(Bautista, personal photograph Mutianyu Great Wall China, 2013)
The following narrative was originally written in February 2003 as part of my doctoral dissertation on negotiating my Canadian Teacher Identity in terms of what diversity and teaching for peace means in education.
It is a matter of opinion
I remember eating lunch alone.
Perhaps it is not the most significant memory, but that is a matter of personal opinion.
When I was little, maybe in grade three, I use to go to the lunch room, a small classroom, right beside the principal’s office and find a corner to myself. I would sit facing the oak bookcase, whistling a song. I think it was Anne Murray’s You Needed Me. I listened to my brother practice it on the piano a lot.
Merrily, I ate lunch on my own. The teacher on duty (I can’t remember names but I do the faces) would often approach me and ask if I would like to sit with my friends. I remember saying “no” and smiling. It was not a problem for me to be sitting here whistling to myself. There were many days like this and many repeated suggestions by the teacher on duty. After a while, I felt I should try to sit with others since it seemed to be bothering the teacher. I wanted to be an obedient student.
So, some days I would eat alone and some days I would not. Either way I remember feeling fine, as if contented to know that I had a choice. It was me being me. I was a child, a person, who didn’t mind or perhaps didn’t know he was being different. In retrospect, I see that there are real concerns with those who look different or those who act differently. And if you are both physically and socially different, well, apparently, there is a story to tell.
I remember one time looking for a lunch mate and seeing a pair of shoes underneath a table in the opposite corner of where my regular lunch date, the bookcase, stood. I wandered over and said “hello” to the shoes under the table. I met a young student from Chile sitting there having his lunch. I realized he spoke little English; it wasn’t that difficult for me to figure out. So, we played our way through this interesting lunch place. We laughed, tried to communicate, tried not to be too loud and lived lunch underneath that table. And for a while, we would meet and have lunch on a regular basis. It seemed legitimate but that is a matter of opinion. As the school years progressed and, as his English became stronger, we drifted apart in our respective social circles. I started to eat lunch at a table with other kids and so did he.
In grade seven, I started to eat lunch alone again. It felt different this time around. I was in a class full of students, but felt very alone. I would busy myself with homework or unfinished art work, so I had something to do. I had an excuse to hide behind, in case, someone saw that I was not fitting in. I don’t remember these lunches as pleasantly as the ones in grade school. I did not see any shoes underneath any tables.
In high school, I remember lunch times when I would take a walk on my own. I learned that walking sometimes relieved the doubt and fear I felt because I was not like the other kids. I could walk to a store or to a park and just sit and be. I didn’t do this everyday mind you, not with the winters we have in Canada. On those cold days, I would go and study in the library. And sometimes, I was alone and sometimes I was not.
“Not fitting in” really plays with your head as you get older. I think I questioned its role in my life when I was judged by others as being a “loner.” Near the end of high school, whenever I found myself alone, I really enjoyed it. It probably had a lot to do with that book I read by Albert Camus. The concept of existentialism, being free to choose actions without obligation to others, introduced me to a new way of thinking about being alone. It was perceived to be unusual, but only by those on the outside. The main character in the book seemed to mirror my own thoughts at times. Not always, though.
It seemed that Meursault was always misunderstood. His intentions were questioned and his actions scrutinized. Someone was telling him to “sit with the other kids.” I felt sad when I finished the book. Maybe he deserved this scrutiny, but not always though.
Do we really need to be with others all the time?
Even now I often travel alone and I find myself walking through different cities and streets whistling to myself. It is a return to that happy child sitting in the corner of the lunch room. It is a return to a self contented to know that being alone sometimes renews his soul. It is my choice. If others feel scorned, forsaken or short-changed then it is their issue.
When I travel alone, I sometimes feel their concern. It is like the teacher on duty. There is a general concern that I am “not fitting in” or that I am not socially capable of deciding what is best for me. Even as an adult, we have many so-called teachers on duty.
We sometimes want to help people but fail to see that our efforts might cause more damage. We sometimes offer our best intentions without thinking. I know that I have.
I want to be wary when I offer my best intentions. You see, I am a sort of teacher on duty, whether it is in my classroom, my graduate gatherings or in the world. My best intentions should be given delicately, cautiously and with sincerity.
I believe that knowing my past, this particular memory of past lunches, connects to my teacher self.
I believe that my metaphoric language —all of these ways of knowing are neither typically academic nor will be readily accepted by all.
I revel in my lone (amongst) whistling steps. My choices.
I believe awareness of self and other, of the individual in society, of the teacher in the classroom needs to be explored delicately, cautiously and with true sincerity.
But that is a matter of opinion. (Bautista February 2003)