Tuesday afternoon. As I scribble this down on a sheet of paper watching my students doing their finals, I can't help but wonder if they're not wasting their time. Who in their right mind would be interested in linguistics and language acquisition when life is as short as it is?
Only thirty minutes ago, a colleague of mine knocked on the door to my office all misty-eyed and told me she wasn't looking forward to her final lesson. I said, 'Why not?' She said, 'Because one of my students just died.' Twenty-odd years of age and, poof, gone. Just like that. Knowing my colleague was pressed for time, I didn't ask for any details given that the only thing that really mattered was her needing somebody to talk to — if only for a few seconds. And as I sit here in my quiet little classroom watching my students struggle with the tough test I wrote only twenty-four hours ago, I can't help but wonder: why? Some of them are suitably red-faced and concentrating so hard you'd swear it hurts. Others seem worried, probably asking themselves how they could've underestimated the torture they were in for, and none of them are smiling.
But isn't that what life should be about — smiling? Doing what you really like? I know, most people on this spinning globe in infinite space aren't so lucky. Most people feel they need to take the bitter with the sweet. They accept the fact that they will first need to jump over hurdles in order to reach that higher goal which, when eventually reached, is bound to put that well-deserved smile on their collective face. It's called sacrifice. Maybe what I'm really saying is we people do things we call 'important,' things which everyone would agree fall into that well-known category of 'serious matters,' but what if we're just wasting our time? Shouldn't we be spending much more time with our loved ones? We are always in a hurry. We're always busy. We have no time. Busy, busy, busy. Oh really?
We see our own mothers maybe once a week, tops — if she's that lucky. I see mine twice a month because I'm so busy. And then some student I don't know dies and I'm, once again, stopped in my tracks looking in that metaphorical mirror wondering: why? I comfort myself thinking that twenty percent of them are here on a voluntary basis, meaning they really want to be in this room sweating and sighing, giving me a look that says, 'Man, this is hard!' At least they thought they did. And if that's how they choose to spend their precious time on earth — tick-tock, tick tock— I should just feel honored and give it my very best shot.
See, I'm feeling better already. Now, all I need to do is smile. But maybe not just now when some of them are looking at me. That would be cruel.
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