(16) Age Of Reason

Week sixteen finds us at my place on Christmas day; a Friday in the year 2020. Nell, Pras, Lauren and my three boys are spending the afternoon hanging out together:

Looking out the window, a flock of pelicans were scattered across the snow-covered front yard. Pras, Nell, and my twins had taken the collection of plastic pelicans from the garage and were sticking every one of them in the ground around the house. 

These boys were clearly not impacted by the cold as their laughing faces had shed most their winter attire to complete this endeavor of theirs. Part of me worried about what the neighbors were thinking as I watched them from out my second story window moving below me. 

A few summers ago, my family had used those sixty pelicans to celebrate my mother’s birthday. At that moment, however, they found themselves taking a stroll in a winter wonderland on Christmas day.  

This small get together of ours came together very last minute….  

Despite knowing it might not be true, I had made the mistake of telling my students that my last day was going to be on January 22nd. By doing that, all of them had been counting down the days until they would never see me again. Like a broken record, I told them over and over I would be back in one way or another. 

What they were most interested in however was knowing when they would get to come hang with my kids again. Being constantly reminded that my teaching days may be over was annoying, but it was an endearing site to see my high school students so excited to play with three little boys: It made me wonder when we adults stopped being children for good.  

Nel and Pras talked about my boys constantly since they had come over a few weeks earlier. That was prior to Candace’s memorial service at school. Now that things were beginning to feel a bit more normal, Lauren made sure I knew that my boys should someday be introduced to her as well; “Don’t you want them to meet Mama, Mr. J?” 

When she said this to me, I felt as if I could still see the sadness crack between the space in her words. But the fact that she was trying to act cheerful allowed me to tell myself that she would make it past this difficult time; that I would make it past this difficult time.

On Tuesday, the last day of class before break, the mood was a somber one as we spent some time reflecting on how one of our classmates would not be with her family on Christmas this year; or any other for that matter. The four of us got to talking about what little plans we had for that day; “I’ll just be hanging with the kids later in the day after they open their presents from Santa,” I said.

“What do they want for Christmas this year?” Pras had asked.

“A Tesla,” I laughed; before telling them I was serious.

The three boys had put this on their lists that year. When I explained to them that Santa did not buy little boys real cars; and told them they’d have better luck writing a letter to Elon Musk, the three of them decided that they would be writing this guy a letter next year if Santa didn’t come through on Christmas…

“The twins still believe in Santa?” Lauren asked me, interested.

“They have no older cousins, or brothers; and two younger sisters at their moms. No one wants to tell them,” I said, “And the fact that they are learning remotely in seventh grade means none of you little shits are beating them down with all life’s realities at school—Do you think I should tell them?” 

“No.” Was the unanimous decision of my students, “Let them be kids for as long as they can!”

Somehow this conversation led to me inviting them over my house on Christmas day to hang out with us. With the pandemic, family gatherings were still not happening so I knew my boys would welcome the surprise of my students coming over. They had absolutely adored the time spent with them on Thanksgiving and had been bugging me to have them over again anyways. It all just kind of worked out.  

Looking out the window at the twins playing with Pras and Nel, I smiled and became a bit emotional as I reflected on past memories…

When the twins’ mother and I were separating they were only two years old. The day I pulled out of the driveway to leave the house for good, I remember seeing their two heads popping up from the bottom of the window panel to watch me drive away. Their identical little faces in this memory of mine tormented me for a very long time. 

When they were nine, I remember the confused looks they gave me when I explained I wouldn’t be able to see them for a while as I left to go stay at the halfway house. At the time I told them it was for a ‘Sleep Study;’ as this was easier to explain and seemed to fit since I appeared tired all the time back then. If I had a hard time telling them Santa was not real, how could I tell them the truth about their dad? I had hated myself for having to leave them again.

The third memory I reflected on while watching them out the window was of their fifth-grade graduation. At that point I had just gotten out of the halfway house and sat alone on the bleachers in their gymnasium while the song “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars brought tears to my eyes. The boy’s grandparents on their mother’s side were there on that day. For a lot of my life they were like a second set of parents to me; honestly, they were my best friends. At the graduation they barely acknowledged I existed. This always hurt but was something I had finally come to accept because I knew how much I had let everyone down in the past. Looking out at my boys at this graduation, I feared letting them down again…. 

The two twelve-year-old identical twin boys I watched playing in the snow knew none of this. They smiled and laughed and were acting like the goofballs I loved. Maybe one day I would tell them about everything that happened before. Maybe one day I’d tell them about Santa. But right then I was not worried about any of that. 

