The Point

By Chris Mares

Richard was shoveling the snow at the end of his driveway.  It was wet, heavy snow, but he was strong and able to move it quickly and easily without getting too sweaty.

He’d called 581-SNOW earlier to see if it was a snow day.  It wasn’t.  Classes were in session.  No cancellations.  No delays.  Business as usual.

His neighbors were all out with their snow blowers.  Working slowly and steadily.  The engines droning.

Richard leant his shovel against the wall of his house and walked up the path to the front door.  He was thinking about his class.  And the stories he told his students.

They seemed to like some of them.  Not all of them, of course.  That was fine.  Natural.  What is interesting for one person won’t necessarily be interesting for another.

That’s life.  There’s no accounting for taste.

He glanced at the clock on the wall in the kitchen.  It was just before seven.  He had plenty of time.

He checked Facebook.  Automatically.

He’d read that you can get addicted to Facebook.  If someone likes something you post your brain releases the chemical dopamine into your bloodstream.  

It feels good.  You think it was the fact that someone liked your post that made you feel good.  But it wasn’t really, it was the dopamine.

As a result, you check Facebook more.  To see if there are more ‘likes’ but really you are after the dopamine.  And eventually you become addicted.

But that wasn’t the point.  The point was his class.  The stories.  The act of listening and reading.

If you read you acquire grammar and vocabulary.  Subconsciously.  Without thinking.  It was like going to the gym.  If you work out everyday you get in better shape.  Stronger.  Fitter.  Better.  More able.  More capable.  You start to be able to do things automatically.  Without thinking.

The day before he’d told his class to not only underline the words they didn’t understand, but also to underline the words that came before and after the word they didn’t understand.  The phrase.

For example, you might underline ‘nibbling’ but really it made more sense to underline ‘nibbling carrots’.  After all, that was the type of thing you nibbled.  Or you might underline ‘impressed’and look it up in a dictionary.  Fine.  But it was better to underline, ‘She impressed all her teachers.’  That’s how the word was used.  And if you knew how it was used, then you would be able to write, ‘He impressed all his friends’. Or, ‘He impressed all his colleagues.’  Then you might get creative and write, ‘His idea impressed everyone.’

That’s how it worked.  Learning language wasn’t just about grammar rules and memorizing vocabulary.  It was about interacting with language.  Using it.  Experiencing it.  In action.  In a story, for example being read to you.  By Chris.

Listening to him read, “Richard couldn’t sleep, even though he was exhausted.”

As you listen, now you remember.  Exhausted.  You heard it yesterday.  You underlined it.  Then you underlined the phrase ‘he was exhausted.’

Then you realized you were exhausted.  Because working in another language is exhausting.  It’s exhausting because you don’t know all the words.  You can’t say exactly what you want.

Richard went outside and started his truck.  To warm the engine.  There was snow on his windshield. He wiped it off.

He went back inside, to make coffee, leaving the engine running.

Yesterday they’d read ‘New Girl’.  Richard wondered if his students would remember the story.  They’d certainly been listening.  Ali had been watching him like a cat.  He didn’t miss anything.  Mubarak was clearly interested. And Mashari.  And the others. Ilyan had nodded wisely.  He knew about girls.  And love.

Richard waited for the water to boil.  He put some coffee grounds in his French press and got his travel mug.

Then he remembered that he would have to go shopping after work because he had a friend coming over for dinner.

Richard smiled.  He liked having friends round for dinner.  Cooking for them, eating with them, talking with them, being together, that was what life was about really.

He glanced at the clock.  Seven fifteen.  Time to go.  He liked to get to work early.  Before anyone else.  So he could get ready for the day.  Check his email.  Check his schedule.  See if there were any messages on his phone.

It had stopped snowing.  The sky was getting lighter.

He checked the weather forecast.  It was going to warm up.  A bit.  Not much.  But a bit.

Richard clicked on the folder ‘Stories’ on his desktop.  He printed the story ‘Football’.  It was about Richard playing football when he was a boy.  He wondered if his students would like it.

He knew they liked football.  They wrote about Real Madrid and Barcelona.  The knew about Manchester United and other teams.  

So it was reasonable to think they would be interested in a story about football.  Particularly if it was about a young boy playing football.

They would be able to relate.  To connect.  To understand.  To feel what Richard felt.  To empathize.

Because that’s what a story did.  It made you feel.  And if you feel it means you understand.  And if you understand, you learn.

And that was the point.

To learn.