Higher Learning

She comes in, young, thin, black
and with a type of visually obvious handicap
that seems not to interfere with running
but probably had her teased and mocked
every damn day of her life.

Somewhere along the way
she learned to use anger
as a shield,
as a weapon,
as a tool,
but has yet to learn
to recognize the ways
it can work against her.

Her rudeness and demands
did not turn the hands
that hold the power
to give or deny what she wants:
to fly home a day before finals end.
The waiting would make her have to spend
almost double the price of the ticket
to take her the thousand miles back home
from southern Kansas to Florida
for the Christmas break.

She tells me that she’s not made of money
and if she has to stay later
I will have to pay her way back to Orlando.
I assure her that of all those times
when she could find a way to make anger
a means of intimidation
this is not one of those situations.
She leaves even angrier than she came.

A few hours pass.

Even though she said she could not keep
the appointment she had made,
she still shows up in early afternoon
but without the attitude she’d used earlier.

In this unexpected calm,
I talk to her about choices,
take her back to the beginning of this situation
and ask her what different ones she could have made
that might have moved her closer—instead of farther away—
to her desired goals of getting back home and saving money.

She gives me a funny look at first
but then I see a flicker of understanding
play across her face.
We trace the choices and talk about alternate ones.
She apologizes for her anger and rudeness—
to me and then to the secretary.
She learns that whether or not
there is a Santa Claus,
there are people willing to help her
if she also learns that courteous and direct diplomacy
can sometimes work better than intimidation and manipulation.

Just before I change the form,
I ask her what it was
that made her decide to come back
and talk with me.

And she says simply,
“I took a walk.”

H. Arnett

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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