As we unravel the fabric of our personal story, we are left with a mixed bag. This is the time for a spiritual guy like me to come clean – to make amends for unruly behavior. The urgency to make things right stems from an aging process that leaves me feeling vulnerable when I look at the landscape of my life. I need closure from the times in my life when I “missed the mark.”
My children have heard my “sordid” stories because I used them as teachable moments for behaviors to avoid. I typically tried to provide “real-life” stories about my misdeeds and those of others as a way of promoting character-building qualities. This concept failed quite miserably, because my kids followed in my footsteps anyway.
When I was a young teenager, my parents departed for a business trip. I was left behind in the care of my older brother. Like most teenagers, I yearned for the day that I would turn sixteen so that I could move through the rite-of-passage of getting behind the wheel of an automobile. For me, that day didn’t come fast enough and those keys hanging near the front door presented a serious temptation. Without considering consequences (a typical problem for kids), I took off on a joy ride with my friend Chrissie. I was feeling very adult-like until we cruised through a neighboring town as a police officer was traveling toward me in the opposite direction. Chrissie spotted the cop and freaked out. I responded by over-turning onto a side street and nearly ending up in the front yard of a nearby house.
The officer spotted my brilliant move and pulled me over. After asking me the question I didn’t want to hear, “Son, can I see your license?” we were escorted to the local police station. My brother came to the station where we were released into his custody. “Wait until Mom and Dad get home,” Rick kept repeating. I wanted to hide under a rock and stay there indefinitely. I wrote a long “how could I have done this” letter prior to my parents return. I even included various punishment options within the letter’s body. When my parents returned home they received the news from my brother. Although they were not as angry as I expected, they indicated that I was to appear in court to respond to my behavior. I remember that fateful day when my father and I made our way to the county courthouse where I was vigorously lectured by the judge and then released to my father because I said that I would never to stupid tricks again.
Chrissie was a chatter-box, so the news of our adventure permeated the halls of our high school. We instantly became risk-taking, law-breaking heroes. It is interesting how teenagers can reframe things and make behaviors appear so awesome, even back in the days of my youth. I still have my high school yearbook which is full of quips about the “adventure,” “the ride,” and the good-natured teasing about my anti-social behavior.
That same school year, I took Latin because my parents thought it would help me with all those long medical terms. For some inexplicable reason, my Latin class was inhabited by all the “jocks” from every imaginable sport (no girls allowed). Things were complicated by the fact that the teacher was a first year rookie who was also the head cross-country coach. Mr. P. was known by many in the class for his coaching skills. No classroom introductions were necessary. The class period was split due to a lunch period which was squeezed into the middle of Latin.
The split-class option with lunch posed various sneaky “boys will be boys” possibilities. We brought red Jell-O back from lunch and conveniently placed it on page thirty two of Tony P.’s Latin book. I think this translation page was about Caesar’s Gallic wars. I remember Mr. P. retorting in his nasal tone, “Boys, your not being very funny at all.” On another occasion, we tortured our poor teacher by taking the onions out of our hamburgers and putting them in the radiator of the classroom before he arrived. Then we waited… As the aroma permeated the air, Mr. P. responded with, “Boys, I don’t think that was a very wise thing to do.” In spite of our antics, we actually formed a very positive relationship with Mr. P.
In the mid 1990’s, more than thirty years after the fact, I learned how potent a legacy I had left behind. At that time, I worked as Director of Guidance and Counseling for a midwestern high school. I was charged with the responsibility of helping formulate a new comprehensive guidance plan for our school. In order to accomplish the task, a colleague and I visited various exemplary school models throughout the state – one of them which happened to be my old alma mater. As I visited my school as an alumni, memories of my past began to envelope me. When we entered the counseling department office, we were greeted by retired counselors who were volunteering as part of their retirement package. When I mentioned my name and that I had attended the school decades ago, the gentleman laughed. The counselor replied, “We have heard of you and your antics along with some of your classmate’s behavior.” “Throughout the years, your story has repeatedly been mentioned by alumni and the Latin teacher.” I said, “This is quite amazing. “Is Tony still teaching here?” “He certainly is and you will find him in the teacher’s lounge.” the volunteer remarked.
As I entered the teacher’s lounge with my co-worker, I immediately sat down to have lunch. After we ate, I looked around the room to find Tony. I asked a teacher where he was sitting and as I moved toward his table I noticed the older version of my teacher. I introduced myself, but it was unnecessary. Tony grasped my arms and immediately began laughing. It was his last year of teaching and we sat at that table and he reminisced with his colleagues about a story that has touched so many lives.
Forgive me God – there will be potholes in my legacy! All of my memories constitute the nature of who I am. They remind me of my humanity and the ways in which I touched the lives of others for better or worse. I have one story. I don’t have the choice to take parts back. I just hope that in the end that I am appreciated for the sum total of all its parts.