These people are a disgrace

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”From the movie Shine”]

It was one of those little moments in life where everything becomes crystal clear.

Years and years ago. English 400-something. Summer course. American Lit. Very…strange…professor. Lemme talk about her for a sec.

I forget her name. I forget what she looks like. I remember a whole lot about her:

1) In the span of one year, she had been violently raped in her home by a stranger. Twice. Not the same stranger. And yet she was…

2) …annoyingly cheerful and filled with joy.

3) She was a complete ditz.

4) She was an evangelical Christian who got married in the Loose Park rose garden in a Buddhist ceremony.

5) She had a completely random way of teaching. If you could call it teaching.

6) One of the first things she said to the class (with great exuberance) was “I want to fuck your minds!”

7) She taught me one of the single most important lessons I have ever learned, so whatever I don’t remember about Prufrock or Leaves of Grass (and surely don’t care a whit), it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the life-changing thing she taught me.

I don’t remember the text under discussion. She rarely used it, anyway (goodbye $90 for yet another Norton’s). She made the shocking proposition (prompted by some discussion of Judaism that had nothing to do with American lit) that Eve may not have sinned by eating the apple, and that they had to eat the fruit for them to have children, to know good and evil, joy and sorrow, and that Adam was just too chickenshit to do it, so she took the initiative.

It was like the sun came out. My quiet contempt of her scatteredness vanished. I was so excited I went all Horshack OOOh OOOh OOOh!!! Mistah Kottah!!! Mistah Kottah!!!

I blurted, “Yes! That’s it! That’s exactly what happened!”

Suddenly, she was all business, totally sober, like an English professor should be. She stared at me and said, “No, that’s what you believe happened.”

I was embarrassed. The class was silent, but not looking at me. There were no contemptuous snickers at me, even though I probably deserved them. I suspect it was as much a teaching moment for a lot of other people as it was for me. How had I gotten to be a senior in college without having learned this? How had any of us?

Life-changing? Exaggeration? No. She distilled an entire lifetime of being told this is the truth and there is no other truth, and those who don’t believe this truth are worthy only of our contempt and then shattered it.

(As it happens, my playlist popped up with the soundtrack of Shine: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, hence the name of the post and appropriate track.)

Yesterday I happened upon a post by a well-educated adult who, for all her proclamations of learning empathy through fiction, displayed none for a flesh-and-blood woman. She proudly told of her shock and horror at this woman’s lack of understanding of The Truth, drew several condescending conclusions from what little the woman had told her, and then went on to pity her. I guess that’s the empathy part.

Yet she didn’t actually ask the woman why she did not buy into The Truth and made no effort to understand someone else’s point of view. Whether the author of the post agreed or not was irrelevant; it didn’t occur to her to ask why the woman felt that way. It didn’t even occur to her to think up possible reasons for the woman’s viewpoint.

I still believe that my truth is The Truth, but every once in a while I get shocked out of my comfy little philosophy by someone who thinks her Truth is or should be everyone else’s.

9 thoughts on “These people are a disgrace

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  • May 19, 2010 at 1:47 am


    Huh. I guess that means my html was rejected?

  • May 19, 2010 at 1:49 am

    What were you trying to do? HTML works on this blog, so now I am all a-puzzlements.

  • May 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Beware, though, the movie is heartbreaking, but oh so worth it.

  • June 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Why didn’t the english teacher know better?

    I like to think I would respond with “No, it’s what I believe, *and* how it really happened.”

    …but I’d probably just roll my eyes, disappointed she isn’t as far along as I’d thought.

  • June 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    …but I’d probably just roll my eyes, disappointed she isn’t as far along as I’d thought.

    Eh, well, I wasn’t even THAT far along, so it was a wash. LOL

  • July 1, 2010 at 1:57 am

    I’m a little late to this post, but I have to tell you. I can remember sitting in the church basement for Sunday school, reading a Little Golden Book about the Adam & Eve story. My 5-year-old takeaway was that, by eating the apple, Eve chose free will, and all of history happened. Without her having done that, it would have been nothing but Adam & Eve in the garden with all the animals, the end. It didn’t have a big emotional impact on me, that was just my interpretation. I didn’t talk to any adults about it, so it didn’t get corrected out of me.

    Fast-forward 15 years (to the late ’80’s), and I was a young woman reading a bunch of feminist tracts and goddess-centric pseudo-archeology explorations that were always introduced with a story about how much the authors had suffered their whole lives long, being punished for Eve’s sin. I swear, I actually had to get somebody to explain to me what Eve’s sin was. I still don’t really get it.


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