Well, Which is it?

Well, Which Is It?

One of the least popular tasks my students have to perform for our agency involves a standardized (and therefore mostly inapplicable) survey to see what interests they have and what jobs they could hold, should they wish to pursue them. The long-suffering soul who administers this bit of bureaucracy once told me, “It’s to help them set goals. Almost all of the careers identified on this form require the HS diploma or equivalency and some education beyond. This teaches them what they have to do and to have a plan.”

“And ticking off boxes in a multiple choice survey can do that?” I asked.

She did not appear to like the question. I inferred the majority of our students had complained throughout the form-filling process. “Well, it’s a start. You know these kids, the way society is now. They all want an immediate answer. Instant gratification, as if today was all that mattered. “

“And were we so different at their age?” I asked.

Side note: This woman and I had ‘grown up’ in the last days of the Vietnam War, but we all knew the stories. The boys we went to high school with registered for the draft at 18 (the average age of a soldier in that conflict was but a year older. 19 years old – let that sink in). Without the four-leaf clover of money and/or a four-year college, or some made-up disability that came with money to back up the lie, young men left for a country most of us could not locate on the world map, with lessening chances of coming home again. At least, of coming home in one piece. Even then, too many came home to a country that bullied them as murderers.

And the 4Fs, parents, women and children they left behind? Well, I suppose you could say we got on with life. True, there were the bra-burners and Equal Rights protestors; but I think most were focused on getting through the day and seeing that any children involved got through it as well. Our parents, veterans of the Depression and World War II, taught us to plan today for tomorrow. It was as much our religion as our hymns and muttered words on Sunday mornings. We “youngsters” all sang “Live For Today” along with the Grass Rootsx, but we colored it with the hope that the little boys we saw in the yards and on their bikes would have a better war-less tomorrow.

Yeah. Right. Wonder how THAT turned out?

This was, of course, when computers had only begun to shrink from a large room-sized contraption of spinning wheels and reams of paper to the ultra-expensive TI calculator. I suppose someone had thought of a mobile phone, but most of us had the phone coiled cord. No matter how long it was or how many times one dangled the receiver, it still tangled. My mother could go on for an hour about the “right” way to untangle the cord. I don’t think I ever really understood the why of her lecture, but I am still certain it had much the same to do with why dishes had to be washed immediately after every meal.

I still leave dishes in the sink to this day.

Coming back to the class day in question, my colleague sputtered something about never having doubted her parents, her church and her government’s wisdom. She might even have added that she had never burned her bra, but I headed to class.

The morning break’s snacks and cigarettes seemed to have taken some of the bad taste of form-filling out of their mouths. Most of my class, a whopping eleven cherubs this day, took out their math work. I stopped them.

“So, how was it?” I asked. “The survey.”

Three answered with groans.

“You know how it is, Mrs. G,” one said. “They want to know what you like to do so they can fit you in, like the whole world’s puzzle and we’re just pieces.” This was the Philosopher, unquestionably.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” a young lady said. “Yeah, I like this and that, but I don’t know if I want to do it for the rest of my life!”

“Besides, what’s the big, f-“ another started, then glanced at me. “The big deal. We come here, we learn to take the test, we take the test. Why worry about what comes next?”

A low mutter of approval put a smile on his face, until I soured it by saying, “Well, that’s a good question.” Imagine 11 pairs of eyes rolling up in their sockets. “No, really, does it matter what happens next? Do we really have to worry about tomorrow?”

“Sometimes you do,” said one young lady, who was two tests away from completing her equivalency. “I mean, you set up a dentist appointment or you’re getting together with some friends on the weekend. You have to do some planning or looking forward to that.”

“Yeah,” said one of our single moms, “like line up a babysitter and hope there’s enough money in the paycheck to pay rent and bills, then go out.”

“How many of you get paid each day you work?” I received the Incredulous Student Look, wide eyes that doubted my sanity.

“I do,” said the Philosopher, “but it’s kind of under the table.”

“We’ll all pretend we did not hear that,” I said. We laughed. “But, for most of us, we work today to get paid tomorrow, so there is a connection.”

“Yeah, and, if you don’t blow it all partying or on video games, you can save some today for something you want tomorrow.”

“Like a house,” mused the soon-to-test-out cherub.

“Or a car,” said another, not-so-close-to-testing-out student.

“Or tuition, since the survey says we all need to keep going to school,” another cherub told us.

“Yeah, but you can’t just save and save and do nothing with it all,” said the young man wishing for a car. “Sometimes you have to bust loose. Don’t you, Mrs. G?”

I rose to the challenge. “Yes, I suppose you do. But there’s a cost.”

“There’s always a cost!” he said. “You get out of bed in the morning and it costs you!”

“Costs you what?” the first young lady asked.

“Costs you the sleep you coulda got!” he said. We all laughed again.

“Yeah, but if you plan for the busting loose,” the single mom began.

“But that’s not busting loose if you plan it!” he said.

There followed a silence and some seat-shifting.

“So we have to plan for tomorrow all the time we’re living in today,” Early Bird said, sounding more like a mourning dove than her usual chirp.

The young man was not about to give up so easily. “What about that saying about carpe diem and being in the present?”

“Carpe diem quam minimum credula posteror,” I said.

“Whatever. It means pretty much the same thing as YOLO,” he said.

“Not quite,” I said. “ The translation is ‘ Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.’ Taking it out of context, I suppose it could be read as the same as YOLO, but the original poem it comes from is more about doing what you can today because tomorrow is not promised. You probably heard the variation of not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Another low mutter; some mothers had really done their jobs of preaching foresight.

“Yeah, well, tomorrow you could get hit by a bus,” he countered. “So you have to live for today, don’t you? You really have to carp each day.”

“Which you do very well,” I said. He was the last to get the joke, but he laughed eventually. “You mean carpe. There is that line of thinking: live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.” I refused to set off another round of eye-rolling by warbling the Grass Roots song.

The young man leaned forward. “So which is it, Mrs. G.? You’re the adult and we’re the dumb Millennials. We want everything now. But what do you say? Do we seize our todays and forget tomorrow, or do we keep planning for tomorrow?”

“Tomorrows that many never come, “ said the Early Bird. Not one of her happier days.

I leaned an elbow on the table. The index and middle fingers of that hand tapped my lips as I studied the table top for several seconds. Then I looked at my cherubs.

And I told them the truth.

x”Live for Today.” The Grass Roots, 1967. Found on youtube.com August 26, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnFZsrs32Co

rHorace, Odes, Book I. Found on Urban Dictionary, August 26, 2019: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Carpe%20Diem


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