Thursday, August 23, 2012

It is back to school time.

We scuttle around, not in the most effective way, yet again beginning our shopping with me in the dressing room with the girls, “…but then what DO you need?” before turning around, coming home, and beginning again, this time, by first sorting through all their clothes, handing items down to the next, and seeing what our starting point is. 

“We have been here before – I remember that tree.”

Those years of youthful preparation for my own back-to-school have marked me. This year, as every year, I find something visceral in me full of hope and possibility. These new lunchboxes will lead to healthful, organized lunches for all of us, this new system we’ve come up with will mean that we never get behind on laundry, we will all be fresh and shiny, popular and smart, homework will always be done promptly and well …

The fantasy may not survive the first week, but shhh, don’t disturb my illusion.

I remember in high school, getting the big thick September issue of Seventeen magazine and devouring its tips. Jean Naté sponsored a 4 page spread where you saw the heroine go step by step through her organized, popular, always-smiling day. Her day began, of course, with a shower and a splash of the sponsor’s product. Aha, that was the key to it all. Along with pencils, pens, and a Trapper Keeper, I used my own money for a small bottle of bath splash.

Perhaps this should turn into a screed against consumerism or not accepting ourselves as we are, the folly of thinking that a new year or a new product will lead to a life change.

But it’s not. Not today. Because we all need Dumbo’s feather sometime. Hope can be hard to find, and if any of us can get a extra boost by the seasonal change, then grab on.

For the first time in a very long time, I am not going back to school myself, not in the literal sense. Last year, I was preparing for my last semester of seminary. When browsing school supplies the other day, I started to automatically pick up some highlighters and fresh pens for myself. No need.

Okay, little bit of a need. I continue on with one ministerial job, and begin another. I have that little matter of meeting with some people in Boston that I need to keep studying for. We are all perpetual students, in some way or another.

If you catch a whiff of Jean Naté when we meet, don’t be surprised. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Young and powerless

My father and I began swapping stories this week, as we do when we get to see each other. We realized that we both had experiences in which we, young and powerless, had someone powerful who was willing to bust through the expectations that they would side with others at their level. And this has made both of us fairly optimistic people who believe that justice can will out.

Not justice in some sort of karmic way, but the justice of “Yes, most people are good and will stand up for what’s right.”

In my case, I was a senior in high school, leaving early one afternoon to go audition for a theatre scholarship at a college. I went around picking up the necessary letters of recommendation. Without a word, the drama teacher handed me his. I read it in the room of my speech teacher. It was bad. I was confused. I knew he and I had some issues between us – I wasn’t the first – but even I knew the protocol for such things. If someone asks for a letter of recommendation, you say “no” or “yes.” But you don’t say “yes,” then write a bad letter. My speech teacher read it, and suggested I take it to our dean. I dropped it off, and went on to my next class.

Between classes that afternoon, my principal met me in the hall. “I don’t know why Mr. ___ wrote this, but it was wrong. And I am writing your letter.”

At least at my school, that just didn’t happen. A principal never spoke against a teacher to a student.

(I got the scholarship. And it turned out the teacher was a sociopath who did things far more vile than write bad letters.)

My father was at a state university that used to be a military college. He was on the school newspaper and a news story he’d written angered a colonel there. Dad was called in to his office and the colonel ripped him up one side and down the other, and demanded a retraction.

The problem was, the story was true. Dad, not knowing what else to do, went to see the president of the university. He explained what happened, and asked for advice.

The president said, “Well, I think I need to have a conversation with Colonel ___ to remind him who runs this school.”

University presidents just don’t do that.

We’ve had other experiences like that, over the years. But it’s not difficult to see how this sort of thing gave us confidence that for the most part, you can believe that justice guides most people, and when it doesn’t, there will be others willing to stand up for you, and against injustice.

Not all people have that, I realize. And so they come to an opposite feeling.

It’s an interesting thought, though, that when we don’t “circle the wagons,” when we stand up for what’s right and help someone with lesser power, especially someone younger, we’re not just affecting the situation, we’re shaping  how they will see the world.