I’ve a dear one whose calling it is to lead flocks. The song of her soul and the compass of her faith is such that she radiates that exceedingly rare Light of Spirituality that illuminates with curiosity and inclusion. She believes in a specific God and practices particular tenets but the shape of her personal cosmology does not preclude the possibility of other deities or doctrines, or, in my case, a stubborn insistence on neither.
Yes, I chose quite carefully the phrase “insistence on neither” because at this point in my journey my credo (and please, pronounce “credo” as did Dame Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for reasons that will become increasingly clear) has much more to do with what is not than it does to do with what is or might be. I was – once upon a time – nearly delusional with the belief that I had some access to a truth needing to be shared, a truth about helping others to find their own truths, truths we would discover through theatre and song and creating works of art built round the girders of our heart-wishes, soul-dreams, and imaginings.
I had a flock. I was, I believed (and, am ashamed to admit, said frequently) like Miss Brodie, “In my PRIME.” Oh dear. I quoted Miss Brodie quite a lot. As in:
Little girls! I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the creme de la creme. Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.
And finally, sadly, “Assassin! Assassin!” Although only to myself, and only in my Tequila-tainted cups.
It turned out that I was not so much a leader as I was the one meant to change the paper in the cages and supply the feed, and had not so much a flock as an aviary of mostly the broken-winged and mad-as-hatters, who came to me, my safe place of open-doored cages, that they might recuperate or preen themselves until they could soar. I watched my pigeons, fed them, encouraged them, and in many cases, as it so often is with mentoring and the raising of the young, they shat with alacrity all over the coop before flapping away to their personal path of ascension and thought nothing of all the messes they’d made for me to clean up along the way.
I have been revisiting those days because – every so once upon a time – there would be a gorgeous creature of glorious color and song who matured into a feathered phoenix capable of such heights and arias that I would be left breathless, and, too, terrified that I would somehow fail to give her what she needed to discover and believe in and achieve all the levels of her grandeur. Isn’t it funny how it is those extraordinary ones who come back, who send messages from their flights and leave me still to believe that all the shit-scraping was worth it?
This week I have been receiving Tweets and messages from just such awe-inspiring creatures in whose lives I played a small role. I live now in a very small cage in which I – as I said – stubbornly believe in nothing, and so, it is a kindness beyond measure to hear from the ones who soared and did not sour on me. For, I am afraid, in the end, I like Miss Brodie, was rather more often delusional than I thought, and, well:
I will not stand quietly by and allow myself to be crucified by a woman whose fetid frustration has overcome her judgment! If scandal is to your taste, […] I shall give you a feast! I am a teacher! I am a teacher, first, last, always! Do you imagine that for one instant I will let that be taken from me without a fight? I have dedicated, sacrificed my life to this profession. And I will not stand by like an inky little slacker and watch you rob me of it and for what? For what reason? For jealousy! Because I have the gift of claiming girls for my own. It is true I am a strong influence on my girls. I am proud of it! I influence them to be aware of all the possibilities of life… of beauty, honor, courage. I do not, […], influence them to look for slime where it does not exist! I am going. When my class convenes, my pupils will find me composed and prepared to reveal to them the succession of the Stuarts. And on Sunday, I will go to Cramond to visit Mr. Lowther. We are accustomed, bachelor and spinster, to spend our Sundays together in sailing and walking the beaches and in the pursuit of music. Mr. Lowther is teaching me to play the mandolin. Good day, Miss Mackay.
I ever did learn to play the mandolin, nor, I think, gain much from my prime, but I did sacrifice myself willingly to an all too eager assassin, even inviting the crucifixion. Overly dramatic? Perhaps. I really am a ridiculous, silly old man. But that was always what made me Brodie. I believe – nay, I know, confess, admit – I am past my prime – a prime, I am afraid, that existed nowhere but within my head, and too, when it came to you — like Sandy, the most trusted of Brodie’s special ones — I treasured and trusted and never recognized what was most your gift: To Kill Without Concern.