Tim is his name. He's tall, slender, he has blond hair closely cropped. He's cool! He works on weekends in this place where I usually take my noontime daily bread.
Tim is one of those persons we call "teenagers." That's part of a classification system for humans that we devised in this country after World War II. I thank whatever gods there be that I never had to be a "teenager," but it seems to me that Tim is a pretty good one. I like him. Who knows why you "take" to some folks?
But there's a lot about Tim that I don't know, of course. I wonder, does he read books. What kind of books does he read? Does he read more than his teachers at school required of him? And, if he reads, does he read literature some of the good books? Is he interested in ideas and thinking; or is his interest confined to instruction books and computer manuals?
None of my business, you say? Well, of course, you're right if you mean that I'm neither his parent, nor among his public school mentors. But I'm concerned because we live in a society that increasingly has little time for reflection on the great questions of life's meaning and what it is to be human. That's really what an education should be about. Instead, the pressures of "making it" among our peers and scratching out a workable livelihood without breaking our necks, are reducing us to mindless creatures with a lot of technical "know-how" but little "how-do-you-know."
I know that life in the Rim country is especially tough on teenagers. I can sense a certain boredom, a sullen impatience with having to wait to do forbidden things or the routine things that mom and dad do, for that matter. Yet here in this place is a great workshop for elevating our tastes, our dreams, our sense of responsibility. Here where our horizons are touched by the tips of pines and venerable ledges of rock that can create souls where we least expect them. Here we should need no toys, no induced narcosis. We only need to be open to see and hear the world that shares our destiny.
A woman who works in a bookstore told me that, when she reads, she doesn't like to think. I've heard a community leader say that he really doesn't care for books or like to read. He can't sit still. If he were a student of mine, I would try to show him how that attitude is a way of avoiding self-discipline, that unexamined opinions are worth nothing except in a voting booth.
How many students at Arizona State have I encountered who are ready to graduate in some major or other but have never learned to read or think? The way to sharpen the mind, to make our eyes see and our ears hear, is to learn to read, to spend time with ourselves.
Tim is sort of special. I think of him as a profile of hope. I hope he reads, but I know I'll like him even if he doesn't read this column. Tim has often told me, in jest I think, that he would have to find his "baby book" were I to decide to write the lengthy story of his life. Perhaps someday someone will really need that baby book. I hope so that's what makes this story just a profile, a profile of hope in honor of a "cool" young man.
Richard E. Wentz is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and resides in Strawberry. He is the author of numerous books and articles and also is a professional storyteller. His column appears on the first and third Fridays of each month. Dr. Wentz welcomes comments and questions. Send them to the Payson Roundup at P.O .Box 2520, Payson, AZ 85547 c/o Richard E. Wentz.