All the World’s A Stage


Catching up from the trip a bit more — So one of the things we realized we just weren’t going to be able to squeeze into the trip was a foray up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, which this year is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare. But, in honor of the anniversary, we did take in a few other sites and exhibits related to the Bard.
 
We revisited the New Globe Theater, built several years back just meters from the site of Shakespeare’s Globe. We’d gone by last year but were in a hurry, so we only walked around the outside and into the gift shop. This year, we were excited that we actually had the time to do a tour, but, of course, when we got there, tours were closed for rehearsals for an upcoming performance. (I was a little disappointed, also, that they didn’t have anything in the gift shop marking the 400-year anniversary.)
 
At Windsor Castle, there was a Shakespeare exhibit, including an original first folio, and then at the British Library they had a special exhibit on Shakespeare, which included not only the only known script with his writing, but also two of the only known six remaining examples of his signature. (You had to pay to see the exhibit, and we were running short on time so were afraid we couldn’t do it justice, but then realized that, even if those things were all we saw, the odds that we’d come back to the States and say “I’m so glad we saved a few bucks not seeing Shakespeare’s original handwriting” were about nil. If you ply your living working with the words of the English language, you owe a debt to Shakespeare.)
 
From the Globe, we made a quick trip further into Southwark for another literary pilgrimage to find the original site of the Tabard. It’s a little bit deeper cut than Shakespeare, but the real English lit nerds recognize the name:
 
“Bifil that in that seson, on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout courage…”
 
The general prologue from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was burned into my brain a quarter-century ago in Tish Hammer‘s English class at Huntsville High School, and on a good day, I can still breeze through more than 30 lines in the original language (which isn’t bad, considering we only had to memorize the first 18). We’d had another Chaucer encounter earlier in the trip, seeing his crypt at Westminster Abbey.
 
It made me really grateful for Mrs. Hammer and the other great English teachers I had at HHS. It really says something about a teacher than can inspire such interest that decades later on the other side of the ocean I want to take the time to track down a small marker in a shady alley to find something we studied in her class. (Similar side trips were made in Oxford to find Lewis Carroll sites, inspired by a video project Jasons Smith and Hutchinson and I made for Mrs. Guerin’s AP English class.)
 
I’m very blessed that I enjoy what I do for a living. I love the subjects I get to write about at work, but I also love just the shear act and art of storytelling. And without a doubt, there that love of language and story owes a huge debt to teachers I had at Huntsville High.

Still the Rays of Youth and Love


Today also marks the anniversary of the death of my HHS classmate Beth Ladner, who died exactly one year before graduation. I’m not posting about that this year, but have in years past.

I grew up in the shadow of Huntsville High School. I have memories of driving past the school as a child and being fascinated by the senior wall, which stood atop the school and each year was painted with a design by that year’s senior class.

When I started sixth grade, at a Catholic school in Florida, some students were discussing where they wanted to go to high school, generally a debate between the supposed merits of the local Catholic high school and the public high school they were zoned for. When they asked me, though, I knew my answer — I wanted to go to Huntsville High School.

And I did. We moved back later that year, and I went on to attend Huntsville High. My class was the last to decorate the senior wall.

And, twenty years ago today, I became a Huntsville High School graduate.

It’s amazing to think about, that it’s been so long. The class is preparing for our twentieth reunion this summer; the first time we’ll assemble that we will have lived more of our lives after parting ways than before. I don’t know that I’ll be able to make it, but I do hope to catch up with some classmates while they’re in town.

The passage of time is driven home more by the fact that, since the last reunion, our Huntsville High has ceased to exist; the building we attended was torn down in 2004. I’ve substituted at the new building a couple of times this year, and while it is definitely still a Huntsville High, it’s not the same Huntsville High.

I’ve also subbed at almost all of the other Huntsville high schools this year, and it’s driven home what I already knew — I’m proud to be a Huntsville High School alumnus, and blessed that’s where I attended.

The anniversary has been looming for a while, as a reminder of aging, as a challenge to take stock of my life. Despite all that’s happened in the last 20 years, I’m definitely not where I would have wanted to be for this milestone, and I’m working hard to take that as a challenge rather than a discouragement. This too shall pass.

My brothers both were home-schooled during high school. It was an incredible and very positive opportunity for them, and I’ve had the discussion over the years over whether I would have wanted to have done anything differently.

