Everything has a story.
Every last little piece of goofy shit I have lying about my home, my classroom, even my car, has some sort of story behind it. The box of cookies from a student sits upon my table, next to a goody bag (from another student), a wad of yearbook receipts, and who knows how many novels and biographies?
But I could tell you e’ery detail about these objects, about how they influence and guide me, and why I keep them around. Some stories are simply worth holding on to.
And though I’ve told my students about not worrying so much about the future, it is a difficult thing to comprehend in youthful ignorance. But rest assured: we all get there in the end.
I have students who admit they don’t see themselves going anywhere with their Life. Students who admit they are afraid of their parents when bringing up Life after high school. I have those students who fear what the summer brings. And, of course, I have students who are absolutely terrified of the future. Plato’s Cave – those binding chains of comfortable ignorance – is a difficult place to escape, Prisoner.
The future is yet to be written; it is merely a Thing.
And every thing has a story.
I look upon my desk, near littered with papers, envelopes, pens, and dozens of crudely scrawled notes scattered about the place as if a child ran rampant or a tornado errant. It is messy, certainly, but I know where everything is: I’ve the advantage of geography.
But each of these objects – from the smallest paperclip to the ornate brass reading lamp – is a part of my history, and, curiously, a look into the near future.
There: a hawk feather from Utah when I visited Penny after 2016’s Camino. She had a beautiful house in the mountains near Salt Lake City; she invited her Camino comrades to spend a few days in her care before she completed the move (she talked about it oft on the Way). I drove my beaten Jeep into this near-Versailles and gaped at the splendor. The handiwork of men complementing – not marring – the wondrous beauty of Nature; what a view. She was a gracious host, taking us about her beloved state, and we toured mightily. And there, in her alpine yard, I found the hawk feather. It certainly isn’t a red tail, but it matters not. It’s a memento from a wondrous time with a wonderful group.
Here: a couple of tobacco pipes. A Gandalf one – long, thin, and frail. I feel wizened looking at it; I feel downright philosophic when I smoke from it. It was a birthday gift, this pipe, from good friends of mine in the next town o’er. I was a groomsman in the wedding party (what a night that was!) and it was very humbling: I’d only know the happy couple for two years. And there I was, right alongside my dear Luis and Courtney. Yes, they gave me the pipe. And the other; ah, the Pipe. She knew I liked to smoke – loved it. She also knew it would eventually kill me (part of my desire to expire at 55) if my emotional terrorism didn’t do it first. And She was the first to congratulate me – through withheld tears and quaking voice – on becoming a teacher. The Pipe arrived in the mail, and what a pleasant surprise it was: after shattering Her heart by my Judas Kiss, She still cared. She wished me well, a tragic soliloquy about seeing me in tweed with a book and pipe in hand. And here I’ve a pipe. Now go be great; Her parting words, a Shakespearean tragedy in a single line. She gave that to me – that beautiful, perfect, pink Soul – after I fled.
My ink pen (that sadly doesn’t fit into my new Julius Caesar penholder) is comfortable in a wooden pen box. It sits upright lest the ebony ink seep from the curious flanges of the fountain. I enjoy writing with it – it’s like you’re fucking the paper every time you trace. You can hear the faintest of scratches as it draws across the page and watch as the blank ink begins to permeate and penetrate. And how marvelous the final product. That pen forced me to relearn my calligraphy – it isn’t a pen for barbarians. And how I use it! Letters to family abroad, signing the various legal documents that becomes a dull facet of adulthood, writing down thoughts and stories in the weathered leather journal (also upon the desk), or simply as a veritable cudgel of intelligence. Like my very own Narcissus, this pen brings out the best – and absolute worst – in me. Such is the beauty of art.
And all those pens stacked within the knight’s great helm (a fanciful mug). I bought a thousand pens for my students afore the school year started. They need supplies more than I do. And the poor little fuckers were going to be writing an awful lot. It was only fair and generous to buy all the pens from Dollar Tree. And now, exiled to my house, I brought them with me, a daily reminder – those dread blue and black caps – of what was ripped from me. How I miss my kids. And the mug itself has a story; ah, how indeed. She gave it to me years ago (a decade now?) as a birthday present. She was overjoyed at our Love then: we were both fools. But young people are stupid (as I oft remind my young charges) and we were no different. It didn’t work out. We parted ways, but I kept the mug – like I keep all memento mori’s – as a gentle reminder of what might had been. She gave that to me as a birthday present. From the fiancé who never became my wife.
A heavily annotated copy of The Communist Manifesto sits behind a unique Tempelier Belgian beer glass. A wilted rosebud from a wedding (that wedding) with my place card: Comrade, it says, a pleasant pet name and game between that beautiful bride and my erratic self. My favorite lighter – perpetually waiting in a bread line for more fuel – with the face of Vladimir Lenin emblazoned upon it. That was a birthday gift (almost confiscated in an airport once) from that lovable Jude. Of course the graduation ring from my tenure at NMMI – my fat fingers cannot fit that fine piece anymore.
The brass lamp of my late grandfather is activated with an old-timey chain. Quite fancy, really, even if the bulb is a newfangled eco-friendly one. Some parts of it had to adapt over time I suppose. It has a lovely golden finish (provided I dust it regularly) that speaks of elegance and intellect: my grandfather. He was wise – as old people should be – and he never stopped with his advice and insight. One of his first acts upon becoming a US citizen was memorizing The Gettysburg Address; he admired Lincoln above all men. I could imagine he and Grandpa having a chat, illuminated by the light of the very brass one that now gives me sage guidance. Fiat Lux said the Lord (and now my knuckles). Let there be light. And Grandpa’s shall ne’er diminish.
All these things – all that history, all that potential – nestled upon one corner of my desk. These things are polite reminders of where I’ve been and what I’ve become.
My kids fret about the future and what possibilities and challenges it will bring. It’s only natural to be afraid and misguided at this point in history; we all were. But we can take comfort in the knowledge that the future is merely a thing. And every thing has a story.
It simply hasn’t been written. Yet.
Now go do Good things. And get out of your Cave.