I’m gonna buck the inevitable trend and not write something about E2 being down and how I spent my time. Needless to say, I missed the place and the users a great deal and am happy that things are back to “normal”.
I think I did something nice the other day. (Which by now, is over a month ago...sheesh!)
Did you ever take pause to reflect on your life and realize what influences certain people might have had on you? As I’m rapidly approaching my 50’s (ouch!) and had some “down time” at work, I had the occasion to do just that. I thought about my bygone days of grammar school and even though I had done this type of thing on many an occasion, for some reason I decided to look up on old teacher of mine. But first, a little back round music…
Being the product of a so-called Catholic education, most my early teachers were brothers in the Franciscan order and were basically of the cookie-cutter variety. I don’t think you need to attend Catholic school or be the product of a private education to know what I’m talking about. They consisted of teachers who seemed disinterested and had there own agenda, the ones who could barely wait for the 3:00 bell to ring so they could dismiss us and get on with their lives. The ones who, instead of educating, thought it was their job to ridicule you into learning or to dole out punishments for imagined infractions of school policies. The ones you sorta lived in fear of as you passed them by in the hallways as they gave that holier than thou condescending nod that barely acknowledged your existence. In retrospect, the message that they (or most of them) sent seemed to say “You are here for me” rather than the other way around.
He was the youngest teacher in the school and he cut somewhat of a dynamic figure when compared to the rest of the staff. . His methods were considered unorthodox for the time and there was an undercurrent of resentment from other members of the faculty that was apparent to even to us ignorant little 7th and 8th graders. Little shits that we were, at the time we didn’t realize how lucky we were to have him as our teacher and, as our friend.
During grammar school, the noon lunch hour meant wolfing down some putrid food from the cafeteria and bolting out to the schoolyard to shoot some hoops. It served as a brief respite from the classroom that seemed to always be overcrowded (35-40 per room), and either too hot or too cold. We were free from the teaching staff unless the occasional disagreement blossomed into a full fledged fistfight and they would come swooping out of the doors hell bent on restoring peace to the playground. That all seemed to change when Brother XXXXXX started to do things differently.
Rather than spend time with his fellow teachers, Brother XXXXXX started hanging around the schoolyard. At first, we were a little dismayed and his presence seemed like an intrusion into what was supposed to be “our time”. Almost like a shy little child who is wary of getting to know other the children, he would stand off to the sidelines, looking somewhat disinterested but all the while, keeping a wary eye on his potential friends. The only difference was that he was dressed in the brown robes of his order and the lit cigarette that he held cupped in his hands. It was if he was trying to avoid detection, I don’t know if it was from us (the kids) or from his fellow teachers and I guess I never will.
Just like the shy kid I described earlier or some kind of timid animal, as time went by he neared closer and closer to the proceedings. Finally, one day the ball we were playing with came his way and rather than toss it back to us, he took a couple of dribbles and in what seemed like an effortless motion, drained a shot from the top of the key. We had never seen even another Brother at the school even attempt such a thing and to see him do it dressed in his robes is an image that has lived with me up to this day. It wasn’t long before he began critiquing our games and offering up some tips on how to improve our play. Besides earning the earning the unofficial nickname of “Coach” he had earned our respect. He even started playing full time in the three on three pick up games we indulged ourselves in. Although, I kinda think he took it easy on us, he never failed to point out our mistakes and always seemed to encourage the concept of ‘sportsmanship. None of that “in your face” style of play that is so prevalent today would ever be tolerated.
I was fortunate enough to draw Brother XXXXXX as my full-time teacher for the next two years. His classroom style was no different from that in which he initially displayed on the playground. There seemed to be no method to his style and he didn’t seem too fond of sticking to a particular regimen or curriculum. He would often start his classes off with something like “Okay, what do you guys (it was all male in the 7th and 8th grades, we were, after all getting to the hormonal stage and the school separated the girls from the boys) want to learn today?” Huh? No lesson plan, no reciting chapters from Catechism or memorized spelling words, no being called up to the chalkboard and having your lack of knowledge flaunted in front of the class? What the hell was going on?
Usually the topic would turn to the events of the day. The Vietnam War was still in full swing as were the protests in our neighborhood and around the country. Pollution and the environment were also a big deal back then as were Richard M. Nixon’s bid for re-election and race relations. Usually, as kids, we would spew out whatever viewpoints our parents held and were never called upon to think for ourselves. Growing up in what can best be described as a “conservative” household, I held firmly to my parents take on thing. Here they are in brief…
War = Good, Protestors = Communist Hippie Faggots, Pollution/Environment = Hoax, Nixon = Saint and “Niggers, Spics, and Jews” = Bad. (Italians and Irish were okay because they were quiet although I think there were reservations about the Chinese and other Asian people though.)
While not directly contradicting my parents, and other parents as well, Brother XXXXXX taught me how to look at life through a different set of eyeballs and to form a new perspective. One that was my own. He taught me to think that matters of such importance are usually best handled by clear thought and not knee jerk reactions. That a rush to judgment is usually a rush in the wrong direction.
Brother XXXXXX teaching was not limited to the schoolyard and the classroom. In the evenings, he would stroll through the neighborhood and encounter kids hanging out and start shooting the shit with them. It used to be a familiar sight. From a distance, you would see him walking down the block, robes and all, he would be accompanied by five or six of students. We weren’t kissing his ass looking for better grades, we were looking for insights and wisdoms on how to deal with the world we were bound to inherit and inhabit. He never turned down our requests for just such things.
It wasn’t long before I, and I imagine, many others, began taking our “new” philosophy home. Needless to say, it wasn’t received well and Brother XXXXXX was soon the topic and the target of many of the parents.
I guess popularity, especially among the young, has its price. Brother XXXXXX didn’t seem willing to change his ways and he lasted only a couple of more years at our school. Nothing scandalous mind you, more of the “You don’t fit in here” kind of thinking that he was so adamant to free his pupils from probably finally got the better of him. With little fanfare or much protest, he was soon gone and answers to questions about his whereabouts were addressed in vague terms.
As I mentioned, I’ve thought about Brother XXXXXX many times in the ensuing years. I did a Google search and found a Brother by the same name teaching back in Brooklyn, New York, my old stomping grounds. After a little thought I fired off an E-mail, the text of which read…
I know this is going to sound like an odd request but do you know if this is the same Brother XXXXX that might have taught at Our Lady of Angels in Brooklyn, New York many years ago? If it is, please pass on my heartfelt thanks for I was one of his students (7th and 8th grade) and the impact he had on me then as a teacher has stuck with me for the rest of my life. I think of him often and would just like to pass along my gratitude for teaching me to look at things with an open mind and a caring heart. Those values, as well as countless others were not being instilled in my home and I am eternally grateful for his patience, wisdom and kindness to what was then a pretty bratty kid.
I'm sorry if your Brother XXXXX is not the one I'm referring to but I just felt the need to pass on some very belated thanks to a man who changed my life for the better.
Borgo – aka me (I think I graduated OLA in 1972)
I haven’t heard back yet but if I do I’ll probably node it…
One last thing if you’re still with me. Remember back in the beginning of this w/u when I mentioned that I thought I did a nice thing? Well, even if it’s not “my” Brother XXXXXX, I still think I did. I related the story to borgette the other night and she thought it was pretty “cool”. And you know what, today, I’ve got a bounce in my step and tune in my head that wasn’t there from the day before. I don’t know how long that will last but for the time being, I think the feeling comes from the fact that I know that at least I’ve tried to say thanks. Take that for what it’s worth…
Note: As of this writing, I still haven’t heard back. I still feel good about my intentions though…