I’m not a particular religious or spiritual person, but I do notice connections between events, people, and ideas that lead me to believe that there is some unifying force, sort of a Six Degrees of Life. I usually have no idea what the connections mean, if anything, but I get a calming sense in my body when things make sense in the world, and God isn’t just randomly throwing dice onto the Yahtzee board.
Like many of us, I have reconnected with some old schoolmates on Facebook. Yesterday morning, I had a brief chat with a girl from elementary school. Well, when I say “girl,” I still visualize her as one, still with pigtails, when she is really a married attorney with two children. We joked about this poem we forced to memorize in sixth grade – Ozymandias by Percy Shelley.
“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
At the time, it seemed a completely useless exercise in rote learning. None of us, at that age, had any idea what this boring poem meant, but we were required to stand, one at a time, like in one of those movies about some prep school in England, and recite it out loud. I remember practicing this stupid poem in front of my mother for hours.
My schoolmate and I were surprised that we still remembered some of the lines, particularly the opening.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
In high school, I encountered this famous poem again in Mrs. Waters’ class. Now I could better understood the meaning, even if I still didn’t care — about how even the mighty eventually fade into dust, with Ozymandias being another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt.
Yesterday, during lunch, I took a walk, still laughing about my early morning conversation with an old friend. When I say “old friend,” I think I liked her a lot more than she liked me, and I used to doodle her name on the back of my notebook and she probably never thought about me, but that’s all in the past now. I think.
Anyway, as I’m walking along Kissena Boulevard, I passed a parked car. An couple in their late sixties were putting shopping bags into their trunk from the supermarket. Hey — the woman was my former kindergarten teacher, now retired! We chatted, and I told her that I had just spoken to another classmate who was in her class. We talked about Facebook and email. My former kindergarten teacher is learning more about the internet herself.
Here’s a photo I took (I know you see more of her chest than her face. You can read WHATEVER you want into that)
After my falafel lunch, I encountered some kids returning from private school. I forgot! It is mid-August. It is time for school again for some kids! I know different schools start earlier and later, depending on the state and whether it is public or private. But here they were — friendly looking kids with their new notebooks and pencils.
Since I had just eaten lunch, I suddenly had memories of school lunches — of metal lunch boxes promoting the hottest TV shows (the first example of branding — are there American Idol lunch boxes? Top Chef?) and the atrocious hot lunches we were served in the school cafeteria, filled with mystery meat and served by what seemed like angry prison guards. School lunch was a blast, because we were always making fun about the awful nutritional level of the meals, but enjoyed it anyway.
Like many of you, my mother packed a PB&J sandwich almost every day in my lunchbox. It was the STANDARD.
When I returned to my computer after lunch, I went on Twitter, with school lunches dancing in my head. I asked all the mothers online if they still are mostly giving their kids peanut and jelly sandwiches for lunch. I was surprised by the response — a unanimous cry of “no” — showing how out of it I am regarding children. While I certainly knew about peanut allergies in kids, I didn’t realize how rampant it is today in the states. I thought it was McDonald’s just trying not to get sued by separating the peanuts from the ice cream sundae, as told to by their smart lawyers. But apparently, peanut butter is banned from most schools, like an obscene book. At first I joked about the extremism of “peanut haters,” but then a few parents told me of the horror stories of their kids just touching a peanut butter jar and getting dangerously sick.
I had no idea this was such a serious matter. I wonder why peanut allergies have become so rampant nowadays?
But this post is not really about peanut allergies. It is about connections. I started the day talking with a classmate about the poem Ozymandias. We joked about it, much like we did when we learned geometry. Why do we need to learn this? What relevance will it ever have in our lives?
Yesterday, it finally had some relevance. Yesterday, I learned that the KING of school lunches, the PB&J, had fallen from his throne. Like Ozymandias, Pharoahs, Presidents, Actors, Singers — all of us — never stay King forever…
Yesterday, was a day to connect random events to my school days. I talked to an old classmate. I met my old teacher. And I remembered that school — or something more mysterious — had taught me to connect poetry to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.