Chapter One "O Captin! My Captin!" I wasn't going to look into the bums' eyes. Not even a passing glance. The streets of Philadelphia had too many people begging for spare change, and as I walked out of the train station and towards the city, I made a conscious effort to ignore every one of them, to avoid their guilt-inducing stares. You see, as a veteran teacher, I had spent a career looking into my students' eyes. It was core to my teaching philosophy and contributed to my success in the classroom. "At least twice per class period you should look each student in the eyes," I'd often tell new teachers. "Let them know you care. Acknowledge their presence; show them you see them. Look, and they exist." Indeed, I could never ignore their eyes in my classroom and in the hallways at our school—and that unbridled empathy for all eventually cost me dearly—but I could look away on the streets of Philadelphia. And I did. Each beggar I passed, I passed with a defiant, unspoken persistence. My world. Your world. I exist. You don't. At the corner of 22nd and Market, however, one beggar crossed the boundary. He was younger, in his early 20s, and he was sitting on the ground just a few feet ahead of me. He was reading what looked like an old anthology. Once again, I made a conscious effort to avert my gaze. My world. Your world. "O Captain! My Captain!" he said as I approached him. 17
Chapter One   O Captin  My Captin   I wasn t going to look into the bums  eyes. Not even a passing glance. The streets of ...
Two Burnouts Walks Into a Coffee Shop Though his remark was odd—a homeless person quoting Walt Whitman!—I kept walking. But the irony—here I was, an English teacher trying to escape my classroom, and a beggar was hurling Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!,” one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets, directly at me. I needed the escape. It had been a tough school year thus far, and I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained. The day before, I had been to my doctor's office, where he diagnosed me with extreme exhaustion. "You've been hit with the Helper's Curse," he said, his tone serious. "You've burned out badly. Get off the treadmill. Now." So, at the urging of my wife, I called in sick the next day and took the hour-long Keystone train to Philadelphia, where I explored the city, drank copious cups of coffee, and thought about my situation. I needed to stop, to get away from the English teaching world, which is why the homeless guy spouting Whitman gave me pause. "O Captain! My Captain!" he repeated again as I passed, his voice growing louder. But my back was already toward him, and I kept walking. After all, my wife’s instructions were clear. This trip was about me. About my health. About my life. I exist. You don't. I had spent the day as planned. I got lost in an old book shop. I enjoyed an espresso at 9, a good cup of coffee at 10, a bad cup of coffee at noon, and at 2, and at 4. I chatted with a retired police officer, explored an obscure art museum and threw a penny on Ben Franklin's grave (both for luck and as a token of passive aggressiveness...you know, "a penny saved" and all.) I didn't think much about the homeless guy or Whitman or my job until I approached 22nd and Market again—quite by accident, honestly—on my way back to the Amtrak station. I 18
Two Burnouts Walks Into a Coffee Shop  Though his remark was odd   a homeless person quoting Walt Whitman    I kept walkin...
Chapter One saw him from a short distance away and was anticipating that he would say something. He saw me, and I averted my eyes. "O Captain! My Captain!" he said again. "Sorry, bud," I said, without looking or stopping. "I'm not your Captain." "You're right," he said, his voice slowing. "But you were my teacher." I stopped and turned my head just a bit. He smiled. "Mr. Hansei...It's Bobby. Bobby Bradley." "Bobby Bradley." And thus began my journey out of the cave... 19
Chapter One  saw him from a short distance away and was anticipating that he would say something. He saw me, and I averted...