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Over the Hill and then some

We’re learning what it means to be poor today?” one of mt freshman geogra-phy students wondered aloud as she slid into her seat. She was looking at the board where I’d posted the day’s lesson and homework. She jotted down the assignment while a few stragglers dashed in just as the first-period bell rang.I enjoyed all my students, but my first-period class was a treat. They got along famously, were sharp as tacks, and found fun at every turn. Together, our academic pursuits often became entertaining, no matter how serious the topic.I perched my reading glasses on top of my head and looked out at the sea of plaid skirts and striped ties. Back then, I taught in a private school where many of the students came from privilege. A lesson about poverty was al-ways eye-opening for them.“Being poor in a rich country is very different from being poor in a poor country.” I said, sending worksheets down the rows. “Mark each statement as true or false, and then we’ll compare thoughts.”The kids bent to their task. After a few minutes, I read the first statement aloud.“A child who lives in a home with no electricity is likely to think a flashlight is a great gift.” It was a mind-boggling thought for such privileged kids, but they could see its truth.“In some of the worlds poorest countries, life expectancy is only in the thir-ties.”“That’s gotta be false. My great-grandpap is ninety-two,” a kid in the second row offered. “He probably invented the flashlight.” Someone quipped, and the class burst out in laughter.But a somber air settled over the room when they realized that many people on the globe never see their fortieth birthday. I allowed the heaviness of that truth to steep. Then, I shared the most startling fact on the sheet.“In the world’s poorest countries, teenagers are actually middle-aged.”I could have heard a pin drop.Then, a girl blurted, “Half of my life would be over!”Another boy innocently grinned and mused, “Well, if we’d be middle-aged, then what would you be, Mrs.Brummert?”I must admit that, back then, I was sensitive about no longer being a spring chicken. I’d recently turned forty-nine. It was a shocking number that I couldn’t bear to divulge.“You’d be, like, ancient!” a cute, little pipsqueak kindly informed me.“Or worse!” A kid near the door drew a round of chuckles as he slowly ran a finger across her neck.It was a bracing thought and I silently vowed to spend more time on the treadmill.“How many years ago did you kick the bucket?” someone pressed.Oh, I could see that whippersnapper’s mental gears turning. He was trying to figure out how old I was! Thankfully, he had the grace not to ask.But a simple addition problem would expose my secret. The number of years that I’d expired, when added to life expectancy, would reveal that I was forty-nine. It was not a number that I cared to admit, let alone share. A roomful of fifteen-year-olds blinked at me, poised to do the math. I stared at their expectant faces and felt my resolve slipping away.Would it kill me to divulge my age?Finally, I drew a deep breath, ready to confess how long-ago death had claimed me.And then came the voice of my savior.“Guys!” a clever teen jovially advised his classmates. “You should never ask a woman how dead she is!”-Clara Brummert

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