When I was in fifth grade, I got sent to the principal’s office for being disrespectful. Since the principal of the school was a soft-hearted young nun with zero ability to threaten a butterfly, the real disciplinarian of the school was the principal’s assistant, who was also the school secretary.
And also my mother.
Mom was the school secretary from my first through eighth year of school at St. Bernard’s Parish School, and when I graduated from there and moved on to St. Joseph High School for Girls, she wound up being the school secretary over there, too.
But that’s another story for another time. Back to fifth grade.
When I slunk down to the office to report my transgression, I spent the walk muttering under my breath about the injustice of adult idiocy, the unfairness of having to wear uniforms that made us look like plaid potato sacks, and most of all, the complete ridiculousness of having to sit in alphabetical order. My last name was Schmitt, therefore I sat in row seven, seat eight, all the way at the back of the room by the pencil sharpener.
When I arrived at the office, my mother was surprised to see me. I am eternally grateful that, rather than immediately punishing me with detention for my sins, she asked what the teacher said I had done.
“I was reading,” I replied.
“How do you get sent to the office for reading?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “when I want to see what’s on the blackboard, I close my left eye and read with my right, then when I want to write it down on my paper, I close my right eye and use my left to see the page. But stupid Mrs. Davison thinks I’m WINKING AT HER.”
There was a long silence. “You do…what?”
Then I explained what I had been doing since first grade, since every class in which we were seated alphabetically and I had developed this ingenious technique to remain an A student with a perfect record of deportment. No big deal.
And that’s how we found out I was a wonky eyed anomaly of nature, as oddly equipped as a chameleon. I was fitted with glasses for astigmatism with both nearsightedness and farsightedness – one in each eye.
I wish I could say that Mrs. Davison apologized, but she didn’t. I wish I could say I let it go and didn’t resent it a bit for the rest of the year, but I didn’t. From that day on, we were polite and respectful to each other, but I believe deep down we each distrusted the other with a barely perceptible hostility muted by Christian ethics.
Mrs. Davison was not the most popular teacher in school, but she was a good one. We actually kind of liked her, as teachers go. But of course, she daily had to deal with the budding hormones and irritable, annoying behavior of thirty-five 12 year olds, five days a week. She not only had to deal with disrespect, she actively began hunting for it like a heat seeking missile, to detonate it safely like unexploded ordnance – even when it wasn’t actually there.
Right now, in the middle of COVID 19 we are all out there, seeking our own things. Some are seeking innovative solutions, others merry distractions; still others seek pure scientific data. Some seek new ways to do familiar tasks. Some are looking for the big Truth with a capital T. Some seek solace in the beauty of nature, the peacefulness of prayer, or the heartening resilience and kindness of humanity at its best.
And of course, there are those seeking confirmation, like Mrs. Davison, of their own fear of being disrespected, lied to, used as pawns in some complicated political plot. Seeking a way to say to themselves, “See? We were right. They ARE trying to screw us. They DON’T care.”
The thing is – I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Davison was a life lesson for me. For whatever reasons you have, what you seek really is what you will find. Even if you have to work very hard to make it up so you can finally see it. Even if it makes you feel terrible. Even if it isn’t true.
I guess my challenge to myself is this – what will I go looking for today? Do I want to go hunting for good news? Hopeful developments? Opportunities to make a difference, to fight off the feelings of jealousy and insignificance when I see my work compared to others? Do I want to give in to that insidious voice that says I’m being lied to, missing out on something critical, being played for a fool, about to be threatened by an unknown and indefensible foe?
Today I think I shall seek some carbs.
I don’t think Mrs. Davis consciously meant to go looking for bad behavior, but she did it every day anyway by habit. She was seeking confirmation of our lack of respect, to feed the fears she had about herself that made no sense to us, even as we made no sense to her. I understand better now, having faced my share of middle-schoolers, the fear can be real. But the threat rarely is.
Jesus was right when he said, “Seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
I think the trick is to know what you are seeking for, before you start walking through open doors.