…in My Lecturer’s Smile

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I’d like to share an experience I had in my Conflict of Laws class. I probably never would have had it if the class had been interesting. But it wasn’t. I made a new resolve every time I attended that class. I would always tell myself, ‘Today is the day you listen. Just focus and listen’. But every single time I tried to, my over-imaginative mind got the best of the moment and travelled really far.


Today was not any different. I went early for the class, sat in the middle of the class (as opposed to sitting at the back), got myself a bright orange notebook for motivation (as orange is my best color), even got myself a really expensive fancy pen from the book store because, I told myself, ‘You can actually focus in this class.’


The class started off really well, to be honest. I followed every word the lecturer said and I jotted down salient points. At some point, he was talking faster than I could jot, so I placed my pen in the middle of my notebook and closed it. ‘I would listen’, I told myself. And listen, I did. That is, until my over-imaginative mind came whistling.


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My lecturer said, ‘The proper law of a contractual relationship…’, and I automatically imagined law as a person curtseying and being so proper in speech and eating so proper and so high-class. By the time I was done imagining, the lecturer had moved to the next sub-heading. And so it continued, that I would listen attentively to one sentence and create a whole new world for it, I would come back from my reverie and see my classmates furiously scribbling in their notebooks, I’ll refocus, re-dream, re-focus, re-dream….


It got so bad that I heard this little judgmental voice in my head say, ‘You cannot control your mind. Life’s greatest battles happen in the mind, and you can’t even control yours. Destruction would not present itself in fire and brimstone. It would be as subtle as a fantastic luring thought,’ So, in order to prove this terrible voice wrong, I decided to focus. ‘But I would not focus on this boring lecture’, I told myself, ‘I would focus on something more interesting’.


So, I did a little exercise. I picked someone. Just one person in the crowd of students that happen to be my classmates and I focused my mind on that person.


At first, I picked the class’s most ‘sought-after’ young man. He sat just a few seats adjacently in front of me. I watched him closely; counting the seconds in the interval between each breath he took… 3seconds. I looked closely into his white shirt, looked at the thick lines of his white inner-wear, looked behind his ears, looked at the structure of the coils of his hair, looked at his skin until I was sure I was looking into his pores, looked at the arch of his back, looked at the tiny brown hairs that stood at the back of his neck… then I blinked. I blinked and looked at him in his entirety. One word- Boring. There was nothing interesting about him, his unconscious state was as boring as the lecture I was avoiding, so I shifted focus.


My eyes roamed my classroom and finally settled on one person; my lecturer.


He stood there simply…lecturing. At least, that was what I saw at first. I took my glasses off, cleaned it and squinted through it to get a clearer picture of this man standing in front of me.


I studied his eyes. There were large bags underneath them; a sign that he lacked sufficient rest in recent days. His eyes were brown, and tiny, and tired, but they said, ‘I have seen the faces of too many students in my lifetime, yet I so terribly want to see each and everyone of them succeed’

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‘This is good’, I told myself. So I closed my eyes and listened to his voice. At first I could only hear the words he spoke ‘…but a foreign jurisdiction clause was conferred on the case. Apparently, the judge in this case was not conversant with the principles of conflict…’ But then, I settled in and separated his words from his voice; and then, I had the ultimate experience.

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I heard him say ‘I’ve been saying the same damn thing for 9 years and counting, I can do this with my eyes closed, yet, I’m still excited to teach every class. I do not understand how no one else sees what teaching is. How people get into other professions when there’s a more exciting way of life in the teaching profession. How do they ever get to see the beauty in starting off a semester with students so stupidly clueless and ending the semester with semi-professionals? How will they get to feel the suffocating joy when one student raises her hand and asks a question that reflects an increase in knowledge? Do they not ever want to behold the beauty of effort in a question answered wrongly? Or experience the nostalgic stubbornness of an unlearning student? Why? For Christ’s sake, this is the only profession there is. For the future is truly in our hands and we mold it into perfection; beating, breaking, smothering and refining it. There’s no greater calling than that of being a teacher. None at all’


I was having such a nice time until someone jerked me out of my amazing ‘audio-revelation’. I opened my eyes and automatically leaned back in my seat. The whole class was quiet save for some snickering young children somewhere somewhere in my class… mgbekes.


Then I heard my lecturer say ‘Yes? We’re waiting for you. What happens when the parties do not expressly state the choice of law rules but they state the choice of jurisdiction rules governing the contract’


Someone made a comment at the back of the class and some girls laughed.


But I smiled. I smiled because they had only heard my lecturer’s words and not his voice. He had only truly said to me ‘I do not want you to miss out on the molding going on and so even if it means embarrassing you, I’d like for you to try answering this important question’

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And so I simply stood up, adjusted my shirt, smiled and said, ‘I do not know the answer sir.’

And while the whole class burst into laughter behind me, I saw the kindest expression in my lecturer’s smile.

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