aintained a position of ongoing inquiry, his face tilted, eyes laughing while a matching grin pasted to his face. But the man revealed this lofty persona only to a few ... that being his students, and only in their lessons.
In contrast to the playful expression, most times he walked plainly, hands at his side, feet dragging, a vision dull and nondescript, coasting up and down the hallways at school like a ghostly ship lost at sea. He moved now in this sluggish way to a student across the room, at a moment’s notice to animate and project those lively eyes in the boy’s face.
“And how would you define hatred, Master Peters?”
Young Jim Peters looked back in alarm. When the teacher, Professor Stein, used the prefix, “master” to address a student, he meant business.
“Professor, I don’t think it really exists as an actual thing, per se. I think hatred is simply a perception, a word we use to describe when disagreeing with someone...it indicates one’s frustration and disappointment with another person. It's a descriptor existing only in thin air.”
“Is that so?” Professor Stein turned on his heel and walked away. With his back turned to the class, he paused, head bowed, one hand stroking his chin. He turned to face them.
“How many of you agree...that hatred has no real substance and only exists in the mind of the beholder?”
Startled classmates glanced at one another before one scant girl in the front raised her hand.
“It’s...it’s not nice to hate. We wouldn’t want to give it that much importance. It is inconsequential. It is an annoying fault of human character ... meant to be ignored.” The skinny, little blond sat back as though waiting to be pounced upon for her remark.
“I see,” the professor replied, pacing across the room in obvious thought. He turned and walked back front and center again. “And so, you feel that hatred is this flighty, little annoyance that you can swat away like a fly when it bothers you?”
“You make it sound lame,” a fellow in the back stated.
“It’s not like that! Hatred is painful to feel. It eats you up inside,” another quipped.
“Yeah, don’t talk down to us!” one brave soul offered.
Professor Stein glared at his class. “Who has taught you this nonsense?” He asked this slowly and in the slightest of whispers.
The students once again looked perplexed, searching their ranks for answers.
Eyes blazing Professor Stein asked, “If feeling hatred is so hard on the purveyor, then don’t you think the one on whom it is lashed must suffer a million times as much?”
He continued. “So, you are surprised to hear that the hatred you feel can cause pain to another. It is not simply all about you and your ‘discomfort.’”
“Even just a hateful stare can slice through the heart of another,” Professor Stein continued. “And when your hate is trivialized by you, pushed aside like an unwelcome visitor, it will not stand for that. It eats you up inside, building a voice, getting stronger. It demands that all can see and feel it. It demands recognition.”
The lights in his eyes went out, and that dull professor returned. With a shaky hand, he rolled up his sleeve. He took short, nervous breaths as he did so. Pulling back the cloth, a smudge on his left forearm glared out at the students. Closer observation revealed a triangle with three numbers, 6-6-9, tattooed on the skin. The lines were drawn in scrawny animation, angular and irregular, racing across weathered flesh. The numbers screamed out the horrors of decades past, a time these students could only read about in books.
“I got this in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942. This is what happens when hatred is left unacknowledged and unchecked to run free.”
Like leaves rustling in the wind, a stunned reaction blew up and down the rows of students. The professor didn’t notice. He was a man alone.
“It hurt when they punched the needles into my arm, but even more the tool sliced into my soul and sucked it out. They took it from me.
“I was excrement to them. They reduced me to nothing, no humanity, no soul, a cattle to call, branded like an animal. My dignity, my life, my family, my friends, all gone. They spat on me, and they kicked me, and left me to lie in my own filth.” He turned his back to the class.
“You can’t treat it so lightly. You must learn to acknowledge hatred’s power over you and dig it out -- find the roots and dig it out, to fight it with the only force strong enough to win against it. For God’s sake, counter it with all the love the angels can inspire.
"For me, this is a daily struggle. I wake up and my first thought is I have another day of hate emerging, kicking and scratching to be set free -- memories haunt me ... memories of them watching me, their eyes burning; but in my next breath, I ask my heart to listen. I offer it love to conquer the hate. Each day my blackened heart tires more of my pacifist ramblings. It shudders and makes room to let a little more love in, a little more of me back ... someday, God willing, I'll be purified and emerge whole again. Would that my enemies would have tried each morning to find love in themselves instead of hate for me.”
He realized he’d said too much, and shaking himself from the nightmare, he walked back to stand behind his desk. He stood tall.
“Class dismissed,” he said.
A life lesson had been given, from he who lived it.
Copyright 2010 JO Janoski