Scranton Time - bits and pieces from Tom Flannery is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
We all have regrets. We look back on roads not taken and wonder where they might have led us. Perhaps we allowed fear to intervene. There are no monsters who come close to the ones we can conjure up in our own heads. Too many of us are like that kid from “Poltergeist” imagining the storm-blown tree branches coming to life to pluck us out of our own beds.
There's no life GPS. If you get lost, it can take a lifetime to find your way home.
How many of us have fallen into a career because it was the path with the least resistance? It was the path that allowed us to stay out later and sleep in longer and study less. It was the one that was the most comfortable. And then late at night in our cups we’re suddenly channeling Eugene O'Neil, surveying the wreckage of discarded dreams and cruelly realizing that indeed, "it's a late day for regrets".
That's a bit heavy, eh? O'Neil could be a whiny, pretentious little twat at times, but he could turn a good phrase and certainly looked the part. The brooding, haunted, chronicler of what awaits your sorry ass when you spend too much time in your hometown bar drinking with your high school buddies.
Anyway, we seem to have drifted a bit. I just find it fascinating that there are literally hundreds of decisions that we made through the years that brought us to where we are now. If we chose differently on even one of them, we could be on the other side of the world.
Which brings us back to teachers. They've been in the news lately, as you might have heard.
My father once told me to "find a job where you never look at the clock". Like most of his excellent advice, I didn't heed it, and have spent 35+ years waiting for 5pm like an addict waiting on methadone. My Dad loved his job. He was good at it. But his distinguished career as a newspaperman would never have happened if not for a teacher.
He decided to major in history, with no real plan other than graduating to make his mom proud. He was shy, nowhere near athletic, unsure of himself in just about every situation. But he could dive into words......find the right ones and toss the wrong ones aside.....and one of his teachers noticed. This teacher pulled him over and suggested a career path. My Dad knew he enjoyed writing, but until that moment nobody had ever told him he was good at it. He told me the story many times over the years. If not for this teacher, my father would have never gone into journalism. He never said he "might not have". He said, categorically, he "would not have". It wasn't even on his radar.
I have no idea what he might have done otherwise. It wasn't simply a job for him. It became who he was.
I don't know if the teacher was ever aware of what his words meant that day. How they changed the life of a directionless kid. With teachers, it's not only injecting the knowledge, but also reminding kids that just about all of them have a spark....something they are good at....something in them that maybe, just maybe, is gonna help them find the road that's gonna get them home.
And of course, as anybody who has ever watched “Groundhog Day” already knows, if not for that teacher, and what he did for my Father, I would not be here. Because that's the way these things work. It’s all cosmically connected.
I don't have a dramatic story like that for myself. My 17 years of schooling (counting Mrs. Golden, my Kindergarten teacher at the George Washington school on Green Ridge St) was spent being nurtured by a wide assortment of teachers, just about all of whom, like Mrs. Golden, I remember by name. I still remember the day Mrs. Perry gave me an A for an essay I wrote about Led Zeppelin in 7th grade. Made me feel like Jimmy Page. I remember Mrs. D'Angelo telling me that I was one of her favorite students, not "best" mind you, but "favorite", which meant even more. I was way too cool to admit to anybody that this meant the world to me so I never did....until now. I remember being so lost in Algebra class that I was nearly catatonic, and Mrs. Green having the patience to ensure I lived to fight another day. My 69.5 cumulative grade rounded up to a 70, and when I saw that report card I understood how Michael Jordan felt making that shot over Craig Ehlo.
Somehow I made it out into this world....an educated man with zero math skills but loaded with empathy, and it's nobody's fault but my own that I don't get to do what I love for a living. For that, I have to wait until I get home.
And then I do this.
In a bit..