This essay first appeared in Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School’s weekly newsletter. We found the insights Dr. Simon Frishkoff, HVS High School teacher, put forth so thought-provoking that we wanted to share them with our broader community. Wishing you all peace and good health this summer!
You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.
Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.
And that that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.
Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?
And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not from love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds?
And is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless?
But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.
– Kahlil Gibran
First of all, I want to congratulate our senior class on their outstanding online presentations of their senior projects this past Thursday and Friday. Also, I wish everyone a good Memorial Day, and hope we are all able to find meaning in this holiday that is essentially about recognizing and appreciating sacrifice. Thanks to all those who have given so much in so many ways.
How do we measure time? Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years… Between a week and a month there is a period we can identify in English as a fortnight–literally, fourteen nights or days. Infrequently used as a measurement in this country, this period has taken on new significance for some people recently as the recommended length of quarantine. (Quarantine itself comes from 15th-century Venice during the plague, meaning the forty-day period of isolation for those arriving on ships. Forty-day periods are also significant in a number of faith traditions.) Clearly, the world around us can change dramatically in a fortnight, as seen in the two pictures above taken fourteen days apart. We could also think of this period as half of a moon cycle, or the time between one ocean spring tide and the next.
Distance is easier to understand. Or is it? Inches, feet, yards, miles… I will always have a bias toward the English system of measurement, despite its disadvantages. We have explored the spaces around us all over the earth and seas, from the heights to the depths, in great detail and with meticulous measurement. When we ran out of earthly spaces to explore, we turned to the space beyond our planet and measured and calculated distances on an almost unimaginably large scale. At the same time, we have focused downward and inward, measuring and calculating the microscopic and submicroscopic world beyond the reach of our human senses, to the size of viruses and even smaller. The distance of six feet has taken on new significance as we attempt to maintain this distance between ourselves and the next person in a grocery store, or carry on an awkward conversation with a gap that our outstretched arms would not quite bridge.
As human beings, we live within the juxtaposition of time and space–one could think of a mighty cross formed by “the widths of space and the depths of time,” in Rudolf Steiner’s words. To sit or walk in contemplation of the world of nature around us deepens our relationship to space and time, and to take up an artistic or scientific observation in nature deepens this even further. In one sense, this is the very essence of education.
As human beings we live also within humanity as a whole, as members of our family, cultural and social groups, society, and the global community. Through direct social interactions with other human beings, we bring an additional element to the world of space and time; we enrich it and enliven it. This is the other essential element of education.
Thoughts, ideas, information, knowledge–what we often think of as the contents of schooling– are important to the extent that they support, deepen, and nourish our relationship to the world and to humanity. In addition, we have the potential to expand our consciousness beyond the world of space and time through inner work, without diminishing our relationship to the world and to humanity.
This is the great challenge of social distancing, which we can face with courage and understanding. Interacting with one another online through our electronic devices gives us the opportunity to share ideas and have a social encounter, while distorting our relationship to space and time. It is wonderful to see the image and hear the voice of a friend half a world away as if we were having a real-life conversation, while at the same time realizing my attention is focused on a flat screen about one foot square that is two feet away from my nose. Trying to sing or recite together online, one becomes aware that we are not quite living within the same time experience.
As our world returns slowly to a more familiar existence, let us hold in our hearts and minds the things we have learned from living through this event. I very much look forward to seeing you all in person again, and to working with the students in ways that truly honor the essence of education.
With warm regards,
Simon Frishkoff, High School Chairperson