“‘You’ve got a good heart,’ she told him. ‘Sometimes that’s enough to see you safe wherever you go.’ Then she shook her head. ‘But mostly, it’s not.’” -Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
“There’s no shame in crawling when one can’t walk.” -Kristin Cashore, Graceling
Too often I assume that “seeing me through” means seeing me through safely, but having friends is never safe. Caring is never safe. Pogostick races down the creek are never safe, but admit it, it sounds like a good idea. (Oh come on, think about it).
The quote from Neverwhere is a prophecy near the beginning, when our lovably British and very frumpy hero Richard Mayhew sets off for London. Richard will grow through the story: he’ll face monsters and an Angel (who turns out to be much worse), he’ll bleed and fall and blabber, he’ll wonder about his sanity, be offered roast cat meat, and make a friend. And help them. He won’t be safe. He’ll get muddy, he’ll get hurt, he’ll get lost. But in the end he’ll be where he needs to be, and he’ll realize the joy of being there, of caring, of trying to help. When I first read Neverwhere, I thought the prophecy meant that having a good heart usually wasn’t enough. I was wrong. The books offers a new kind of hero, a hero who is kind in the way that Hercules is strong, or Odysseus is clever. Perhaps enough doesn’t mean safe. It doesn’t mean perfect. It means raise your head and stumble on and laugh and eat when there’s food, and get drenched, and smile, and do what you can, and care for those around you.
In Graceling, Cashore says that, when we’ve walked and tried and fallen, there’s nothing wrong with crawling. Lately I’ve been doing my share of it: I’ve taught classes that didn’t work, tried to build connections that didn’t last. I’ve dropped the proverbial ball and stepped on the comical rake and felt it bop my inquisitive nose. I’ve wondered, what am I doing wrong? That’s a good question to ask, because we get to pick our strategies, are paths of approach through life. But it’s also a silly question. I am messing up sometimes, but perhaps messing up doesn’t always mean doing something wrong. (Just imagine Jackson Pollock painting: no way he stayed clean). I am trying to have a good heart. That might not be enough “to see you safe wherever you go,” but it’s worth trying, and in the end, it might, without the safe, be enough. Sometimes teaching a bad class is part of teaching. Sometimes building a connection that falls all to grumpy pieces is part of connecting. The messing up is part of living, and we’re doing it here, already, now.
So I’m going to try to keep walking. I’m going to try to forgive myself when I slip, and end up crawling. And if you have two pogosticks, I’ll meet you at the creek.