Not All Your Tears Can Bring it Back


“Professor, is there any way I can pass this class?”
“Well, Jonathon, you’ve missed more than half the classes, you’ve done no homework, I don’t know if you’ve read any of the books…”
“I did. I read them all. Honest.”
“That’s good, but it’s a writing class and, you know, you kind of have to write in order to pass. So what’s your story? You haven’t made sense to me all semester. You’re smart. You like to write, You’re a good writer. Did I mess up somehow?”
“No, professor. You’re cool. I just don’t want to be here.”
“So why ARE you here?”
“My mom made me come to college.”
“I don’t know.”
“So you’re teaching your mom a lesson by failing your classes. That’s good. That’s going to set HER straight. Dude, I have a secret to tell you. You’ve just lost four months of your life. YOUR life, not your mom’s. You’re getting an F in this class.”
“There’s nothing I can do? I could take the final.”
“Finals are next week. It’s just a small part of your grade, anyway. Why sit here for two hours writing something that’s not going to change anything?  There’s nothing you can do. The lesson you needed this semester might not have been writing or bio or comm or anything. It might be not to waste your time. Opportunities don’t come twice.”
“Can I take you in fall?”
I knew in my heart — though I was still months from formally deciding and more months from telling anyone — I wouldn’t be back. “I’m scheduled to teach two sections of this in fall.” That was true. Whether I’d be around to teach them? Another question.
“I’ll do better, professor, I promise.”
“Don’t promise me, Jonathon. It’s not my life. I honestly don’t care. You’re not here for me. Come to school for you, for what you can learn. You want to write songs? Come to school to be a better writer. Do it for your songs.”
“No one explained it to me that way before.”
“Maybe you just weren’t ready to hear it. Just do better next time, OK? Don’t short change yourself. There are plenty of people in your life who will be happy to short change you. Don’t do it to yourself.”
“What should I tell my mom?”
“I think the truth might be useful, Jonathon. Just tell her you weren’t ready for college, but now you are. Maybe you’ll get a second chance. Anyway, you have all summer to figure that out, right? Are you getting a job?”
“Yeah. I got one already. Thanks professor, thanks for talking to me. Can I give you a hug?”
I smiled and nodded and stood up and we hugged and I knew I would never see him again.

And that’s life for you.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Omar Khayyam trans. Fitzgerald

14 thoughts on “Not All Your Tears Can Bring it Back

    • My pleasure. It took me a while to figure it out, too. I got it my senior year in high school — I’m grateful that it was before I started college.

    • Real kid, real teacher, real moment… In spite of the fact that I KNEW I’d teach English, I think the most important lessons had nothing to do with English.

  1. In high school, I had a couple of excellent English teachers, one of them chuckled at us explaining that we were wishing our lives away and would realize those days were the best of our lives. That has nothing to do with the lesson that you taught Johnathan, but, it was a good lesson anyway. Some teachers are good, some are terrific. It sounds to me like you were a terrific teacher! 😀

    • It’s normal for young people to be eager to get out there and do something. Humanity would get no where if young people didn’t feel that way — but yeah. There’s a great speech by Jack Kerouac called “Is there a Beat Generation?” It’s kind of about that question, actually. One line that really stuck with me is “And the holy old Arab has to warn the hot-bloods that Ramadan is near.”

      Sometime in my late 30s, when I got to be temporary mom for my niece and step-sons, I realized I was now the “holy old Arab.” I joked about it all the time with the kids. “Put shoes on to walk to the beach. The asphalt on the street is hot.” Of course, they didn’t listen to me and within 10 feet were complaining going “Ouch, oo, OW!” and I said, “I tried to warn you hot bloods so now you have to choose. Walk back on the hot tar to get your filp-flops or go on to the beach and hope by the time we leave the street has cooled down?” It got to be a joke. Every time I’d give them advice they’d laugh and say, “Gotta’ warn the hot bloods!” Ultimately, that was the story of my life — and, as a hot blood myself, I never listened. That’s what made it funny to me. 🙂

    • It was great. I would not “…draw it back to cancel half a line.” Even the ugliness of the end was exactly as it should be. If it had been less ugly, I would not be here. ❤

        • I guess that’s maybe true. I chose teaching because of what I got from it during/after my first three experiences tutoring adults. I knew there was no amount of money that could give me that. I loved it with all my heart and until the very end. Until the last few semesters, I awakened happy every morning because of what I knew I was going to do. I know I’ve been very lucky to have had a meaningful life. Probably if I get a chance to tutor at some point down the road, I’ll take it.

          • Christ, Martha – OF COURSE you will ! There aren’t enough genuine teachers alive on the face of the bloody earth !

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