But my life was shaped by the fact that I was in that place at that time. Newspapers were such a logical fit for me, and yet I really don’t know that I would have ended up there if I had not gone to Huntsville High School. My time there had an incredibly foundational impact on me, and always will have.

My Huntsville High School may have been torn down, but it still lives on in me.

Huntsville High School Alma Mater


Where the vale of dear old Huntsville
Meets the southern sky;
Mid the rustling of the treetops
Stands our dear old high.

When the evening twilight deepens
And the shadows fall;
Linger long the golden sunbeams
On the western wall.

When the shades of life shall gather
Dark the heart may be;
Still the rays of youth and love
Shall linger o’er thee.

School we love, high school
Live for aye, Our alma mater dear,
May thy sons be leal and loyal to thy memory.

May 27


NOTE: I originally published this a year ago today, and then republished it a year ago with a few additional thoughts.. I’m republishing both parts of the post as they originally appeared.


One of my quirks, I remember dates. They get lodged in my head, and I can’t get them out. Some useful, like birthdays (though I’m getting worse with adding those), and some not, like the anniversaries of days certain things happened. It’s a reflex, to the point where, apparently, it can be annoying.

Anyway, May 27 is one of those dates, from events that occurred in two consecutive years.

On May 27, 1992, I graduated from Huntsville High School.

Doing the math, I graduated from high school 17 years ago today, when I was about two months shy of my 17th birthday. In other words, high school is now just over half my life ago. I’ve lived more since that day than I had before. It’s just weird to think about; I certainly don’t feel twice as old as I was then. I’ll admit that my days at HHS are a distant and remote memory at this point, but I’m still young, right? From graduation until our 10-year reunion, sure, a good bit of time passed. But the reunion was hardly any time ago at all. And now the 20 is just around the corner. Where does it go?

On May 27, 1991, Beth Ladner died.

Beth was a member of my class at Huntsville, was a fellow part of the staff of the school newspaper, and ran against me for senior class vice-president. She was brilliant, pretty, and a genuine and easily likeable person, with a promising future, most likely as a marine biologist. She died in a car accident right before final exams.

And that fact has always stayed with me. This was high school, and final exams were huge — the studying, the stress, the work. If the accident had occurred a week later, she would have gone through all of that. And still been dead. The effort all in vain. We all know we’re going to die, and that it could happen at any time, but Beth’s death was such an object lesson in that. We strive, we struggle, we hurt, we laugh, we dance, we love, we cry — all for a tomorrow that one day won’t come.

Beth’s loss made us all the less. But the rest of us took final exams, and went on. And went to college. And married. And divorced. And had kids. And got jobs. And strived and struggled and hurt and laughed and danced and loved and cried. More of us have been lost along the way. But the rest continue to continue.

And hopefully the world is better for it.


May 27, 2010 coda — Since I wrote this a year ago, it has become one of the most-viewed posts on my blog. Someone even linked to it yesterday, and it was viewed a few times because of that. Because of that, I decided to republish it today in hopes of these words continuing to find homes.

It being a year later, I have to add a couple of additional thoughts since I first wrote this. First, and obviously, Beth was loved. I wrote this purely for myself, to let out what was in my heart, some of it had been with me for quite a while. I never really thought about it resonating with anyone else, and certainly never imagined people sharing it with others. But it’s been amazing to see how many people still remember her and still care. It’s an incredible tribute to who she was, and the lives she touched.

Second, perhaps less obviously but more importantly — you are loved. I can’t imagine it; if things had been reversed, if it had been the other candidate for senior class vice-president on that road that night, I can’t imagine that 18 years later anybody would be writing about me, and that so many people would still be reading that 19 years later. But, you know, I doubt Beth would have imagined that either. She’s been gone from this Earth now longer than she was on it. I doubt she would have dreamed that she’d touched so many lives, that so many people cared, so that more than her lifetime later, people would still be remembering her fondly.

The lesson of all of that? Yes, that Beth was loved. Yes, that she was special. But, also, this: Right now, there are people out there whom you have touched in a way you have no clue about. Right now, there are people out there who care about you more than you realize. Right now, there are people out there who will remember you long after you could dream they would.

Right now, you are loved, more and by more people than you know.