Nevertheless, there are some things I keenly miss from those years, reading William Shakespeare on a daily basis being foremost among them. The works I covered in my classes rarely extended beyond the basic high school staples – Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, occasionally Hamlet – but reading and discussing these plays for months at a time made the siege more bearable and helped mute the thunder made by the boulders perpetually pounding away at the fortress walls.
Reading Shakespeare in class was akin to descending into the catacombs beneath the fortress; the discovery of a network of subterranean passageways and chambers that offered temporary reprieve from the never-ending battles raging above. Sitting huddled together, my students and I recited the Bard’s immortal lines to time while enveloped in the gentle profundity only the dead can offer. And hours afterward, the lines would remain with me – soft points of flickering candlelight that soothingly illuminated my mind and soul.
Riding home on the 4 train in the afternoons absently staring out at the non-descript urban bleakness locals referred to as the South Bronx, I would silently recite entire scenes from Shakespeare to myself. This habit helped overpower the sinking feeling of futility that plagued most of my teaching days. As the Bard’s lines rolled through me, I would glance at my fellow passengers – at the glassy-eyed, the fatigued, the impervious – who, like me, had somehow made it through the day, but were already possessed by thoughts of to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow as the train descended into dark bowels of Manhattan.
Then one day, my to-morrows as a high school teacher suddenly became yesterdays. No, I don’t miss much from those times. Sure, they were necessary, and yes, the experiences I gathered were all obviously a part of my growth and development, and if I had to do it again, I could, but in the end I cannot in all sincerity say I miss much from those years, except for Shakespeare of course. My end as a high school teacher also marked the end of my daily engagement with Shakespeare. The other day, I realized it has been five years since I last read anything by the Bard, and I felt a sudden rush of inspiration to reengage with his work. This time, however, I vow to read him where he deserves to be read - in the full light of day under a vast expanse of sky well beyond the secretive confines of the catacombs that had sheltered and protected me from the siege and the unhealable damage it sought to inflict over the span of that most burdensome of decades.