I opened the letter that had come in the mail and read the handwritten note that comprised the first page. It was dated July 2004.
I am writing to you because my father recently passed away and I was going through his papers. I found this one sheet in an envelope with a notation to return the contents to Rick on 12 September 1996. Rick was my older brother, and my dad had never given the envelope back to him because in 1969 Rick was killed in Vietnam. Maybe my dad had simply forgotten about the envelope but I think he held on to it because it reminded him of Rick. It was unopened.
I opened it last week. I am sending it on to you. I thought you should have it. Maybe you remember Ricky.
I rubbed my hand across my face and remembered back. I did remember Rick Renton. I remembered most of my students but especially the talented ones and the trouble makers. Rick was both. I looked at the second page but didn’t read it. I already knew what it said.
I started the school term the same way every time. I stood at the lectern in front of them and gazed at their eager faces. The first class of a new semester was always filled with a herd of freshmen since my class was required for English majors.
They were always so young. Some were naïve, some were wise already, some were slouches and some were attentive. These latter were all business, their pencils sharpened, their new notebooks opened and ready. Some of them thought they knew what to expect from these next few years but none of them were really sure.
It was my job to teach them writing but I liked to mix it up a little. Throw a little life lesson in wherever possible. After all, I’d been around a while – I knew a bit about life. I handed out the standard opening assignment.
“Alright class,” I said in my very best ‘Professor’ voice, “This is ‘Writing Theory, Linguistics and Composition 101’. If this is not what you signed up for then you are in the wrong place.” I paused; no one got up and left so I continued. “We’re going to jump right in and write something. This is a three hour class and we have already used twelve minutes of it.” I glanced at my watch. “Make sure you put your name, date, and the name of this class at the top of your page.”
“You have up to 60 minutes to write, no more. I want you to write about getting older, but not just in a biological sense. I want you to write about all the aspects of getting older. I want to know about what you hope to learn as you age and grow, I want to know about how you plan to stay sharp. I want to know about your career path. Your family, all that stuff that you dream about. Write it down. When you finish bring your paper to me.” I set the timer and watched them go to work.
The first one to finish was a young man with jeans and a flannel shirt. He had taken about three minutes. His long dark hair was pulled back into a pony tail. As he approached my desk I pointed towards the copy machine, “make one copy, give me the copy, and keep the original for yourself. Grab an envelope from the desk and go back to your seat.”
He did as I requested, came back, slid a single sheet of copy paper in front of me, returned to his chair and put his head down. I glanced at the few lines he had written. They read:
September 12, 1966
Linguistics and Composition 101
I’m going to be rich and famous – a rock star. I’m going to live forever. I’m going to have people to take care of me.
No one else finished until about 45 minutes had passed. Then they started to trickle up to the front. I had each of them take an envelope, and make a copy to leave with me. After the hour had elapsed I got the remaining students to turn in their compositions and gave them all a short break.
When they were all done and back in the class, I told them about the second part of the assignment. I am going to have you put your composition in the envelope and address it to yourself. I want you to give it to your brother, your sister, your parents, your wife, or your husband, someone who you will remain in contact with for a long time. I want you to give it to them with instructions to return it to you in 30 years. So you can see how you did.
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