Poets tell us about nothing, and about everything
Sheridan Simon, one of my favorite professors of all time--and he would have been your favorite too, had you been lucky enough to meet him--once told me, as we sat eating pizza at Huck's across from the Guilford campus, the things he most hated to hear students say. Sheridan was my physics professor.
Right at the top of the list were: "Did I miss anything?" from students when they returned after skipping class, and "Is this going to be on the test?", his favorite, especially when heard after giving a fantastic lecture, excited to see a hand go up to ask a question, and having "Is this going to be on the test?" be the question asked, his mistaking self-preservation for enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity.
My thanks to Patricia for pointing me to this poem. As a teacher herself, she says, it is one of her favorites. I'm sure Sheridan would agree. And, as you'll see, the message extends far beyond the classroom...
Did I Miss Anything
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 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I am about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent
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 his life and
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
you weren't here
Dear brilliant, funny, wise Sheridan died 14 years ago today, only 46 years old when he left us. In his memory, call up a teacher today who meant the world to you, and tell them they meant everything.