An Awakening

A Student

March 1, 1990

As I made my way across the expanse of the hospital-green classroom, an overwhelming sense of dread was permeating throughout m entire body. There was a map of the world during the time of the Byzantine Empire in one corner of the room, and in the other there was a poster that read "There is no greater challenge than to challenge yourself." Timidly, I found a seat in the middle of the room. This was it… the dreaded Freshman World History with Mr. Joe. Rumor had it that the textbook was as thick as three Bibles.

Soon my contemporaries began filing into the room; most of them in pairs, contemplating the major issue of the day: what we did over summer vacation. But to me, summer vacation seemed to be millions of years ago. There was only this room and the omnipresent fear that it held for me. Thankfully, it was, at that moment anyway, void of the source of my terror, Mr. Joe.

But before I could get halfway through my sigh of relief, there came an abrupt silence over the room. There he was in the doorway, and he was just as I had imagined him. He was tall and he had an air about him that seemed to demand silence. His face encased an expression that could only be shared by a seasoned drill sergeant. Yes, Armageddon had finally arrived, and I could have just kicked myself for deciding to sit smack dab in the middle of it.

Then, as suddenly as it came, the silence was broken by the sound of a bell. However, there was no mulling around in the room after it rang. Apparently this man did not even notice it. Perhaps he did not need a bell to bring order to his classroom. As far as I was concerned, his very expression was alarming enough to silence a hyena on No-Doz!

I looked around the room again; the map, the students, the poster, the man. I thought I saw the slightest bit of softening come over his face for the slightest fraction of a second. Encouraged, I smiled at him and again his face hardened as he began to speak. So far it was okay, the usual rundown and introduction. I began to relax. But then his gaze lost his audience and he began what was to be a representation of his expectations for us. He looked toward the poster, &This, class," he said, "is the way I view this course. I am going to push you, all of you, I will do what I can. But in the final analysis it is your decision, you must ultimately decide whether you will fail or succeed. You must decide if you are willing to challenge yourself."

And as he spoke the tension in the room seemed to silently slip away. My eyes widened and my ears strained to catch every word he uttered. I felt that great emptiness, that great and burning void within myself finally began to fill. But I wanted to continue filling it. The more I put in, it seemed, the more I needed to fill it. I suddenly wanted to seize that textbook. I didn’t care if it was a thick as five Bibles, I wanted to devour it. "There is no greater challenge than to challenge yourself." I read it again. I put it to memory. Suddenly that expression that I had mistaken for sternness showed itself for what it really was, and I was never so glad to meet another human being in all of my life.