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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hope and the Freezing Temperature of Water

As I write this blog, I'm periodically switching to a tab labeled "School and Business Closings," and hitting the refresh button to see if DeKalb County Schools appears on the list.  I'm going to pause right now and do it again.


I need to stipulate that I genuinely enjoy being a public school teacher, that I take pride in my work, that I arrive at the job each day with a smile on my lips and a gladsome song in my heart.  Also, let it be known that because of Martin Luther King Day, I'm already getting a three-day weekend.  But.

Thursday morning - I'm writing this blog on Friday, although it probably won't appear until Saturday - my carpool buddy Chrishele said the "S-word."  No, not that S-Word, this one: Snow.

"What if it snows?  The forecast says snow!  If it snows we don't go to work Friday.  Four-day weekend!  Whoo-hoo!"

These were not her exact words, of course; I don't remember exactly what she said, but nevertheless, they capture the general tenor of her discourse.  The "whoo-hoo," however, I'm pretty sure is a direct quotation.  If I recall correctly, "whoo-hoo," is something she said verbatim.

I immediately quashed this dangerous fantasy on her part.  The snow, I explained, in my most mature grown-up voice, would probably not fall, and if it did, it certainly wouldn't stick.  But... but... but...

And here, as Shakespeare puts it, began the tempest to my soul.  But, it occurred to us, it didn't have to snow.  It had been raining all week.  The ground was thoroughly sodden.  If the temperature got below freezing, there'd be ice.  And, although snow is fine, when it comes to closing schools, to quote Robert Frost, "ice is also great, and would suffice."

Again, I want it known I love my job, and I'm damn good at it, but - and I'm in a poetry-quoting mood, so here's one from Sir Walter Scott - "breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, school's closed, don't have to go to work, four-day weekend, whoo-hoo!"  I may have taken some liberties with the end of that line, but I'm pretty sure Scott would have written it that way if he'd ever been in my situation.

I told Chrishele, I told her, not even to think about it.  Not to let herself hope.  That hope is only self-torment.  If the schools closed, and they wouldn't, they would close whether we hoped for it or not.  Meanwhile, hoping would transform a perfectly ordinary and satisfactory Friday morning, a Friday before a three-day weekend no less, into, "Damn, I have to go to work after all."

But she would not have it.  Worse still, that pleasant irritant of hope, like a caraway seed between the teeth, lodged itself in the muscle of my beating heart.  Water on the road.  Freezing temperature.  Black ice.  School closed.  Four-day weekend.  Whoo-hoo.

That afternoon on the drive home, as an antidote to the intoxicating toxin of hope, I told Chrishele the story of Pandora.  The real story of Pandora.

Pandora, as you recall, and if you don't recall, I'll tell you, was given a box by the gods with a single instruction, "Don't open the box!"  Of course, anybody in the situation was bound to open the box sooner or later, because what's the purpose of a box in the first place unless you open it?  Opening it is the purpose of the whole thing.  If it doesn't open, it's not even a box, really, it's just a cube.  You've probably guessed, although evidently Pandora didn't, that the whole thing was a set-up; the gods were planning to lay some heavy-duty misery on mankind, and Pandora's box was the tool they'd chosen.

So Pandora opens the box, and out flies all the stuff that's tormented mankind ever since - poverty, loneliness, hunger, despair, toothache, tedium - the works.  Pandora snaps the lid closed at once, of course, but it's too late.  The box is already empty.  Or almost.  There's a little voice, sweet sounding and soft, "Let me out, let me out!"  And the voice is so sweet, and so plaintive, and so harmless-sounding, and Pandora figures the damage has already been done because there's poverty and loneliness and whatnot already flying around the world like giant invisible black bats, and she opens the lid one last time and out comes ... Hope!  It's little and fragile, I picture it like a delicate butterfly, beautiful, beautiful Hope.  The Hope that in spite of all the misery and disappointment that comes with the human condition, that someday - maybe even tomorrow , who knows? - things will be just a little bit better.

And that little tiny Hope, with her silvery dulcet voice and her bright butterfly wings, is the worst thing of all.

All the rest - the drudgery, the dreariness, the drabness, and death - we could put up with if not for the maddening, insane-making, teasing, tormenting, tantalizing HOPE.

The best thing to do, oh, my angels out there in blog-reading land - and this is not nearly so cynical or despairing as it sounds - is to live without hope.  Go about your lives, live as well as you can, take pleasure where you find it, and be grateful for your friends, family, and blessings.  But don't dare let yourself wonder, not even for a second, whether tomorrow might be even better.  Let tomorrow take care of itself.

I wish I could heed my own advice, because I know its wisdom, but Chrishele, you see, infected me with that deceptive butterfly of hope.  (Mixed metaphor, I know, you can't infect someone with a butterfly, but let it stand.)  Rain.  Freezing temperature.  Black ice.  School closed.  Four day weekend. Whoo.  And, I might add, Hoo.

I will hit the refresh button one last time on the list of school closings to see if DeKalb County appears.


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