I suffer from a great deal of guilt. There is no horrendous crime I am covering up, nor some dark secret everyday is an escape from. No. No. I am guilty of never living up to what I’d always assumed was my potential.
Obviously this is going to be one of those rare ‘personal’ pieces, these often depressing bouts of self therapy swirled inside of the usual lingual calisthenic exercises everyone of these daytime endeavors provide for me. I have recently been hammering away very hard at both this and my professional writing job, clawing at scabs all over the world, and it seems that I have sank into a deep depression. I have worked so hard at exposing our worldwide hopelessness that the end result has only been a reminder of what I have always believed.
Oh, I research–I am fanatical about uncovering truths and the facts which support them. Perhaps this is what I find so disconsoling: if you search hard enough you can always find something to realize your most vivid nightmares.
But I don’t want to be so negative–I am trying not to be negative. I have noticed a decline in my life (and a curious increase in my readership here) since I have been so utterly down on everyone and everything. Oh, there have been throw away offers of hope, the standard not everyone, and other craven bullshit mostly about trying to convince myself that I do not hate the world.
I have been very busy; I am exhausted. I know that many of you understand that sometimes we get so focused that at first we work ourselves nearly to death–passionate, overwhelmingly focused, and abandoning all of the quieter things in our lives. And then comes the crash, the bipolar collapse that destroys the interest in work while shoving you into the consequences of having abandoned your life. And we ask for forgiveness . . .
Everyone deserves to be forgiven for something, we like to tell ourselves. And yet we make exceptions in our heads, calculating which evil might be beyond redemption. We claim that not everyone should be forgiven (I can certainly think of a few, at the top of the list sexual abuse of a child. Rape, always, and murder–at least in many circumstances. There are of course times when murder is justified, and not always in self-defense. This is, however, a much larger issue I believe we shall cover tomorrow in, “Murder, Morality and the Question of Justice.”–one more thing before leaving the parenthetical: to me animal abuse is unforgivable. See here, and shame these fucking monsters if you recognize them):
So how are we supposed to forgive ourselves for the endless series of wrongs we commit? We are guilty of something daily–some mistake, a blind miscalculation, an insensitive remark made without thinking. We tell jokes that are cruel to the wrong audience, and stand there humiliated sometimes when not getting the reaction we feel we deserve. I’m a writer–I have even gone so far as to call myself an artist (can you believe that? A fucking artist!) I am arrogant. Sometimes I talk down to people. I have tried as hard as I can to not be pretentious, but even that occasionally leaks out, and I hate myself for it.
I have said before that once upon a time I was a high school teacher. It is the most difficult job, by far, that I have ever had. I can think of nothing else that is quite so emotionally draining. People who bitch about the ten weeks of summer that teachers supposedly get off have no idea what they are talking about, believing that, somehow, they have a more difficult job. I have worked in several industries–corporate business, sales, construction in my youth in the brutally hot summer–numerous other physically and mentally exhausting tasks, and nothing comes close to the profound exhaustion teaching for ten months out of the year induces.
Those ten weeks–and remember, teachers are vastly underpaid for the job they suffer through–are usually supplemented by eight weeks or so of summer employment, often at camps, spending even more time with screaming, spoiled children. And the kids are never the worst problem, like so many non-teachers believe. The children are our job. It is the administrations–wracked with incompetence, and the failed teachers who are suddenly in charge of schools. We are broken by the for-profit educational firms paid to alter the curriculum every two or three years. We get instructed on how to teach by twenty-something sales people who haven’t been in a classroom since they slacked off during their final semester at college, and who do not care to understand the social order of the still cliquish world we exist within.
And then there are the parents–the jackasses who, understandably, are going to take their child’s side, but who today, with so much swooping disgust on the faces of every disappointed person who insists that nothing is their or their child’s fault, demand that their child be deified. I once had a kid who smacked another student in the face with the spine of a heavy, hardcover text book. He broke the other student’s nose. He whacked him again before I could get to them. I wrote this up, and the boy was suspended. The next day I had his mother come in–a ragged, raging woman, dragging the now embarrassed student back into the school. She barged into my classroom and started screaming at me. This is verbatim (I have the documentation here beside me, a copy I made apparently to quote at some future moment:)
“Why you lie ’bout my child, motherfucker?”
