What Do You See?

When I was much younger, and while I was still in school, an English Professor brought an empty book to share with the class.

It didn’t have a title, nor did it have any art on its cover. When you opened it, there was no Table of Contents and not a word adorned the pages inside. It was as I said, an empty book.

He passed it around and one by one my peers flipped through it.

He hadn’t told us what he was sharing and he asked that we kept our thoughts to ourselves until it returned to his desk.

Because I sat in the back of the class, I was one of the last to get my hands on this new treasure. I watched with interest as some students snickered when they discovered its secrets, and confusion when others grew irritated with the apparent gag they were inspecting.

It seemed like it took an eternity for the book to get to my desk, (actually only five minutes, but I was young and time was different back then) and I could hardly contain my curiosity.

Then the moment had come. Here was the object of so many mixed emotions and reactions and now it was my turn to learn the source of this mystery!

I was nervous. All eyes were on me as I slowly lifted the cover away from the first page. I hadn’t thought anything about the blank cover, I was so used to wrapping my own with paper bags from the local grocery and it was with the eagerness of youth that I looked for the first line of this new story.

“What do you see,” my professor asked. His voice broke the silence, startling all those nearest him and snapping me back to the present. I didn’t realize it at the time, and if I had I might have embarked down this path a lot sooner, but when I looked upon that blank page I saw something that nobody else had seen.

“Nothing. He sees nothing because there’s nothing there,” answered one of my peers for me.

The class murmured in agreement to the young man’s answer and a small number erupted into nervous laughter, but my instructor had enough wit to quell the uprising before it had gone too far.

“Thank you for your opinion Mr. Handke,” he answered calmly, “but let Mr. Noland answer the question.”

I looked up, startled. A bead of sweat formed above my right brow, growing larger and larger until inevitability it was drawn down by the pull of gravity.

I almost didn’t answer. I almost couldn’t!

But the word that jumped to my mind and from my mouth in that next instant was one that I believe it takes a writer to utter.



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