The Pillars of Hercules, two large stones residing on either side of the strait of Gibraltar, were once the unofficial gates to oblivion. Legend has it that here, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, the words “Non plus ultra” – Nothing further beyond -were inscribed on each pillar. This was supposed the let sailors know that there was nothing beyond that point other than infinite ocean or perhaps the edge of the world. These words were later put on Spanish currency but when Columbus landed on the New World, Non-Plus Ultra was as correct as the world was flat and so the motto was then changed to “Plus Ultra”- further beyond.
When we meet someone, do we assume that what we see is what we get or will we realize that there is more to them, that they have stories to tell, lessons to teach; non-plus ultra or plus ultra?
As a teacher, I have noticed that kids can be particularly merciless when it comes to picking up on even the smallest, tic, mannerism, speech irregularity, wardrobe malfunction or habit. Wearing the same tie two days in a row, damp underarms, saying “um” too often are all fair game. That’s the way it was back in the day and so it is today -only they didn’t have Instagram back in the day (That’s just what they do to the adults, the way they cannibalize each other is whole other story).
People make snap judgments all the time, are they right or are they wrong? From the standpoint of being a teacher, the impressions my students have about me runs the full gamut from being hilariously off target to sobering accurate and everywhere in between. One class last year was remarkable in their savvy, being able to impersonate every teacher, spot on. If one teacher uttered a word or phrase (for example the word “three”) that reminded them of something another teacher said, nearly the whole class would launch into a full impression- it was SNL meets Rocky Horror Picture Show (great scot!). Nobody was safe- one teacher was mocked because she smiled too much-what was she supposed to do not smile? This class flew off the rails because of the way I made my “r’s”. Seriously.
For whatever reason, one teacher became their absolute muse. There is no real rhyme or reason for who gets chosen –I could think of plenty other teachers to lambast- but maybe they liked his heavy Long Island accent (“Lawn-Guyland”), the way he got the classes attention (“I’m gonna count to three”), the way he talked about his kids. I mean, give the guy a break, he counts down from three, he has a thick accent and he loves his children. So what?
I really, really liked this teacher. He was a friend, not just a coworker. The way he was getting lampooned got so irritating that I tried to talk about it with my class and I got nowhere with them because sometimes you can’t explain why something is funny and knowing something is wrong won’t always stop someone from doing it.
When you spend a lot of time with a person in the same context- your cubical neighbor, the security guard or your teacher for example- there are usually two ways the relationship can go; non-plus ultra or plus ultra. I generally get along great with about 95% of my students-eventually. Being the real and sometimes complicated person that I am, some people get me right away but it throws others off. Eventually, we end up bonding when my students see all the other sides of me (at ball games, trips, and while sharing a ghost-pepper or three). Not all teachers have that luxury. My coworker apparently didn’t.
Late in February, that same teacher-friend found so amusing to the students had a medical emergency and was rushed to the hospital. The prognosis was horrific but he miraculously pulled through and he eventually came home from the hospital. When it all went down, while the school was asked to pray for him, did the veil come down? Did those students realize that there was more to their teacher than they had realized? Did they make a connection that their teacher does more than grade papers and call kids in from recess? Do they now know that a real person exists outside of their personal context and belongs to a greater community of family, friends and coworkers who love him? Can the comprehend that he has done things in short life more significant than some of them can ever hope to achieve in two lifetimes? I hope they do (or they do now since some of them read these blog-Hi guys).
Throughout school, kids get crammed with so much information most of which will never be used. Sometimes we try to sneak in some life-lessons here and there but they can get lost in the noise of making grades and reaching honor roll (even if they are not all that honorable). Some of the most important lessons are taught inadvertently. This is quite the lesson.
If you love growing if you love learning, then you need to keep an open mind and you need to see people with a complete and good eye. When you do that, life becomes an adventure. Everyone you meet-young and old- can be a willing guide to take you to amazing places hiding in plain sight with unlimited possibilities, propelling you plus ultra and if you don’t you won’t know what you are missing until it’s too late.