We’re leaving the Great Park.
It’s a scorcher out there.
Her team just lost six to one.
She’s quiet on the tortuous zag from the fields.
I don’t think she feels responsible.
At 17, she’s philosophical, albeit a touch cynical and weary.
She carries her angst in her pocket.
“What is nihilism?” she asks the road ahead after a while.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about how minuscule
we are, especially in light of the cosmos and
the improbable non-existence of other life, somewhere.”
I haven’t hydrated enough.
My head hurts slightly.
“Well, it’s sort of like nothing matters,
an extreme sort of skepticism,” I immediately regret saying.
Her eyes widen and the depths of velvet brown
endlessly recede, raw terror swallowed–stored in a gap.
“But it’s not just the life’s a bitch then you die philosophy.
There’s something freeing about understanding our
insignificance in the larger scheme of things and our utter
significance at the local level, where we live.
It doesn’t have to be about uselessness.
The randomness and chaos of our births and deaths–
some take comfort in the just-is-ness of it.”
She still stares out at the road ahead of us, but I hear
her thinking it over, this great question of being and nothing,
all tied in knots to her senior year of high school,
turning 18, the possibility, potential, and unknown…
she who has always tightroped the anxiety fine line.
At 65 mph, those last 5 minutes take us no closer to home.
“Martian moons are Phobos and Deimos,
the latter translated as Panic,” I told you then.
It was mid-way through our junior year–our glory days.
I would leave you that very next week for California.
The last time we drove around the lake in your jeep,
open air, breeze whipping the hair against our ears, you
replied: “I don’t believe in moons, stars or planets.”
I still don’t know what you mean.
Today a student handed me a note purportedly written by his mother, excusing him for leaving class early a couple of days ago. I teach college English. In the 20 plus years I have taught, this was a first.
In the last 2 years teaching at the same college I have taught for 16 years, my plans for at least one class per semester have been interrupted to remind students that they are in college. They don’t have to be in class like they had to in high school by state law, though it is probably a good idea, especially in my class. I do lots each class to justify my existence–that is, graded assignments and answers to eventual final exam questions–and missing a class is not recommended.
However, students who must miss class are assumed to be adults responsible enough to find out what they missed and resourceful enough to recoup their losses. Big assumptions. They still ask me questions like, “Did we do anything while I was gone?”
Though less disturbing, I cannot count how many times students ask me permission to leave early, arrive late or miss class altogether. At first I believed they were simply not mentally out of high school, where their attendance was strictly required though their attention to the class while attending was not so strictly required. I can only assume so from the in depth, lengthy text messages I have received from my children while they were in class. Many students have confirmed the same, and judging by the persistent, nearly obsessive habit of texting or gazing into their phones–activity banned in my class–I believe the phone habit is a long-instilled layover from high school, or merely the product of living now.
Ironically, high school mandates attendance but not attention while college is just the reverse. Since I teach freshman, their education includes breaking the high school habits and convincing them that they truly are free now, free to succeed or fail–whether I give them permission or not.
I’ll admit that my jaw dropped and my face clearly had “wtf?” written all over it when I read the penciled note on a sticky note sized paper that asked to excuse her son for missing class the other day. Have I gotten much, much older recently or have my students gotten much younger? I am now convinced that the number of coddled college kids have increased and they have a tougher time growing up, thus the odd permission requests and absence notes. Or is it simply time for me to retire?