“Remember people, aim low; you can only go up from there,” Herbert the ‘motivational speaker’ looked around at his audience of 106 eight graders, smiled and let the microphone drop to the floor. Well, that went well, he thought to himself sarcastically as he headed for the backstage exit of the school gymnasium.
After twenty-six years of similar engagements, Herbert could confidently say that things had officially hit ‘rock bottom’ in the school systems. For years and years Herbert’s message had been a simple one, work hard, don’t expect anything to be handed to you and stay away from people who try to bring you down. He stressed the importance of believing in one’s self as the core principle, encouraging students to use their creativity and intelligence to obtain their dreams.
There had been many success stories, students who took special inspiration from Herbert’s heartfelt words and used them to change their lives. Doctors, humanitarians, a few teachers-of-the-year and one Senator could all look back and point to Herbert’s presentation as the moment they knew they could do great things.
Herbert was fond of using a particular analogy during those early days- the story of growing a pineapple. Using this analogy he would compare the fruit to the cultivation of one’s self. That a person could enjoy the benefits of the fruit once and then dispose of it or they could replant the top and with a lot of patience and a willingness to nurture the slow-growing fruit they could have pineapple over and over. Herbert thought of the pineapple as kind of a fruity manifestation of what could happen if someone were to nurture their goals and motivation. They, like a pineapple, could be a one-time indulgence- a flash of possibility, or with work, time and stick-to-it-iveness they could be rewarded with a bounty of the fruits of their labor- a lifetime of achievement.
Then, slowly things began to change in the schools and for their students. Tests became the hallmark of the education system and creativity was soon squeezed out of the curriculum. But Herbert kept on delivering his message, hoping it would fall on at least a few ears that hadn’t been stuffed to the brim with another message- you’re only as good as this test says you are.
Little by little, nervous administrators began to ask Herbert to ‘alter’ his message ever so slightly, after all, filling students with the impossible hope that they could do anything if they worked hard enough was not really all that possible, now was it Mr. Herbert?
And now, finally, having whittled down his message according to the insistence of these administrators, Herbert was left with, aim within your reach, anything above that is impossible. He had stopped using the pineapple analogy years ago when he realized that the students’ spirit had been pummeled so systematically that a can of processed pineapple bits in high fructose corn syrup was as high as they were interested in striving.
Herbert walked to his beat-up station wagon and just sat in the driver’s seat, wondering if he had it in him to continue on or if it was finally time to hang up his hat. Sighing in defeat, Herbert reached to turn the ignition when he noticed something on his windshield. Heaving himself out of the car, Herbert walked to the front of his car (making a mental note to take it through the car wash on the way home) and removed what turned out to be a photo from beneath his windshield wiper. Adjusting his glasses, Herbert couldn’t help but grin at the image of a smiling girl of about sixteen holding up a small, golden pineapple. On the back, written in neat cursive he read:
Dear Mr. Herbert, I just wanted to say a small thank you for speaking to my class two years ago. I’ve never been excited about anything but when you spoke about growing our goals like pineapples I really wanted to try. It’s been two years since that day, and I finally see the ‘fruit’ of my labor. My own pineapple! Something I did all by myself! In addition to my pineapple I now grow lavender, sage, sunflowers and even grafted my own herb which I call “Herbert” in honor of you (it’s great with grilled pineapple!) So thank you for planting that seed of excitement, because of you I found my goal and plan on exploring a career in botany.
Amelia had found her ‘pineapple’ and in so doing had reminded Herbert that he still possessed his.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: I love when I start a story with no stinkin’ idea which direction it will take. And then, as I hammer out the words, hoping that they make some kind of sense, I find myself at the end of the story and everything has somehow come together. It may not be the best story in the world, hell, it may be one of the worst, but the experience of writing and ‘watching’ the different components of the story fall into place on their own accord is really fascinating (to me anyway). I started writing tonight with one goal, write about pineapple, and BAM! a story busts out. Neato cheeto. After a long day at work, I really only wanted to accomplish one thing when I got home- cut up the pineapple that has been sitting on my countertop for the last few days and plant the top. You see, I’ve got it into my head that I would like to grow my own pineapple, a two-year endeavor mind you, but for some reason it’s something I feel inclined to do. I know, slow down Sam, you’re shooting for the stars on that one! Thinking about my ‘big goal’ for the day made me wonder about setting the bar low, which inevitably led me to thinking about our pathetic education system in this state. That’s a whole other story that my current good mood will not allow me to delve.
Love & Squirrels.