Every person has a breaking point-the moment when remaining calm and appearing sane becomes harder to grasp than hugging smoke. That moment arrived for The Wild Man at 6:17 PM. That is the exact time he was informed that our flight to NYC had been cancelled. He calmly placed his olive green knapsack on the floor and began screaming. The Wild Man’s tirade included comments about the airplane, airline, and airport. His second salvo included esoteric thoughts about “man not being meant to fly” and something about George Bush. A pair of ticket agents tried to calm The Wild Man but their words only made him flap his arms and run around in circles. “Look at me! Look at me!” he shouted to a stunned audience. “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
The Wild Man was breaking apart at the seams.
He “flew” past me several times before an airline manager appeared. The sharply dressed supervisor spoke softly into a hand-held portable radio, describing play-by-play the actions of The Wild Man. The two nervous ticket agents chose wisely not to step from behind the protection of their wood and Formica counter, and stranded passengers began to leave the gate area.
“Sir-you need to calm down!” the airline managed said loudly.
“Can’t you see?” The Wild man replied. “I’m doing what you couldn’t do. I’m flying to New York!”
The airline supervisor was clearly waiting for help to arrive but needed to act as though he was in control of the situation. “Sir, you are causing a disturbance and must calm down.”
The Wild Man increased his speed and ran in concentric circles. At one point his arms were flapping so fast and his knees jumping so high that I thought he was flying.
Security personnel arrived just in time to watch The Wild Man sprint across a row of seats. He then ran around the huddled group of federal and local police officers, seemingly trying to pull them into the vortex of his circular flight path.
It’s not easy to watch a person completely crack up. The Wild Man was quietly reading a newspaper before a ticket agent announced that our flight had been cancelled. He had endured sitting at the airport gate for over eight hours. He listened patiently to four separate flight delay announcements. He sat next to an overflowing trashcan. He even politely asked one of the ticket agents if the flight would eventually depart or should he make plans to stay the night in a hotel. The Wild Man was assured that the flight would leave and the airline was doing everything possible to get him home. All was well.
Then The Wild Man realized that all was not well. He became aware that he was no longer in control of his destiny. Stress, frustration and angst had taken its toll and suddenly the tiger that lies dormant in each of us was poked one too many times and it emerged roaring.
A police sergeant tried to grab one of The Wild Man’s flapping arms but missed. “You need to stop this nonsense right now!” he demanded.
“But I’m flying to New York!” The Wild Man said with a smile on his face. “I’m just flying to New York on a clear spring night.”
The sergeant then walked back to the cluster of law enforcement officials to discuss how to clip The Wild Man’s wings. I overheard the sergeant tell a TSA officer “he’s probably harmless but we can’t take any chances.”
The Wild Man seemed harmless but who could accurately predict the next move of a man who believes he can fly?
And then it was over. The Wild Man sat quietly on the airport floor, exhausted from his short flight into madness. “I have arrived in New York,” he said to the police sergeant.
The Wild Man was taken away.
An elderly man walked away form a shoeshine stand and stood next to me. He was shaking his head in disbelief.
“Not something you see everyday,” I remarked.
He placed a shoe-buffing towel over his left shoulder and spoke with a West Indies accent. “No, mon,” he said. “I see plenty of stuff everyday.”
“You see people pretending to fly?”
“I see a lot of people do a lot of crazy tings,” he replied.
“Why do so many people do crazy things in the airport?” I asked.
“Because of all the lies,” he replied. " People can take a lot of tings, but not the lies. Not the lies.”
I thought about the old man’s comment. He was right. Most people are resilient and able to withstand “a lot of tings.” But the stench of lies is an unbearable odor. The Wild Man could no longer inhale the lies.
There is a tiger that stalks the conscience of every good teacher. A primal impulse that wants to shout and scream and interrupt the madness of ordinary life. The prick of lies keep poking the tiger, provoking the beast to break free.
Stress, frustration and angst are taking its toll on a nation of teachers fed a steady diet of lies by mindless bureaucrats. I watch helplessly as many fine teachers begin to break apart at the seams and I silently wonder why entire faculties are not flying around schools like so many flocks of geese.
The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.