During a telephone conversation with a certain someone the other day, I realized that no matter what I said, no matter how I answered her questions, this person on the other end of the line had something to say to oppose or negate me. We hadn’t spoken for a while and no matter how hard I tried to be polite and stay calm during our conversation, in the end after I hung up I was upset. And I realized then that maybe that’s the reason I have stopped calling her in the first place. There was a time and place in my life when I could have, I repeat I could have, taken other people’s bullshit, but not now. No one likes to be put down no matter what and certainly not me, not at this stage in my life.
In every society, even among our own circle of friends and acquaintances, there are always people who try to put you down no matter what you do. And there are also those who stand by you and are on your side and are a source of encouragement and great help. Specially when you are young and you have dreams and you are full of hope and naïve enough to talk about your dreams and goals to anyone who shows a slight interest in you or in what you do.
Years ago, when I was teaching in Dubai, on a regular school day I had a 7:30am to 5:00pm schedule. On the days when I had after school meetings I would be in school until after 7:00pm. Besides teaching 25 hours of mathematics to high school kids I was also coordinating the math department. And as such I had my own office. My son was very young at the time, and even though he finished early, he used to wait for me after school so I could take him home. On most days he played football with other kids, but when almost everyone went home he just came and sat in my office and read until I finished my work. He loved to read and his favorite author was R.L. Stine. Now in Dubai there were no public libraries and the school didn’t have a proper library then either. So he used to buy his books from the money he would save from his weekly allowances, which always varied depending on his performance in school and on how clean and tidy he kept his room.
My office door was always open and colleagues and parents passed by all the time. On this one particular evening an acquaintance dropped by and started talking to my son who was sitting in a corner and reading. Knowing this person well and knowing that he was a sort of put-downer, I stopped my work to listen. After his introductory questions of ‘how are you’ and ‘how is school’ he asked,
“Why do you read books? Why do you spend your money on them? Do you learn something from them?” and then without waiting for an answer he turned to me saying, “Honestly, why do you spend so much money on books?”
I looked at my son. The expression on his face. How can you crush a nine year old boy by telling him that the thing he loved most was a waste of money and time? That his world, the world he created from all those books he read and loved, was not worth anything? There was so much sadness in his eyes that I just wanted to hold him close to me and tell him that it was okay. And that I believed in him and his world and that I wouldn’t have it any other way. But knowing I would only embarrass him more, I tidied up my desk and gathering my bags, I told him,
“How about on our way home we pass by the bookstore and see if they have the latest R.L. Stine book?”