Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Much Ado about Nothing

There are times when my life feels like a string of Seinfeld episodes, you know, the show that’s really about nothing at all. Doesn’t sound like a particularly interesting prospect but the concept worked and was very popular, still is if the continuous reruns are anything to go by. The main characters drift along from day to day, going about their ordinary lives, not doing anything spectacular, but not necessarily falling in a heap either. Then there are the days when things come out of left field, life is turned upside down, and they reel from one crisis to the next in order for the situation to be resolved.

And of course, in amongst the drama and angst is the humour. Not necessarily the funny ha-ha type of humour, but we smile or laugh nonetheless as we recognise ourselves in the dilemmas the characters get themselves into and the the ways they react or respond to whatever’s going on around them. 

They support each other where they can, but are also dogged by apathy and self interest as the stresses of family, work and relationships ebb and flow, and we wonder along with them at the meaning of it all. But that’s what life is like for most of us. Our lives are ordinary. Very few of us get to live out the dreams or fantasies of our youth. 

I was a runner of sorts, sprinting mainly, but never quite good enough to progress any further than inter school sports, even if I did have dreams of Olympic grandeur. I sang a bit, can still sing in tune, but never dared to venture beyond a little folk trio. I even acted, and as a child had such a good memory I knew everyone’s lines. Last time I graced a stage was in 1968 at the school drama competition when I was in Year 12. It was the first time I’d actually had stage make-up, and I still remember sitting in front of the mirrors in the dressing room of the theatre, well, it was the Dandenong Town Hall but for all intents and purposes a theatre nonetheless, and as the greasepaint was applied it felt like I was in another world. A world of infinite possibilities. Why didn’t I pursue that? The very idea these days of being up front in any situation and opening my mouth fills me with something akin to dread. And of course there’s the writing, always the writing, something I play with, dabble with, mess around with, procrastinate from, wish for but never really get there.

At some point along the way we either make a decision to go down a particular career path, or we simply settle for less, believing that what we hoped would be, is simply never going to happen. I look back at the things I dreamed of becoming, actor, singer, writer, secret agent, vet, world traveller, explorer, activist and wonder how out of all those I ended up becoming a primary teacher. There’s that phrase “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” Did I become a teacher simply because I wasn’t game enough to try any of those other things? I have memories of scenarios conjured up from my imagination where I acted out each role, but without the belief I was capable of achieving them, and the determination to actually follow them through, it was obvious my life wan’t heading down any of those paths.

And then another memory returns, one much older, born on my very first day of school. For some reason I feared being swallowed up by that monolithic red brick building looming like something out of the industrial revolution, well my powers of deduction weren’t quite that refined at five years old, but I was dragged kicking and screaming like a lamb to the slaughter awaiting its fate. By the end of the day however my whole world had changed. I don’t recall my teacher’s name or even what we did that day, but she must have been remarkable, for as I raced out to meet Mum at the end of the day I greeted her with “I want to be a teacher.” My mind was made up.

So despite all the other possibilities that emerged as I grew up, I followed the path that led to teaching. Practical, sensible, the world always needs teachers, and don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. Loved nurturing these little people who were left in my care in their first year of school, some hesitant, others ready to soak up everything you offered them, and those with so much energy you wondered what on earth they had for breakfast every day. We put a lot of trust in those who teach our children. We expect them to not only do their job, but we also expect them to care for our children, to look out for them, to recognise when they’re not doing so well. It’s a big ask, but teaching has always been way more than just imparting facts and figures, and even straight out of teacher’s college it became quickly obvious that what I did in the classroom could have far reaching effects on how these young lives might perceive the world. 

I haven’t ended up where I thought I might have several paragraphs ago when I started this. For me, teaching only lasted a few years. Life continually changes, phases come and go and before you know it several decades have passed and you wonder yet again if what you’re doing with your life is what you chose to do, or what simply happened without you noticing.

Much of life is ordinary. We all have to get up every day, shower and dress and organise ourselves, head out the door or not, depending on what the day’s tasks demand. Whether it’s being a highly paid boss or a stay at home parent with little tackers to care for, the responsibilities are really very similar. There’s a myriad of decisions to make during the day, people to manage, and prioritising the ever growing to-do list and multi-tasking become the norm rather than the exception. 

We have to do and be the best we can to not only get the job done, but hopefully bring everyone else along with us in the process, and if we do it well, as ordinary as the task might be, there just might be those who value that effort and think you’re quite extraordinary.

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