I was just trying to iron in the memory being created with those pelicans: Hoping that one day…perhaps… I’d be remembering the good days and not the bad anymore… 

***BREAKING KNEWS***

In April of 2015: that was one year before the fire for those trying to keep up, I got in my family mini-van and started driving. This was after the argument with Sirena. 

Without my cell phone, no one could contact me to ask when I’d be coming home; or to see if I was okay—or to ask me if I had gone crazy after writing that story and sending that email out.  

I drove north from my home in Central Massachusetts for almost four hours with no destination in mind. I just wanted to be left alone for a while.

Arriving at my unplanned destination, I parked my van at a public park overlooking a great icy lake. Wherever I was, it still felt like the dead of winter despite it being spring at the time. Without my phone I had no clue where I was. I walked around, freezing, until I found a map posted on the side of a building in this park I was at. That is when I first discovered I was looking at Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. 

This entire trip of mine is a blur if I’m being honest, but I will fill you in on what I can.  

First off, I remember that I had around fifty dollars in my wallet and had made a conscious decision not to use my debit card anywhere so that my wife would not see where it had been used. I wanted to stay lost for just a little while. 

The city was beautiful and peaceful. It had kind of had a hippy-vibe, I remember that. Like I said, it was very cold though, so most of my time was spent in the van. I needed to make certain I had enough money for gas, so I remember that I did not spend money on food.  

This all sounds crazy, I know. What a selfish a**hole I was.

Back home my family must have been worried sick. But I had already made this move and there was no going back. I remember sitting in a parking lot and listening to the radio thinking that maybe the email I had sent out with my story would now get some attention—That maybe I had to run away in order for people to finally listen to what I was trying to tell them.  

Effing crazy…I know…

That first day, I remember a security guard coming up to me and telling me I had to move my van because the parking lot was closing for the night. I remember being scared for a moment that he had come to arrest me, but he didn’t. I remember I left that parking lot and drove to a highway rest stop and slept in the van overnight. When I woke up, I remember knowing that I’d have to go home that day. But I remember telling myself that I’d first spend a day in Burlington, Vermont; enjoying being disconnected from the world a bit longer.

On that day, a Red Cross Blood Bank was set up downtown and was providing free lunch and a movie ticket to donors. With no money to buy food, I decided to give blood. I am not good with blood. But it was a free lunch, so, I did it… and nearly passed out. 

The nice girl that took my blood waited with me until I got my strength back. And off I went.

Soon I would have to go home, but I had a free movie ticket, so first I would go see a movie. I used my ticket to go see a movie titled “Run All Night.” I’m not making this shit up by the way. That was really the movie I saw. If that is not the definition of ironic, I do not know what is. 

In fact, the only way I can remember when exactly all this happened is by checking the release date of that movie. Go check for yourself if you don’t believe me. 

Effing crazy…I KNOW!!!

Understanding that no one knew where I was the feeling of being alone in that theatre was liberating at the time. Sitting there, in a small theatre four hours from my home, I remember feeling calm. On the run…this was an ideal place to hide out.

I must tell you that I love going to movies by myself. I’m not really certain why. I grew up being in groups of people all the time. Doing something like going to the movies alone would have seemed super weird to my younger self. But as I have grown older the less comfortable I feel being around people. Movies seem to be the perfect fit as I can do something alone and no one really knows about it. Perhaps I was always this introverted but was never allowed to be this way given how successful I was growing up.

“Successful” — That word makes me laugh just writing it.  

Sitting in that theatre, success was a thing of the past. Something that would no longer be associated with me once I went back and dealt with the real world again. 

Maybe the universe was sick of seeing me successful—Maybe the universe had decided my life was a joke instead—Maybe I no longer gave two shits about what the Universe imagined for me???  

I’ve literally never seen the entire movie I began watching in the theatre that day. 

Halfway through it, something happened that I had never experienced before in my life. Something completely unexpected. In the middle of a scene all the lights in the theatre were turned on. Confused, I, along with everyone in the theatre, looked around to see what was going on. My eyes adjusted to the light and focused on the door to the theatre as it began to open. Like three angels they glided through the door and into the theatre. Though they were not angels. They were police officers. 

They had found me….

***End Of Breaking Knews***

Behind me, the sound of wooden alphabet-blocks being played with filled my ears. Lauryn and my youngest son had come inside to get warm. I had come with them, which was the reason I was looking out the window at the twins sticking those pelicans into the snow with Nel and Pras.  

Turning away from the window, I watched Lauryn help my son spell his full name with the alphabet-blocks. Seeing it spelled out in front of her I watched her ask him how many letters were in each part of his name. Answering her question, he said cutely, “Six…Six…Six.” 

