At Girl Scout camp 50 or so years ago a fellow camper introduced me to the A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The original ones, not the Disney-fied cartoon versions; the mostly type books with scattered and wonderful illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard.
And I loved the stories then, like I love them now; always pleasantly surprised by their quite simple observations to life’s basic complications. I don’t think I have ever let the start of a school year pass without giving a few happy little thoughts to the wisdom and circumstantial understanding the stories carry.
For one, there’s the famous Eeyore quote that’s been immortalized on a commercial wall plaque.
In Shepard’s illustration, Eeyore and Piglet are standing by two sticks arranged on the ground so they are touching at one end with a third stick across their midsections.
“To the uneducated,” says the rarely satisfied and generally complaining stuffed donkey, “an ‘A’ is just three sticks.”
But my favorite story part for contemplation is in the last story of “The House at Pooh Corner,” when all the stuffed animals suspect Christopher Robin is going away somewhere and understand without fully knowing that his leaving will make a huge alteration to their contented world and matter-of-fact living routine.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading the story, here’s a bit of backstory. Christopher Robin has turned 6. He is old enough and about to start school.
Ahem. I was going to write my most favorite of the favorite is the part where Christopher Robin asks Pooh what his favorite thing to do in the whole world is. And Pooh thinks for a while and has trouble deciding if it is eating honey, or the moment just before when he is about to get to eat honey that he likes best.
Truly though, the very most favorite is the passage that comes right after, where Christopher Robin tells Pooh what he likes doing best is, “nothing...
“When people call out to you just as you’re going off to do it,” CR explains, “‘What are you going to do Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, nothing,’ and you then you go and do it…
“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
All of that, of course is leading up to CR’s indication/confession that with school about to start, his chances for doing nothing are going to be greatly diminished, but he hopes, when he isn’t there to do it, Pooh will come to the place in the wood and continue the do-nothing practice.
I tell you, it gets me every time. It gets me to the point I stop whatever I am doing, even if I am already up-to-my-elbows doing nothing, and start appreciating I’ve had the chance to do that and oh so many other things.
I really mean, of course, that I’ve had the chance to be educated, and can appreciate that three sticks, properly assembled, become an A. But I also mean I wish there were a magic trick for finding a balance between doing nothing and discovering a lot. Learning. Doing. Trying and trying again. And don’t forget, practicing what you have learned.
I hope – really hope – every teacher, student, school-person from admin to lunchroom will have the chance to know their purpose for being there, that it is genuine and worthwhile; that it matters now and will matter for a while in ways no one can imagine.
Like my good friend and kindergarten teacher tells her students every day, “I don’t care if your work isn’t perfect. I care that you’ve tried your hardest and done your best.”
I pray for opportune moments, that there’s someone or some way every child, parent or student, whose day goes south for whatever reason, finds some needed encouragement and assurance that tomorrow will be another day – quite possibly better.
Toward that end – and I say this as a former third-grader who showed up one October day at a new school where it was obvious from the way she dressed (among other things) she wasn’t going to fit in – be kind and caring in the process, whoever you are in the mix.
Be patient with one another, understanding of differences, and helpful, as helpful as you can possibly be.
Finally, as CR told Pooh (sigh) in the Disney version, “Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.