Explanation for Claude and Medea by Zoe Weil
(If you're interested in purchasing a physical copy of Claude and Medea
, contact Martin Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Claude couldn't wait to go to school the next morning. He wondered what Ms. Rattlebee had in store for the class and looked forward to something strange and exciting taking place in the Green Room. When he walked into the classroom, Ms. Rattlebee was writing on the board. Her back was to the class, and she was wearing an extra large t-shirt that went down to her knees. A bunch of kids in the class were laughing at a quote that covered the middle of Ms. Rattlebee's back. It read:
"My life is my message"
- Mahatma Gandhi
Ms. Rattlebee turned around to address the class, and the laughing students tried very hard to contain themselves, especially when she immediately referred to the quote on her back.
"Some of you may have noticed Mahatma Gandhi's words on the back of my dress." (Penelope snorted at the word "dress.") Can any of you tell me what you think he meant when he said this?"
Most of the class were doing their best to compose themselves and were in no position to even attempt to answer Ms. Rattlebee's question.
Medea raised her hand.
"I think that he meant that what he did
in his life, who he was and how he acted, was more important than what he said."
"Yes, Medea, that's exactly right. Mahatma Gandhi was a very great man who helped free India from British rule using only non-violent methods. He was very famous and very revered, and one day a reporter came to him and asked, "What is your message to people?" Gandhi replied, 'My life
is my message.'
"None of us is Gandhi," Ms. Rattlebee continued, "but his quote is true for everybody. How each of us acts; how each of us treats others; how each of us is
in the world - that is our message.
"Today is my last day with you. I'm sad to be leaving, but I've been told that Mr. Bryant has recovered quite nicely and will be returning tomorrow. I thought about what I wanted to do during our last class together, and I decided that the most important thing I had to teach you is that your
life is your
message. So I'd like you to read the question I've written on the board and quietly write an essay in response."
On the board, written in florid script, was this question:
Is your life the message you want it to be?
"I don't expect this assignment to be easy, but I do expect you to write something. So take out a piece of paper and a pencil and get started. You have thirty minutes before I'll interrupt you. And don't worry. You can be completely honest because no one is going to read what you write except you."
Thirty minutes! Few of the students had any idea how to answer such a strange question, and most were thinking, "What on earth am I going to do for the next thirty minutes?" Once Bill Rittenhouse heard that no one else would read what he wrote, he started drawing geometric shapes on his piece of paper, while Penelope began writing a list of presents she wanted for Christmas. Hardly any of the students were taking the assignment seriously, but Claude could feel his brain start buzzing again. This time his body began to tremble, too. He was suddenly struck by the realization that, in fact, his life was not really the message he wanted it to be. This is what he wrote:
I don't think my life is really the message I want it to be. I mean, before Ms. Rattlebee came to Worthington, I would've said it was. Well, I might not have understood the question really. But after what she's taught us, and now that Medea and I are talking about doing something to make a difference, I think I know what the question means. And I think I know what Gandhi meant because I've heard about him, and he really practiced what he preached.
I haven't done much of anything for anyone. I mean I'm nice enough, but I haven't ever thought much about other people (or animals), and I think if my life was really the message I wanted it to be, I'd be different. I'd do more for others. I wouldn't think only about myself. I guess becoming a vegetarian is part of making my life the message I want it to be, so that's good.
I'm glad I met Medea. I hope she thinks her life is the message she wants it to be because she's pretty cool. I know this isn't supposed to be about Medea, but getting to know her makes me feel like my life is more the message I want it to be. That doesn't really make sense, but it's how I feel.
I wonder what everyone else is writing. I wonder what Austin thinks about his life. Or Bill. Or Penelope. How could Penelope really think her life is the message she wants it to be? What could she be writing?
I don't think I'm supposed to be writing about the other kids. It really doesn't matter what they think about their life, or what they write. What matters is what I think about mine. And what I do with mine. So, what am I going to do? That's the big question.
