The Life You Haven’t Lived

Claire tentatively walked through her professor’s office door.

“Take a seat.” The old man spoke coldly.

His office was as cold as his words. Devoid of life. It was the office of a man who’d lost touch with the outside world, the struggles that constantly bite and snarl. Inside he was safe in his academia, outside ‘real life’ was constantly on the attack.

“Sir, if I…” She was cut off.

“Young lady I must say that in recent months I’ve been very disappointed by your contributions. Mediocre essays, rushing in an out of class; I’ve yet to receive a single submission for extra credit! Do you not care about bettering your own mind?” His question was little more than a statement.

“I couldn’t care less,” thought Claire, “If I cared about me at all I wouldn’t be here, trying to juggle university and the relentless demands of raising two children all alone. All I care about is bettering a future for them.”

She said nothing. Why waste breath on a man who’d clearly never experienced the hardships life throws at you? She simply sat and stared at her hands, folded gently in her lap.

“I thought as much,” the professor continued, “In which case I shan’t require anymore of your efforts. We are obviously here for two very different reasons. You’ll receive a B- but you needn’t bother with any further assessment.”

Claire sat speechless.

“Learn what you’re here to learn but don’t sacrifice family in the pursuit of knowledge. Ideas and thoughts disappear the moment you’re gone. I wish I were as courageous as you.”

The professor’s gaze lay squarely on a photograph on his desk. Claire saw a much younger professor, a woman and a boy. The professor’s eyes were different, full of the joy that accompanies surviving life with loved ones. Those young eyes flickered now in the old. In a breath they were gone.

The professor gestured toward the open door.

“That’s one less thing to juggle.” Claire smiled.

A Professor's Office, 1876

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