I am working my way through the book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the the Inklings. The book describes four gentlemen of the UK literary society known as The Inklings. There were others who belonged but these four are the crux: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. The book gives a brief biography of each but spends most of the time describing their influence and encouragement of each other and in the works that they penned. As we were in Oxford, UK this past summer and saw the Eagle and Child pub (where the society convened) and Magdalen College ( where C.S. Lewis had rooms), I find it most interesting.
One little anecdote tucked in the Tolkien "biography" chapter caught my attention. J.R.R. Tolkien had a mentor, Joseph Wright. Professor Wright had no formal education, was raised in a home that was poverty stricken at best (mother a charwoman and father a miner who drank himself to death) yet Joseph Wright became one the most literate and educated individuals in late nineteenth, early twentieth century England. All due to the fact that a fellow mill worker at his place of employment decided to teach an fifteen year old boy how to read and write. From that simple act of teaching him to read the Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress, Joseph went on to teach himself Latin, French, German and then Welsh, Greek. Lithuanian, Anglo-Saxon, Old Saxon, Old Bulgarian and Old High Greek. Eventually he ended up in Oxford as professor of comparative philology (the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages) and earning the distinction of England's leading philologist.
Amazing. You wonder about the nurture versus nature theory. In Joseph Wright's case you think he didn't have either. Certainly not a nurturing upbringing. He had to go to work in the hellish textile mills at age seven. And certainly not having a great gene pool. Not that there is anything wrong with his parents occupations. However, when you think of prenatal care, food and nutrients for the developing body and mind, I don't imagine that he received much on that score either.
It makes me wonder, who in our midst is like Joseph Wright- a individual if given an opportunity could blossom? Who just needs the keys to unleashing a brilliant mind? Or to be taught some basic skill which leads to uncovering something of significance?
Are there people we see everyday- the convenient store clerk, the taxi driver, the wait staff at the local coffee shop, the housekeeping staff at the office, the homeless person on the corner- who could benefit from a leg up? People, who would blossom if someone took a chance in getting to know them, found out what makes them tick and uncovered their needs? People, through no fault of their own, who happened to be born into a situation that doesn't provide any opportunity.
I even wonder about the people I don't normally see- ex-offenders, gang members, drug addicts, refugees, or people born into extreme poverty. What would happen if those of us who have been given much opportunity helped those who were given little opportunities?
In Joseph Wright's case it was illiteracy. It seems like such an Edwardian social ill, but it still is around today. Joseph Wright's story has given me new eyes as I go through my day and encounter various people. I wonder whom can I encourage and possibly inspire through my words?
What about you? Whom do you encounter each day that might need a leg up, an opportunity or an encouraging word?