“You lie an’ say my boy hit some other punk when I know that boy my boy an’ he never do sumthin’ like that. You a lyin’ motherfucker, that all. You a racist!”
Students sitting in the class that had been interrupted were getting nervous, either laughing or staring at this exchange with horror.
“Ma’am, I–” I attempted, but she was having none of it.
“You lyin’! You fuckin’ lyin’ jus’ cause you done like ——-! You a motherfucka! ——- tell me you a shit teacher anyway!”
So there I am, standing there, embarrassed obviously, on stage before the classroom, the incompetent administration somehow oblivious to this invasion, letting her in the school with someone that had to have known was suspended. The assault had been the big story in the school yesterday. Every teacher I spoke with about it repeated that ——- was an asshole. I glanced over at the class and smiled. This seemed to ease them somewhat. I looked back at the woman.
“Do you know what ——- actually did? Do you see the boy that ——- smashed the book into the face of?”
“I done care ’bout that motherfucker! He always been a little shit!”
“Be that as it may,” I agreed, “he’s not here because he’s in the hospital. Apparently ——- broke his nose so badly that —– is having trouble breathing. They’re saying that a piece of bone got lodged in his sinuses.”
I huffed, looked at ——-, who could not look at me. “Why do you believe anything ——- says?”
She looked up. Now I had her attention.
“I mean, you must know that he lies all the time. Do you know . . . do you know what he said about his father?” I was making something up now. I knew that this was a sore spot and so I pounced.
Now she was angry again. I knew that the father (not her husband) was in prison. I knew he was there for some petty theft, something to do with car parts. But the woman clearly hated him. Her eyes narrowed. She seemed to be anxious for the gossip.
“He called his father, and this is a quote, he said ‘my daddy the hardest gangsta there ever been. He run a crew in prison and when he gets out he’s gonna run this fucking city!'” I tried to sound like the white English teacher that I was, but suddenly I was having too much fun. I am a city boy in every respect and this sort of dialogue was not an alien thing. I grew up around it. It is a part of my upbringing. And I think that this woman understood this.
She turned to her son. “Why you even talkin’ ’bout that motherfucka?” She started smacking him in the head, harder and harder until I intervened. He was baffled, perhaps not even sure if he’d said what I’d claimed or not. It was certainly something he could have said.
“Ma’am? Ma’am? Please.” It was all I could say. She stopped.
Somehow this was all it took. The woman said, “I’m sorry Mr. —–.” Then she dragged ——- out by the ear. I had been forgiven. No doubt within a few hours ——- would be forgiven too. He had already forgiven himself.
So why did I tell this story? I believe that it summarizes everything I am trying to get at about forgiveness. The boy with the broken nose, after surgery, returned to school and was something of a celebrity. Formerly unpopular, now he had a whole new group of potential friends. He once told me in private that having his nose busted like that was one of the best things that had ever happened to him in his life. You could see the misshapen wreck on his face and instantly recognize it as a scar of battle, one that he now wore with pride. He forgave the boy who assaulted him. They even became sort of friends.
When I stopped teaching I got a lot of sympathy cards from former students (I was injured rather badly–not in school–and forced to leave the profession). Some of these cards were from students who had never liked me, now several years later. The one that stands with me the most is from a student who frequently used to call me a “fucking asshole” to my face in the classroom (this did not offend me, and actually gave me something to laugh at, so I never bothered disciplining him for such petty nonsense). This kid wrote me a card that asked for my forgiveness. He wrote, “Dear Mr. —–. Back when I was in school I was a real asshole to you. I wanted to say I was sorry. You were the best teacher I ever had. You were the only person who ever told me who I really was. You were right.”
I almost wept, in the hospital, at this beautiful act of contrition from a person I had not thought about in years. I cling to this card now, today. And I realize, I must realize, that we all need forgiveness (except for those pieces of shit who cut the dog’s ears off. Those motherfuckers . . .)