At that moment, Lauryn looked up to me with shocked fear in her eyes. I simply shook my head at her, gave her a knowing grin, and then let my son watch us both laugh at something he could not have understood.  

Looking past them, towards the kitchen counter, the mess I would have to clean up later did not discourage me. Earlier on, all the kids (students included) had combined various soda drinks and juices to make their own version of ‘moonshine.’ 

Something Nel taught my boys about by saying; “Back when alcohol was illegal, people made their own in their homes… they called it moonshine.”

We had all taken little plastic cups full of this moonshine with us when we first went outside. Standing in a circle, we all dripped a sip of our drinks on the concrete; “For the deceased,” we said together (my three boys included).   

While we did not announce why we did this, the students and I looked at one another at that moment and said a silent prayer to the Universe for the student that should have been there with us: For Candace.  

My three boys found hanging out with my students fascinating. Perhaps my kids were being exposed to knowledge beyond their years, but seeing high school kids act like children made it all okay with me. On that day, the serious business of growing-up was put on hold. And I could not have been more grateful.  

We had all been through so much and I was making sure to cherish the memories that were being created right then. With Lauren and my youngest son playing on the floor in front of me, the only worry I had at that moment was how much popcorn to make: The next event on our agenda for the day was to watch the new movie on DisneyPlus, called “Soul.”

It seemed fitting.

Week 16 (12.25.20): 

“Age of Reason”

For this week’s article I will be putting my lightsaber away for a little while. I no longer wish to fight. Instead, I will agree with your assessment that the darkness in our world is winning today. 

Now that you have won this battle between us, allow me a few minutes to transfer a bit of my energy and force it upon you. I do this hoping that when this war is over those darkened dreams of yours will see the light of a new day and maybe then these lessons of mine may help push them forward.  

I must start with a definition: Impermanence (noun): The state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time.

Here is what Wikipedia says about this word: Impermanence, also known as the philosophical problem of change, is a philosophical concept addressed in a variety of religions and philosophies. In Eastern philosophy it is best known for its role in Buddhist three marks of existence. It is also an element of Hinduism. In Western philosophy the concept is called “Becoming.”  

Idiots like me keep the meaning of the word simpler. I believe it means, “Everything Is Temporary.”

For the past two weeks our classes have revolved around a topic I introduced to you as, “The Age of Reason.” 

When we began this topic, I told you that I would tell you the purpose behind it when we were done, well, here it is: My goal was to help you see the world we are living in today with a sense of impermanence.

If you remember, we began by trying to imagine our world three-hundred years from now: “A world that has healed; and a world that has advanced beyond today’s chaos.” 

This was how I introduced it to you. To which Lauren told me, “In three-hundred years this world will be on fire Mr. J.”

Respecting Lauren’s opinion, we all decided that this world we would envision in three-hundred years could be on a different planet. Pras gave us a quick little astronomy lesson and you all decided to call this imaginary planet of ours: “Planet Rasta.” 

We had some really great conversations about how this civilization would be better than the one we have today. However, when I asked you to Reverse Engineer the process by which this utopian like civilization came into existence, we faced some very difficult questions.

In the end, you all did a great job creating a story that explained how Planet Rasta became “Stable, Prosperous, and Predictable.”  

Let me just say that I cannot thank you all enough for taking this mission of ours as serious as you did. In truth, the exercise was simply intended to test the boundaries of your imagination (which you all passed with flying colors), but the story you all created was so inspiring that I would like to take a moment and summarize it here:

Life on Planet Rasta was not always peaceful. Much of the conflict that existed on Earth came to this new planet with its first inhabitants. Early on the leaders of this new civilization feared a collapse like what had happened on Earth; which would lead to chaos. To try and prevent this, the wealthiest of its inhabitants secretly placed members of their own family within the working class. Their mission was simple: Discover a way to bring sustainable peace to the greatest number of people.  

A girl by the name of Jaleen (Code Name: The Buffalo Soldier) created a theory she penned “Recycle Economics.” Her theory proposed that the cause of unrest in civilizations was a result of Wealth Discrepancy: an argument that had been heard by the elite forever. However, she suggested this: “If you give the people more money it will all simply be recycled back into the hands of the wealthy inevitably anyway…” 

In her opinion, the wealthy could not only keep their money in the long run, but also become revered by the lower income population at the same time. Her theory concluded; “In the end, most of the population will die without amassing much wealth; but their lives would be lived more happily.”  While her theory was interesting, she won the support of the elite with one simple prediction: “You will be heroes in the history books of forever, a more valuable asset than all the wealth in the Galaxy.”

