Steven, one of my former advisory sons, came by my classroom to visit after school today. He graduated high school four months ago.
“I’m thinking of the armed forces,” he said.
Steven is an accomplished soccer player and football kicker. He landed some poetic field goals in his football career. I cheered him from the sidelines while he did it.
This is a young man on his own. He has no support besides what he can rustle up for himself.
School was never Steven’s thing. He hates the thought of going to college. He graduated on time but sitting in those desks all day was torture. Through high school he displayed a certain physical courage and a lack of fear of pain that freaked me out. He did jumping off of stuff tricks a lot. He hurtled himself through space a lot.
I yelled at Steven a lot.
“Why the armed forces?” I asked.
“Because I don’t know else what to do,” he said.
My pacifist heart yells at Steven not to go into the service. He might end up in war. He might come back broken into pieces, one way or the other.
Yet maybe for Steven military service is a great idea. At least the service will give him some direction, a place to live, regular income, some discipline, some skills, some training, some physical activity to do besides diving head first from one picnic table to another, aiming for the space between the bench and the table. Yes, he did this.
But I hate the thought of Steven or any young person getting skilled in killing, training for war.
“I’m confused,” he said.
“Confusion is sacred at this time of your life,” I said.
Steven blinked, clearly remembering why we always fought.
“Look,” he said. “I can’t even find a job right now.”
So we made a list of options. He came up with Army and Army Reserves. I suggested National Guard and California Conservation Corps. We looked them up online and found some phone numbers for recruiters.
Meanwhile, a current advisee and the poetry club hung out in my room. My new advisee is a musician and wanted to show me pictures of his guitars on his phone. He loves guitars. He sings like an angel. My poetry club sat in a circle on the other side of the room and shared poems and wrote poems and talked about their next slam when they would perform their poems.
I’m thinking, will I be advising the musician to consider calling a recruiter in two years when he is out of high school? Is there a poet in that poetry circle who won’t have a place to stay or a job to work when he graduates?
Steven finished up with the recruiting information on my computer, gave me a hug and left.
I wish for circuses, traveling shows, damn it even The Rockettes as an alternative for Steven. He kicks like an angel. Surely that must be good for something.
Young people who have limited resources have limited options. Maybe the Army isn’t the worst thing for Steven. Then I look at the thousands and thousands dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and think maybe it is.
The world outside my classroom is not angels and guitars and poetry and hugs.
I hate that about the world.