By the Seaside: Discovery
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
I remember, a few years ago when I taught Eighth Grade in the city, we were studying the short story The Love Letter by Jack Finney. In order to help the class understand the position that one of the main characters, Helen, is in and why her letters are compelling, I said, “Imagine what it must have been like for her to have no means of earning an income, to be forever dependent upon her father or her husband to provide for her. Imagine how you would feel if you were faced with the prospect of having to marry someone you didn’t even like because you were expected to?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Bobby’s hand inch its way towards the ceiling. Calling on Bobby for his question, he asked in all earnesty, “What’s an imagination?”
Bobby was the jokester in the classroom. This means that under other circumstances I would have issued a reprimand as the class broke out laughing. The difference this time was that Bobby was serious. The fact that the other students appeared relieved that someone else asked the same question plaguing them so that they didn’t have to look stupid caused me tremendous concern. It then dawned on me that the students in front of me had never had to use their imagination; these children had been moved like pawns in a game from one activity to another and told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it from their earliest days. These are the children whose parents used videos and television shows as a babysitter, an infant’s narcotic that burned out their brain cells as they were still developing.
After I recovered from the shock and overwhelming sadness that enveloped me with this realization, I discovered a newfound appreciation for my childhood. I grew up in a time when you could stay out long after dark playing Kick the Can or walking to the playground for a heartfelt talk on the swings with your best friends. I grew up with plenty of time spent at the beach discovering its secrets, learning new things, and imagining the journeys each starfish, skate, or seagull made to reach me in that spot at that time. Unlike me, these children had no one to read them stories at night or encourage them to discover new worlds that only exist in the mind.
This recollection of my time as a teacher reminds me of Jessie Wilcox Smith. Before becoming the nation’s most influential illustrator and artist, she taught kindergarten. Miss Smith transitioned into a career as an artist early due to medical issues that prevented her from keeping up with the children. Although she no longer formally taught children, her work centered on capturing the innocence of children and their excursions of discovery as they navigate the world around them. In fact, Miss Smith specifically used live, unprofessional children as models because, as stated in this article about her, “professional children lacked the same soul and willingness to explore as amateur models”.
As we look to the beginning of a new school year, let’s look to be an influence to the children in our lives and an example of how to discover one’s imagination and put it to good use. In these last days of summer, perhaps you can work in a trip to the shore (any body of water will do as they all have something to give and from which to learn) to inspire the imagination and bring eternal joy to the souls of those close to you.