Thursday, February 21, 2008

total eclipse of the heart

Originally uploaded by JKonig.
Last night’s lyrical lunar eclipse reminded me of Art class, 7th grade, where I sketched the best hands ever and Mr. D---f failed to recognize their genius.

Mr. D---f was a dirty old man who was disappointed with life and frequently peeked down the shirts of the newly-developing girls in the class. We all knew it. We all talked about it. We all expected it. We all found ways to position ourselves to prevent it. Well, most of us.

But we talked about it quietly not because we were afraid he might hear us, but because his daughter was in our class, and we all felt sorry that she had to have him as her dad.

I had Mr. D---f’s class the day of the solar eclipse. Maybe you remember (or maybe I’m just much older than everyone here): When the world went dark and school children all over America made camera obscuras and avoided looking up and marveled at the story that unfolded on the paper at their feet?

Well I don’t. Because Mr. D---f’s decided we wouldn’t trouble with the eclipse. We’d just keep on with our school work, let it pass by unnoticed.

To this day I’m surprised that none of us rose up in protest. I remember the rage was real: our classroom was a corner room, wrapped on two sides by glass. It was a sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, and then slowly, poetically, it grew dark, and then light again. I stopped working and watched the light change, my heart soaked with longing and anger and frustration.

I hated him for controlling my hour. I hated him for keeping me in that room, for preventing me from seeing the miracle that was happening outside.

All of us watched in silence. Only his daughter kept her head down. And it was probably her presence that prevented any of us from rising up, leveling him with our easels, and storming the door.

Years later a buddy of mine and a big reader of Carlos Casteneda would tell me about Casteneda’s idea about petty oppressors -- those folks you encounter in life whose oppression helps you forge your values, helps you clarify what matters to you. Mr. D--f was one of those. I learned in that room that day that the most precious possession any of us have is our time. Nobody owns that. We might share it, but it’s always a gift.

I hold this in mind during any business meeting I’m responsible for -- this is why we end on time. It’s present in the gratitude I feel when a friend has time to meet me, the regret I feel if I’m running late. It’s there when I’m traveling, even if just for work, there in the hours in the margins that I milk for what experience I can. Right here. Right now.

A realization born of that hour, of the light cycling through dark, of the miracle just out of reach.

[Photo by the incomparable JKonig]


FlyingSquirrel said...

i REALLY need to spend more time in this here blog. your writing is so beautiful, and i love the notion of "petty oppressors" -- it's so true. so very very true.

thank you for this. thank you for being you. right here. right now.

anniemcq said...

D, your writing is magical. And that teacher was horrible. What a great example of what not to do. I feel so sorry for his daughter.

Anali said...

I love this post and I remember that eclipse! You are so true about time. Time is truly priceless, because we never know how much we have. Even if we only have a little money, we can budget it to figure out how much we can spend. But budgeting our time? For something like the eclipse, I think we should assume we have very little and enjoy it.

I loved watching the lunar eclipse last night, even if it was only for a few minutes. And have a safe trip to Boston! : )

Kari said...

I'm sorry you missed it, but it's a beautiful story -- the part about the hearts of children.

Lolabola said...

I remember that eclipse! I remember the fear of blindness being drilled into me by my mom. (thereby making it much much more magical). We weren't allowed out either but I think it's because I was in kindergarten or thereabouts and they didn't trust all us little ones to not look at the sun. (I sooooo would've looked). petty oppressors, an interesting idea

mrtn said...

This story reminded me of a sci-fi story that I read as a child, which I believe was actually written in Norwegian.

It takes place on Venus in the distant future. Venus has been terraformed, but is constantly covered in dense, dark clouds, fog, storm, lightning and rain. You never see the sun on Venus. Everybody is depressed and filled with longing for sunlight. (This story may very well have been written by someone in Bergen, come to think of it.)

The story takes place in an elementary school on Venus. It's recess. The kids run around, playing, as normal. Most of the story is just how this one girl in particular gets bullied. She's slightly different from the others (maybe has a physical deformity, I don't remember). Her tormentors end up stuffing her in a locker and locking the door.

After recess is over, the class has just sat down when suddenly, something freakish happens to the weather cycle: the weather clears. The sunshine breaks through. This hasn't happened in over twenty years.

Class is immediately dismissed. There is a lyrical description of the children running around on the grass outside, feeling happy and free and alive and in the sun for the first time in their young lives.

Eventually, after an hour or two, the cloud cover rolls back, and the children come back inside. Of course, only now do they hear the pounding on the inside of the locker door. It ends with them letting her out of the locker, not daring to look at her.

Your teacher was kind of a dick.

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