I teach economics at UNLV three times per week. Last Monday, at the beginning of class, I cheerfully asked my students how their weekend had been. One young man said that his weekend had not been so good. He had his wisdom teeth removed. The young man then proceeded to ask me why I always seemed to be so cheerful.
His question reminded me of something I’d read somewhere before: “Every morning when you get up, you have a choice about how you want to approach life that day,” I said. “I choose to be cheerful.”
“Let me give you an example,” I continued, addressing all sixty students in the class. “In addition to teaching here at UNLV, I also teach out at the community college in Henderson, 17 miles down the freeway from where I live. One day a few weeks ago I drove those 17 miles to Henderson. I exited the freeway and turned onto College Drive. I only had to drive another quarter mile down the road to the college. But just then my car died. I tried to start it again, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. So I put my flashers on, grabbed my books, and marched down the road to the college.
“As soon as I got there I called AAA and arranged for a tow truck to meet me at my car after class. The secretary in the Provost’s office asked me what has happened. ‘This is my lucky day,’ I replied, smiling.
“Your car breaks down and today is your lucky day?” She was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“’I live 17 miles from here.”I replied. “My car could have broken down anywhere along the freeway. It didn’t. Instead, it broke down in the perfect place: off the freeway, within walking distance of here. I’m still able to teach my class, and I’ve been able to arrange for the tow truck to meet me after class. If my car was meant to break down today, it couldn’t have been arranged in a more convenient fashion.”
The secretary’s eyes opened wide, and then she smiled. I smiled back and headed for class. So ended my story.
I scanned the sixty faces in my economics class at UNLV. Despite the early hour, no one seemed to be asleep. Somehow, my story had touched them. Or maybe it wasn’t the story at all. In fact, it had all started with a student’s observation that I was cheerful.
Deepak Chopra has quoted an Indian wise man as saying, “WHO you are speaks louder to me than anything you can say.” I suppose it must be so.
A version of this story appears in Lee Ryan Miller’s book, “Teaching Amidst the Neon Palm Trees.”
Nowadays, he teaches at California State University, Stanislaus, and his website is located at: http://www.LeeRyanMiller.com