“It seems like everyone is always griping about something,” she complained. She was in the second row, next to the window. Her pinched face matched her squeaky voice. I was in a classroom full of people. The desks were too small, the chairs uncomfortable. A shadowy, cloaked figure stood at the blackboard, holding a piece of chalk in its bony hand, and wrote, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.“
The figure turned and pointed at a sweaty, sneering man in the third row back, two over from the wall. The man blurted out angrily, “We should kill all the haters!” The figure turned back to the blackboard and wrote, “All you need is love. Love is all you need.”* There was a slight sound of chair legs scraping the floor as people squirmed and tried for comfort.
Again the figure turned and pointed at a yawning young man at the back of the classroom. He sat with one leg up over the desk and the other sprawled into the aisle. He rolled his eyes with indifference, yawned again, and mumbled, “Don’t look at me. I’m only here because I have to be here.” Once more the figure turned back to the blackboard and scrawled, “The bird does not sing because he has an answer. He sings because he has a song.”** There was a soft sound of people murmuring to each other, accented by a some polite coughing.
Finally, as I feared would happen, the figure turned and pointed toward me. I was prepared. I knew the words I was to speak. I had memorized them and had worked hard at getting just the right inflection in my voice for each word. I sat upright and alert in my disagreeable chair, at my too-small desk. I took a deep, but seemingly airless breath, and said, “All I can do is all I can do.” The figure whirled about and chalk screeched against the blackboard as it scribbled, “WRONG! You, Fine Student, are the worst of all of them because you know better!”
I burst into tears and tried to cover my face with my hands, but my suddenly leaden arms would not move. So, I sat sobbing in front of the entire class. I heard chairs scrape the floor again as people attempted to distance themselves from me. The figure turned, arms folded tight against it’s chest. Although I couldn’t see its eyes, I could feel them bearing down on me. I sniffled, “But… what I meant was…” At this the figure held up a hand, palm out, to silence me.
One last time the figure turned to the blackboard. It erased everything previously written. Then, in a beautifully artistic cursive hand, it wrote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”*** I sat, now more uncomfortable in my skin than in the unforgiving chair, mouth hanging open, tears still wet upon my cheeks. I stared at the words on the board as I tried to breathe. My heart banged in my chest as I watched the figure raise its hands to the hood covering its head. It grabbed the hood on either side and slowly slid it back, revealing my own face.
**Joan Walsh Anglund
**Henry David Thoreau