Mrs. Miller had a great sense of humor. On our class field trip to the post office, my classmates asked her the name of her husband (Mr. Miller, she said), and asked how old she was (87, she said, claiming that she had been born in 1900). Mrs. Miller was also quite strict, and over the years, I've gleaned the greatest lessons from teachers who aren't afraid to challenge me, even when it has taken me a while to appreciate their message.
I was a chubby kid. I hated playing outside. I had no athletic ability and no hand-eye coordination. But God how I loved school...and books...and writing stories...and um, telling people, especially adults, how much I knew about stuff. But sometimes, as Mrs. Miller gently taught me, it is best not to show off in such a way.
(Adult man checks in with that 2nd grade boy inside him and asks, "Are you sure you're okay for me to write this?" Adult man sees 2nd grade boy giving him a thumbs-up and a big smile).
We received report cards at the end of each marking period. We weren't graded on a scale from A to F, but rather, if we demonstrated competency in a particular area, our report card showed a C. And there, under "class participation" on the right side of my tri-folded yellow-colored quadruplicate report card at the end of the second marking period, was a mark -- M/C.
I can't remember what M/C meant as an abbreviation. Might be competent? May be competent? Minimal competency? Ouch. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good. And when my parents asked about the M/C (rather than the fact that I had gotten a C in every other subject) I think I went so far as to tell them that Mrs. Miller had made a mistake on my report card. That was me. 7 1/2 with attitude to boot.
Of course, my parents didn't buy my excuses. They were quite disappointed that I would think that a teacher of all people would mark me down on something (I know! Perish the thought!), and off I went the next morning to ask Mrs. Miller why I had received an M/C.
"You call out in class, Paul," Mrs. Miller explained.
"Give your classmates a chance to speak. Remember to raise your hand."
Cue the tears and the theme music for the end of the world. I. Wasn't. Perfect. My life was over. So done. Finished. With that M/C on my permanent record, I would never succeed. Boohoo!
"You can work on this, you know. Just try a bit harder. I know you can do it."
I became destined to prove to Mrs. Miller that I could do it. When it wasn't my turn to speak, I sat on my hands, or I crossed my hands on my desk and sat patiently. When I wanted to say something, I made sure to raise my hand.
At the end of the third marking period, I got on the bus, pulled my report card out of its manila envelope, looked immediately at the right hand column and noticed under "class participation" that I had earned a C. Phew. Crisis averted. I can be perfect again.
I thought back to that M/C this morning and I let out the deepest and most beautiful belly laugh that I've had in a long time. And all throughout the day, I've had this wide, goofy smile on my face, thinking back to myself at 7 1/2, (sarcastically) to that know-it-all-boy who called out in class. He was so horrible. Unforgivable. Irredeemable. No future for him. Destined to be a failure. (I'm joking).
I keep laughing at him and I can feel him laughing back. What an unmistakable joy it is to be able to look at a situation in life that doesn't go our way, a moment from which we learn something significant, and then, in a moment of reminiscence, just simply let go and laugh, with a human reaction as honest and profoundly true as the tears that we cry when we feel sad.
The lesson of that M/C still rings true today. How and when do we choose to share our knowledge and with whom? When do we remember to respectfully raise our hand? What happens when we speak out of turn? Maybe sometimes, instead of being the ones to speak, we need to let our classmates have that opportunity.
None of us get it right all the time. Most days we go through earning our C and demonstrating competency. Sometimes, when we speak out of turn, we need to ask and seek forgiveness, or show grace to someone else who is having a bad moment and who uses their own words insensitively. Getting an M/C in "life participation" from time-to-time isn't such a bad thing. Such a mark reminds us that all of us have room for improvement, and those who remind us of this lesson, like Mrs. Miller, can often be our greatest teachers.
Sometimes (thankfully, not always) we look back on moments in life that seem so wholly awful, moments beyond words, moments that make us cry out with our hands raised, whether it is our turn or not. Other moments are quite plainly, only worthy ofan M/C. And we can look back to those experiences, learn and grow, and maybe, holding our inner child, just let loose and laugh at ourselves.
Go ahead. You know you want to. No, no, I didn't tell you to laugh at me! I told you to laugh at yourself! Oops! I forgot to raise my hand...