Editor’s Note: Oh, the smell of newly sharpened pencils! Favorite pens, and a special backpack! List of materials needed, and a few extras “for fun!” It’s Back-to-School month, and many of my friends are headed back as classroom teachers, from my sister at Castle Rock Montessori, to others at high school and colleges across the country.
The weather, too, is changing a bit. Last week it was over 100 degrees here, and today it’s a cloudy low-70’s. While I’m not yet ready to get out my winter clothes, I am remembering an old favorite poem that many teachers print out for their students.
Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours
Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out quiz
worth 50 percent
Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place
And you weren’t here
© Tom Wayman
How would you answer this question? Phrase answers both as “Nothing” and “Everything” responses. You need not assume the questioner is a student. Have fun making up your answers — be outrageous, sarcastic, witty, direct and inventive.