“But you never paid attention to the lessons in which we studied those poems.”
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you did not.”
The conversation could have gone on for ever in this cosmic, if rather simplistic, ping-pong of assertion and refutation. In the end, I was saved from the whole event by the chorus of other lads who, like a Greek chorus, chorussed back across the room,
“No, you didn’t. Sir was always asking you to ay attention and to stop talking. You never did.”
“Well, that’s not my fault. He should have made me.”
At this point, my exasperated self allowed an affirmation of my recently acquired philosophy.
“Not my fault,” I replied. “Not your fault either. All you did was to make the choice between listening and working or talking and not working. It’s a free world.”
This last bit, I knew was dreadfully incorrect.
The boy looked at me. His eyes held something that was bordering on shocking realisation. He had begun to realise the consequences of his repeated actions and had run out of excuses with this teacher seeming to infuriatingly accept his choice.
“But…” he began as if he was sliding down a wet-tiled roof and trying to avoid the inevitability of gravity (and friction).
His problem was that he had made a decision based upon a misunderstanding of time. He believed that tomorrow was a long way off whereas I, in the advanced position of understanding knew that tomorrow was, in fact, yesterday.
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” he thought in a vaguely Macbeth pseudo-intellectual manner.
The student’s real problem was that he had grown up in a society that refuted the age-old freedom of being allowed to fail. This, in my humble opinion, is a basic human right as well as being an essential rite for survival and wellbeing. Anyway, just when did this imperative to succeed begin to dominate all that we do?
Society is not designed to allow everybody to succeed. Indeed, examinations were introduced to ensure that only a desired few could actually succeed whilst the rest were allowed to get along with their lives without having to worry about success. Generation after generation of people made a success out of not being successful. And I speak from reliable personal anecdotal history for I was once a ‘swinger of birches’ (sounds like a sado-masochistic tendency, but it isn’t. It’s meant to be a metaphor for choosing to not succeed whilst simply being happy with one’s lot).
I was a ‘swinger of birches’ well into my twenties and then I decided to become successful. I moved from a state of sublime nonconformist failure to a rather edgy state of success. And then, when I should have been enjoying the fruits of that success, I burnt out. So much for success, eh?
Now I am not a success.