Thursday, March 1, 2012

From Apathy to Outrage

Life can be a pretty frustrating endeavor sometimes.  It's unpredictable and challenging.  So when the people I depend on to keep it steady begin rocking the boat, I get a little pissed.  And that was how my morning started off -- with people who should know to sit the hell down while in a mother-bleepin' boat.

But remember how I said that life can be unpredictable?  (Come on now.  I said it like 3 sentences ago.  Keep up.  Stop wondering if you're the boat rocker because I'm so over all of you boat rockers.  Done.)

Well, it is unpredictable, and that can be a wildly beautiful thing too. 

Today, in my class of charming ne'er do wells, we were reading from the novel Tangerine when my little unpredictable miracle occurred.  I had just finished reading a passage in which the narrator explains how little respect his school has regarding the on-field death of one of its football players (making no mention, not canceling classes -- not even canceling football practice) and its ensuing need to continue practice as is, with little regard for future players' safety.

At this point, I usually have a few kids with the "WTH is wrong with these people?" look upon their faces.  But not today.  Today, I had *Sally up in arms. 

She slammed her book shut, catching us all off guard, and proclaimed her hatred of the fictional Lake Windsor High School and all of its cold-hearted staff and students.  "That's so disrespectful, Miss!  What's wrong with these people?  They don't even care!"  And then she began to rally her classmates to anger as well.

I couldn't believe my ears.  Was this the same *Sally, who for 25 weeks has been hell-bent on getting me to just leave her alone?  Did she really just move from apathy to outrage in 55 pages?  Because she totally did.

And when a classmate tried to calm her down by saying, "Sally, it's just a BOOK", she fired back, "But it's not just a book.  People act like that all the time.  And it's wrong. They should be ashamed of themselves."  Oh, dear Lord, be still my heart.  Righteous indignation AND a moral compass?  AND real-life connections? 

I wanted to be all, "Holy Jesus!  You care?  About other people?  And doing the right thing?  I wasn't so sure!"  But that's unprofessional, and embellished for storytelling's sake, so I didn't.

I didn't even know what to say.  I just beamed. 

But this is what I wish I had said.   "You're right, kids.  It is just a book.  But that's what books and words do.  They move people.  They push people to be better.  They challenge you to question and think and defend your own beliefs.  They teach you what is right by showing you what is wrong.  They make you care so deeply, so passionately about someone you've never met -- someone who may not even exist in reality -- that you are enraged by his maltreatment, causing you to slam your book shut and declare that you're done reading it only to pick it back up 30 seconds later because now you can't resist knowing what will happen.  And then maybe, just maybe, it forces you to treat the next person you meet a little bit better than you would have before.  That's what books can do."

Perhaps I'll lay my diatribe on them tomorrow.  Or not.  Maybe I'll just let that glorious image of Sally, with her nose in that dog-eared copy of Tangerine, do all my talking for me.

*Name changed to protect the utterly fabulous.

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