I don't know," Inez said, shaking her head. "I just don't know. Now Mr. Louis in there trying to get a bet."
"A bet on what?"
She looked at me directly for the first time. She had large eyes, brown and kind. I could see traces of tears that she had tried wiping away.
"You can't get him ready to die."
"Henri Pichot didn't take that bet, did he?"
"I left them in there talking. Mr. Louis say he got a whole case of whiskey he can bet on."
"He ain't betting 'gainst you. He aint' betting on you neither."
Inez looked at me sadly. I didn't know if it was because of my cynicism or the task I had facing me. She went back to the stove...
I arrived at Thirsty Dog yesterday about 45 minutes before everyone else, an arrival necesitated by my surprising dismissal from the restaurant job (in favor of working tonight instead). I chatted a little bit with the Palmino-esque redheaded bartender, the one who is always there, then I realized that I had nothing to read or do while I waited. I returned to my car briefly to grab A Lesson Before Dying, which I still haven't reread this summer. Kids will come in on Monday with the book all finished, and they'll be taking a quiz on it right away. We spent the first ten or so class periods discussing the book and writing an essay, among many other things. So I've got to have it fresh in my mind.
So I sat at the bar, drinking blueberry beer and reading the book. It was a bad day yesterday, and losing myself in this book was the best thing I could have done. From the opening line - "I was not there, yet I was there" - I was reminded of the power of the book, and I started getting nearly nonstop goosebumps from the last line of the first chapter ("Death by electrocution. The governor would set the date.") I read about ten chapters sitting there at the bar, allowing Ernest Gaines's minimalist prose to pull me into the powerful story.
It was the passage above, though, that made tears form. Grant is a teacher, one crippled by feelings of cynicism and worthlessness. He feels that he cannot affect change, that no matter what he does, the students will never change and will grow into the men and women that they were always going to be. I cannot imagine being a teacher with that belief system, but I can relate to the feelings. Every teacher has days where he or she feels ineffectual. I don't think it can be avoided. It can just be combatted. Grant cannot combat it, and succumbs to it.
Inez's reaction to Grant's statement - and Grant's thoughts that her sadness might have been generated by his cynicism - resonated with me. It's going to be very easy to become cynical in the upcoming weeks. I've been at the school for five years and there are a lot of changes coming, and at least a few that seem to be at great detriment to the department and the students. If I see that happening, I must speak up, and loudly. But I will not roll over into a cocoon of cynicism and whininess. Because, like Inez knows, there are few things more sad than a cynical teacher.
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