Onwards To A Completely Different Trade

I’m walking uphill under the midday sun. A comfortable asphalt road snakes before me neatly separating two impeccably green fields one from the other. Those pastures roll gently upwards and end sharply against the deep azure of the sky. I’m leaving the last proud houses of this little Swiss village behind. It’s a village that likes to call itself a town, but that’s another story. I leisurely continue my stroll upwards. Under a mighty Lindentree close to the top of the hill I find a comfortable green bench. Some benevolent community association must have put it there for the benefit of many wanderers who have been or will be in need of a short break in their long and winding journeys.

I sit down on the bench, stretch my legs and muse about this short but very sweet escape from the classroom in the trade school down there in town, where I had been entrusted with a six-week substitute teaching job. I had downed a quick lunch and finished the prep work for the two German grammar lessons in the afternoon in time for this quick interlude of leisurely idleness. Forty minutes was all that was left from my lunch break and half of this is gone by now.

My eyes dazzle along the horizon, hop over smooth wooded crests and spring from one puffy cloud to the other in a dance of lost contemplation. A trio of earth-brown feathered raptors soar amongst those clouds, cleverly riding thermals and updrafts with their slender wings spread wide, moving only the pointed tips of their tails with the sharp precision of a seasoned hunter. A yellow butterfly wiggles its way happily across a cut cornfield, and its color contrasts curiously with the deep brown of the exposed earth underneath its itchy path. A short while later the flurry shape reenters the verdant green grass pasture and the distance its dance had put between us had already tremendously diminished its shape. The little lemon speck led my gaze back to the pile of concrete and red clay tiles that made up the human settlement I happened to have found such a clever way to escape.

It vividly occurs to me how terribly unimportant all those human activities down there are: The brand new car with its aggressively streamlined lines, the imposing houses that seem to want to swallow their neighbors on either side, the latest and greatest of those shiny gadgets that cling to us modern denizens like oversized ticks and override any and all of the meager social skills we have left. I realize right here and now how tiny and little the part we play in the giant clockwork of nature actually is. We’re but a miserable speck embedded in an endless procession of creatures whose existence is a dense and intertwined tapestry of precisely planned destinies, where the concept of causality explodes in a catastrophic nuclear blast, and my little butterfly’s flapping wings cause a definite change of course in the dark and rolling thunder clouds that drag their watery charge across the vast rainforest canopies on the heated planes at the heart of Brazil. At least out here in the countryside human activity can be seen in perspective, I muse, should you happen to wish such a stern perception upon you. If you move closer to the urban centers of the cities however such fine-tuned realization quickly becomes impossible, blurred out by the random noise of cleverly organized corporate consumer commitment.

But the call of duty brings my short excursion into the light realm of contemplation to a premature ending. After a quick glance at my watch I stand up and stretch my legs, then begin my descent down into this little hearth of civilization.

Step by step I reenter the realm of busyness. First some students whiz by riding colorful bikes on their way back to school from the lunch break back home. Then cars squeeze through narrow lanes, big red excavators dig their rusty shovels into a ditch filled with plastic pipes and many danger orange clad workers hurry about. A bright red lorry rumbles past the schoolhouse just as I quickly squeeze through its heavy oak door. The door pulls shut behind me and the orderly but institutionalized silence inside the building envelops my full attention.

Three girls are already sitting on their desks in the classroom. They giggle entranced by teenage chatter and soon the rest of the students slowly trickle in, barely able to tip the balance of bodily inertia in their favor. At 13:30 sharp I walk towards the pulpit onto which I deposit the sheet of paper with my prep notes and the German grammar book with the purple cover. I carefully collect my thoughts, let my eyes scan over the class from left to right and then back from right to left, and soak in the prickly energy of my seventeen teenage friends. Their chatter had peaked just as I had stepped in front of them and now slowly, much too slowly in fact, it descends to a point where I can make myself heard. There is no sense in waiting for it to die down all together, the times where a school class listens to their teacher in awe have long come and gone.

I start with a gentle description of my stroll up the hill, something my unruly audience clearly had not expected. The chatter diminishes a notch further and some eyes are now actually on me. I describe the impression the steady passage of the fluffy cumulus clouds had made within me and delineate the circling of the soaring raptors with a swipe of my left hand. I avoid mentioning the butterfly as it would most certainly be discarded as kitsch. But I do relate my realization of the limited importance of everything human, especially our treasured technological and organizational feats. “Then once I had returned,” I continue now with a slight menace underlining my voice, “and as I stand here now in front of all of you, it is really strange, but I cannot help but realize, how very important and crucial our human activities are!” A moment of suspense hangs in the air as all logic looses its luster and incredulous glances flash back and forth. “Everything around us is important”, I desperately try to keep the momentum going, knowing all too well that most likely my effort will be once again in vain, “Language certainly is important and we would do well to study it in detail and very very closely.”

It was a slow but steady decline from there, on the intellectual as well as on the emotional level. “Please open your books now on page 56, we will continue our study of the noun”, I declared with full awareness that at the very least thirty percent of my subjects had reached a premature end of their attention span and their minds where wondering off to some imaginary worlds of cotton candy comfort, “In our German language the noun not only conforms to gender and number, but also undergoes certain formal changes we call declination, it responds to different cases according to its position within the sentence. We distinguish between four cases in German: Nominative, Accusative, Dative and…”

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