Choices

“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page and closing the book.” ~Josh Jameson

Book 2

Which will you choose?

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The time I was accosted by gladiators

A picture doesn’t always tell the truth. I may look like I’m having a grand time in the first photo, but in reality I was being held hostage outside of the Rome Colosseum. I made the grave error of making eye contact with these hustlers, and smiling at them. Before I knew what was happening, the larger one pulled me into a tight grip and insisted that one of my companions take a photo. Then he made it clear he wasn’t letting me go until I paid him for the privilege. I fumbled through my purse, gave him a few euros, and let out a sigh of relief when he finally let me go. It was one of the most bizarre and creepy experiences I’ve ever had, to be captive in a public place, no one around me the wiser. Be very careful if you go to Rome, and don’t believe everything you see in a picture.

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Never smile at a man who makes a living trying to kill people.

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The Rome Colosseum, in all its gory – oops, I mean glory.

If I could turn back time…

“Sometimes I wish I could go back in life. Not to change things, just to feel a couple things twice.” ~Drake

One of the places I’d love to go back and experience is this graffiti house in a suburb of London. Artists from all over the world came together to create this unique work of art. My students and I and our guides were the last people to see it, aside from the construction crew that demolished it the next day. Just as we were leaving, the fence they were building around the property in preparation for the demolition was completed. I still remember the lonely sound of the tall gate closing behind us. We all felt so blessed to have been the last visitors.

P.S. Thank you to Cher for the title of this post.

If you could go back in time, would you?

Dinna fash yourself, Sassenach. 

These words, spoken often by Jamie Fraser, the red-haired Scottish hero of the STARZ series Outlander, to his spunky British wife, Claire, mean Don’t worry yourself, Outlander.  Jamie’s pet name for Claire, Sassenach, refers to British persons, considered outlanders (outsiders) by the Highlanders.  Little does Jamie know, when Claire mysteriously appears in the middle of the Scottish woods one day, that she is more of an “outlander” than his 18th century brain can ever fathom.

I am in love with this saga, based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon.  Claire, while on a second honeymoon in Scotland after World War II with her British husband,  gets sucked hundreds of years into the past through Stonehenge-style rocks. There she meets Jamie, her soulmate across time, whom she marries, which turns her into a sort of bigamist. Together they face war,  endure trauma and tragedy and, after Claire confesses the truth about herself, attempt to change the future of the Highlanders’ fate. Through it all, their love story inspires. It’s truly the stuff of dreams and fantasies.

As much as I love a good romance, I’m more intrigued by the notion of being able to go back in time. I’ve often thought how cool it would be to go back to when dinosaurs roamed the planet. If I had a chance to do it, even if it meant never coming back (or is it forward) to the present day, and probably getting eaten by one of those giant lizards, if I didn’t starve to death first, I’d go in a second. I mean, to see a living, breathing dinosaur!  I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it.

A friend of mine, a professor emeritus of physics, spent his entire career studying time travel (in the early years on the sly, lest his colleagues think him a quack). His name is Ron Mallett and the story of why he became obsessed with building a time machine was turned into a book, Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a RealityRon was kind enough to volunteer his time at a leadership conference I’d organized for students, and we’ve been friendly ever since. I love picking his physicist’s brain over our occasional lunches. Much of what he says goes over my English major head, like the time he tried to explain the existence of parallel universes by stirring a cup of coffee, and his reasoning for why he believes in a higher power. While Ron has accepted that time travel will not happen in his lifetime, he remains optimistic. He believes it will likely begin with Morse code-like messages sent back and forth between people living in different dimensions.  How amazing is that?

I’m curious – if you could go back in time, would you? If so, where would you go and why? If someone told you he or she was a time traveler, would you believe it?

Aye, I believe ye, Sassenach. But it would ha’ been a good deal easier if you’d only been a witch.

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

One of the things I love best about working in education is that every day I learn something from and/or am inspired by my students. This week I was inspired by a former student. She graduated college a couple of years ago and has been hustling ever since to find well-paying, meaningful work in the marketing field in New York City. This young woman is a super resourceful, hard-working person, but was feeling frustrated by the low pay of entry level jobs, which made it tough to live in NYC and still eat and have a social life.

