Friday, November 09, 2007

Can't Becomes Hope

I've been thinking a lot about the word Can't. This all began when the husband was jibbing me for my belief that I can't go to a chiropractor because of my phobia of someone cracking my neck. I adamantly stated, "I just can't." And dear husband retorted, "You can, you just won't."

This reminded me of two things: 1) a poem by Edgar Guest (which I have hanging up in our classroom/kitchen), and 2) a scene from the movie Avalon.

The grandson of an Eastern European immigrant needs to use the toilet. He raises his hand in the classroom and asks his teacher, "Can I go to the bathroom?" She responds, "You can but you may not." He looks quizzically at her and repeats his question and she repeats her response. This continues through the class day. After school the boy's grandfather comes to pick up his grandson and is thrown into the lesson of the difference between MAY and CAN. Both, grandfather and grandson, are not catching on.

Can't. As Guest says, is the worst word written or spoken. But lately I've been wondering if there is some legitimacy to its usage.

We are studying Latin in homeschooling this year. It has been great fun. We are near the end of memorizing the Lord's Prayer (Pater Noster) in Latin. We have it about 90% memorized. One of the lines (forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us) is like a tongue twister for me.
Et dimmitte nobis sicut et nos dimmitimus debitoribus nostris.
For some odd reason I have it locked in my mind that I can't get this line memorized. Every time I approach it my mind shuts down, blanks out, hits the wall. I say, "I can't!"

Then there's a battle..."Yes, I can. I can do hard spider solitaire and 3D sudoko. Of course I can memorize the Pater Noster, every line of it."

Then my mind wanders (you know how this goes) to the Guest poem, my argument (er, discussion) with Dave over the chiropractor, can I do anything I put my mind to, I can't seem to lose weight....I'm habitually battling over habits which are not too positive. Habitually! (that word has such a force to it). DO I give up? No, I continue to hope that my meager can't will someday become I did, because I can.

I hope in the same way that Puddleglum describes in the Silver Chair - that there is a world above, because he dreams it and, even if there isn't, his dreams are better than the reality of the underworld.

Puddleglum was still fighting hard. "I don't know rightly what you all mean by a world," he said, talking like a man who hasn't enough air. "But you can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won't make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We'll never see it again, I shouldn't wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing more likely. But I know I was there once. I've seen the sky full of stars. I've seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I've seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn't look at him for brightness."

Puddleglum's words had a very rousing effect. The other three all breathed again and looked at one another like people newly awaked.

"Why, there it is!" cried the Prince. "Of course! The blessing of Aslan upon this honest Marsh-wiggle. We have all been dreaming, these last few minutes. How could we have forgotten it? Of course we've all seen the sun."

"By Jove, so we have!" said Scrubb. "Good for you, Puddleglum! You're the only one of us with any sense, I do believe."

Then came the Witch's voice, cooing softly like the voice of a wood-pigeon from the high elms in an old garden at three o'clock in the middle of a sleepy,...

But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn't hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and coldblooded like a duck's. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.

First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone's brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes. Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, "What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I'll turn the blood to fire inside your veins."

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking
for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

"Oh, hurrah! Good old Puddleglum!" cried Scrubb and Jill.


Anonymous said...

I can't!

My Mother used to tell us, "I can't never did do a dang thing!" She was right. If you say you can't then you can't, because you won't try.

Christina Dawn said...

Lewis is such an enchanting writer. Thank you for sharing how his story is touching you today.

Hannah in South East Asia said...

We have this "can't-may not" discussion at school at lot! I'm constantly asking my teacher, "Can you help me?" etc. She replies, "I CAN but I the question is if I MAY." Boy, does that bug me! "Can't" is overused.

Marcie said...

My mom used to say, "Can't never did!" Now, I find those very words coming out of my mouth to my children. How true it is that "can't" shuts down any further attempts at trying.
Yea for Puddleglum! Thanks for the reminder! And, I'll have to go check out this movie Avalon. I didn't realize that it was written by CS Lewis.
BTW, isn't it interesting that there has been a resurgence of Lewis - not just Narnia but all his books? My daughter's teacher is reading The Magicians Nephew to the class - in public school!

I Was Just Thinking.... said...

Marcie - the movie Avalon was NOT written by C.S. Lewis. It was directed and I think written by Barry Levinson. Aidan Quinn is one of the stars. If your parents/grandparents came over from the old country it's especially insightful.