“Suddenly Seymour” Moments (Or, On Epiphanies)

Before the start of fifth-grade, I was afraid.  Granted, I never wanted summer vacation to end, but that year, I was filled with an unusual dread.  My teacher that year would be Mr. Bansbach.  He’d been teaching the fifth grade since the time of Confucius, or so it seemed to my ten-year-old sensibilities.  He was old-school, even when old-school was still in vogue–this was the 1980s.  He was tough.  He was no-nonsense.  But, more than anything, he was strict.

 

Not that I was a troublemaker.  Shy to the core, I said little at school and was a good student.  But I still worried.  Stories about Mr. Bansbach circulated through the school.  He was as feared as any teacher I ever had.  I dreaded that first day.

When it arrived, Mr. Bansbach introduced himself and, standing at the front of the class in his suit and tie, his thick glasses reflecting the fluorescent overhead lights, his thinning, dyed-black hair combed back on his head, he called us “preteens.”  “You’re not ‘kids,'” he said.  “A ‘kid’ is a baby goat.  You are preadolescents, you are growing up, and you will take responsibility in my class.”  Great, i thought.  The rumors were true.  This guy was going to be a nightmare.

 

One day, about a week into the new school year, I finished an in-class assignment early.  Not sure what to do, I just sat there, hands folded, waiting for the other students to finish.

Mr. Bansbach was not impressed.

“Class,” he said.  “I want to direct your attention to this young man.” He pointed at me.  “He finished his assignment early.”  That was good, wasn’t it?  I was on the ball!  Evidently not.  “Don’t do what he just did.  Ever.  When he finished, he sat there, blankly, wasting time.  Next time, young man”–he stared right at me–“take out a book and read.  Make use of your time.  Understand?”

 

I did.

And I didn’t like Mr. Bansbach.

A few weeks later, before class, Mr. Bansbach pulled me aside in the hallway, just outside his classroom.  I stiffened.  What had I done now?  Finished my homework too early the night before?  Did he have some way to monitor me at home?

“That was an impressive victory last night,” he said.  “Maybe your Steelers will win a fifth Super Bowl this season.”

And he patted me on the shoulder and winked.  Then he went into the classroom and I followed.

What had just happened?  And how did he know I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan?  And why did he care?  Was he a sports fan, too?

 

He was.  Throughout that fall, he would talk to me about the Steelers games.  Win or lose, he always took a few minutes early in the week to go over their previous game with me.  I didn’t say much.  I was still nervous around him.  But it impressed me that he was so in tune with his students.

As the year rolled on, I genuinely learned to like Mr. Bansbach.  And he seemed to like me.  He congratulated me on several homework assignments, when I went above and beyond the parameters of the assignment.  The following year, when I entered sixth grade and had a new teacher, Mr. Bansbach would still seek me out in the hallways on Monday mornings and talk about the most recent Steelers game.

And while I learned to like him more and more as my fifth-grade year progressed, it was that first kind gesture, that initial time he talked to me about my favorite football team, that stuck with me.  I can still remember it–the way he stood there, outside his classroom, waiting for me.  His way of letting me know we were okay.  That I was okay.

 

You might call it a moment of epiphany, a realization, that the rumors were false, and that Mr. Bansbach was different from his reputation.  Oh, he was strict.  You definitely did not want to slack off in his class.  That part was true.  But no one ever said he was nice, that he cared.  That he would take the time to learn about his students and show them he was on their side.  I had to learn that for myself.

There are moments like that throughout literature and film–moments of awakening, when a character learns something about him- or herself, or someone else.  Indeed, The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel are chock-full of such moments–Joe Marma learning that he doesn’t even like football, a sport he pursues with reckless abandon, but only plays it to best his brother; Mitchell Brant finding out that his long-distance (a multiverse away!) relationship with Heather doesn’t mean what he’s thought the past five years; or Marc Kuslanski coming to grips with his guilt over the accident he feels responsible for with his little brother.  The characters realize these things in a moment of revelation, a tipping point in the symphony of their lives.  Epiphanies are real.  But they are also hard to pull off in literature or on film.

 

You want to say so much without, well, saying so much.  You want the scene to speak for itself.  You want the reader or the viewer to feel it right along with the character.

