One of the new classrooms in Belfast Area High School's renovated special education area.

When sitting in a room full of typing teens, universal truths unfold themselves. In fact, relatively few experiences in life are as epiphanic as watching kids write. Every third child has headphones on. They look up. They look down. They bite their pens. The gray, sad sun peeks through the window shades while bodies shift in seats, unconsciously stretching toward the light like plants.

Someone says, “Jesus, I hate this,” and I glance up, half-hoping Jesus might intervene for me.

Some rest their heads on their hands. Others tap the keys, reading and rereading with eyes that say, “Why, dear God, why do I have to write something?”

You can tell who likes this business of making meaning and who doesn’t. Their faces give them away. Currently, I see two smiles, 10 blank stares, five frowns and three heads down. Not much meaning to be made today.

While the ticking of the wall clock marches on, the minutes parade past in dull monotony. A boy in the corner yawns and looks off at the trees. For a moment, I catch a glimpse of his thoughts.

Man, just a few periods left then this crap’s done.

Gotta go down to the gas station, pick up a polar pop and hang out with the girlfriend.

Gonna hit the drive-thru and order two number twos.

Time to tear on out’n head over to the garage to soup somethin’ up.

Got life to live man, and I can’t live it here.

What’s all this writin’ gonna change anyway?

Thinking back to age 17, I couldn’t wait to break out of that eighth period study hall and go watch Brenda and Sonny break up then make up. During commercials, I’d eat a chocolate sugared donut fresh from the freezer. The laundry rumbled in the dryer while my sister sat on the couch beside me, equally riveted by episodic drama.

Life felt angsty and awesome simultaneously.

You see, if Brenda and Sonny could make it, if she could find a way to love a gangster from the other side of the tracks, well then, maybe I could get that guy I’d been crushing on for four years to notice me. As long as my parents held hands through the evening news and I kept watching movies with my friends, the universe had my back.

True love was a heartbeat away, beauty was in the mirror, and riches were right around the corner. At 17, the world was my oyster, and I was its shining pearl.

It took me 20 years to learn that in a three ton haul of oysters, only three or four produce perfect pearls. Isn’t that tragic?

After all that yapping about doing anything we wanted to do, being anything we wanted to be, I’ve come to the realization that it’s awfully hard to be a pearl. Every thought isn’t a gem. Every attempt isn’t successful. Every life isn’t invincible. There’s a lot of grit and grime to contend with, and unfortunately, writing the ugly truth doesn’t make it more beautiful, or even make it make sense.

Maybe I should tell that smiling girl sitting in the corner tapping away on her laptop, “Sweetheart, life’s harder than you think.”

Someone should inform the boy lounging beside her, hiding his cell phone behind his screen, “You may want to put the phone down and think for a second. What’s your plan, Stan? How are you going to make all the things you want to happen actually happen?”

What good would it do? Why should I pop the bubble of youth? Isn’t it better that they still believe they were meant to shine?

Yes, yes. They extend their arms over their heads now. Some lean in and hover closer to their keypads. Twenty sets of eyes blink, look heavy, squint up at the clock, then back at their words with something like relief.

Someone lets a silent yawn out while the chair in the corner creaks. I keep my head bowed as their unspoken question lofts through the air, “Did we do good, teach? Is it time yet? Can we be done writin’ about all this stuff we ain’t never gonna use?”

Yes, kids. You can be done.