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09 September 2007

Pied Beauty

As a general rule this is not a blog about my religious thoughts or experiences, but today is different. There are moments when a cluster of people or experiences, seemingly random, suddenly make sense in a way both instructive and, perhaps more importantly, sublime. The Christian among us describe this as Grace, something we are offered all the time, but rarely are smart enough to see, or receive. Today I had one of those moments, while at church, though I was hardly prepared for it. But suddenly the up and down nature of the past week, the potentially miraculous and the depressingly imperfect, came alive for me in a new way.

The optimism from Week #1 at school seemed to slowly dissipate all during Week #2 as the pressures of too-much-work-not-enough-time became reality (typical for this point in the year), poor behavior and absences already started to become manifest, and the oppressive heat/drought conditions continued here, with no relief in sight. On both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons my fourth period was difficult to get under control, and I was down on myself for poor classroom management. Gilgamesh hasn't exactly been revving my engines, or my students', up (this is the first, and maybe the last time for ole' Gil and me in the classroom). My planning periods are shortened due to homeroom, and my grading load was piling up. I wasn't getting enough sleep, and my son's t-ball team, for which I'm assistant coaching, was even lethargic and apathetic during Wednesday evening's practice (the chubby kid - there is always one -kept telling me how much he didn't want to be there).

Friday morning was the low point for the week. A homeroom student asked if I prayed, and told me his grandmother was dying of brain cancer. I told him I did, but didn't truthfully qualify it - I pray poorly, on-the-run, or sleepily with the lights out. Another homeroom kid who normally seems sweet completely threw me off kilter when she angrily snapped at me for calling the "band move" she was demonstrating a "dance move" ("It's not a dance move, its a band move!"). Later I was mad at myself for not upbraiding her, at least in private, or retorting sarcastically (I'm not above it), but I was actually too stunned to respond. Then first period was a mess - I made a joke that fell flat, and suddenly felt self-conscious. I was uninspiring and even sweating, and just didn't feel in command until late in the period.

Yet, the day, had its triumphs that I was happy to ignore at the time. Fourth period, which is full of so many distractions, was good, even sweet. They are never going to be great, but I expected much worse on a Friday afternoon. Both English classes got into a word brainstorming exercise, and yearbook continues to be fun - a diverse group of personalities so far working well together. I had a nice talk with an asst. principal at lunch duty - the guy will probably be the next principal, and seems the right kind of person for the job: steady-as-she-goes, friendly but stern.

And during the week I started hearing from some of my favorites from school #1 via e-mail. Aside from hearing about two fights in one morning before the bell even rang, I had this from a senior who is as close to my heart as any student has been: "I'm very glad to hear that your liking where you are now... 'cause you know it would be a shame to leave where people absolutely ADORE you, and not be appreciated now."

The miraculous, and the imperfect. Today we were late for church, as usual, and got in just in time for a flawless sermon on Paul's Epistle to Philemon, something I've never stopped to notice, I think: Paul and a runaway slave are incarcerated in a dirty jail cell, and discover that the slave's master is a convert who Paul himself evangelized. The short letter Paul writes to the slave's master, on behalf of his cell mate, is a "love letter", perhaps the greatest "love letter". But the sappy, 1967-ish hymn after the sermon is a huge letdown - redeemed only by the bell accompaniment (I wish we could have just heard the bells). While we were listening to the sermon, my son quietly pouted - bottom lip jutted out, angry eyebrows - for being told to keep quiet. Periodically I coax him closer until he finally sits on my lap for the morning prayer. During the offering, the choir, with winds accompaniments, sang a rousing rendition of an American classic, "Simple Gifts". The choir director's son, three or four years old, trotted out in his tiny Sunday suit and, during the chorus, tapped the glockenspiel on the off beat - losing his timing only once, and then picking it back up. The past few days seemed transformed right there, and all the week's emotions found their way to my eyes and throat.

It was our turn during Sunday school to serve the special adult class for those afflicted with Down's Syndrome and other illnesses and retardations. Some are loud and disruptive, some restless, some obsessive - most are barely intelligible in their speech. My son loves when we do this - he loves to come in and help us serve snacks to them, though he's not quite sure what to make of them. One day I'll tell him, these are the ones at the top of the heavenly-leading steps in Flannery O'Connor's story "Revelation". From imperfect to miraculous.

When we got home we heard, coming down the street, the unmistakable tones of an ice cream truck - the first we've seen here all summer. Oh, and the forecast (at least for now) is calling for blessed rain by Wednesday.


Beth said...

Thank you for this lovely post. I do believe that there are manifestations of God's grace all about us on a regular basis that we fail to see and hear. How wonderful that you recognized them! By the way, I enjoy your blog. Your writing is vivid and witty. I wish I could have had an English teacher like you in high school.

School Master P said...

Thanks Beth! I don't think I can get a better compliment than that. Thanks for tuning in.