Thursday, February 21, 2008
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]