04-20-2007 04:26 PM
When I was in second grade, my teacher taught us about opposites. An opposite, she explained, is the thing that is as different as can be from something else. "So the opposite of white is --"
"Good. And the opposite of left is --"
Umm... "Salty. No -– sour!"
Doctor? There is no opposite to doctor, is there? "Uh, lawyer?"
Nurse? I couldn’t understand that at all, and got so frustrated I began to cry. Retrospectively I see what the teacher was getting at -- this was in the pre-women’s lib, un-PC 1960s, and she meant a doctor was a man, so the opposite would be a nurse/woman. I didn’t get that then, though; in fact, the whole idea of what opposites were began to unravel to me during that lesson. Black and white, after all, are not "as different as can be" from each other, for both are colors. Left and right are both directions. Boys and girls are both humans, and doctors and nurses both work in medicine. They seem to share similarities rather than differences.
All these years later, I am still wrestling with opposites. This time it’s innocence and experience. While it’s tempting to think that kids are either one or the other, and that innocence and experience are "as different as can be," in reality they are jumbled together. A child can experience horrendous things, as do Jem, Maggie and Maisie, the children in Burning Bright, and yet retain their innocence. Sometimes it just takes the help of a sympathetic grown-up to navigate through these baffling opposites. In this case, that person happens to be William Blake, English poet, painter, and a most curious man to live next door to. He wrote his own map of childhood, calling it Songs of Innocence and of Experience; Burning Bright shows us how to read it. Happy navigating.