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Of Bookends and Dragons – Reflections on a Year of Fortitude

~ by Jesse Hake and Joelle Hodge ~

Dante and Beatrice lived on the top of my bookshelf. Or rather, matching Dante and Beatrice bookends crown the highest peak of my tallest bookshelf. I found them in a forgotten corner of an antique store, in a small northern Pennsylvania mountain town. They are nothing fancy, merely molded plaster busts that have been painted gold. At the time, I was a college student who had been newly introduced to Dante and I was thoroughly smitten. I proudly purchased these little tokens and took them home with me, the gilded guardians of my library.

One day last February, Beatrice fell. Or rather, a bulky copy of Plutarch’s Lives fell over and she plummeted from a height of eight feet, striking the hard laminate floor, separating her poor, plaster, painted head from her shoulders.

Now, as a classical educator, I noted the irony of this mishap. (One could say that a major perk of being a classical educator is that the irony of moments like these is never lost on you). I had just started at Scholé Academy. I was at the point in my middle school Medieval Literature curriculum where we were carefully treading through Dante’s Divine Comedy. Needless to say, I was tempted to see Beatrice’s tumble as an ill omen. The literary personification of Divine help and favor pitches herself off my bookshelf the week I start teaching the Divine Comedy?! I was a terrible teacher…I knew it…Beatrice knew it…and who knows how long the Dante bookend would suffer to remain at his post?

Fortunately, I had tools at my disposal to reunite Beatrice with her plaster shoulders. My father-in-law enjoys putting together airplane models, so he happily lent me glue, gold paint, and varnish from his supplies. However, there is a problem: I deeply dislike crafting. Poor Beatrice lived in two pieces for weeks, before I worked up the nerve to take paintbrush to glue and delicately stitch her visage back together. She is now in one piece, but if there is one thing I am less confident in than my repairing abilities, it is my artistic abilities. She is still in need of a repainting. My fear of failure (or at least of performing a task insufficiently) is still preventing me from starting it.

Beginning a task in the face of the unknown frequently takes the most courage. In my Medieval Literature class, we read The Hobbit to end our curriculum. In chapter twelve, Bilbo Baggins enters the dragon’s lair alone, not knowing what lies ahead. Halfway down the tunnel he stops. Tolkien writes “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did…he fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.” This passage reminded me of our year-long focus on the virtue of fortitude. One of my greatest comforts this past year as I have taught middle school and as my husband and I await the arrival of our first child is this: God equips us as He calls us. I can no longer let Beatrice live on my shelf of unfinished projects simply for fear of starting, no more than Bilbo Baggins could remain paralyzed mid-tunnel. Whether it is learning a new skill, teaching, or parenthood, God equips us with the fortitude and reliance on Him to accomplish what He calls us to.

Lauren Della Piazza Hartke is a third generation teacher, raised by parents who instilled in her a passion for history and literature. She graduated from a Christian high school before attending Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Lauren had the opportunity to study abroad in Scotland for a semester before obtaining a B.A. in History. As a teaching assistant at Geneva College she fell in love with teaching the humanities and accordingly went on to obtain an M.A. in Public History from Georgia Southern University where she also worked as a teaching assistant and a coordinator for the Ogeechee International History Film Festival.

Lauren’s abiding interest is in educating people of all ages in all matters of history, but her favorite eras are classical and medieval Europe. Her experience in both Christian and secular higher education made her consider her own pedagogy and preference for the classical model. She firmly believes that an education in the humanities enables us to better love God and love our neighbors.

Besides reading and watching old films, Lauren loves baking, traveling, playing the piano, and hiking. She and her husband Logan live in Jacksonville, Florida where they share a house with their cat, Katya. They love cooking for friends and family members, and can frequently be found at exotic grocery stores shopping for unique ingredients. [email protected]


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