I had a crazy thing happen to me this month. My middle son and daughter are in their high school’s marching band. (Don’t talk to me about how old I feel right now, with my youngest in high school). Of course, since both of them are in the band, we are heavily involved. My wife is the band boosters’ secretary and I am working in the pit crew; we carry all the equipment to the field.
This means we show up early to band events and help. A month ago we showed up for a football game because the band was playing during the game and at halftime. I was driving my truck, so I parked in an open spot a little further afield so that I would be able to fit. I was coming from work and my wife was coming from home, so we met at the school; she brought me a change of clothes so I could be warm and comfortable. I saw her pull into the parking lot and went over to her car to get my clothes. I thought I would be able to go back to my truck and change in the back seat. As I made my way to the truck I saw that the parking lot had filled around it and another truck was parked next to me. Curiously, several high school age boys were looking at my truck and pointing to the area around my driver’s side front tire. When they saw me coming they all turned and walked to the back of their truck, so I was suspicious. I unlocked my door, and as I began to pull it open it made a horrible noise. I closed the door and looked with horror at a fresh new scrape across the side of my truck.
I ’m no longer a young man anymore, but nor am I close to that golden age of retirement. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, right smack dab between hopeless naiveté and full blown wisdom.
In other words, I’m young enough to try, but old enough to know better.
Some of the young man’s fight has left me. Do you remember it? Regardless of the challenge, it’s that universal gung-ho “I’m gonna change the world” type of philosophy. At times, it’s still with me, but usually where I believe I can make a difference, where I’m convinced I’m uniquely gifted.I’ve long ago abandoned chasing after the wind, trying to be the hero to each and every person or cause.If something falls outside my area of passion or skill, I’m glad to defer tackling the challenge to another more qualified person.
Those of us committed to improving the lives of those with a disability carry on because we believe we can make a difference.In fact, we’re often operating outside our comfort zone. We’re not afraid to fail. We’ll take chances and even go up against forces well outside our control and well beyond our might.Believing wholly and completely in the merits of our pursuit is not just a good reason to engage, but it’s a good enough reason to “go” even when the world and common sense says “stop.”.
Yet, every now and again, I’m stymied by some, many even our side, that blindly hold to certain principles that I really wish were true, but are not.
First:There are no evil people in the world.
Some say that people are generally good, that there is an innate sense of morality running through their veins. I really struggle with this one because I want it to be true. But as I read the newspaper or look to our world, I see terrible things happening to innocent people, entire countries starved to death by there own people. We see glaring example of the most vulnerable being abused by the very people in whom they place their trust.
Every weekend we video chat with our son who is away at college. He is doing great with his schoolwork, which we knew he would do. And even thou he has cerebral palsy he is figuring out all the life skills issues which to us was the bigger issue.
One of the reasons he chose the school he is at was because of the strong debate team. He has always been involved in speech and debate and wanted to be able to continue competing at the college level.
A few weeks ago, we talked after he had competed over the weekend in a tournament. He had not done as well as he had hoped for. If you are unfamiliar with how these things are run in each round they are given a topics and they are put on either side of the argument. They then have to defend or speak against the issue. While most of the questions are on serious in nature, they also throw in a few less serious ones. In my son and his partner’s last round the question was, should the government spend money to encourage inter-racial marriages.
He didn’t tell us what their arguments were but at the end of the round the judge gives each of the teams a critic of their arguments and lets them know what they did well and what they can improve upon for next time.
This judge informed the teams that their mistake in defending the issue was that they argued as if marriage had some intrinsic value other than economical.
While my son told of the shock of this judge’s evaluation, it made me think. I believe marriage has more value than both parents ability to work and help to better their economic standings, but can I articulate what those reasons are? I think I can, and I think that Families dealing with special needs are the greatest example of the value.
We recently took a trip to visit colleges for our daughter. There are a few schools she’s excited about, and this was a chance to do a little exploring. It was interesting to watch these colleges put on their show for us, trying to sell us on why they are the best option for our child. They made a point of all the activities my daughter could be involved in. They showed us the dorms she would stay in, telling her how fun it is to stay in dorms, while reassuring Mom and Dad that she would be safe. They fed us in the cafeteria to make sure we liked the food; we actually heard one student say the food was better than usual on visitation day. They then had us attend a presentation about the specific major she is interested in. They got all the prospective engineers in a room and told us about the program. Meanwhile, we parents wanted to know one thing: the employment rate of kids coming out of the program.
The college, of course, is going to give you glowing numbers, and I am sure that they do everything they can to help kids get jobs. it looks great for them if they have a high placement rate. The problem with this school was that they claimed a 100% placement rate last year.
I am skeptical by nature, so I immediately scoffed at that number. How can they place everyone? I thought through the possibilities; engineers are in high demand, and the school probably uses a very generous classification to arrive at that statistic.
Another thought came into my mind, however, as I tried to rationalize the perfect placement rate. Why am I so doubtful that everyone could find a job in the field they went to school for?
I’ll admit it. But please, don’t tell my mother.
I wasn’t much of a student in high school. It’s not that I couldn’t do the work – or even that the work was very difficult. The reality was that I exerted the least amount of effort, and did the minimum amount of work, expecting only to get by and do only what was required of me.
Looking back now, my whole high school career could probably be summed up with a variation of a famous quip:
I did so much, with so little, for so long, that I learned how to do practically anything better than anyone else with nothing.
Of course, my parents gave me “the speech” on numerous occasions. Teachers cajoled and encouraged. They all lamented my wasted potential, but I regularly thought they were wasting their time reminding me of the facts.
Curiously, I find myself giving my son the same speech – even using some of the same words. Shockingly, my inspiring pep talks often seem to fall on deaf ears.
But there was one teacher with whom I connected and whose influence left a lasting impression.
My science teacher, Mr. Boomer knew how to motivate his students. His enthusiasm was contagious. Truth be told, he was an eccentric and the kids were drawn to him. He loved what he did – and it showed. He presented things in a fresh way and communicated more effectively than my parents and every other teacher – combined. He had that almost magical quality that every teacher wants to possess.
Or did he?
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Mr. Boomer was mentoring me. He took an interest in what I was doing and personalized the lessons to connect with my temperament.