Life is tough. Always has been, always will be. Sure some folks seem to have runs of good luck that last practically a lifetime. Then, there are folks like me. I’m not complaining. My life has been and continues to be quite good. I’m just saying that I’ve had some difficult times in my life. All of us have. The fact that this will always be the case, at least this side of Heaven, makes what I think is a disturbing and dangerous trend that much more serious. The “let’s make sure nobody has to suffer or get their feelings hurt” trend. I believe that this trend is a major contributing factor to many of the problems we have in America today.
May I offer up my fifth grade year as evidence that the normal, inevitable difficulties of life, even for children, will not irreparably damage us. In fact, when dealt with properly they probably make us better people. The year was 1979. My father, a pastor, had just moved my mom and I to Rockford, Alabama where he had accepted a call to to a local church. We were moving from a little town where we had lived in for three years. I had started the second grade there three years prior and had lots of friends. I attended a tiny school where I was quite content. It was literally like living in a real-life version of Mayberry. Suffice it to say that I had a much harder time making friends as a fifth grader at a new school than I had had as a second grader at a new school. I honestly can’t tell you why this was the case. All I know is that I was picked on mercilessly from day one. Maybe it’s because I was the epitome of a mama’s boy and remain such. It’s really irrelevant today why I stepped into the role of whipping boy. What matters is that I did. What else matters is how that experience went a long way in shaping who I am today as an adult and how I am hopefully teaching my children to live now and in the future when they become adults.
Remember how so many bad teen movies always found the popular kids voting for the kid nobody liked to be homecoming queen or something along those lines? That was me. I was elected to be the class president because everyone thought it would be funny. The worst part is that my teacher didn’t allow me be the president because she knew they were just mocking me and made the class vote again. Needless to say, I lost my second election. A double-whammy of sorts. Class president was a powerful position and might have afforded me the opportunity to exact revenge on my classmates. Or not. Anyway, I won’t give you all the gory details other than to say that I was so miserable that year that I literally tried to break my own ankle on the bus one day so that I could go home. I sat in the seat over the rear wheel and jammed my foot sideways into the corner of where the wheel-well jutted up and put the weight of each of my sixty pounds(if that) fully on it. It only got a little swollen so I was only allowed to go to the lunchroom for a few minutes and sit with some ice on it. I got along much better with the lunchroom ladies than my classmates. It was bad. But as bad as it was, my parents didn’t yank me out of school and send me off to a relative who lived in a better school district. They didn’t go to school with me and cast evil glances at anyone who happened to look at me in a threatening manner. They comforted me and encouraged me and somehow I made it through that year. They taught me the importance perseverance and other lessons I likely wouldn’t have been receptive to learning under different circumstances. Teachable moments, I think they’re called. 1979 was chock full of them.
These days we’ve got school officials who want to, and have in some cases, remove games like dodgeball from P.E. because the bigger, more athletic kids have an advantage over the smaller or less-coordinated kids(read this story for an example) who might lose or have their self-esteem damaged. You know what? They just might! You know what else? It won’t kill them and they’ll recover. I can’t imagine, short of literally getting beaten up or some other terrible physical treatment, that there are many kids who have had as tough a school year as I did in fifth grade. How did it help me? I think it helped me have a heart for the underdog. It taught me to have compassion for those who are struggling while at the same time teaching me that struggling is as much a part of life as breathing. I don’t think we do our children, or anyone else for that matter, any good when our prime objective is to shield them from every hardship or difficulty they might encounter.
Life can be brutally tough sometimes. The concept of social justice, while noble, is unattainable. At least it is in my estimation. The world will forever be populated by the “haves” and the “have-nots” on some level. We don’t have to like it but we have to learn to accept it. We must learn how to lose and then move on so that our failures don’t define us. In fact, maybe our failures can actually motivate us; spur us on to bigger and better things. Getting smashed in the face with one of those big, red balls, both literally and figuratively, while being laughed at by your friends can have that effect sometimes. Just ask these people.