It was during one of those long-ass drives up to the lake, Larry’s working from a hotspot in the seat beside me, he’s deep into a conference call, as I develop a Parnelli Jones complex barreling down the Highway, chugging cold coffee, lost in hypnotic thoughts about what I would normally be doing mid-September, in the first weeks of classes.
I’m feeling nostalgic, every other day I think to myself, ‘is this all there is?’ And yes, I panic, momentarily, before reminding myself I’m an emeritus professor of life, time to rest on my one laurel.
I can hear you laughing, but seriously, it happened today!
I’m talking about the laurel, if you’re not following, geese, get some coffee.
Larry mutes his call and turns to me as if a general speaking secretly with his counterpart, “this call will finish right before we lose internet at Esparto,” I nod my comprehension, “but we have to be back in internet range by 12:05 pm, if we have no interruptions we should make it.”
I say, “So, we’re not stopping at Seka Hills for my olive oil pick up?”
He looks at me as if I’m incapable of following a complex flowchart, “No, we don’t have time for oils,” and returns to his call, me to my wayward thoughts on aging, worthiness, and purpose. Okay, that’s not exactly nostalgic, but it’s evocative nonetheless.
In September it’s all about ice breakers, an activity that serves to relieve inhibitions or tension between people, a conversation starter if you will. Not so different from a vessel capable of creating a channel through solid ice or breaking through the silence of a classroom. This time of year I would be deep into ice breakers, as I attempted to create a safe and trustworthy environment for hundreds of new students. I should mention these are teenagers which means their trust is hard-earned especially when it comes to religion teachers.
The questions and process would vary depending on the mood or character of the students I was serving. Sometimes the focus would be their social media accounts, lockers, or bedrooms…asking them to consider what a total stranger would deduce from their posts, decor, or what was tossed under their beds.
I’d have them break into small groups and discuss, inevitably an exercise planned for 15 minutes would bleed into 30 and I considered that a win, win. Apparently, we are attracted to discussions that have to do with how others perceive us? Even if we are the ones exposing ourselves, if only partially because we never fully share the truth of who we are, or hope to be for that matter.
When you think about it we are always trying to be known but in a very prescribed format, muted by what we choose to reveal or withhold. I believe it is our predominant desire to be validated by others, to be heard, to be understood. As Elie Wiesel says, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Sometimes I think politeness was invented to disguise our indifference?
We are walking billboards, announcing who we are by the way we dress, what and when we mask (a double-barreled analogy if there ever was one), our language, laughter, spirit, and as we age it seems that which we condemn breaks right through the barriers we use to disguise our truth. I’ve always liked how Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, “fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Or the infamous Nora Ephron who said, “I have always thought it was a terrible shame that the women’s movement didn’t realize how much easier it was to reach people by making them laugh than by shaking a fist.’”
Our very existence is a vast evolutionary experiment, those poor bastards the dinosaurs thought they were going to rule the world, then boom, climate change or was it an astroid? Without question, our existence is miraculous, what we do with this “one precious life” is therefore essential. I think we should all live by the Girl Scout Law, “to do our best, to be honest, and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what we say and do, and to respect ourselves and others, use resources wisely, make the world a better place.” Hell, I made prodigious improvements, legacies who walk around with my DNA, you’re welcome.
When I consider where I am in life it’s as if I’m rose, slightly past full bloom, my blossoms are as wrinkled as my decolletage, even the honey bees avoid my pistil, but there’s some potency left in me. Grab a vase, I was meant to be put on a pedestal, Bahaha!
As these thoughts are bouncing around in my brain as if a ping pong ball, I catch a glimpse of something in my side view, but before my mind is able to calibrate, a mama deer, skittish and indecisive, bounds across the highway right in front of my 7500-pound vehicle barreling down the road. My foot moves instinctively to the brake, tense fingers grip the wheel, Larry reaches for the dashboard to brace himself, he yells, “there’s two, there’s two,” and I continue with the pressure on the brake, both of us practically kissing the windshield, until the fawn is safely across the road. But just as I let up on the peddle I see another fawn dancing indecisively on the side of the road, she too dashes across the two-lane highway as I frantically attempt to stop the renewed momentum. I broke a sweat, cussed while sending up a Hail Mary, and from my Mommy years I reached across to brace the child who would be seated next to me. Ended up squeezing Larry’s boob.
Somehow they all made it to the other side of the road, as my heartbeat returns to normal I watch them from the rearview mirror, thinking that’s exactly how I feel…skittish and indecisive!
Larry mutes his call, “shit, there were three of them.”
I boast, “And I didn’t kill a single one, Booyah!”
“Are you kidding? Think what they would have done to my car!”
“Wow…you are why Bambi ran.”
“Hey, did that squeeze mean anything?”
I give him the look.
He returns to his call.
Speaking of Bambi, do you remember your bedtime routine as a child? Were you terrified of the dark, the closet door, what was lurking under your bed? I had horrific nighttime fears as a child. My young parents were probably exasperated with me. I remember in the heat of the summer sleeping completely under my sheets, not exposing a single strand of hair, sweltering, barely able to breathe, for fear the monster would find me in the dark and that would be the end of me.
It’s strange how I stopped looking under the bed once I realized the monsters I feared most were inside of me. I watched those monsters transform, dressing in yoga pants, becoming a proper educator, hosting a blog, adopting good manners. But they’re still there, they slip right out as if a leg from a silk stocking, exposing the flaws I painstakingly try to cover.
Standing before a classroom of students whose approval I have finally won, except for the angry one in the back of the room, who I can’t seem to capture, but never stop trying, it’s deceiving, because in this miraculous space I feel justified, capable, powerful, fragrant.
The truth is no one’s approval is lasting, as if a lover’s embrace, who holds you until he’s satisfied, then rolls away. Now, whose strong embrace will I long for without a classroom, a platform, a reliance on ice breakers, demiurge, and a space that is never completely safe?
Audry and I were polishing a pair of silver candlesticks unearthed from the kitchen renewal last week. I remember how delighted I was to bring these pieces a new brilliance from their tarnished beginnings. It’s so satisfying, it’s why I loved to teach, those young students are somehow able to rub new life into this rusty old instructor, as if an usher guiding me to my reserved gallery seat, and for the semester I’m able to sit with the gods.
As I sit with my flighty thoughts, wondering how I will continue to blossom without a purpose, a schedule, a little fertilizer? This is when I notice all the orange flags on the side of the road as if an omen to my preoccupations. They say caution, road work ahead, prepare to stop. Oh, that’s rich.
Larry moans as a construction worker plants a stop flag right in front of us and we watch a long line of cars slowly following a lead truck through the construction site, “this is going to undo us, we’re going to miss the window, damn.”
I say, “try to remember I’m driving.”
I get the look. Most marriages have food as a major player in their onus, but ours is all about my prowess behind the wheel.
As soon as we’re released from the follow car, I push the speed limit, maybe even our safety, as we’re waylaid again and again by slow trucks, and piss poor drivers. As Parnelli Jones is known to say, “if you are under control you’re going too slow.” I haul down Highway 20 searching for this all-elusive internet as if I could prove my worthiness once and for all.
Suddenly I’m on the podium, enjoying the adulation of the roaring crowds, boasting to Larry about my prowess as a driver in life, it’s as if those monsters I’ve been hiding have joined forces, “I did it,” I gloat. Chest bloated with pride, “because I’ve never retired, I never quit, and every day is a race!” [adapted Parnelli Jones]
He holds his finger up to silence me as he joins the next call.
I’m Living in the Gap, meeting expectations, proving my worth.
How are you doing? Let’s rag about it in the comments!