Too bad Ms. Rattlebee is leaving. I feel like telling her how much I've liked her classes, but I don't want anyone else (except Medea) to see me talking to her.
I don't know what else to write. I do want my life to be a better message than it's been so far. I think I can make it better. At least I can try.
Claude finished writing and looked up at the clock. It had been almost thirty minutes. He started to read over what he wrote when Ms. Rattlebee began talking to the class again.
"Okay everyone. Time to finish up. I'm going to pass out envelopes. Please put your paper in an envelope, seal it, address it to yourself, and hand it back to me. Some time, when you least expect it, you'll receive it in the mail. When you do, open it up and read what you wrote, and notice what you think about it, and how you feel. Pay attention to whether you have made your life more the message you want it to be."
The students did as Ms. Rattlebee asked, although it was clear that some of them did so reluctantly. Penelope was sneering as she shoved her Christmas list into an envelope; Austin looked irritated, and Bill looked bored, but Claude stared at his self-addressed envelope and marveled at the changes that had taken place inside him. When he passed it to Ms. Rattlebee, he looked into her eyes feeling only gratitude and thanks. She smiled at him and, as if she could read his mind, whispered, "You're quite welcome, Claude." Then she turned to the class.
"And now it's goodbye. I've written my address and phone number on the board. If you ever want to contact me, please do. I hope that you'll think about all the ways you can make your one and only life the message you want it to be. There are a lot of things in the world that still need to be fixed, and who better than you." And at that, she picked up her giant bag, turned on her small feet, and walked out of the room.
Claude was filled with sadness. Ms. Rattlebee was surely the most bizarre person he'd ever encountered. She was the shortest grown up he'd ever met, with the highest voice he'd ever heard, and the silliest clothes he'd ever seen. But she was also the most unique, original, and interesting teacher he'd ever had. The four mornings he'd spent with her were the most important and memorable of all the mornings in all the years he'd been at school. He wondered for a moment if he would simply turn back into the Claude who was so familiar to him - the one who didn't have many cares in the world and was definitely not trying to figure out how to save it. But then he thought about what he'd just written, and he understood it was too late to go back to being that Claude. He knew he had to do something that mattered.
Claude was in a funk for most of the rest of the day. The only thing that lifted his spirits was remembering that he and Medea would be getting Rooper and walking through the park after school. Knowing that he would have her to talk to brightened his spirits.
Walking through Central Park with Rooper, Claude told Medea all about Brady, the little brown dog he'd met the day before, and about his conversation with his dad.
"That's it, Claude! That's what we'll do. We're going to get to the bottom of these dog thefts and stop them!"
"What?! Are you crazy, Medea? It's one thing to learn about what's happening in the world and try to do something about it, and it's another thing to become detectives in our spare time and stop criminals from stealing dogs. I thought you had to stay out of trouble? What makes you think the police won't find out who's stealing the dogs?"
"Claude, remember what Ms. Rattlebee said when she pretended to be the alien, Grinwhistle? People let all sorts of horrible things happen to animals. Do you think the dognappings are a high priority for the police?"
"Okay, maybe that's true, but what do you think we should do?"
"We can watch the dogs who are tied up on the street and find out who's taking them, that's what. It would be best if we split up, though, so we can watch more dogs," she continued, thinking out loud, "but then we can't communicate with each other."
"I think we have some walkie talkies at home. Then we could talk to each other if one of us saw anything happen. And if not, I'll get some. I have money saved up. Plus I have a credit card if we really need it."
A strange look passed over Medea's face, but it quickly faded. She couldn't imagine having a credit card of her own.
"Good. Then it's settled. How about we start Saturday so we'll have all afternoon. That is, if you're free," Medea suddenly seemed shy and uncertain.
"Sure, I can do it Saturday."
"Excellent. You bring the walkie talkies, and we'll meet at two o'clock. How about 86th and Madison. I don't think you should bring Rooper." (Rooper looked up expectantly at the sound of his name, but realized it wasn't good news for him and dropped his head again.)
Come back next week for Chapter Seven of Claude and Medea