What Teachers Do During the Summer: Liberal Education Works Vol. 19

Ahhhh Summer 2018!

Another opportunity to manifest the diversity of powers that lie latent in the liberally educated soul. Another opportunity to demonstrate the dominance of the immaterial spirit over the merely material realm in which the liberally educated soul happens to dwell in his own peculiar time.

Peculiar times indeed! But for the liberally educated soul, one time is much like another. He who has immersed himself in the immemorial, has soaked his soul in the eternal, has winded his way over the the wine dark sea, has traversed the transcendent and timeless truths….for such a one, I say, one time is much like another.

As it is written in Ecclesiastes, Nihil sub sole novum!

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What is it that hath been? the same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? the same that shall be done.

Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.

Nonetheless, for the soul that has “traversed the timeless,” it can be something of a jolt to descend …down to the very lowest levels of being. To descend to elemental things that are seemingly furthest removed from the realm of the immaterial. To brick and stone and sand and dirt!

But ahhh! Nothing fortifies the soaring soul so much as to regain its ground, so to speak, in its own humble origins.  For me summer is sort of like an extended Ash Wednesday.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris!

And so my summer began with brick pavers.

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Fortunately my philosopher son-in-law, who also appreciates such things, did all the planning and heavy lifting and digging. He began the project and provided the all-important proper sandy stony base. He also provided the initial enthusiasm without which I never would have made the attempt.

I can’t help but to think of the many enterprises great and small, noble and heroic, or mundane and humble that were never accomplished. Why? Well… simply for lack of the initial enthusiasm that set them in motion. I increasingly find that the largest obstacle in fulfilling my home improvement ambitions is merely in making a start. A man needs friends to get going!

Two going together’-for with friends men are more able both to think and to act,

As the Philosopher says.

Anyone who has worked with pavers knows that it is the unseen and unappreciated base- the ground-work, that ensures a successful job! The initial planning, digging, spade-work…the careful sloping and leveling required to encourage proper runoff, the establishment of rocks and pebbles upon which to pour the sand…all of these things are the foundation of a proper paver program.

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Of course, the same goes for the formation and education of the soul! I sometimes resent those college and university professors who don’t realize, as they gloat over their successful students,  that they are simply reaping the fruit of the seeds sewn by that student’s teachers in primary and secondary school- the unseen ground-work in education, the reading of Beowulf and A Tale of two Cities, the memorization of Latin and Greek vocabulary, the recitation of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade,

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singing Gaudeamus Igitur, the British Grenadiers…all ground-work for reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics and St Thomas Treatise on the Trinity!

Back to those pavers.

Now after all that foundation work the job is relatively simple. It becomes simply a matter of setting the pavers in an appropriate pattern. Take my advice- just stick with the tried and true ‘herringbone’ pattern.  Although once again I was indebted to my daughter and son- in- law for starting it out. I have taught Geometry for years but I struggled to understand it.

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Perhaps the Psalmist was pondering something similar when he said

Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,

Although undoubtedly he was contemplating a much more profound path! Nonetheless, I would still think that the soul benefits from the raw experience of piecing together a path of pavers.

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Once I discovered that my circular saw, equipped with an eight inch carbide blade, would cut right through those pavers the job became much easier. My son then washed all of the dust and debris away so that we could apply the final coat of sand between the pavers.

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Now it is done and looks like it has been there forever.

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Meanwhile, my fence has been (and still is) falling to pieces. Finally the door fell off. This was a much simpler project since I had the remnants of the old fence and could simply follow the same design- and even reuse some of the same lumber.

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It makes one wonder whether one has done any work at all since it seems to be the same door. It has the same form,  and practically the same matter. Is it the same door? What about the human body? Doesn’t every cell replace itself after a matter of seven of so years? But we still maintain that we have the same bodies that we had when we were children, do we not?

The difficult thing was to dig out the old concrete footer for the post. Digging the concrete out of the ground took a whole day. Renovation always requires a prior destruction. I seriously considered not pouring a new one after extensive research. But finally opted for one of these new “Quikrete  tubes.”

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Meanwhile, our two rabbits, Benjamin and Socks, were not getting along. It was time for Socks to move out and so the next item on our summer project list was a new bunny hutch. “Even the sparrow has found a home.” But I think our Mini-Rexes missed the memo on that.

My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.

For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God.

I suppose domestic rabbits know all to well that they will be taken care of. Fortunately I had the lumber from parts of the fence and an old picnic table that collapsed……

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…….as well as some nice oaken pallets that served well for the doors.

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Now Benjamin and Socks live separately, but at least they can stare at each other when they want to.

I have never replaced a double pane picture window before. But the one in my living became intolerably cloudy and misty for the last several years. Finally, we took it out and replaced it with this plastic painting sheet from Home Depot. I enjoyed the plastic sheet more than the misty window- actually the visibility was almost identical, but the plastic sheet gave me a better sense of what the weather was outside.

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A week later, and with help from the professionals over at Supreme Windows,  I was able to order a replacement pane and install it in a mere matter of minutes. This was a far easier task then I had expected. Just a matter of caulking neatly around the whole thing with a high quality clear silicone.

