Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Silent Lesson

Forty years ago this week the Colonel learned several lessons that forever changed the way he looked at the world.  It was a fall that destroyed his naivete and ignited a flame that drives the Colonel's boilers to this day.

In October of 1973, the Colonel was scarcely a month into his senior year in high school.  His pedestrian progress through school had finally hit somewhat of a stride, thanks to two most memorable teachers -- Mrs. Sydney Corbett and Ms. Marcia Semans.

Both were primarily English teachers at the now-closed Balboa High School in the then-U.S. controlled Panama Canal Zone. 

The Colonel had Ms. Semans for 11th grade English and she, despite his lackluster performance in her class, saw something hidden in the Colonel and recommended him for Advanced Senior English (a primarily writing course).  Ms. Semans' praise and encouragement was strong fertilizer on the tender shoots of prose poking up from the grimy results of the Colonel's otherwise slovenly educational effort.

Mrs. Corbett was the Colonel's Speech teacher.  And while it has dawned on him since that the Colonel wasn't the only speaker receiving her appreciative chuckles and encouraging smiles, for those moments when the Colonel stood before his ruthless peers, stood down his rampant fears, and bared his soul in spoken tears, her approval was all his. 

The Colonel was never once afraid to address any audience large or small since.  It served him very well in his career and afterwards.

Credit to Mrs. C.

What fires those synapses of memory this week is the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippor War.

When the Colonel arrived in Ms. Semans' class on Monday afternoon, the 8th of October 1973, he was struck by two strange anomalies -- a somber look on Ms. Semans' usually smiling face and a short-wave radio on her desk, tuned to a continuous world news broadcast.

Over the previous weekend, the armies of Egypt and Syria had attacked Israel. 

And things were not going well for the Jewish state.

Dang the Arabs!  The Colonel was enjoying school for the first time in his life and one of his favorite teachers, whose seemingly irrepressible light-heartedness was one of the primary reasons, was at the point of tears.  

As any of you who are at all acquainted with him know painfully well, the Colonel ain't smart and you can't make him.  He was infinitely not smarter forty years ago. 

Here's how the Colonel attempted to lighten the mood:

"Hey, Ms. Semans!  What's the big deal?  A bunch of third world nations beating up on each other.  Who cares?

Yeah, cultural awareness and empathy weren't (still aren't) the Colonel's strong suits.

To Ms. Semans' credit, she didn't deliver the tongue lashing the Colonel so richly deserved at that point. 

The look on her face was punishment enough, however.

The Colonel feels his face redden in shame at the memory all these years since.

Suffice it to say, the Colonel's world view broadened significantly over the next couple of weeks.  He hadn't paid particular attention to world events, previously -- it became one of his passions, following.

Over the next several decades the Colonel studied, in detail, the strategic geo-political background, the events leading to, and the operational conduct of that war.  It's lessons shaped his personal concepts regarding war at every level.  And every time he read a recounting or studied an assessment of it, the Colonel remembered the look on a teacher's face.

Some of life's most important lessons are taught in silence.             
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