I’m planning on finishing up Paradise Lost tonight. It’s quite a challenging read. Even having been to seminary and having taught Homer, Virgil, Plato, and Augustine for the past eight years and even having taught Dante before, I still feel like I’m missing so much. It’s going to need more than one reread before I think I can do a good job of teaching it.
However, I keep telling myself I have to start somewhere. The good part of this is that I can sympathize with my students as they struggle with the text. Also, most of my students have a degree of familiarity with the Scripture, so we can all follow the basic plot. But thinking about this made me consider how long it takes and how much effort it takes to become really proficient in a craft. It’s taking me eight years of teaching Plato’s Republic to get me to a place where I can read it both sympathetically and critically, and engage the students in a reading that’s both sympathetic and critical, and to really be able to enjoy this process. It’s taken me six years as a Latin teacher (starting out literally one lesson ahead of my students) to be able to enjoy the rhetoric and the rhythms, the timing and the pacing of Cicero, and to take pleasure in reading an author who makes a language sing.
It’s rather ironic that I’m closer to having this experience with Cicero in Latin than I am with Milton in English. But Paradise Lost is so rich that the time invested in it will be repaid a hundredfold. Maybe after I teach it eight years, I’ll have a greater degree of confidence in engaging students with the text, rather than us all sharing ignorance. Diligence. Industriousness. Making the most of my time. Applying myself. These were virtues that were largely absent from my misspent youth and young adulthood. So I’m making up for lost time, and enjoying the journey. I’m getting to read all the books that I’ve wanted to all of these year, and getting paid to understand them and to share them with others. It’s a great life. But I have not been able to get around just how long it takes to get good at something.
Any shortcuts out there for becoming competent and proficient to a high degree in something that you are passionate about?