Teaching as a Postal Vocation

George Steiner's latest book, My Unwritten Books, has been getting a lot of press, mainly for the racy chapter on his sexual escapades in which he considers how different languages condition erotic experience (he takes this well beyond the old joke about sex in German). Indeed, critics seem rather fixated on this chapter--from the first review I read, I wouldn't have guessed that the book also includes some stellar criticism! But perhaps my favorite snippet comes from a conversation with him in The Guardian in which he captures the exciting opportunity that is teaching:
"unless you are absolutely first rate, which so few of us are, then what I call the letter-carrier function of the teacher is wonderful. To serve great works, to send the letters out hoping they get to a good mailbox, is a marvellous thing."

Academics are notoriously given to frequent fits of self-importance and illusions of grandeur. But every once in a while, we get a clear, humble, maybe maganimous glimpse of who we are and will be, and then find a special joy and delight in being teachers. Would that I could always be content to be a mailman.