s because my underlying assumption is that there is a spiritual purpose to life, i.e., to our being sent to School. Graduation (Salvation) waits, hopefully, but just as the cap and gown is more than clothing for a ceremony but recognizes the work and accomplishment that went on before that day! Accomplishment is inherent in any real reward. That’s why an end in itself is nothing, unless it is reached by right and honorable means. Those who don’t believe in a spiritual basis to life are likely to confuse means and ends. To them, life isn’t a School—life is more or less an inconvenience, its apparent imperfections perfectible by the star pupils for the benefit of themselves and others. Steal the bread if you’re hungry. Kill if you can give enough to everyone in need. The process isn’t integral or organic to results any longer.

Personally, I like the “Life as School” model, because I don’t have to be too hard on myself. True, there’s a lot of work for me to do. And I’m not perfect—that is to say, I don’t know everything. Heck, if I were perfect, then I’d be a Graduate already or at least in Graduate study with wings. The good Lord didn’t put me here because I was perfect—He put me here to learn something and to get better. His Son Jesus Christ is the Great Teacher. And I’ll be a Graduate, whether I die poor, disgraced in the eyes of men, having been thrown in prison, or having lost what I loved and tried to hold on to—so long as I have lived well. So long as I have tried to live the way I hoped to be—which is an old fashioned notion of integrity.