About That



Seems one can take a break from the known world– and I did, a two-week break – but the world never stops. A sad, so-called “fact of life” that makes one wonder if the break was worth the bother. It’s not the return to a backlog of housework, progress reports and other projects that wears on the body and mind. It’s the notion that, one can step out of the coursing river of 21st century life for a time, but the expectation is that one will always jump back in and thrust one’s way forward past the point of departure with renewed vigor and enthusiasm; not to mention carrying on indefinitely at the accelerated pace.

Me, I’m too old for that nonsense. Traveling exhausts me. Not the being out of the stream, in new places and different people; but the rushing through airports, queuing up to board a plane that leaves me feeling like a sardine in a can who’s charged for the oil and the privilege. Going and coming, it’s nonstop stress with connections to dehumanization. Mind now, the weeks were lovely, once I arrived. I got reacquainted with my gone-all-week husband in his town of employment. Then I shared time, laughter, hugs, and a lot of love with my younger daughter and her family. Yes, the temptation to remain in either place came close to irresistible. But, as they say, “all good things…”

And I came home to the following “progress”:

  1. Facebook is relentless in nagging about how long it’s been since I posted this blog.

  2. My handmade holiday gifts have done nothing about making themselves.

  3. There was two weeks of trash to put out this week.

Now, on the positive side:

  1. Sarge has again found the litter box acceptable for his poops. Our floors rejoice in the change.

  2. Two of my students tested and received their high school equivalency. Huzzah!

  3. Our Early Bird student has practice-tested well in Social Studies. She’s scheduled to take the GED version of the test next week.

  4. I have a brace of new students. Both are full of vinegar and opinions.

“I went to the football game and I saw [a football player of some local note]” the new young woman announced at the start of Monday’s class. “Did you know he works with special needs kids when he’s off the field? He’s my hero.”

The other newbie, a young man, snorted. “I like [a billionaire often in the news]. He’s my hero.”

“Why?” Notta asked, passing out the warm-up exercises we do each morning.

“What do you mean?” he asked. He seemed startled that someone would question his statement. Ah, youth!

“Well, why do you call him a hero?”

“He has, like, a billion dollars!”

“Oh, did he start a company and make that much?”

The young man considered. “No, I think his father or his grandfather started it. He just keeps it running.”

The new young woman tsked. “I hear he’s not running it all that well.”

“Hey,” the young man said, “he’s got the money. That’s what matters.”

“Does he donate to charities or sponsor scholarships or do stuff for other people?”

“How should I know? I guess he does enough for tax breaks, sure. Who wouldn’t?”

“Then what you admire about him is his money?” I asked.

The young man sat with his mouth agape for a moment. “Of course! He can do anything! He can go anywhere, buy anything! He’s always in the magazines and on TV and the Internet. People listen to him because he’s got so much money! The news reports almost everything he says and does.”

“So, if he farted, CNN would report it as a major atmospheric phenomenon?” Notta said, with a half-grin. Most of us laughed. The young man, however, was not amused.

“You all just wish you had his money and influence!”

“Seems to me that you wish you had them,” I said. “But help me out here. I’m old and tired from my travels: what is it that attracts you? The money or the influence?”

His expression reminded me of the nanny’s rebuke, “We are not a codfish. Close your mouth.” “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess the influence. Who wouldn’t want people to do whatever you say?”

“And that’s what makes him your hero? That he can get people to do whatever he says?”

“Not just mine! A lot of people like him, too.” He looked at all of us around the table. “Why do you say he’s not a hero?”

Three or four students tried to answer that at once, mostly with examples of this “hero’s” indiscretions, scandals, etc. I held up a hand to stop the cross-over talk. “No one’s saying he’s not – to you. Heroes are a personal thing. We all admire different things about different people. The thing about heroes is that they say more about us than the heroes themselves.”

“How do you mean?” the Early Bird asked.

“What we admire in others tends to be what we wish for ourselves.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Well, what’s the definition of ‘hero’?”

The class groaned. That always meant one of them would have to get up, grab a dictionary and actually have to use it (cell phones are off in my class). “There’s stuff about mythological characters and illustrious warriors,” that day’s seeker reported. “It’s mostly a person who’s done something very brave or achieved something great.”

“Like made a billion dollars!” the new young man said with a triumphant palm-slap on the table.

“I thought you said he inherited it from his dad,” another student said.

“Well, he’s hung onto it!”

“And that’s brave?” the new young woman asked.

“It’s smart.”

“Yeah, but is it all legal?” another young man said.

“Let’s not go there,” I said before the argument started. I was not going to start Social Studies on the topic of tax evasion. “The point is that we all have heroes of some sort because they represent something we value. Used to be, it was bravery. Soldiers in battle. Leaders who changed the course of our country for the better. Ordinary people who stood up for what was right in the face of crowds who couldn’t be bothered to change the wrong. People who dare.”

“So who are your heroes?” the young man asked me.

I smiled. “Oh I have a whole pantheon of heroes.”

“What’s a pantheon?”

The class chorused my oft-repeated answer to such questions: “Look it up!”

“I’ll give you only a few examples,” I said. “First, my mom. She wasn’t my biological mother, but she had the courage to marry a man with three young children and raise them as her own. She and my father are still married after nearly 60 years.

“Second, I’d list my husband. He’s had a rough time of it, with the job market the way it’s been most of our lives together, but he’s managed to keep us all moving in productive directions. He’s kind, way smarter than I am, and he cares about people.

“Then there are my three children. They’re all grown and gone, but I can’t help admiring their boldness in living their lives, in doing things I’d never dare, and staying true to their core beliefs. They constantly amaze me.”

“Are your kids rich?” You can guess who asked that.

“In terms of their bank accounts, not especially. But they are good people. They are kind, they help others, and they care. Those are things I find heroic these days when people speak and act without thinking.”

“That’s because you’re a teacher!” he said.

“That may be,” I said. “That may be. Now let’s talk about George Washington.”

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