Virtuous thoughts of the day laye up good treasors for the night — Sir T. Browne
Last autumn, I taught a first year writing course at a local University, and I had about a seven minute walk to the building I taught in. Each day, I would grab my briefcase and briskly saunter my way north to that building. Now, it is important that my reader understand the apparent contradiction in the phrase “briskly saunter.” “Briskly” describes my physical action in walking. “Saunter” describes my mindset while I’m briskly walking. I believe a man should walk with that decided purpose that says he cannot wait to see whatever he happens to see. The man who briskly saunters is alive in more ways than one. He walks with a decided purpose, but not a purpose to merely end the walk. Nay, he walks with his head up, enjoying the walk, for that is his purpose. It is the man who walks only to end the walk who displays lifelessness; it is the man who walks for the very experience of seeing his world who displays life. And thus it was that as I sauntered to teach, I did so not merely to get to the building but to see again what I had already seen.
Just the other day, I took a short walk to the campus library with two colleagues. As we left the library and neared our own building we at once heard a soft buzzing in the air—there to our left were two young men flying a drone. If there is anything more depressing than a drone, I would like to know. Even the very name suggests the terrible monotony that is technology. But, as it were, these two men were happily flying this drone while passengers looked up and gawked at the machine—that is, a majority of people did look up and gawk, a majority of people who otherwise would have their heads down. Now, there was still a segment of the population who refused to look. Indeed, there is a segment of the population who refuse to live, and I fear that number will only increase as the seers of our age predict phones in our eyes and computers in our heads.
Several things occurred. First, one of these individuals who refused to show interest at the drone was walking in front of us. This man truly sauntered, with hood up, walking at such a pace that one might question whether he has yet arrived at the building. As three amblers, my colleagues and I were not concerned about this individual but were staring up at the sky in wonder and amazement. We then passed this young man, and one of my colleagues, upon looking down at the perpetrators with the drone, let out a “Hey! I know you guys!” A tad disconcerted, and not wanting to be associated with drones, we watched her leave and feigned ignorance. My other colleague then let out a sarcastic statement having to do with his individual rights, of which I commended. I say, I would be just fine if I was never in a picture again. In fact, I take great pains to avoid being in them.
In any case, my friend and I neared the building, and we walked in such a way that our heads were slightly turned back, staring at that horrible monstrosity in the heavens, yet still proceeding forward. It was at this moment that I recognized the man in the hood as a former student.
In our morbid modern ways, men no longer walk as they once did. Take for example, my seven minute walk last semester. It is enough for me that I passed the same maple tree every day; it is enough for me that I made a point to walk with my head up and ears open to see and hear the slight changes in the atmosphere, as the days became weeks and November ate September. Every day—I should say every other day—I walked the same path so as to observe how the maple tree changed slightly, ever so slightly. Autumn affected the top of the tree first. On one occasion I noticed the once green leaves were an off yellow; the next week they were nearly maroon; for two weeks the upper half of the tree (which seemed to be slowly devouring the lower half) was a vibrant red, as if those leaves knew something the others did not, as if they were proclaiming the glories of their existence before December came with its scythe and returned them to their Mother.
But I cannot help but notice my fellow humans each day as I ambled by such a tree, watching it die slowly, yet musing how it never seemed so alive. The younger generation walks at a deathly pace; they walk so slow, for a second one may think they walk the way of their philosophy: backwards. They walk slow not in order to gaze at maple trees or listen to robins. They cannot, for they not only walk slow, they walk with heads downs and ears plugged. They stare at their feet and listen to the same song drone on and on and on while they talk to strangers miles away. And when an ambler finds himself behind two or three of these modern zombies, who walk like a dying sloths clogging the way, he cannot pass, for they notice not fellow humans and are unaffected by the world around them.
I have been honored—in the same way that my students are honored to take one of my writing courses—to have taught various athletes over the past year. Though athletics are far too idolized these days, the spirit of athletic competition is the spirit of the human soul. I was once quite the athlete myself back in my day, but unfortunately, time conquers all.
The former student I ran into that day of the drone is also an athlete, and I was naturally delighted to be in the presence of both a campus celebrity and a former student. And likewise my former students are equally delighted to see me as a celebrity writer and former educator who imparts not only knowledge and skill but eloquence and wisdom. Thus, it happened that as my colleague and I began opening the double-doors to our building, we naturally held them open for this young man with wide grins on our faces. His eyes lit up as they inevitably recognized me (despite such a length of days between us!), and I let out a gracious, “Hey, J—, How are you?” To which he replied with a slight head nod, a look of admiration, and a feeble, “Hey.” Taken aback, perhaps, at my humility, as I fumbled with books in my arms and a door in my hand, he proceeded past me to the next set of double doors and began the process of opening one.
As he grabbed that handle, I thought I would engage him in trivial conversation—mere chewing the fat, mere idle chatter, between two athletes, one in his prime, the other headed to a hall. So in all the glory of the scenario, I beamed as I posed a question to him, though his back was turned.
This exact moment contains the moral of this rambling. For as I asked the question, I expected a long conversation to ensue about writing, and athletics, and life. I say, I had grand visions of my former student thanking me for the knowledge and wisdom he learned from my class—how those timeless truths were used each and every day. I envisioned a hearty handshake or maybe even a fist-bump. And as I contemplated these things in my heart I asked the question on the tongue of both my colleague and me:
“How’s the semester going?” I asked with the giddiness of a fifth-grader.
And with that, the young man opened the door to the building, entered, and ignored me. He ignored me as if I had made no more sound than the faint squeak of a mouse. Surely, he did not ignore me for lack of memory; surely he was equally eager for conversation with me. Nay, he ignored me for the very reason moderns ignore mice and men: the man had headphones in his ears and was deaf to the world.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
February 1, 2015
Painting: “An Autumn Morning”
By James Aumonier,
Oil on canvas, 1900