Set in early 1960s London, An Education is a coming-of-age film about a sharp-witted teenager who falls in love with a man in his thirties. The world he unveils for her is glamorous, cultivated and illicit. It represents an education, but one very different from the Oxford education she had been striving for.
Let this, too, be a source of praise, that trees meet in the park like six- winged seraphim, stooping low enough for a boy to find foothold and swing himself to a crooked seat.
This act of grasping something greater, knowing that one's weight won't break the boughs, that weakness allows mastery. The sudden slip that bloodies the thigh, the husky bark rasping one's shin, then the elation of hanging by the knees, trembling, maybe, but trusting the limb.
Surely Jesus, too, climbed trees in Galilee, frightening Mary by exceeding her grasp, then flinging his body from the upper branches and returning to earth, triumphant and flushed.
He must have enjoyed as a boy the enabling flaw, must have loved the flesh He knew would fail, trailing for hours the ascents of his nimble creatures: the ring-tailed raccoon, the unseen lizard, the silent beetle, armored and green.
The feel of awl and augur in his hardened hands, the rough hull rimed with salt, a whittled plug he made himself, so tight he set his teeth! His handiwork behind him, Norway a miniature carved in the distance, he watched the gray Atlantic like a ravenous whale devour everything between.
The story ends, and yet begins again. Here in a foreign port, his touch begins to read each sign, the curves and swellings, splintered keel and patchwork. How his heart quickens when he finds his father’s fishing boat, familiar as his name, the family build, their house nailed fast above the rocky harbor.
And yet begins again. How the found word both fits and startles, an oracle recovered just in time, just when it’s needed, just before faith slips away like my great-grandfather’s wedding coat, ruined in a flooded basement with old books and portraits, speckled sepia like a gull’s egg, water-marked and too far gone to keep.
Nathan Eckstrom teaches English in the Boston Public Schools, one of the most diverse school systems in the country. Its more than 9,000 students come from about 100 countries, and they speak more than 80 languages. Instead of taking a vacation this past summer, Eckstrom went to Haiti to find the places where several of his students live and to visit their extended families. He knows that he will be able to make better connections with his Haitian students after learning about their culture and country. Over the past ten years, Boston teachers have made similar trips to Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and other countries. Fund for Teachers, a Houston-based nonprofit, helps fund these trips (Boston Globe, September 12).