As the new school year rolls around again, my thoughts are turning toward our culture’s obsession with measuring. My book, Magnus Maximus a Marvelous Measurer was, in part, inspired by my experience of coming to live in America.

 I once heard
William Trevor tell an interviewer that he attributed his success as an author,
in part, to always being an “other.”
(Trevor was that rarest of breeds – a Protestant who grew up in the Republic
of Ireland.)  Being an “other,” Trevor
explained, meant that he often found himself on the edge of the surrounding
community, peering in and noticing much that those on the inside took for
granted.  In many ways, Magnus Maximus stemmed from my “otherness.”  When I first arrived in the States from my
native Scotland, I felt as if I had landed in the middle of the Guiness Book of
World Records.  Every strata of society,
it seemed, had succumbed to the seduction of the measuring tape, the latest Gallup
poll, the NASDAQ, or the standardized test. Healthcare, government, finance,
leisure, education, sports, food, entertainment – all of them had been sucked
into this roiling whirlpool of measuring, comparing, contrasting, labeling,
analyzing, and quantifying, all the better to discover who or what is better,
faster, thinner, or healthiest, smartest, richest – ad infinitum.  There also  seemed to be a national penchant for slapping
a number on a person, be it SSN, PIN, Telephone, Driver’s License, or the
almighty ZIP!  And without the requisite
number, you were considered a nonentity, as I discovered from years of living
as a resident alien whose social security number was not etched into my memory
bank.
In addition
to living in such a measuring-obsessed society, I was also married to a
consummate measurer.  Over the years my
husband’s preoccupation with comparing, counting, analyzing, and competing, at
turns delighted, perplexed, flummoxed, infuriated, befuddled, amused,
infuriated, and –  ultimately –  inspired me to write my story.
 What fun it was to write about a dear old man
who counts all kinds of extraordinary things….like measles on a tummy, or freckles on a nose….
and then measures all kinds of Nesses and Ests…..like the wobbliness of a jellyfish and the itchiness of an itch…
 only to discover…that “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of breaths that take our breath away.” (anon)

 

 It seems to me that these breathtaking moments are indeed the stuff of stories and songs and poems.  They are why artists paint, musicians make music, dancers dance, and writers write.  They are all that we have forsaken in our measuring spree.   And the irony….they provide the antidote to our wordly woes, to the gloom and doom that stretches from stock market to the playground.
At day’s end, instead of counting our net worth, or toting up our losses, we can count our blessings and ask ourselves what bolt of beauty, what whiff of wonder took our breath away today.
So as we start another school year, we will of course be focused on teaching our children to MEASURE, for measuring is a very good thing….in moderation, and as long as we take some time to pause and ponder, sense our smallness in the vastness, marvel in our mystery, cherish the gift of life that is precious beyond meausure, and realize the truth of what that other “marvelous measurer,” Einstein, once said…
  Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.” 
And for some fun measuring and language arts activities to complement your reading of Magnus, download the activity guide here.