Mr. Pearson, our math teacher, always wore a green tweed suit and a red tie. If I concentrate, I can still hear his Yorkshire brogue, “The beauty of math is truth.” I didn’t like Mr. Pearson. He was an OCD nit-picker. I didn’t like math either and, as a lazy 15-year-old, wasn’t much sold on the value of truth.
After explaining a concept to us, he would set us to work announcing, “While you are working on this, I don’t even want to hear a pin drop.” One day, as his words still echoed, a dropped pin rang loud and clear on the parquet floor. A tormented grunt flew out of a Mr. Pearson. His face flushed crimson and he propelled himself rapidly up and down the aisles between us, looking for the errant pin so he could pounce on the perpetrator. Eddie Hubbard swiveled his foot two inches to cover the pin. In the whole year, it was the best thing ever to happen in that math class.
If Mr. Pearson had been aiming for truth, he was using the wrong discipline. It’s English not Math that contains the beauty of truth Mr. Pearson. Numbers do not appeal to the emotions, but truthful words inspire, capture a clarity, reconnect us to the threads of life.
Half a century later, the truth became more valuable. I am writing—re-writing, winnowing through the written words — sifting, separating, sorting, sweating a change — cutting, cussing, and burnishing. I delete, quit, drink tea, start afresh, and if lucky, distil some paragraphs, which finally ring with the clear bell of truth. Once found it’s unmistakable, like the singular din of a pin falling on a hardwood floor in a silent room.