Anyway, summer time doesn't really afford a lot of opportunities to tell new stories about students.
It does; however, allow for reflection.
In and of itself, reflection is incredibly valuable.
I want to tell a story that made me reflect.
It isn't a happy story and rather more political than I might wish, but it is what it is.
We went to the North rim of the Grand Canyon.
Driving through the park in a convertible was awesome.
The smell of pine and the tinge of chill in the high, thin air made the sunshine enjoyable.
We stopped at a number of lookouts to hike around, take pictures, and generally enjoy the scenery.
At one such place, we struck up a casual conversation with a British couple comparing accommodations.
We have a lot of random conversations with fellow travelers, most of which are quite agreeable.
But occasionally, you run into a, well, to an asshole.
In this instance, another individual entered the conversation and began to complain loudly about where he was staying, then where he lived, then the younger generations, and finally the country.
It took him about 15 seconds.
I ignored him. I refused to make eye contact and chose not to respond to his ignorance.
He asked "So who do you think I am voting for?"
I remained silent. So did everyone else.
He repeated the question more loudly and still got no response.
He turned directly to me and said "Don't you want to know who I am voting for?"
"No. I don't care and it is none of my business," was my rather terse response. "If I wanted to talk politics, I would have stayed at home."
He told us anyway...draw your own conclusions...
I turned my back on him and everyone else to enjoy the view.
He kept talking. The British couple split: she engaging in "political discourse" with this vitriolic stranger and her husband coming to stand next to me.
I heard the conversation despite my best efforts.
Something about shiploads of "mutts" being brought into the country at night. And how he should be allowed to shoot them in the back of the head.
It was, to be honest, disgusting and intensely offensive.
The husband next to me started rambling about how if he had the money and the freedom (sideways glance at his wife) he would stay in this country.
I think this was some form of apology for the racist vomit spewing from his wife's mouth.
I told him the truth "If money weren't an issue, I wouldn't stay anywhere."
Then I walked away.
I wanted to respond to the other man. I could feel my blood boiling.
The words were bubbling up to reply to his bigotry with nastiness of my own.
There is nothing good about running into something so ugly in such a beautiful place.
But I didn't respond. I swallowed my barbed retorts.
I wanted to ask him if he was calling me a mutt--I am racially Jewish, after all.
I wanted to attack. To accuse him of being stupid, ignorant, and selfish.
I wanted to say "Here are the things you have told me about yourself today:
- you are proud to be completely selfish,
- you want to force your opinions on others,
- you have a gun and think that is your right,
- you think you also have the right to shoot people because they are different,
- you hate because you can, without any actual reason.
The thing is, none of that would have done anything but sink me to the same level of filth.
You can't fix intentionally ignorant.
This dude was looking for a fight. He was spoiling for a confrontation.
He was spoiling the view.
Nothing I could have said or done would change him.
It just would have ruined my day.
The only possible silver lining is that this encounter helped me reflect.
It reminded me of how terribly, thoroughly lucky I am.
It reminded me of how real the problems in my country really are.
It reminded me of how important my role as a teacher can be.
It was a stain on an otherwise beautiful day in a beautiful place, but it woke me up.
It has stayed with me and helped me dig deeper into my own biases.
Sometimes freedom of speech is so hard to believe in.
Sometimes finding the good things hurts a little.