On the far side of our house there is a tree whose branches stretch in front of my office window. It is quiet this morning, but as I sat down to write these words, a branch violently fell and rose up again, scraping against my window. Beyond the little yelp that escaped my mouth, I discerned this was a squirrel using that branch as a steppingstone from one tree to another.
Reflectively, I have been thinking about steppingstones quite a bit as of late. I equate the metaphor to obstacles or challenges that a person overcomes to get farther in life’s journey. In reality, I have often used steppingstones during hiking trips to cross many a bustling brook and appreciated their necessity as well as their aesthetics.
However, to continue the metaphor, in life, some steppingstones are rough and have good footing, while others are slippery and precarious to step on. Comparatively, I have always related the metaphor of steppingstones to the many jobs I have had in life, each one being a bridge to the one I enjoy now.
One of the more abrasive steppingstones for me was the two arduous years I worked at a factory. It was not a bad job at all, simply not my chosen profession. Regardless, I dreaded it with a heavy sentiment that cast a dark shadow over the more than 730 days I spent employed there. I did not like walking around in a 9-foot circle pulling levers for 8-12 hours, never knowing when the workday would end, or even if I would have a day off. I salute the men and women who accomplish this with more decorum than I ever did.
However, I needed this steppingstone to survive fiscally, and as such found solace in interesting acquaintances and those quiet drives in the morning hours on my way to work. I have found in the low points in existence, it is good to find some quiet inspiration from something outside yourself. Nothing life-changing or extremely dramatic, nothing more than stopping to smell the flowers on the way to 8 hours of robotic movements and the smell of coolant from gray monoliths of utilitarian creation.
For me, this quick inspiration was a moment on my drive in the mornings. I had to be at the factory at 5 a.m. to put my thumb on a pad to clock in, so I was on the road by 4:15. On my commute, I drove through the middle of downtown Corbin on stolid, empty streets. I remember that heavy sense of dread as I drove to work, then feeling it dissipate as I entered onto the beginning of Main Street, a little the before courthouse going toward Roy Kidd Avenue.
On the drive to work, I knew I was about to enter into a factory that never rested, its intention to spit out as much production as possible into the world under the endless grind and whine of machines. Indeed, I often feared the worker was part of the mechanism and I made up many a short story about the man becoming the machine at the cost of societal sustenance.
However, as I turned onto Main Street in the early hours of the morning, the dread lifted and there was a moment of fascination. A heavy darkness still prevailed in those hours, and as I eased down the road, I found it lit up with a soft yellow hue from the streetlamps. I always slowed down as I drove through the street, like a canoe on a slow-moving river.
I never passed another car on that part of my commute, and the solitude made that short part of my journey even more special. I was always tempted to stop my car and get out and sit on the sidewalk under one of those glowing streetlamps in the lonely morning, far away from the factory and its halogen lights. I never did.
There is something enticing about the idea of sitting there on the sidewalk on Main Street in the center of Corbin when no one else is around. If you get a chance, take that drive early one morning in our little town. She is even prettier now than she was then. That is what I took from that steppingstone.
Currently, I think the profession of teaching is about to approach a steppingstone, or challenge. Honestly, the vocation is simply about to change, and teachers, parents, and students are going to face unprecedented situations. I need to remind myself not to be afraid to fall, because from this point on, I think we have a lot of learning to do. And that is okay. Growth incurs change.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.firstname.lastname@example.org.