The professor pointed to me. “ The man looked at the sky. It was empty. What does that mean?”
I smiled. This was my chance to shine in my English 101 class. “There are no helicopters or clouds in the sky. It’s a great day for a picnic.”
The room erupted into laughter as my professor sighed, gave me a controlled smile and then asked for another interpretation.
“The sky is empty, because the man is having an affair,” said the student sitting next to me. “The sky represents his belief in God and how there are no consequences for his behavior.”
The other students enthusiastically shook their heads and mumbled yes in agreement.
The professor asked, “Miss Shelley, have your thoughts changed about the meaning of these sentences?”
“Nope. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say. Affairs are wrong. Picnics are much better.”
It’s been years since I was a college freshman, yet I’ve thought about this experience many times. How can two people read the same sentences and see completely different scenarios? It’s one of the great mysteries of life and of literature.
Since that time, I’ve learned a few things about analyzing literature the “English class way”. I’ve also learned how to disagree with someone without resorting to calling ideas or the people who say them names. The latter has been an important skill that has served me well in life. We really can disagree civilly, engage in meaningful conversations with other people and still maintain our own beliefs and thoughts.
In case you are wondering, forty-something-year-old me still believes this sentence.
Picnics are defiantly better than affairs.