The other day she shared on Facebook that she woke up that morning, rolled over and, feeling hopeless, said out loud, “God, give me what you’ve promised me. I don’t want to wait even one more day.” I don’t know what He promised her, but that very day she received a generous job offer from her top choice company. I was so inspired by reading her post that I carried the feeling with me all day. It reminded me of how important it is to ask and have faith that you shall receive.

Should I Wring My Son’s Neck or Hug Him?

The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster as I’ve waited, belly tight and heart in throat, to find out if my 17 year old son would graduate high school or not. It all hinged on senior English class. In spite of standardized test scores that are through the roof, and his teacher declaring he was one of the most talented writers in class, he was failing. He simply wasn’t doing the work.

His entire high school career, if you can even call it that, has been a roller coaster ride for our entire family. Flunking classes, skipping classes, experimenting with drugs. My husband and I tried everything we could think of as parents to help him get it together — grounding, taking away privileges, family counseling, threats, encouragement, even a 10 week stint in an after school drug rehab for potheads. Nothing worked. Finally we realized that the only thing left to do was let go and leave the responsibility of his life outcomes in his hands, with the caveat that if this crap was still going on when he turned 18 in August he would need to find somewhere else to live.

The email from his English teacher came as I was standing in line at the grocery store deli awaiting my turn: Hi Aaron, I just wanted to let you know that you earned a 90 on your final exam; your essay was well written, insightful, and fully developed. This means that you pass senior English with a 61.

I didn’t realize how loudly I’d cried out, “Thank God!” until a few people standing close by turned to look at me. I immediately called my husband with the news, and of course that’s precisely when my deli number was called. I rattled out my order, ignoring the deli guy’s irritated expression. Yes, I was one of those rude people talking on my cell phone while he was trying to talk to me, and I didn’t care.

As I told my husband that our son would indeed graduate, without warning the tears began to fall. Weeks, no, years of built up stress, of feeling like a failure as a mother, of wondering why I was so good at helping college students find academic success, yet my own son was a hot mess, melted away in that moment. He would graduate. This difficult phase was officially behind us.

The deli guy softened his stance upon seeing my tears. I managed to get through the rest of the order before texting my other sons, mom, dad, and brother with the news. This incited a flurry of texts, ranging from pure joy to my brother warning me not to give God too much of the credit, in response to my “Thank God!”. It might very well be God, I told him, cause I’ve been praying my ass off for weeks.

The two saving graces in this whole situation have been my son’s job and my brother. About three months ago my son started working at a popular family-owned restaurant in town. He has not missed a shift or been late once. Not even on the day I took away the keys to his grandfather’s old jalopy, which he’s been driving, as punishment. Somehow, he managed to get to and from work anyway. I strongly suspect, due to the fact that it was nearly midnight when he arrived home from work, that he walked the two miles. Clearly, he wasn’t lazy. He was simply unmotivated by school.

As for my brother, his high school academic experience was similar. He barely scraped by, was in danger of not graduating, and made it at the last minute, in part thanks to notes written by my stepfather’s friend’s dentist, claiming my brother had dental work done on several of the days he was absent. He didn’t finish college, and spent several years after high school helping an uncle with his painting business, when he felt like getting up and working. Then, almost magically overnight, everything changed in his mid-20s. By chance he met the owner of a start-up technology company, got a job as an inside salesperson, and made $90,000 his first year there. He has since moved on to outside sales, client management, and is highly successful. An entrepreneur at heart, he’s also looking into founding a non-profit organization that, ironically, focuses on providing educational opportunities to disadvantaged populations.

So there’s hope after all.

Granted, my son might not end up as successful as my brother. Then again, who knows what the future holds? As for me, though I’m beyond thrilled and relieved that he’ll be graduating, there’s a part of me that would like to wring his neck for all the hell he put us through. The other part just wants to hug him.