The thing about books is that it’s so easy to misjudge them. One look at a book’s musty and old cover plus the medieval font on the yellowed pages would make a regular normal person want to put it back on the shelf. Often times it is the same with people. I had this professor once, her subject was Facilitating Learning. She was a sour, old woman with an even sourer expression. Her features have formed into an eternal scowl and the lines on her forehead were as deep as Marianna’s Trench. She was often late because of her meetings and when she did, it was always long, sweeping skirts and thick, woolly blouses that she wore to class. And let me tell you about her eyebrows. She had thin, heavily-penciled eyebrows that looked so dramatic and made her eyes bulge. Overall, I’d easily say that she looked like a student’s worst nightmare come to life. I wanted to hate and hate her I did. I imagined that very period was like this session inside a concentration camp. Every second I spent inside her class was excruciating, and the moment the bell rang for dismissal I couldn’t go out the room fast enough.
But like all other stories, there is always a Before and After.
My After came slowly. One time in class, she extended for a whole thirty minutes. Everyone was furious. Our stomachs were grumbling and here she was, rambling on and on about some guy with a theory about dogs and stimulus-response babble blah blah blah. I raised my hand and told her it was time we had lunch. And she said okay. Just like that. She said okay, go have your luch break. Class dismissed .
Just like that? Wasn’t she supposed to act like the witch we’ve allowed ourselves to think of her as?
Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all, my conscience whispered. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced yet. She still wore the same boorish clothes and she still hasn’t smiled. Not once. In my mind, she was still the same sour lady.
Then I saw her in the corridors talking with the school janitor. I was close enough to hear her and she was speaking in such as soft and kind voice that I wondered if my ears were tricking me. But I pinched them and I could hear her voice. It sounded nice. I compiled it away in a drawer marked: Good Things About Mam Xyz.
The next day in class we were tasked to make an output, whatever we wanted. A poem, a song whatever we could think of that would showcase our learnings in her class. Some of my classmates scoffed at her, and mumbled they couldn’t possibly produce anything because they haven’t learned anything. But I figured this was the time I proved I wasn’t such a small-minded person who hates someone without ever trying to get them to know first. So I rolled my imaginary sleeves, got a pen and started to draft something. An hour later I passed my paper and walked out the room.
Next meeting, a Wednesday, Mam Xyz wasn’t around. She was yet in another meeting. I exhaled the breath I was long holding. I had a written a poem there. It was about her, the way she taught and the things I got from her, both knowledge and values. I know it was a long shot but I wanted to tell her, in my way, how there was still someone who listened to her. But it took courage because when I say Mam Xyz is a strict teacher, it is a huge understatement.
Then I was called into her office. It happened the next week after that day we passed our outputs. Her assistant was the one who came to class and she called me and told me Mam Xyz wanted to talk to me. Oh boy were my hands shaking and my knees turned wobbly. My legs transformed to jelly. My classmates taunted me, saying things like “Good luck! Hope we still see you around!” and “Best wishes. Run if she tries to eat you!” None of it boosted my morale.
Walking from our classroom towards her office was the equivalent of Death March for me. Finally I was standing before the door. I stood there for what felt like an eternity when her big, loud voice startled me out of my reverie. I came in. I was sweating large beads of sweat even if there was air-conditioning in the office. She asked me to take a seat. I did. I told me not to be afraid, she didn’t bite. I became afraid even more.
“That poem you wrote…” she began.
“I’m so sorry Mam.I didn’t mean any offense. I swear. I didn’t mean any disrespect either. I’m so so sorry Mam. Please don’t fail me.” I was stumbling over my words, running miles and miles and out of breath.
Her expression was puzzled. And she explained.
It turns out that she only wanted to talk to me about the stuff I wrote and why I wrote it. I told her it was the truth, everything I wrote there, it was sincerely meant. And she smiled. She smiled! It was beautiful how much her face changed when a slow smile spread over her features. Like a light has been lit up inside her and it showed through her eyes. She didn’t look like a bitter old hag anymore. She looked nice. Friendly even.
And so after that I understood her more. Why she was the way she was. That’s the thing about life, you think you know everything, then life surprises you.
The problem with society is that it has taught us to worship beauty, synthetic beauty. We are told to shun the less-than perfect, to cast away the unconventional members of our community. We are taught to judge by the covers; not only with books but now people too! Which is as wrong as it can get.
Beauty and goodness and greatness are somewhere deep down. And we miss it if we don’t get past the surface.
Let’s dig a little deeper. Turn the pages and find jewels in between the words and the spaces.