Friday morning, a mere four days before the Presidential election of 2016, and a growing heap of poetry analysis papers has set up camp on my desk, begging to be read. I’m trying to decide if I’ll cart the papers home with me for the weekend or let them settle in on my desk until Monday. We’ll see.
We are all exhausted.
It’s the end of what’s been an excruciating election season – our entire nation feels it. United are we, but united in an odd, hard-to-name distemper. We are all tired of talking about it, all tired of listening to the worst episode of He said/She said in modern history. My senior girls are worried and sad, wishing they could be a bit more optimistic and excited about voting in their very first Presidential election.
Wondering what our world will look like on Wednesday.
At the moment, it is quiet in my corner of the world, classroom 374, and I look up from my work. Students are always in here – studying, debating, working out ideas, trying to write them down. St. Mary’s classrooms are filled with girls all day long talking with their teachers, constant conversations and grappling and learning to voice their opinions, every day, all day long – it’s what we do. Today, three girls sit together on my couch, hunched over quiet computers, writing. One writes of the abuse of women in Othello, another writes of the crippling nature of indecision in Hamlet. A third examines how T.S. Eliot’s late life religious conversion affects the tone of his poetry.
Young women doing good work. Good, hard work. Scholars are these, girls who think. And for people who think, this election cycle has thrown us all for a loop.
My AP classes are reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment at the moment (apropos, thinks my cynical alter ego). We are at the point in the novel where the murderer Raskolnikov returns to the scene of the crime to admire his own bloody workmanship, only to find it cleaned up and freshly painted – whitewashed. Genuinely astounded that his handiwork has been erased, the killer screams with fury at the painter, “Where’s the blood, what happened to the blood?” Dumbfounded, the lone painter shakes his head and steps back to examine the man Raskolnikov, to really take a good long look, and then whispers in astonishment: “What sort of man are you?”
Indeed, this is the question of this day. My students, young women I love, I want to ask you a question. What sort of person are you? What sort of person are you becoming?
Before I dare to ask you to consider this question, though, I feel the need to apologize on behalf of the many adults in your lives who have failed you, failed to give you worthy role models, failed to be honest. Shakespeare’s Falstaff said it like this ~ “Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying … every third word a lie…”
World leaders and entertainers and politicians (Lord, help us!), CEOs and professional athletes and the media. Sometimes teachers, sometimes parents. People who may or may not have ever asked themselves this question – What sort of person am I? We have not been examples of goodness for you.
Sidebar ~ Ironically there seems to be a great deal of Millennial-bashing these days (as if Baby-Boomers have the right to be judgmental about anything), but let me tell you something I admire greatly about Millennials – you guys don’t tolerate nonsense, and we have certainly thrown a lot of nonsense your way. Add the fact that we all spend so many of our waking hours with noses stuck in screens, we can so quickly become drenched in the muck of disappointment, I fear, and it seems easier than ever to lose the hope of goodness.
So, with that caveat acknowledged, I ask you this ~ Ladies, can you (we) set your (our) blaming mentality aside for just one quick second and ask ourselves to think honestly and vulnerably? If you can, then ask yourself this question – go ahead and say it out loud: What sort of person am I?
Try to resist asking this question ~ “Well, what about everybody else? What sort of people are Hillary and Donald and Anthony Weiner and Soulja Boy and Lord Voldemort and Iago and Beelzebub and Nurse Ratched and the Wicked Witch of the West? What about them, huh? What kind of people are they?”
I’m not talking about them. I don’t know them. Ladies, this isn’t new, you know. The list of ne’er-do-wells stretches from the dawn of time to the edge of eternity. Always has, always will. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you. It is you I love. It is your character and happiness that compels me to ask you to consider: What sort of person am I?
And a second, follow-up question, as important as the first ~ What about goodness? What has happened to goodness? Am I trying to be good?
What will you do or say on Wednesday if your candidate does not win? Not what your classmate or your neighbor or your parent will say, but you. This question is indicative of our character and who we really are as human beings.
A reversal is what we need. A turn from bigotry and noisy clamoring and shouting and name-calling and fear-mongering and lying. A return to good.
You may have to do the role modeling, my dears. It may be the children who lead us toward civility – you are the hope. You might remember that the Book says just that, “A little child will lead us.”
Will you consider a path of goodness on Wednesday morning? As our friend Prufrock asks, Do you dare?
So Tuesday we vote. And Wednesday we will have an answer. Do not look for good role modeling on the news on Wednesday morning – I fear you will not find it there. Wednesday’s news cycle will be filled with all sorts of individual, acting as they will act, saying what they will say. But as I said earlier, I don’t know them.
I know you.
So let us gather together and fight the good fight right where we are. Someone must do it. Someone must start. For me, it happens in room 374. I’ll see you there tomorrow.
Until then, be good.