Greetings From the Front Porch
It’s so good of you to join me on the front porch for some more reflections about life. Hop in my time machine and let’s travel back to the year 1962 for some friendly chatter!
Graduating From 8th Grade
I attended the same school from K-8, St. Patrick’s Elementary in Tacoma, Washington. It was, obviously, a private Catholic school, one of five or six such schools in the Tacoma area. It was taught by Dominican nuns and I swear, they must have been recruited because their temper and foul moods were valued.
For nine years I studied there, and only one teacher in those nine years earned my respect and admiration; that would be Sister Mary Charles, the youngest of the nuns at that school, and as I recall and very attractive nun at that time. Yes, I had a crush on her, which really is the ultimate example of unrequited love.
But I digress!
When we finished 8th grade we moved on to high school. Please note I did not say “
when we graduated” because there was no graduation ceremony. The last day of school, the last year at St. Patrick’s, the bell rang at three o’clock and we 8th Graders left, never to return, with no diploma in our hands.
And that was the norm rather than the exception.
Fast Forward to 1990
My first teaching job was in a high school, in Seattle, from 1978-1980. My second was in 1990 in Olympia at a Catholic K-8 school. My first year at that school was an adjustment, as all new schools are, but I muddled and faked my way through that first year without any major problems.
June came and I looked at our school schedule and was amazed to see we were all expected to attend the Kindergarten Graduation on June 3rd. Not only that but on June 4th was the 5th Grade Graduation, and on June 6th the 8th Grade Graduation.
What the hell???
I was really trying to avoid making waves, but I just had to ask the principal why in the living hell there were graduations for three different grade levels. The principal, a very patient administrator, informed me that we needed to celebrate the student accomplishments which, in turn, would aid in their self-worth.
The accomplishments of kindergartners?
What the hell?
On to Sports
I coached volleyball that same year. At the end of the season I was expected to have a sports banquet for the players and their parents, and at the banquet I was expected to give out awards. I believed that to mean awards for Most Valuable Player and Team Captain Award, those kinds of awards, but the principal, again very patiently, told me that it was customary at that school to give plaques to every player, a Participation Award, and no individual awards for outstanding achievement. That way, she said, everyone felt the same amount of value.
What the hell?
I did as I was told, but you better believe I swallowed some very sarcastic comments.
I don’t have to swallow those comments now.
What the Hell?
I was at that school for twelve years. Same procedure every year. I saw similar approaches to building self-worth when I taught down in Oregon between 2007-2009.
Listen, I get it! Every child is special. We are all special. We are all God’s children, and that makes us incredibly valuable. I really do get it.
But once those kids leave school and actually enter the “real world,” they are going to be shocked to find out that the “real world” doesn’t consider them the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But I can see both sides, you know, and that’s the lesson I gather from it all. There are valid reasons for it all, for and against, and my job, or at least one of my jobs, is to be willing to see both sides of a debate.
I grew up when spankings were accepted. It was just a way of parenting. Hell, at the school I attended, the nuns would slap us and hit us with yardsticks. In high school, run by the Jesuits, we would get a wooden paddle across the ass, thank you very much.
Can you imagine that today? Can you imagine a parent spanking a child today? Child Protective Services would be called so fast it would make your head spin like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist.
And I can see both sides of it. There are no blacks and whites in life, or so it seems to me. Different shades of gray all around us, mixing and matching hues among seven-point-five billion of us.
Oddly, and I say oddly because my dad was beaten as a child, I was never spanked by either of my parents. They were “old school” all the way, but they did not believe in corporal punishment. It didn’t seem to bother them much if a nun slapped me; their common reply was “You must have deserved it,” but they never once raised a hand against me.
A Certain Wisdom Comes With Aging
That’s really what this reflection is all about, the wisdom I have gained over the years. I’m not claiming to be the Second Coming of Socrates, but I have finally figured out a few truths which make life much easier, for me, to navigate, and one of those truths is this: my truth is not necessarily the only truth in life. Simply because I don’t agree with a person, or I don’t accept their premise for an action, does not mean they are wrong and I am right. There are very few absolutes in life. Life is not black and white; it is a magnificent array of grays on the best of days.
I try, very hard, not to engage in debates about politics and religion, and the reason for that is my earlier statement about the absence of absolute truths. People who make absolute statements drive me crazy. All Liberals are not evil. All Conservatives are not evil. All Southerners are not racist. All protesters are not rioters. And yet that’s the kind of nonsense we see on Facebook daily, and it does so much more harm than good.
Whatever happened to compromise? Whatever happened to making an attempt to see the other side of a debate? How can we ever hope to come together, as a nation, if we cannot, at the very least, actually listen to opposing viewpoints?
My dad was a Democrat through and through. He would vote a straight Democratic ticket every election. But he believed in a smaller federal government and he was a racist. He believed in a strong military, and he didn’t have much patience with social programs which gave things away for free.
So was he a Democrat in name only?
Life is complicated, folks, and that’s what I learned, many years ago, sitting on the front porch observing those around me. And from those observations, many years ago, and observations during the years which followed, I came upon this conclusion: my job, as a card-carrying member of the human race, is to let love be my guiding light. If I approach any interaction with another person with love in my heart, I stand a decent chance of finding fulfillment and happiness in my life.
If that seems simplistic to you, so be it. I can only tell you what works for me.
Wrap It Up
I’m no longer a teacher, so I don’t have to concern myself with award presentations. I’m no longer a coach. My son is thirty-five, so thoughts of corporal punishment are long gone, and my parenting duties fading with each sunset.
But I am a human being, and I know I need other human beings and they need me, so in the time I have remaining I’m going to do my damnedest to find acceptance and be more understanding.
And to Sister Elizabeth, who literally knocked me to my knees one afternoon with an open-handed slap, I say this: Sister, you missed your calling; you should have been a boxer!
H.O.W. (Humanity One World)
“Helping human beings to spread their wings and fly.”