Where did all the grown-ups go?

Just recently I found myself in need of a pair of rubber overshoes. I went to Target but had no luck. Went to shoe stores, hardware stores, you name it, but I could not find a pair of black rubber overshoes anywhere in this town. Not long afterward, I thought it might be nice to buy a lunchbox. I knew just what I wanted: a simple black metal lunchbox with a soup Thermos. To my amazement, I discovered they do not make them anymore. Okay, when did this happen?

More and more the objects I assume always to be there just aren't there anymore. It turns out the black metal lunchbox has not been manufactured since 1986. This is all very upsetting. You are just living your life and one day you realize there are no more wax milk cartons, no more chalkboards, no more pencil sharpeners affixed to the walls in college classrooms. And while we're at it, what happened to metal coffee cans (so handy for sorting nails)?

Not to be too Andy Rooney about it, but I've made another unsettling discovery. The grown-ups are starting to disappear. I first noticed this a few weeks ago. I was in a meeting with the college provost to discuss how we were going to get a proposal through the faculty approval process. My idea was that we needed to get some of the important senior faculty onboard, those folks who command widespread respect. In short, we needed the grown-ups to shoulder some of the burden.

The provost and associate dean both looked at me and asked, "Well, who might those people be?" I thought about it and suddenly realized that the people who have always been there just aren't there anymore. They have retired or are about to retire. The grown-ups had left and nobody told me. It was the black metal lunch box all over again.

Which brings me to King Lear. In class the other day, I mentioned to the students that they will sooner or later have to take power away from their parents just like Regan and Goneril do in Act I. Some day they will have to take the car keys away from mom or dad. And then their kids will do the same to them when they've become "fond and foolish." That's the nature of the problem (or the problem of nature--take your pick).

The students just stared up at me with their big moist doe eyes as if to say, "But surely that doesn't apply to us. Surely nature will make an exception for us." I smiled and thought about the recent disappearance of grown-ups. You don't really notice it right away, but eventually you find yourself all alone like Edgar at the play's end. Just before the stage fades to black, he says,

The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Lear is such a brutal play. Sometimes I feel guilty teaching it to 18 year-olds.


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