WOW—What a story—If only you three could be heard by those living on planet Earth today!!!

Everything we did that first week was to get us thinking outside the box. There was no real end goal I had in mind except to simply take you away from today. To get you fully emersed in this concept of impermanence that I have now just explained to you.  

At the end of last week, knowing we had Christmas break coming up, I gave you one assignment: Imagine yourself on our planet three-hundred years from now writing a report about Earth in the year 2020.  

What you all wrote was very fun to read. In fact, your essays were so good that Lily and I will be asking your permission to share them for a personal project of ours. With that said, here is how I’d summarize these reports of yours:

“A Long Time Ago…In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…People Believed People Sucked…”

Putting aside the humor in how I present this summary of mine, I contend that it is a rather accurate description of the reports you all provided me. This is not to say they were bad. They were great; and I appreciate all your hard work.

Pras titled his essay; “When Hooligans Ruled the World.” The insight into today’s political conflict was wonderful. Pras: While I personally try to stay clear of this topic in my daily life, I can appreciate your view of how destructive the atmosphere has become. The section of your essay about name calling was amazing. I personally will not allow myself to be called any of those names in the future. Nicely done my friend!

Lauryn titled her essay; “Filter This.” Her report focused on social media and the psychological impact it was having on the world at this time. Lauryn: There is a future for you in helping people. Understanding the trauma that is being inflicted on young people is going to be a valuable skill down the road. This world is going to need your wisdom very soon. Good work my dear!

Nel titled his essay; “Plastic.” My favorite line from his report, “Killing our planet, but fixing your face…” made me literally laugh out loud. Nel: I was really happy to see you talk about ‘Consumer Culture.’ This was not something we have talked about in class but seeing you discuss it and identify it on your own gives me hope for the future of this planet. In a time when many people spend their days dreaming of owning bigger closets rather than cleaning out the ones they have, your perspective was illuminating. Way to go kid!

Now, where do we go from here?

We cannot live in the future forever. While this exercise over the past two weeks has been fun, we must come back to planet Earth and deal with all this ‘Suckiness.’  

Here’s some truth for you. Things on this planet of ours, Earth, will not get better overnight. In fact, the time it will take for us to get to some resemblance of a healed world could quite possibly take more time than you and I have; meaning, we may never see it in our lifetimes. 

That is how evolution of any species or civilization works. But that does not mean this life of ours is lost. Someday people on Planet Rasta may be discussing the role we played in creating their paradise. The question therefore becomes: Will you be the superheroes in their stories; or the supervillains?

How does this evolutionary process of healing begin—How do we unlock our superpowers?

It’s simple, and you’ve heard it many times before: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Smile at one another. Wave. Pick up after yourselves. Help others if you can. Say things like: “Thank You”, and “You’re Welcome,” and “My Pleasure.” Push yourselves to be nice even though no one will place a medal on your chest for it. Do it because that’s who you are. Let that car pass you even if they are being an asshole. Let that person be right, even though you know they are wrong. 

Forgive if you can. Forget if you must. Stay grateful. Keep growing. Be patient. Be kind. And lastly, but perhaps most important… learn to be a bit quieter. (Yeah—I said it!)

Maybe you think doing these things makes you a loser. Maybe you prefer to fight. 

Well, to that I say: The best losers become the most dominant winners in this world—It’s true. 

These winners you read about in the pages of history, or watch on those screens of yours, knew that to become a successful loser takes a lot of practice. Consequently, don’t ever be scared of admitting you need more practice!

As we head into this holiday break and invite another new year in, life might have you believing that all hope is lost. I’ve been there and I know how this can feel. 

But do not get lost in the dark; “I know the rest of your story—I can see what you become.”  

My experiences in life, as well as getting to know all of you the past few months, has reinforced my belief that many good people still exist on this planet. 

Do bad people exist? —Well, I’d prefer to say they are created—but Yes, they do exist.  But never forget that there are many more of you than there are of them:  

“They win by making you think you are alone—We are not alone!”

—From the movie, Rise Of Skywalker (Star Wars reference)

Dear Squad,

Let me close by saying that I’d like to think that I know you. But that’s a lie. The truth is, no one knows you. This world was not ready to know you. It is time that you made it ready. You are a storm this world could never have predicted. A storm that will blow everyone’s mind. Your time is now, and I know you will make me proud.

With that said, Merry Christmas.  

Enjoy this break from school, and let the force be with you all!

~With Love, Mr. J~

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

Are you a good loser?

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“These are my dreams.”

—So Far Away by Staind

(Click here to continue to next chapter)

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Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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