In The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot wrote,
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
This year, April has indeed been cruel to many people around the globe. As I shelter in place, watching the statistics on the evening news, my heart goes out to everyone affected by COVID-19.
Ironically, each year this month begins with a tradition of merriment – the celebration of April 1st as “April Fools’ Day.” According to Sarah Kaplan (2016), in an article in the Washington Post, April Fools’ Day may have come from a Roman festival called Hilaria, which was typically held on March 25th, according to William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. The holiday involved “games, masquerades and generally whiling away the day with relentless mocking — not even local magistrates were immune.”
Kaplan notes that other cultures have similar customs. For instance, “the two-day Hindu celebration Holi, the Persian festival Sizdah Bedar, and the Jewish holiday Purim also fall in early spring.” She adds that “while not explicitly about tricking people, [these] holidays involve various forms of merriment and frivolity — throwing colored powder, picnicking outside, dressing in costume, etc.” Kaplan notes that the Museum of Hoaxes suggests that April Fools’ Day probably doesn’t derive from these events: “Instead, it’s more likely that April Fool’s Day resembles these other celebrations because they’re all manifestations of a deeper pattern of folk behavior — an instinct to respond to the arrival of spring with festive mischief and symbolic misrule.” (Of course, we are talking about spring in the northern hemisphere in this context.)
The website History.com notes that the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582 may have influenced the start of April Fools’ Day: “People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called ‘April fools.’” The internet has ample resources if you’d like to read about the best April Fools’ Day jokes.
There is a proverb which says that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Although it sounds biblical, according to Grammarist.com, the expression was part of Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, which was published in 1711. The idea is that one should be cautious before taking action.
But there are challenges to this view. For example, Fools Rush In is the title of a 1997 film starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayak. It is a romantic comedy about two impetuous lovers whose relationship was rocky at first but turned out well.
This line has also been used in at least two songs. One, called “Fools Rush In,” it was written by Johnny Mercer and Rube Bloom in 1940. It has been sung by many recording artists, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Brook Benton, and Ricky Nelson. You can click here for a slow jazzy version sung by Doris Day.
The line was also used in a different song, called “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which was originally sung by Elvis Presley in the movie, Blue Hawaii. It was recently performed again in the 2018 film, Crazy Rich Asians. This song was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss. The acapella group Pentatonix sings my favorite version.
Sometimes, the fool is portrayed in literature as being wise. For example, the Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear notes the king’s faults while no one else will. The website, Listverse, has an interesting article about the ten most important jesters (also called “fools”) in history. It notes that royalty have employed entertaining fools for many years and that “sometimes, the wisdom that their position allows them to utter takes on greater meaning than all the advice of all the other counselors in court.” This paradox shows us that what may seem foolish may actually be a wise course of action.
What, you may ask, has any of this April trivia got to do with TIRF? It was just before April Fools’ Day in 1999 that the TESOL Board of Directors voted TIRF into existence. I was on the TESOL Board at the time, as were some other members of the current TIRF Trustees. Perhaps we were fools to think that a small, grass-roots foundation could support international research on English language teaching and learning for years to come.
In fact, the TESOL Directors did not rush in when it came to establishing the Foundation. Years of careful groundwork was done by the Association Advancement Committee (Jim Alatis, Ed Anthony, Russ Campbell, Jodi Crandall, Rick Jenks, Joan Morley, and Dick Tucker). TESOL President Joy Reid had appointed these leaders to determine whether or not it was feasible to start a foundation to support research in our profession.
Perhaps we are fools – those of us who strive to support the Foundation in these terrible times. And it may seem particularly foolish of me, as a would-be fundraiser, when I should be using this column to solicit money for the Foundation, to encourage you NOT to give money to TIRF at the present.
Sadly, this is a time when it is more important than ever to give generously to your local foodbank, or to funds that support first responders, or to immigrant and refugee relief efforts. You could support Doctors without Borders or the Red Cross and Red Crescent in their efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus.
Because we cannot know how long this pandemic will continue to be a wide-spread and serious threat, we will not hold TIRF’s annual mid-year campaign in 2020. Instead, we will resume our usual fundraising efforts with TIRF’s normal year-end appeal in November. In the meantime, don’t be foolish: Stay safe and be well.