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Courage In the Unluckiest of Places

Courage can be found in the most unexpected of places. You might find it in the tiny kitten that hisses at the salivating bulldog. Or in the elderly man who jumps in front of a bus to save a child he doesn’t know. Or even in the meek teenager that takes away the car keys from a drunk, belligerent acquaintance. I’ve discovered unexpected courage in myself. Quaking in my shoes, I’ve stood up for what I felt was right, even when it was unpopular and made me stand out like a daisy in a field of poppies. Those small moments of bravado helped me see myself in a better light. Because they are so few and far between…aw, let me shut up and get to the crux of my story. Picture this: a young woman of around twenty sits in the front seat of a classroom, notebook and textbooks at the ready. She feels giddy, happy, because she likes philosophy. Loves to learn. But she hates the teacher. The professor is a curmudgeon with a penchant for insulting his students. He calls them names. Sneers derisively. Frequently throws people out of his classroom if he feels they aren’t complying. The young woman keeps out of the line of fire. Remains alert. Studious. That student? Me. The professor? An Asshole. I shall call him Prof A. from now on. Mind you, I was holding down two jobs. I had a meager social life, but a good boyfriend who allowed me to study in his apartment while he was at work. Because of time constraints, I was careful with my time. So when Prof A. gave us a reading assignment and didn’t specify when it should be read, I decided to put it off until the weekend, so I could put all my energy toward understanding Plato and Socrates. If you’ve ever studied their works, you know what I mean. That fateful day—perhaps it should be known as Courage Day—Prof A. asked the class questions about the text we were supposed to have read. Whoops. I must not have been alone in putting off the reading, because no one was able to answer his questions. (Note to Prof A.: Maybe you should’ve given us deadlines and instruction, not simply assume we’d know when something was due. Last I knew, students couldn’t read minds. Otherwise, we’d all have 4.0s.) Prof A. caught on rather quick. Grunting (and yes, he grunted a lot), he called out, “Raise your hand if you have not done the reading.” Most of the class raised their hand. His face turned seven shades of purple. “I realize this class is full of ignoramuses, none of you amounting to much more than the dirt beneath my well-worn soles, but I would have thought you’d at least have the intelligence to read the chapters I’ve given for your assignment. If you aren’t interested in this subject, leave now. I don’t care to teach a bunch of imbeciles who don’t want, or have the capacity, to learn. When I give an assignment, I expect it to be completed. I don’t want to walk into my classroom and discover you morons haven’t finished the tasks I’ve bestowed on you. Now, again, raise you hands if you did not do the required reading.” Perhaps I was an ignoramus, because I was the only one who raised her hand this time. I glanced around furtively, begging and pleading to the gods of mercy that someone else might’ve decided honesty is always the best policy. Nope. Prof A.’s eyes lit up as if the flames of hell were contained within his soul. His lips drew back. A snarl fought its way through clenched teeth. “You,” he said. He didn’t have to point. Everyone knew of whom he spoke. The sting of many eyes penetrated my back. I sat up straighter. “You,” he repeated. He didn’t know my name. Didn’t know anyone’s name. We were not his friends. We were pathetic morons, not worth the time to get to know. “You can leave my classroom.” He turned away. Assumed I would slink out the door, shamed and in tears. But that’s not what happened. Not by a long shot. Never underestimate the power of a woman who’s paying her own way through college. “No,” I said. He whirled around to face me, and for the first time ever, his jaw dropped. He regained composure. “Out. Now. You aren’t interested in learning, so leave my classroom at once. I don’t want to look at you anymore.” “I won’t leave,” I said, feeling the heat climb up my neck and bloom into my cheeks. My hands trembled. I dropped them into my lap, out of sight. “I paid for this class. And just because I didn’t do the reading doesn’t mean I won’t learn something from listening to the lecture. I’m here to learn. I’ve paid to learn. And I’m staying.” Not one person breathed. It was so quiet I could hear the whoosh of blood in my ears. I stared at Pro A., daring him to try to force me from my seat. I had a frightening vision of him yanking me by the hair toward the door. Instead, he snatched his book from the desk. Began the lesson. I couldn’t believe it. I had stood my ground and won! Against a professor who was more terrifying than a rabid werewolf. I looked down at my book. Replayed the scene in my head a few times for the sheer pleasure of it. After class, students who’d never acknowledged me before slipped over to me, exclaiming how I’d impressed them. They admitted they’d never have the guts to stand up to him. I was the class heroine. I made many new friends that day. The best part? The following week he passed back a graded essay test he gave us days earlier. Because he had no clue as to who we were, he had to shout our names in order to return them to us. I raised my hand after he called mine. He glanced at my paper. Then back to me. And at the paper again. “This is you?” he growled. He shot the paper at me, eyes flashing. I’d received a B+. I guess there are benefits to having a professor who hasn’t a clue about your name, your background, or your drive and ambition. Although he was the worst teacher I’d ever had the bad luck to have, he taught me something about myself Plato and Socrates could not. That I had courage. More than I ever knew. And in the most unexpected of places: a classroom full of morons, imbeciles, and ignoramuses. All of us much better people than the man full of philosophy.

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