This I Believe
This is my 25th year teaching college students. With Labour Day behind me I rode my bike in earnest to start my first classes on Diversity and Social Change. It was a beautiful late summer day with a cool wind heralding the coming fall. As I locked my bike and swung my backpack back over my shoulders to keep from slipping off I was overcome by panic. I was unnerved by this strange feeling, as if the ground beneath me was giving way. I was bewildered and frightened. “My gosh! I can’t go into the classroom. I don’t believe any of what I teach.” I was only minutes away from standing in front of the class. I could see my students migrating towards the class building. I used to believe in the high calling of a teacher. How can I now tell them that I had nothing left to give? That this stuff about curiosity, knowledge, power, ideas, change and justice are all a hoax? Am I not actually a social parasite making off with the ills of the world while teaching Sociology? In the midst of this civil war inside me, I passed a colleague preparing for his upcoming class and I asked him if he believed in any of this and he shot back, “Sometimes.” I kept on walking and thought of the courage it takes to believe, in anything. J.M.Coetzee, a recent Nobel Laureate wrote, “I have beliefs, but I don’t believe in them.” Coetzee speaks for me.
I suppose there comes such a time for all of us. Only the other day my opthalmologist friend said that he felt that he was feeling a bit listless “I have done more than 10,000 cataracts and now I ask ‘so what?”’ I thought it absurd that he would diminish the seriousness of his work in the lives of so many. Having snatched them from the borders of blindness. In the middle of my crisis I revisited that conversation and started to get a sense of what he might have meant.
Soon my feet carried me to the class full of students. I started to expound on the social theory of Albert Memmi and his idea that racial purity is a myth, a metaphor, a prayer and a fantasy. The students’ eyes started to soar with possibility, and their bodies stilled by the quiet sound of falling fetters in their minds. Gingerly, they turned to comments and questions as if they were on the threshold of hope and meaning. I could see that I needed to return again and again to finish this course out.
I believe without a doubt. Sometimes.
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