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Posted: May 22, 2012 5:07 p.m.

Travis: Advice for high school grads

Last week, because of the cat that will not die, I had to take down the curtains in my kitchen windows and wash, iron and rehang them. The tops of my windows are a good way up there and I had to use a 5-foot ladder. I was uneasy on the ladder and asked my husband to come and stand next to the ladder. That probably was not smart as I could have done some serious damage if I had fallen on him.

I have painted every room in my house several times, including the molding that is at least 11 feet in the air and requires oil-based enamel paint. I had to use a 10-foot ladder, and I don't remember it bothering me much. But last week that 5-foot ladder made me uneasy. I am getting old.

That epiphany reminded me of a short story by Doris Lessing called "A Sunrise on the Veld." Lessing moved with her British parents to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925. A Nobel Prize winner, she wrote novels, plays and short stories. This story comes from a book of short stories based on her life in Africa.

In the short story a 15-year-old boy rises every morning before his family and quietly walks to the porch carrying his shoes. After sitting down and putting on his shoes, he begins running across the veld as the sun rises. This is his daily routine. On this day, he sees something unusual. It is a buck which has been injured and unable to walk.

It is difficult to tell what he is seeing because the buck which was still alive was covered with ants. He watched as the buck writhed in agony and its bones became exposed as the ants ate its flesh.

Instead of continuing his run, he turns and carefully walks back to his home.

The boy at the beginning on the story is confident; he enjoys his solitary treks across the veld, feeling lord of all he surveys. The sight of the buck being eaten alive reminds him of his own vulnerability and the foolishness of his running alone across such dangerous country without telling his parents what he was doing. Cognizant of his own mortality, he walks sedately and safely home. I suppose this would be classified as a coming of age story. And his epiphany.

This short story was in the British literature text book, and I usually asked my seniors to read it.

It is an appropriate story for high school seniors. Like the young man in this story, teens feel invincible. That fact alone is ironic. It has only been in the last 100 years or so that the majority of children survive childhood.

Historically, most families lost as many children to illness and accidents as they had children live to adulthood.

Queen Anne, the queen of England who died in 1714, had 12 miscarriages and not one of her five children survived her. Surely the queen of England and her family received the best medical care available at the time.

So while I don't think any graduating seniors will be reading this editorial, maybe some of their parents will. I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but seniors, and all teens, need to be reminded of the pitfalls waiting for them and of the fact that they are not invincible. Stories abound in the news daily of teens involved in automobile accidents or finding the consequences of what they considered harmless pranks very serious. Look at what happened to the seniors who took the tradition of spray painting the road too far. Or the college students involved in the death of a young man due to band hazing.

So to those graduates who might be reading this, you are probably going on senior trips, for many a first trip without the supervision of adults. Many more will be embarking on a college career, a military career or career in the work force. While your parents have tried to prepare you for this day, they are apprehensive. Promise them to think before you act. Try to imagine what could go wrong and what the consequences might be for you or your friends before you act. Have fun, study hard and enjoy life responsibly.

 

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at ptravis@covnews.com.

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