Vail Valley Voices: What’s the difference? |

Vail Valley Voices: What’s the difference?

Bob Branden
Vail, CO, Colorado

The tavern was mostly empty, the teacher and the student were the only patrons present. Even the wood and stone was quiet. Perhaps they needed the people to achieve their full significance.

But there was still a subtle reminder of life. “It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it,” lamented Cat.

Stella in hand, and thankful for it, the student said, “That was my favorite class! I love it when you do ‘What Is the Difference Between ….’ I won’t forget the difference between curiosity and suspense. The difference is time. Suspense relates to the future and curiosity relates to the past. Awesome! And, they could both be present at the same time, like if a person entered a remote castle in the forested mountain and found a bloody corpse just inside the ironclad, large, oaken doors. One would be curious as to how the corpse came to be there and at the same time anxious and suspenseful as to what might happen to them. Cool!”

“Awesome” was such an overused and thus diminished word, the teacher thought. “Want to play more ‘What’s the Difference?'” the teacher asked.

“Yeah. Fire away.”

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The teacher sipped his merlot, then asked, “What’s the difference between an explainer and a teacher?”

“The explainer simply tells you the facts, as he sees it, usually accompanied by a few sophomoric adjectives and adverbs to defend his spin. The teacher is one who enlightens and demonstrates the facts with context. He dangles the carrot in the right direction, respecting the intelligence of student.”

The teacher took more than a sip, reminding himself once again to never underestimate his students. “Very good.” He would always be reluctant to hand out A’s. “What, then, is the difference between identification and description?”

“Well,” the student began with confidence and then paused with temerity, “I’m not sure. Could we assume a detective scenario? A description might be a help to a detective that could ultimately lead to an identification.”

“I’m not sure,” the teacher dead-panned. “To assume might make an ass of u and me. But I think your speculation is accurate. To identify someone would be to hit the bull’s eye. To describe someone would be to hit the outer circles that related to the bull’s eye. The difference is levels of knowing. To describe someone is to know them at a certain level. To identify someone is to know them at an intimate level.”

“So, if I were to really know you, I would be able to not just describe what kind of wine or music you liked, but I would also be able to identify you.”

The teacher stared. An entire song played.

“What are you?” the student finally asked.

The teacher glanced, and the waitress brought another round. He opened his miniature box of clay, never forgetting his own teacher’s instructions about a potter and clay. The student noticed that he took a pinch of clay from the “dog” compartment, then “sorrow,” then “iron,” then oddly enough “feather,” then “fire,” then humorously, “tempurpedic.” He wadded it together, rolling and squishing, then set his hands on the table protectively and dramatically removed them.

The student gawked, “I don’t know what that is!”

“Yes, you do. It’s one crying out. It’s one in a wilderness. It’s one telling people to make the mountains into smooth places.”

The student bunched up his eyebrows, “It looks like you.” The student gazed at the replica and then looked up and squinted at the teacher. It was him. But the teacher now wore an expression that scared the student. “No further,” it said.

Quickly the student looked around the empty room, searching for the island of solace his favorite waitress might represent.

“What’s the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” the student asked, desperately wanting to turn the direction of the conversation.

“Essentially, nothing.”

“But aren’t you conservative?”

“Oh, I thought you asked about Democrats and Republicans. Yes, I’m what you would call conservative.”


“Because life is conservative. Our culture interprets life through images instead of words and prefers viewing instead of reading. But in the end, truth remains unaffected by the lenses through which it is viewed. And conservatism adheres more closely than liberalism to the truth.”

“You know,” the student smiled, “you’re really all about philosophy and it’s empty. I mean, our country faces real problems: drugs, crime, illiteracy, AIDS, broken families, or the plight of the inner city. How would you address those with your philosophy?”

“Ah, the outer circles of the bull’s eye. Well, if you hit the target you could not only make sense of all those issues, but you could solve them, as well.”

The student grunted in disdain. “Not likely” was the best he could manage.

“So, what are you?” the teacher asked.

A song played.

“I don’t know,” the student honestly admitted.

“Exactly,” the teacher leaned across the table until he was inches from the student. “You see, that question is the closest ring to the bull’s eye. You don’t know the answer because you’ve never hit the target.”

“What is the target?” the student whispered.

“Who’s the authority?”

“What? No, I’m asking what the target is.”

“That’s what I’m telling you. If you can correctly identify the ultimate authority, you can then know who you are, and from there you can solve the rest of these identity crisis symptoms.”

“What should I look for?”

“Someone who knows everything, is perfectly moral, and loves beyond measure. Can you imagine the catastrophe of having any of those three without the other two?”

“Where do I find that?”

The teacher now leaned back, “He wrote a book.”

“My body’s been a good friend. I won’t need it in the end,” Mr. Stevens concluded.

Bob Branden is host of the podcast

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