Originally published in The Suburban on June 16, 2004, while I was still a teacher at Royal Vale High School in N.D.G.
Every now and then one of my more particularly ernest and industrious 14 year old pupils will cautiously advance to my desk and declare, almost proudly, that he has a question. Of course, as a secondary school teacher, that ingenuous assertion in itself brings joy to my heart as it is very much within the purview of my pedagogical responsibility and vocation. “Good, good!” , I invariably respond, “nevertheless, do you not think yourself fortunate to have but one query?” While plainly not my intention, that simple, unexpected retort usually sets the inquisitive student very much on the defensive. “But what do you mean by that, Sir?”, my pupil stammers. “Ah”, I gleefully affirm, “now that was the question I was waiting for.”
I then enthusiastically share with my startled scholar and class at large my long held belief that, in fact, there are in life a multitude of questions, most of which, lamentably, go unanswered.
Understandably, one of the many joys of teaching -particularly for senior educators- is the wealth of opportunities that young people still very innocently provide to communicate with them an opinion on any number of subjects , along with various interrogatories which might stem from them. One of my preferred themes these days springs from the state of my local park benches.
As I explain it to them, every day my matutinal routine causes me to pass spiritedly through my neighbourhood green space on my way to the adjacent convenience store in order to purchase the morning’s necessities. In so doing, I always come face to face with a now long standing local enigma. You see, about three years ago a city authority visited the modest corner in question -Guy / Paxton Park- and a team of several seemingly sincere, well intentioned youthful labourers proceeded to paint eagerly the backs of the three long neglected benches. The seats themselves which, it must be said, were in an equal state of disregard were left totally untouched, and remain so to this day. So every morning, at a very early and disarming hour, I am regularly reminded of this bureaucratic absurdity.
Long familiar with my pointed quirks and interests, the class begins to fidget nervously. Nevertheless, not to be discouraged, I present to them in general, and my now totally befuddled and seemingly impatient pupil in particular, an obvious yet difficult question. Who on earth made the incredible decision on that rueful day to paint only the backs of those benches? There are of course, as I rationalise with them, several related interrogatories. For example, where is that individual now? How, where, and why was that determination made?
Of course, I made some, what later proved to be, futile attempts to penetrate the municipal menagerie of decision – making. One day, on leave from my classroom duties, I put aside the better part of a morning to try the various departmental telephone numbers, all of which led to the habitual promptings of diverse options, culminating in the usual voice mail. Suddenly, an hour or so later and much to my surprise, I finally broke through the local administrative juggernaut and reached an official to whom I explained the mystery of the three now unholy park benches. She promised to pass my message along to the responsible foreman who, she insisted, would call me on a later occasion. And although she did wish me the now requisite and ritual “Have a nice day”, the supervisor in question never did telephone me about the grating matter.
As the restlessness intensifies noticeably, I quickly glance about the classroom to see that I have not exceeded their attention span, a disorder about which we in education hear a great deal these days. The youngster who first approached me with his query has returned hesitatingly and somewhat reluctantly to his desk near the back of the class, while the others continue to regard me curiously. “So, you see, boys and girls, some questions in life go unanswered”, I regretfully assert. “We must occasionally reconcile ourselves to that unfortunate reality.”
A puzzling silence settles in the room as all eyes are focused on that ever so sedulous pupil who is now once again settled in his seat. “I’m sorry, John,” I utter haltingly. “Now, what was that question you wanted me to answer?”
“Please, Sir,” came quickly the reply, “may I go to the toilet?”