Monday, May 09, 2011


The other day, as I having lunch in a café, I noticed that a young man sitting near me was dressed in what looked like a carefully considered costume -- baggy pants, elaborately arranged chains, multiple tattoos and body rings -- and rather quickly it occurred to me that I, too, was wearing a costume, and that all of us do, including my students. The young guy had his carelessly saggy pants, and I had my properly pressed slacks; he had chains, and I had my suitably preppy belt; he was proudly exhibiting his ear and lip rings, and I was unquestionably conscious of how my striped bow tie showed off my supposedly esteemed stage in life as a professorial senior citizen. There we were, two well-costumed people pretending that we weren’t wearing costumes. We had both “dressed up” to play the roles we have chosen, but no doubt neither of us would usually be willing to admit it. As I thought about it later, it seemed apparent that all of us present our preferred costumes to the public each day – the kinds of clothes that enable us to play the “parts” we have selected for ourselves. Even those of us who wear supposedly commonplace clothes do so because it seems fitting for the role we see ourselves playing – perhaps that of the unassuming and straightforward person who desires the simplest of lives. Truth is, we’re all on stage all the time, including my teenage students. They come to my classroom dressed for their various roles – laid-back cool guy, shy waif, faithful friend to everyone, and even – occasionally -- business-like student. They sit before me playing their parts, and of course, I play mine with my bow tie-suspenders-colorful shirt costume. What may be surprising is that I see nothing wrong with this constant costuming that all of us do. In fact, it seems like a truthful and light-hearted way to live. Life, to me, is more like a fascinating show than a frightful contest, and so I rather enjoy observing all of us in my classroom as we carry on with the show. Who knows what will happen next in this absorbing drama called “9th grade English”? What sub-plot will be unveiled in the next few minutes? Like the guy who slouched to his seat in the café and found me for an audience for a few moments, which students will swirl with their costumes onto center-stage to steal the show?

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