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When I was in high school my family formed a friendship with the late spiritual author Dom Hubert Van Zeller. Perhaps in my next post I will write something about my own brief acquaintance  with Dom Hubert during the last year of his life, but, relevant to my present point, I do remember one day when he visited our home in Massachusetts and my mother took considerable pains to wash the windows. She said “Fr. Van Zeller loves clean windows”

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I immediately suspected that Dom Hubert must have seen the obvious spiritual parallel between clean windows and a pure soul. I thought that perhaps Van Zeller was thinking that the soul should be so clean that nothing in it obstructs the light of God’s grace.

Of course there was always the possibility that he just liked clean windows. He also loved old movies and I don’t really see any spiritual significance in that.

Now I confess that I am a bit reluctant to enter upon the next subject. But let us take it as a further opportunity to demonstrate that liberal education does not only deal with the lofty and sublime, but also extends to the humble and mundane. I suppose we need to be reminded that the liberally educated soul while his chief interest and aspirations lie in an upward direction, he nonetheless does not shirk the lessons to be gained from lower matters. Indeed Aristotle himself comments on this when he says,

Having already treated of the celestial world, as far as our conjectures could reach, we proceed to treat of animals, without omitting, to the best of our ability, any member of the kingdom, however ignoble. For if some have no graces to charm the sense, yet even these, by disclosing to intellectual perception the artistic spirit that designed them, give immense pleasure to all who can trace links of causation, and are inclined to philosophy.

Isn’t that great?! And so it is not beneath us to turn our mind to some of the lower matters with respect to home renovation! Even though Aristotle is talking specifically about the humbler animals (I am thinking some of the ugliest), it is clear to me that Heraclitus’ reference to the kitchen makes this whole passage equally applicable to home renovation!

We therefore must not recoil with childish aversion from the examination of the humbler animals. Every realm of nature is marvelous: and as Heraclitus, when the strangers who came to visit him found him warming himself at the furnace in the kitchen and hesitated to go in, reported to have bidden them not to be afraid to enter, as even in that kitchen divinities were present, so we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.

I think this last passage provides us with the perfect segue into the final and humblest of my summer projects- the first floor under-the-staircase bathroom renovation!

It occurred to me that the time had come to replace the floor in our first floor bathroom. As you may see, despite various tile projects on the second floor of the home, the first floor lavatory still retained the vinyl floor and base molding that was original to the home when we moved in. It can be a little difficult engaging in a project for such a small room. After all, what does it really matter whether an under the stairs 24 foot closet has a vinyl floor or not?

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Well, naturally, after I pulled the sink out and other plumbing fixtures common to such areas, I immediately found myself attending to the plumbing in the basement. Descendimus ad inferos!

There were no working water-feed shut off valves! The old valves had simply rusted and it was useless to work with them any further. And so after shutting down water to the whole house my son Peter and I replaced the copper pipes under the bathroom with some shiny new fixtures. We first cut out the old stuff and after equipping ourselves with some new solder, solder paste, pipe cleaners, new copper and a propane torch we went to work.

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As I have already mentioned, it makes all the difference to have two professionals working together. “Two going together” as Aristotle says.

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Remind me to separate those copper pipes. They really should not be touching. A good plumber would probably have made those connections much cleaner. I had trouble with this one because I could not get all the water out of the pipe. It kept dripping- and everyone knows one just can’t solder a copper pipe with water in it!

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Finally it was time to put down the cement board over the plywood sub-floor. My old Milwaukee corded drill is a good friend.

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Had to replace the old lead soil pipe with some new PVC. Heraclitus was so right that fire is at the heart of everything (or is it water?).

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Peter spread the netting between the joints of the cement board.

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And helped me to cut the tile for a “dry fit”!

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This little marble threshold gave me some trouble. But finally it went in and seemed like a natural fit with the hexagonal marble tile.

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We opted for some dark gray grout. Anyone who has attempted to clean lighter grout will understand. Still it seemed such a shame to spread this stuff over my nice new white marble tiles.

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After a little clean up.

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And now everything needs a fresh coat of paint. So much for simply replacing the floor. But isn’t that always the case? One thinks “well I can just do this one thing” or,  “I can just adjust this or that” and “it shouldn’t be difficult!” But then the matter turns out quite differently and one realizes that adjusting one thing involves adjusting and replacing a host of other things that were never originally imagined.

I suppose there is some parallel with the formation of the mind and the soul here. Genuine learning very often requires something very similar. No wonder learning can be so painful!

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in bathroom restoration, Heraclitus, liberal education works, summer vacation, Work and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What Teachers Do During the Summer: Liberal Education Works Vol. 19

  1. Sarah says:

    This post had me laughing all the way through. But in all seriousness, that bathroom looks amazing! Wow!

  2. Thin Man says:

    Ash Wednesday, huh. For me, summer vacation is an extended Christmas Eve.

  3. marklangley says:

    That’s because you are in better shape than I am! 🙂

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