Second period has started. The class of juniors seat themselves at the classroom tables and carry their conversations through the bell, what with this being the first day of the new school year. Who is dating whom? Who passed driver’s ed? Perhaps one question about the SAT passes through, but one can hardly tell through the cacophony of socializing.
A minute passes and still no teacher. A few minds start to grow inquisitive about the absence. But as soon as a majority starts to form…
“GOOD MORNING, YOUNG MINDS!”
A rather vibrant young man stands at the front of the white board, his arms in the air in welcome. He looks normal, but that sudden outburst of a greeting speaks otherwise. Perhaps that is why the students appear stunned.
“Welcome… to… British… LITERATURE!”
A mass of confusion spills. What is going on? Who is this dark-skinned Gap-model, and why is he speaking with a baritone of a British accent?
An elocutive British accent, one that would put Gielgud to shame.
“I am your guide, Mr. Belvidere, and we are about to embark on a journey through time!”
He prances and dances around the tables, with an exceptional mark of gracefulness. Some of the females giggle their laughter into their hands. The boys-who-would-be-men nudge around some sarcasm.
Mr. Belvidere glides his way back to the white board and draws forth a fresh blue dry-erase pen.
“But who can tell me… what is British literature?” His question scrawls onto the board with such precision and intricacy. He turns to a nearby student at the closest table.
“You. What is your name?”
“Come now, your full name.”
“Ah! Jeffrey McCarty! Young Master Jeffrey! Welcome”
Mr. Belvidere gives a bow to his student. More giggles and more smirks, none from Jeff.
“What is British literature, Mr. McCarty?” asks Mr. Belvidere.
Jeff searches for the answer with his eyes, but sees none plastered on the classroom walls. In fact, the walls are largely blank, aside from mandatory notices about emergency procedures. Pressured by the lack of a gimme, he digs deep inside the recesses of his memory to produce an answer:
“YES!” Mr. Belvidere scribbles ‘Shakspeare’ below his original script. “One of the greatest! ‘To be or not to be? That is the question!’ ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?’ And ‘We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.'”
For a moment, Mr. Belvidere holds his thoughts, but he quickly points to a cheerleader near the rear of the classroom. “What say you, miss?”
“Yes, you there! What shall I call you?”
“My name is Cyndi Jennings.”
“Ah, Cyndi, as in the musician!” He welcomes Cyndi with a flair of his wrist.
Mr. Belvidere breaks out into “Time After Time” at full volume and vibrato, overtaking the silence of the room. More bewilderment, more smirks and giggles, although this time, the girls are impressed by his bravado.
“Miss Cyndi, what is British literature?”
“Yes!” Another scribble. “Some of the most beautiful poetry you’ll ever hear, from great hearts of England, no less!”
And with as much passion as he can muster, he orates, “‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… I love thee freely, as men strive for right. / I love thee purely, as they turn from praise… I love thee with the breadth, / Smiles, tears of all my life; and, if God choose, / I shall but love thee better after death.'”
Mr. Belvidere is lost in the warm stillness of the lyrics. And it seems that his same sentiment has rolled into his radius of students. Captivated by the passion, sinking in the heat of the words. Charmed by the magic.
Mr. Belvidere raises his gaze, and he sees it all: eyes fixated in wonder, mouths hanging in awe, ears eager for more, and hearts beating in unison. And a smile graces his lips.
“That, my friends,” he says ever so gently, “is the power of words. Words are indeed weighty, and they carry more punch than any weapon on earth. Words are the yellow bricks with which your heart forms the road, and the world is waiting… waiting to hear your story.
“This year, we are each going to tell a story, using tools created by master craftsmen and craftswomen of old. We will learn to use those tools, and make art that echoes the beatings of our hearts. We are unique, each and every one of us; no two stories will be exactly the same. That’s what makes our stories special. But we have come here, at this time and place, to share this part of the story together, and we shall experience… extraordinary.
“My friends, welcome… to British Literature.”