A smile is just a frown turned upside down. I’m sure you have heard that phrase before. Perhaps your mom consoled you or cheered you up when you a child by saying those words and demonstrated a happy face by putting her fingers in the corner of her mouth until you made a big toothy grin. I don’t remember growing up with anything but a smile on my face; maybe I was just a happy child. I was an only child, and didn’t lack for anything, but I wasn’t spoiled either. Money wasn’t plentiful when I was growing up, but I never knew that until I got older. I was happy-go-lucky until age 10 when I was somewhat traumatized by the move to the United States because I had to say goodbye to my friends and I loved school. When I started school here in the U.S. in the Fall of ’66, I was placed in sixth grade and I found the schoolwork was way behind what I had learned several years before. I was very bored and I hated the teacher who ridiculed my Canadian accent, my use of Oxford English and my pronunciations of some words. Much to my chagrin, he made me read aloud to the class while he criticized me and my classmates howled in laughter. I despised Mr. Schreiber and was disgusted with my peers who often ganged up on me on the way home simply because I was different from them, i.e. a foreigner. The bullying continued in middle school on a near-daily basis in the girl’s bathroom at Huff Junior High, and this round still included a teacher, but this time I was paddled several times a week for things I never did or said. Many times on a whim, she would call me by my last name and say “out in the hall” and many times she paddled me based on the hearsay of my peers. Her class “pet” would report that while Ms. Barany was out of the room Linda Schaub did such incorrigible deeds as chew gum, throw spitballs, pass notes or talk while others were studying. The truth was I never spoke to anyone and stayed to myself, but that didn’t matter because the teacher returned, read the “list” and I was soon invited to step out into the hall and bend over. Then came the whack from her big paddle. While the paddle stung and smarted, “smart” was not the word that I was becoming, because while at Huff in seventh grade my grades dropped to an all-time low. My parents could not understand what happened because I was on the honor roll in Canada and double-promoted one entire school year. I had Ms. Barany for three and half hours a day: for English, History, Study Hall and Homeroom – it made my seventh grade school year intolerable. I muddled through each day the best I could and refused to tell my parents what happened at school and the kids never beat me up where bruises would be evident. One time they broke my glasses and my parents punished me for being careless and letting the frame break. My father had a volatile temper and I worried he would come to the school and all h*ll would break loose. On the Monday after Easter break, I went to school and before first period, Ms. Barany took me aside and said I would be expelled for making obscene telephone calls to her home on Easter Sunday. I asked to be escorted to the principal’s office where I called my mother and told her to have my father leave work right away and to come with him. We gathered an hour later – my father, not unexpectedly, exploded in anger alternatively between the principal, teacher and then me for not saying anything to him. My whereabouts on Easter was corroborated by my parents and also by a phone call with neighbors whom had invited our family to their house for the holiday dinner. So, it was not me, but my teacher, who was forced to end the school year that day. She did not return while I was still at Huff Junior High. Finally, the taunting by teachers and relentless pummeling by my peers was over.
