The End of the Zombie Days

The End of the Zombie Days

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

The End of the Zombie Days

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

~William Butler Yeats

I was a zombie in high school, shuffling from class to class barely even awake. I played video games into the wee hours of the morning nearly every night. Luckily there was one teacher out there who slammed his hands on my desk and shouted at me one day, and in doing so startled me out of my stupor.

Ray Seabeck wore the same simple clothes every single day. He stood before me on the first day of class my senior year, as I was slumped in my desk in an eighteen-year-old haze. I was not expecting much from this man, from his gray, feathered hair and glasses. I yawned, not even bothering to cover my mouth, and he leapt — he literally leapt — from the front of the room to my desk in the second row, and slammed his hands on my desk when he landed.

“Do you like Shakespeare?” he screamed at me.

My mouth was stuck in mid-yawn, wide open.

“Well, do you?” he hollered.

“Yes!” I lied. I had no idea what Shakespeare was. But I was going to find out. What’s more, this man would fan some smoldering cinder of interest in me, a cinder only he could sense.

I had a 1.7 grade point average in high school. I had stayed back in the fourth grade. Often I didn’t even go to bed; I let myself become a slave to video games, sadly satisfied with accomplishments in the virtual world, while I barely noticed significant events of my real life speeding past, like mile markers on a New Hampshire highway.

We read Hamlet, and bit by bit I found that I enjoyed the psychological complexity. Why did Hamlet keep hesitating? Why?

I had done a good job rationalizing my poor grades throughout school. My excuse was this: I’m joining the Army, so what does it matter? I’d already enlisted in January of my senior year, so what did it matter? I was set to ship out in August after I graduated. But as my high school career wound down, my anxiety increased. Suddenly I’d begun liking Shakespeare, and then Hemingway, and then Fitzgerald, Wordsworth and Blake. What if — and it was an “if” of epic proportions — what if I could become an English teacher like Mr. Seabeck? What if I could read and write and talk about it, and get paid for it?

But on the other side I had the Army to look forward to. I’d always dreamt of being a soldier; I coveted the prestige that came with defending our nation.

I stayed after school one day to ask Mr. Seabeck what he thought about my conundrum. I told him of my choices, and my ambivalence. Of my desire to become a teacher, and a soldier. Want to know what he said?

“Hamlet!” he said, pointing at me. “You’re Hamlet! Here you have two paths laid open for you — to be or not to be. To become a teacher or a soldier.”

I said, “The thing is, I’ve already signed my Army contract. But I could still get out of it if I wanted to.”

“Well that’s curious,” he said.

“What is?”

“That’s the third time I’ve heard you say that — that you could still get out of your contract.”

“But do you think I could even get into a college with a 1.7 GPA?”

“No college in the U.S. will turn you down, Ron, from enrolling in one class. Get an A in that, and maybe one or two more part-time, and you’d have a pretty good shot.”

I left school that day with college in my eyes and ears. Just thinking of joining the thousands of students matriculating that fall made me feel electric.

And Mr. Seabeck was right. I did have to take a class part-time to get accepted at Plymouth State University, but get accepted I did. I graduated cum laude, and went on to earn my Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of New Hampshire. And now, as I sit writing this twelve years later, I’m sitting at Mr. Seabeck’s old desk. I took over his old position, teaching English at Laconia High School in New Hampshire. I can still see that wry grin of his, and I can still hear him screaming, “Do you like Shakespeare?” I might never have known that I, in fact, love Shakespeare, if not for the spark he lit in me that caused me to examine my life, my habits, and my desires. I will forever bear his stamp, and the evidence is in my high school yearbook. My senior quote reads as follows:

“Tis now the very witching time of night,

When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world. Now I could drink hot blood,

And do such bitter business as the day

Would quake to look on.”

— Hamlet, Act III, Scene II

~Ron Kaiser, Jr

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