I'm just going to admit it from the start. I'm never going to be Wonder Woman. I can't spin around three times and morph into an Amazonian Superhero. I wouldn't look good in the costume and I definitely wouldn't be able to work the miracles of Wonder Woman. But an awful lot of things make me wonder... so I suppose I am Wonder Woman in a way.
Sometimes I wonder what I went into a room for. Sometimes I wonder if we did that loft conversion at home simply so I could wonder why I'd gone upstairs. I'm getting to that age, perhaps, or maybe I'm just so busy that I sometimes lose all track of what I'm doing.
Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing where I am. In school, sometimes I hear myself telling specific pupils not to do things, and I think, how did my life bring me to a point which led me to the phrase 'Take that fidget spinner off your head, stop swinging on your chair and no you can't eat that in here!' I wonder why I expend so much thought and energy reminding recalcitrant fifteen year olds that yes they do need to pass English and no it doesn't matter if all they want to do is go on the dole. I wonder what goes through the mind of people who construct A Level timetables, clashing subjects which are frequent combinations for individual students... and I wonder what goes through the mind of the examiners who set the twisted question or launch the curve ball. Do they cackle in satisfaction into a celebratory cup of coffee? I wonder most of all about Ministers of Education who shift ideas to score points against the opposition party. Here in Northern Ireland the rows are usually about selection at age 11; in England, at the moment, it's about the return of grammar schools or the 'all terminal' rule for the new A Levels. What never seems to change is the culture of blaming teachers. I wonder about that too. I wonder about what our politicians, or our lawyers, or our doctors would think if they were regularly and loudly criticised in the media and at workplace gateways. I wonder what teacher-bashing - so prevalent that I'm surprised it hasn't been added as an event on school Sports Days - does to teachers' states of mind. I wonder how much more of it my own inner serenity can take.
I wonder about growing old. I wonder, sometimes, about the point of living a sensible youth and a health-conscious grown-up life. I saw my parents do this, and followed their example, and now I wonder why they tried so hard. Old age and its infirmities gets us all in the end, even if we've eaten the salads and the vegetables, taken the exercise, got the sleep and kept off the worst of the bad stuff. I wonder if I should have thought more about having fun. It's not as if I never enjoy myself: I laugh most days, largely at my husband, whether or not he intends to be funny, and often at my students' terrible jokes. But all those hours working away on the treadmill of the gym or of household chores, all those hours working on 'improving pursuits' to keep my mind alert, all those efforts to be more mindful and resilient... I wonder if, when I'm in my eighties as my parents are now, I'll wonder why I bothered. I wonder now if I'll still have the capacity to wonder then, or if all the strains and pressures which make me wonder 'what's the point' these days will have cut my health short in the meantime.
But there's no point wondering about things like that. As people often say when there's bad news - 'you never know what's around the corner,' a phrase which is almost always answered with, 'and you're better off not knowing.' Most of all, as the daily news and our own infirmities build walls of memento mori bricks around our lives, I wonder why some people take themselves quite so seriously. The relay races of endless self-promotion, whether it's at work or in family life, among rival neighbours or just pushy people on a busy road. Why promote yourself, why push yourself forward as being so much better than everybody else, when all the rest of us are doing is our best? Why assume your best - or my best - is better than anybody else's? Before exams, I always used to tell my Mum I'd do my best. 'No,' she'd say. 'Do better than your best!' Shouldering the pressure and wondering how I was going to manage to do better than I possibly ever could, I'd head into the exam room, my shoulders tense. But I wonder even more about that aspiration in the ultimate test of life itself. We can't do better than our best, no matter how much we want to try. We can't be superheroes. We can't just twirl around and save the world, no matter how Amazonian and heroic we may feel. We can't defeat the darkness of disaster and unfairness and growing old.
And it makes me wonder: is the ultimate in human resilience just deciding we'll still try? Not even a superhero could do more than that, these days.Suggest a correction