This combination made many students want to lie down on the green, campus grass after lunch and take naps. I made myself comfortable on a shaded bench under the largest oak tree and relaxed. With twenty minutes to spare before starting my next English class, I felt the warm, August sun trying to find me. I looked up at the white, floating clouds, and my mind began to wander.
Imagining what Huck Finn and Jim felt on their crude raft while floating down the mighty Mississippi River, leaving their troubles behind, ignoring their families, forgetting the problems of growing up, averting their minds from mature challenges, overlooking racial prejudice, and communicating the way two males, a young white boy and a black man, would have in that place – in that century, I smiled. As each day began for those runaways, the warm sun twinkled between the fluttering leaves of cottonwood trees along the river banks, gently rousing this friendly duo to new adventures.
Huck and Jim were thankful for the many opportunities that came their way. With child-like understanding, they did their best to comprehend that little corner of the world and their places in it. If life is a stochastic process, they enjoyed and accepted their days as they found them. They did not hate life away, and they would not waste time ignoring it or being ungrateful. In their simplicity, consciously or not, they found excitement in learning, even though their vision was short and blocked by the bends in the river.
Abruptly, I quit daydreaming, checked the time, stood up, smiled at a sleeping student, and hurried to class. When I opened the door to enter the building, I left the bright, outside daylight for the interior darkness of the old Arts and Sciences structure on the university campus. For a moment, I was blinded and could not see. My eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. Plato’s cave came to mind, and the shadows on the wall turned into live students, as two of them bumped into me. I walked down the darkened hallway toward my classroom and noticed a beam of white light coming through the door into the hall.
Before I entered the room and faced a new audience of college undergraduates, I thought of previous classes that taught me more than I taught them. Life is a journey, and the paths we take imitate my Huckleberry friend and his companion, who floated above the muddy water and felt safe standing on a few trees tied together as they were pushed downstream by Nature’s current running under them, out of sight, out of mind, providing the engine that drove them into the future beyond that day’s horizon.
Each new sunrise and each new bend in the river was an opportunity to explore, and by discovering the world, they discovered themselves. What would they see, today? What would they envision, tomorrow? What would they create, next week? Would this adventurous journey bring them new knowledge that matured into wisdom? The long route they started was sure to be filled with many surprises. The two friends only saw and thought of themselves at the beginning, but the river taught them the way Nature and people work. They could not help but learn.
“Hold on. Ready or not, here we go,” the river called to them, and they were forever changed.
I opened the classroom door, stepped into the light of a new day, faced my new students, and found a new way of seeing myself.
– David Martin