Like the performance of “Suddenly Seymour” in the 1986 remake of the musical Little Shop of Horrors.  Throughout the film, Seymour (Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Greene) work together at a florist shop.  Seymour is shy and awkward, but clearly carries a torch for his coworker.  She, however, is in a relationship with someone she, herself, describes as a “semi-sadist” (an outrageous dentist played by Steve Martin).  Audrey thinks lowly of herself, and she gets involved with abusive men like the dentist.  Throughout the movie, she speaks in a squeaky, mousy voice, almost as if she doesn’t even feel she is worthy to say anything.

 

But then this scene happens.  Seymour encourages her, praises her, and expresses his true feelings for her.  He stands, and sings “Suddenly Seymour.”

Audrey is touched, listening to him.  Then she joins in the song.  At first, her singing voice matches her speaking voice–timid, lacking in confidence, unsure.  But then, when she hits her own “Suddenly Seymour” note, there is a transformation, an awakening.  An epiphany.  Audrey finds her voice, literally, and she belts out the rest of the song in an astonishingly strong, beautiful, and full-throated rendition.  Before our eyes, without any speeches, without any blaring announcement, she and Seymour have changed.  They have awakened.  It is a cinematic performance for the ages.

 

And that’s how epiphanies work–in life, and in story.  They hit you with the force of a tidal wave, but, counterintuitively, they also do so quickly, quietly, in a moment, without any narrator making a bold, big proclamation.  There is no need to tell or exclaim or pontificate.  There is only a moment, the moment, when everything becomes clear.

Even just a moment in a song, or a moment when your fifth-grade teacher shows you–rather than tells you–that he’s had your back all along.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jnana Hodson
    Nov 30, 2022 @ 13:30:16

    Great story. Unlike you, I was once punished for reading Scientific American after zipping through a seventh-grade arithmetic assignment and waiting for the others to catch up. What I really needed at that point was algebra.

    Reply

  2. joannerambling
    Nov 30, 2022 @ 21:04:27

    A good post

    Reply

  3. windowcolquhoun810
    Dec 01, 2022 @ 01:25:14

    A thought-provoking narrative! Your fifth grade teacher is the stuff of what legendary teachers are all about!
    I haven’t seen ‘Suddenly Seymour,’ but you have certainly piqued my interest, whilst presenting a great analysis of the ‘epiphany’ between the couple.

    Reply

  4. magarisa
    Dec 09, 2022 @ 04:43:39

    What a great story about your fifth-grade teacher! It reminds us not to judge people from what others say about them, but to interact with each person with an open mind. Epiphanies do indeed “hit you with the force of a tidal wave, but, counterintuitively, they also do so quickly, quietly, in a moment, without any narrator making a bold, big proclamation.”

    Reply

  5. foodinbooks
    Dec 12, 2022 @ 01:25:03

    What a wonderful and uplifting post. I think most of us have had the experience of having that teacher that was so transformative in our lives. I’m so glad that Mr. Bansbach was such a positive impact on your life. He sounds like a truly wonderful teacher.

    Reply

  6. Lyn
    Dec 14, 2022 @ 01:40:16

    There should be more 5th grade teachers like Mr. Bansbach. No, I’ll adjust that, there should be more teachers in every grade like Mr. Bansbach. Your post put me in mind of one of the bus drivers on our local route. The adults hated him, but we kids loved him and cheered if he was driving the bus (normal bus not a school bus) after school.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Dec 15, 2022 @ 20:16:36

      Sadly, there are likely not too many Mr.Bansbachs in the schools anymore.:( (No doubt he’d be viewed as “too tough” today . . .

      Reply

      • Lyn
        Dec 19, 2022 @ 09:23:15

        My son-in-law is a grade school teacher (4th grade) and at one point kept a 6ft rubber python in the storeroom. He’d go in to get something, scream and then stagger backwards out of the room with the snake wrapped around his neck and crash into the desks. The principal heard the commotion, looked into the room, rolled her eyes and just walked away. He and my daughter have five children of their own 😄

      • The Eye-Dancers
        Dec 30, 2022 @ 23:36:49

        That is my kind of teacher!:)

  7. europasicewolf
    Dec 21, 2022 @ 12:28:15

    A great read, as always😃 Love the 5th grade teacher- I think we can all relate to him as one we have experienced along the way. I’ve often found the people I really can’t stand, the most, are the ones I eventually end up closest to. But today’s society treats strict as a form of abuse and fails to see the great benefits of such people. It is to our loss, especially with today’s and future children. And later, adults.

    Reply

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