At some point in my son’s young life, a childcare worker taught him an exercise entitled Pencil-Star. It works like this: you stand ramrod stiff with your arms together and straight over your head. Then you yell loudly, “I’m a pencil!” Next, you leap up, throwing out your arms and legs so they are at 45 degree angles from your torso. Then you shout, “I’m a star!” This is to be repeated several times in quick succession.

I am not sure how this became associated with my daily departure for work, but just about every morning for the last few years my son has stood on the front step spasmodically jumping up and down while yelling, “I’m a pencil! I’m a star!” It is perhaps the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me.

Last Thursday he began the second grade. I went off to work that morning and only realized later that I had received no Pencil-Star send off. I didn't get one Friday or Monday either, and I began to despair. Perhaps he had outgrown this ritual. Perhaps a seven-year old is just too sensible. But, joy of joy, there he was this morning, arms flapping wildly.

Later in my senior seminar we were discussing The Apology. I asked the students if they thought Socrates used the right rhetorical strategy for winning over a jury that was deciding his fate. One student noted that he may not have cared whether he died. "After all, he was 70-years old. How much life did he really have left?"

This point almost always arises whenever I discuss The Apology with a roomful of undergraduates. Someone is sure to argue that Socrates was somehow less concerned about staying alive because he was 70. My standard response is to throw the question back at the class and ask if they truly believe life is less precious at 70 than at 17 or 27. "Maybe," I suggest, "life is more precious to an old man because he knows he hasn't got an entire lifetime ahead of him."

Or put another way, you only get so many Pencil-Stars in this world. They don't last forever.


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