7 Lessons for Life – From an Old Friend

Good books are more than stories. The lessons are like sage advice, and the characters become lifelong friends. I have taught The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (by Mark Twain) for many years now. Unfortunately, for me, we have a new book adoption next year and Mr. Twain’s humorous tale of a young boy’s adventure has been shelved.

I’ll admit that I am sad about this, but also eager to meet the new star of my classroom as I prep the next novel. In the meantime, I am still in a bit of mourning for Tom. So to honor the young boy who invented outsourcing, delegation, and early retirement, I have a short list of 7 lessons I learned from Twain’s book.

Lesson 1: Promises

To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.

I guess this applies to just about any sort of New Year’s resolution: dieting, exercising, not swearing, etc. It doesn’t mean that you can’t avoid doing these things, but it is an acknowledgement that once denied, you often covet the “freedom” to do what is “forbidden”.

Lesson 2: The Heart of a Youth

The elastic heart of youth cannot be compressed into one constrained shape long at a time.

Sometimes it is important to remember, as adults, that while we may get used to routine, and sometimes crave it, kids often need some spontaneity. Also, kids will love something (and sometimes someone) one minute and loathe it the next. You can’t constrain the young heart.

Lesson 3: Work and Play

Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.

Perhaps the most important lesson in life- knowing the difference between work and play and embracing each role. If you are lucky enough, you can find work, which even though you are “obliged” to do, feels like play.

Lesson 4: Law of Human Action

He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.

This is the truth. Tom was the original con man salesman. We all crave a challenge. Some crave it to prove ability or worth. Some crave it simply for the sport of it. And there are some that don’t crave it at all – but they are the boring ones. Kidding. Sort of.

Lesson 5: The “Entertainment of Youth”

Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.

Yes, youth is funny and entertaining, but if your remember it correctly, you also remember how confusing, trying, frustrating, and overwhelming it can sometimes be. As adults, it helps to remember our own experiences to have patience with those currently sailing the unforgiving seas of youth. And sometimes, it just helps to think back and laugh.

Lesson 6: Go Dig

There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.

Now Twain focused his adventure on boys, because it was about a boy, and Twain had been a boy, but I’m certain this applied to girls too. It’s natural to get a scratch to chase “treasure”. This treasure might be a dream we have, it might be wealth, it might simply be an experience. There is a sense of accomplishment if you are able to unearth said treasure , but sometimes the experience, or challenge, inherent in the search is enough to feed the soul.

Lesson 7: Join a “Gang”

Just as dead earnest as I’m sitting here. But Huck, we can’t let you into the gang if you ain’t respectable, you know.

At the end of the novel, Tom tricks his friend Huck into acting “civilized” by promising him admission into a new gang of robbers- if he complies with the Widow Douglas’ requests. I guess we all join “gangs”, to some degree, to fit in and feel a part of something bigger. Maybe it’s validation. Maybe it is a sense of belonging. Maybe it is strength in numbers, but the groups we choose to be a part of do seen to help us get through life.

Well, it is time to say goodbye to Tom for now. I’ll miss my old friend, but am comforted by the thought that his adventures still run in all of us today.


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