I’ll never forget roll call on that first day of 9th grade English class.
Immediately after my balding, bearded, charismatic teacher in rounded spectacles—whom I’ll refer to as Mr. G—read my name from the roster, and I meekly said, “here,” he looked up at me, walked toward my desk located five rows back along the wall, and announced, “Class, I’d like you all to meet the younger sister of one of my favorite students.”
Yep, that was my debut into English class that first year of high school.
Mr. G was one of those teachers you wanted to please. His big, Carpe Diem personality towered over his petite physical stature. If he saw something special in you, a kernel of greatness—well, that was really something.
That sister he was referring to as a favorite was two grades above me. She’d been the only one of my slew of siblings who had him as a teacher up until that point.
It didn’t surprise me she was one of his favorites. She’s smart, vibrant, outgoing, and makes things happen. I’m no slug or dummy, although sometimes it’s an uphill battle for the left side of my brain to keep up with my right side, but I would’ve preferred to eat a whole Serrano pepper than raise my hand and ask a question in front of the whole class.
I loved and admired my sister. Still do. So much, as I do all of my eight siblings. Each of them astonishes me with their plethora of God-given gifts and graciousness. I’m not kidding. But because this particular sister is the one right above me in birth order, it was her shadow I felt most often in. And I spent much of my childhood painfully envious of her.
No fault of hers. She didn’t try to overshadow me. She was simply being who she wonderfully is. And, as a matter of fact, she looked out for me in the hallways with the ferociousness of a tiger. If anyone dared pick on me at school (which happened in minor ways a couple times), she was fully prepared to turn them into mincemeat.
Regardless, I felt doomed to failure in English class after roll call that day. The bar had been set, and in my juvenile mind, there was nowhere for me to go but down. Fortunately, however, it was not math or science class—my nemeses, my torments. It was English class—a subject in which I could hold my own, a place where I had some chance to shine.
Determined to prove myself worthy in Mr. G’s eyes, I poured myself into topic sentences and paragraphs and transitions and analysis of the classics. I even raised my hand in class from time to time. In spite of my efforts, I never did become one of his favorites. That’s not the vibe I got from him anyhow. But on the last day of class, when he called me up to his desk to hand me back my final paper—which, I’d like you to know, had a big fat A marked on it with black felt marker—he said to me, and I’ll never forget it, “Kid, I’d put money on you any day.”
That put a spring in my step, for a little while at least. Despite his quirkiness, Mr. G was a good guy and a tremendous teacher. But, 30+ years later, now that I’m a mother of a 9th grader and two future 9th graders, wanting nothing more than for my children to soar, I wish I hadn’t placed my worth in someone else’s grip like that. I am who I am, and I wish I’d known then that was enough.
There are few things more gratifying in life than looking back and realizing you’ve made progress. Eating a gooey, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookie rates pretty high, too, but its bounty is rather short-lived in comparison.
Progress comes in many forms, of course. The type of progress I’m thinking about today is progress in our perspective.
Although perspective is intangible, not something we can cross off a list, there is a very practical test to measure its progress. If what bothered you yesterday no longer bothers you today, or if a particular negativity that used to permeate through your veins and brain structures—stirring up anxiety, envy, resentment or fear—now bounces off you like a ping-pong ball, congratulations! You’ve made progress in perspective (well, unless someone turned you into a mannequin. Stuff bounces off those, too).
I’m happy to say I’ve gained a little perspective since 9th grade English class roll call. I’ve since learned what a soul-zapping waste of energy it is to compare ourselves to others, be consumed by envy, or base our worth on the opinion of another. We all have a unique contribution, something we’re meant to do here that no one else is. There are lots and lots of things I don’t know, but that’s one I know for certain.
Love these song lyrics written by Susan Kay Wyatt, inspired by THE TWELVE GIFTS OF BIRTH by Charlene Costanzo.
“Every child born
Comes into the world
In a wonderous moment of glory
And the truth we come to know
As we live and love and grow
Is the gift that opens our story.”
I linked-up this post with the wonderful group of writers at Finish Your Sentence Friday, hosted by the one and only Kristi Rieger Campbell.
UPCOMING ANTHOLOGY! CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS! I’m so excited to be co-curating an exciting new anthology relevant to so many of our lives with Christine Organ. Click here.
I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom of three and freelance writer. I launched this blog Carvings On A Desk in 2015. It’s where I connect with my own voice, write the stories down, and doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace. To see my other recent posts, click here.