I bring this story up because the whole event tarnished my school days from the Fall of 1966 through the Spring of 1968. Now, I cringe every time I hear the public service announcements on how to stop or report bullying. Especially poignant is the radio ad with teens talking about their rough times at school and the name calling by their peers. I empathize with the many kids who have to deal with school bullies. It ain’t fun. I think it is worse now because of social media. If kids were hurtful 45 years ago, imagine a world today when bullying is not just physical, but oral, or written, showing up as videos or posts on social media. Teenagers commit suicide nowadays, not only because of pictures or words on social media, but because they deem themselves unpopular because they lack as many Facebook friends as their classmates. It is a sad commentary on our society. These painful school days, or maybe I should say school “daze”, are fresh in my mind since walking past Hoover Elementary School on Tuesday and then past the Lincoln Park Middle School and High School yesterday, I glanced at and studied the faces of the many school kids I saw. It seemed to me the only kids who showed spirit, who were laughing and jumping around, and acting like “kids” were those at the elementary school. They were in high spirits in anticipation of their school day. The school bell rang at 8:00 a.m. and they streamed into the door, just unencumbered by anything but being a kid. Often, while walking, I come face-to-face with groups of teens enroute to school. They walk as a group, or some alone, and there is no laughter. They walk together, yet are alone – they are looking down at their phones half the time. And when they are not looking down they have a sullen look – an attitude. Why do all these kids look so d*mn angry? Why does it seem that every one of them is wearing a hangdog look? Why are perpetual pouts pasted on their young faces? Why are they wearing a scowl? What are you all so angry about? Their swagger and attitude belies their age. Where are the joyful expressions that these youths should be wearing since school is out in one week and a long vacation is just around the corner? Looking at these kids, day after day, makes me want to drag out the tired old expression from my father that was given ad nauseum whenever I complained about homework or tests. The perpetual lecture given to me was that “school is easy, you’ve got it made right now, so enjoy it while you can; just wait until you are an adult in the cold, cruel world” … well, that was probably the sole piece of advice that I ever received from my father. Once the cruel antics of my teachers and classmates stopped, I was finally free to enjoy the rest of my school years unhindered by those idiots who tormented me. I never again became the stellar student that I was in Canada – a culmination of all these events recited above never brought my scholastic aptitude back to that point, and I was just an average student going forward. But, all this heartache aside, I was never sullen or ornery and school was just one of those rites of passage that you had to do. I just shake my head as I look around me and wonder why this perpetual chip on the shoulder permeates the attitude of our young people? I saw students being dropped off by parents and before the car pulled up, the kids seem to sit in a semi-catatonic state, next to their parent, never even talking. The car stops, they hop out, slam the door and away they go – not even as much as a “goodbye” or “thank you” escapes their lips. Some kids want to be dropped off blocks before – that I see as well. I guess the lack of civility in the world bothers me a great deal because I would have never had the nerve to brush off or ignore my parents and “get away with it” so I conclude that respect is lacking in our world today. Kids walk along the street, either tuned in to their iPod or texting away, oblivious to the world around them. They walk along, hoodie-encased heads down and shoulders hunched. Yet, many times as I walk in the morning, older people pass on the sidewalk and there are always greetings and salutations. There is often a quick exchange of pleasantries, a comment on the weather or some similar topic. Maybe the art of conversation has been relegated to the older set now, and I include myself in that group. I shudder to think of the future young people after they are launched into the world and must meld into the workplace and interact face-to-face instead of via a digital device. It is indeed a scary thought. There is too much dissatisfaction among the masses. I think a lot of people take life for granted. I am reminded of a newspaper clipping my mom tore out and gave to me many, many years ago. She told me to read it and carry it around with me and one day there would be occasion to hand it to someone to “smarten them up” with a little advice. My mom was always dispensing wisdom but this little gem said it all. I folded it up and carried it in my wallet for years until it literally fell apart, but I have tracked this verse down on the internet and am putting it below this post. I wish everyone could read it and abide by it.
P.S. Before I climbed upon my soapbox to write this post, I managed to squeeze in a two-mile walk today, all the while fretting and stewing as I meandered along while trying to make sense about life’s SUPPOSED inequities. (Smile)
“The World Is Mine”
Today upon a bus I saw a maiden with golden hair.
I envied her, she seemed so happy. I wish I was so fair.
Then suddenly as she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had but one foot and used a crutch, as she passed she gave a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I have two feet, the world is mine.
Then I stopped to buy some sweets. The lad who sold them was kind.
He said to me, “It’s nice to talk to folks like you.”
“You see”, he said, “I’m blind.”
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I have two eyes, the world is mine.
And then I saw a girl her eyes so blue. It seemed she knew not what to do.
I said to her, “Why don’t you join the others, dear?”
She looked ahead without a word, then I knew she had not heard.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I have two ears to hear, the world is mine.
With feet to take me where I go,
With eyes to see the sunset glow,
With ears to hear what I would know,
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I’m blessed indeed, the world is mine.