All Quiet on the Western Front

If only life were my tenth grade English class–

We wrote and wrote and wrote and read and talked and wrote that year.

It wasn’t the year of my favorite book- Julius Caesar, Old Man and the Sea, A Separate Peace, all were fine- but we wrote and we wrote and we wrote and wrote that year. It was– and if I’m honest, always will be– the writing.

Why does it have to mean anything? A student asked of the Old Man and his pieta. Why couldn’t he represent a lawnmower, over Christ? He bemoaned. Well, a lawnmower’s hands don’t bleed, for one, and I’ve yet to see one teach a man to fish.

We wrote autobiographies that year, individual exploratory writing exercises. Lists of things we loved and hated, moving ourselves into metaphor, “if I were a- if I were a- if I were a fish, I’d be a carp” and “if I were a jazz musician, I sure wouldn’t be Miles Davis, have you read about that guy?”

Perhaps inspired by all the self-reflection, I walked into class one day–probably late, probably without my assignment done, probably with plenty of excuses in hand– and told my teacher it meant a lot, her teaching. The writing and writing and reading and writing and thinking and talking. I knew we were getting better, and we’d always use those skills (it would take longer for me to feel the same about compounding interest, relevant though it might be). She thanked me, I went off for lunch with my friends.

The next day she pulled me into the hall. Stepping out into the hall with a teacher wasn’t new. I walked those halls with lots of weight, the weight of never finishing an assignment on time, of wondering if attendance had been taken the day I’d decided the park was more beneficial than class, of all that was going on at home and my inability to articulate it. I was afraid of everything. I knew I could but I wouldn’t. I ran, and hid, and destroyed any evidence of success.

The door latched. My stomach turned. “I was being thrown to the wolves yesterday,” she said. “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I needed to hear that it mattered.”

Weeks later, I turned in a completed autobiography, printed and bound. There were two post-it notes with her comments. The first–taking exception to my description of a clarinet as “soothing”. Sure, word choice could have improved there. The second–where I’d noted my wish to learn how to care for others without feeling guilty: “when you figure it out, let me know”.

Two children, one marriage, and many friendships and relationships and changes in the family dynamic later, here I am. A recent conversation about volunteer commitments met with disdain: “Shouldn’t you be spending more time with your family?” Shouldn’t I be showing them the size of the world, the size of our hearts, the size of our need and our obligation to one another? Shouldn’t I show them how to care?

I pulled myself into the hall that day. Told myself it mattered. Dropped the guilt in the recycling bin and watched it tumble into a truck, carted off into the distance.

If I were a- If I were a- If I were a- If I were a-

 

 

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