I can remember very plainly my first interaction with a student at the middle school where I have been employed for three years now. It was the middle of summer and I was in the school's main office scrambling through records, attempting to gain some semblance of control over my newly acquired role. The social worker, Brandon, passed by to introduce me to one of the incoming 6th graders on my caseload--Adam*. Brandon, with a covert smile, alluded to the fact that the pleasure of Adam's office visit was owed to behavioral complications in his summer school rocketry class. Judging by the venomous look on the squat, marshmallow-shaped boy's face, he was definitely out of sorts; so, I made sure my greeting was laced with a buttery voice and over-stated smile.
"Hello, Adam. I'm Miss T. and I'll be your teacher in the fall. How is your summer going?"
Adam's mumbled response was inaudible to me at the time, but I knew it must not have been pleasant when Brandon whisked him away hastily.
It wasn't until weeks into the school year that I learned exactly what my young student had uttered.
The first three words ever received from a student there:
"Go **** yourself."
Not exactly the way I imagined my career at BMS would launch.
Then again, I suppose that's been somewhat of a recurring theme in my life: Fantastical visions of grandeur squelched by cold, hard reality. I longed to be the thin, pretty, wildly popular belle of the school, but ended up the overweight, pimply, semi-reject, who was the butt of one, too many jokes. I longed to share my affections with a princely, drop-dead-gorgeous man of my dreams and live happily ever after. Instead, I spent the greater part of my adolescent and adult life painfully, and utterly single. I longed to be a teen queen, traveling the world performing on a stage to millions of fans chanting my name. Instead, I got paid $6.50 an hour to change the putrid diapers of disabled individuals who were far beyond the customary diaper-donning age. I longed to emerge from college into the teaching job of my dreams at a prestigious suburban school. Instead, I was resigned to a private establishment full of hardened criminals-in-training (young gentlemen who, when irate, went a step beyond Adam and offered to take my physical destruction into their own hands.)
In my more pathetic, self-pitying moments I used to look back on the cards I'd been dealt over the years and lament the fact that I'd been sh0rt-changed so many times. I mean, forget the food on the table and the quality education and parents who loved me. I just couldn't catch a break!
As time went on, however, and I gained the natural wisdom which comes with further years of experience, a revelation began to unfurl. As my life's direction and purpose became clearer and clearer, and the blessings began to flow, I finally understood that all these 'disappointments" and "shortcomings" weren't the knots in a string of bad luck. They were the happenstances which had melded together to form ME. The more I understood the world around me--including the shocking uncovering of the fact that adults are just as greedy, selfish and inconsiderate as children--I was grateful for what I had been spared. This included growing up with a silver spoon in my mouth, acquiring popularity, and possessing reasons to be vain. Through my so-called "hardships", I had learned a virtue which had the potential to open up the world to me: humility.
In Screwtape Letters XIV, C.S. Lewis offers these wise words about humility. "All virtues are less formidable to us once the main is aware that he has them, but his is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove! I'm being humble', and almost immediately pride--pride at his own humility--will appear."
I wouldn't dare proclaim myself a humble person, for the very fact that that would signal an overabundance of self-centeredness. However, I feel justified in my gratitude for the life events which cultivated humility in me and, if nothing else, honed an acute sensitivity to pride and its damaging effects. Had I turned out beautiful, the object of every man's desire, a headlining Broadway star, would the "H" word even be my in my vocabulary?
I am still mourning the loss of my all time favorite show, LOST, which recently ended its glorious six year stint. In commemoration of the series finale, I purchased myself the Season Three promo poster featuring a tagline very significant to the theme of the show: "EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON".
This just happens to be one of--if not THE--taglines of my life. Sure, there are a few moments in my life if, offered the opportuntity, I'd hit the "Reset" button on and try again. Ultimately, however, there's not one instant in my past that I could pinpoint as meaningless or unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. The way the events of my life--tragedy and triumph, happiness and heartbreak, idleness and adventure--have all built into and onto each other in this incredibly complex, unpredictable, and brilliant way like the plot of a masterfully crafted novel; all of it leaves me no doubt that Someone has already written my story. As a result, not a breath, not a bat of the eye, not a word uttered from my mouth is random, and it all has ramifications for my future.
This knowledge can cause one to feel any number of things: comfort, fear, frustration. Above all, though, is overwhelming encouragement: to look back on the trials of my past and see they were imperative to bring joy and good, and understand--even during the most painful times--that some day I will look back again and feel the same reassurance. It's as if I can't lose.
So, what happened to the fat, semi-ugly duckling girl? Eventually she lost 70 pounds and can standing in the mirror actually pleased by the reflection. Having spent most of her life seeing a very different reflection, however, she never had the chance to develop haughty airs like the pretty school girls. What happened to the pre-gang banger patrolling employee? She got her prestigious suburban school job where she practices a healthful perspective, because even the worst of days aren't even a shadow of her BEST days teaching in the ghetto. What happened to the desperate, lonely and boyfriend-less girl? Well, Prince Charming may not have arrived yet, but man is it good he didn't five, three, even one year ago because she had a few lessons to learn--namely the stunning realization that the perfect Prince Charming will not never come, so she might as well stop looking for someone that doesn't exist.
As for Adam? Well he became my favorite person in the world. His outlandish (and more PG rated) statements in my classes became fodder for a quote book of one-liners that will get any reader rolling. I still tell the story about our first encounter, but with a smile, as I offer outsiders insight into the twisted world in which I work. A place where I keep on laughing because it's the only way I'll ever survive.
It's the lemons I've been handed and man, they sure do make some sweet lemonade.
So, class, your homework for the day:
Answer the following in complete sentences:
1. What are the trials you have faced or are currently facing?
2. Do you believe your life is organized into a sequence of pre-determined events which may lead to your ultimate good? Why or why not?
Spelling and grammar count.
*Adam's, Brandon's, and all other people's names in future posts have been changed for anonymity's sake.