Thursday, November 12, 2009

Resolving the Baggage of the Past

Last weekend, Geoff and I attended a fundraising banquet for a not-for-profit organization headed by a friend of ours. We were invited to sit at one of the tables sponsored by our friend...along with a person I hadn't talked to for many years.  That person was my grade 10 math teacher from many years back:  Mr. Pauls...who told me to call him Fred when we realized we were going to be sitting together.  It was a strange moment, meeting up with him; and more than a little disconcerting to be invited to call him by his first name. Remarkably, he looked and sounded exactly the same as when I was fifteen and sitting in his class - he was even still chewing gum the way he did then.

The real awkwardness of it, for me, was the bit of baggage that I have carried around with me about Mr. Pauls - er, I mean Fred - oh, forget it, he'll always be Mr. Pauls to me, especially when I'm in a remembering kinda mode.  For twenty-seven years, I have carried around with me the memory of Mr. Pauls being one of only a few teachers who ever felt it necessary to discipline me.  You need to understand that I was always a very good student - and one that most teachers liked/approved of.  I worked hard (usually), got good marks and, despite being a very social person, managed to reduce my in-class social activities to those that teachers generally never got wind of.  However, like most people, there were some classes where I struggled more academically than others - for me, math class ranked right up there in terms of subject matters that I had to work harder at.  The challenge for me was this:  I could excel in math, as long as I understood the root of the issue or problem that I was dealing with.  Thus, in keeping with my God-given personality, I tended to ask "why" a lot in his class.  Now this fact might not surprise my mother a lot because she and the rest of my family have been plagued with my 'why' questions for the past 43+ years.  But I'm guessing that on that particular day in Math class, Mr. Pauls simply didn't have the capacity to deal with it one more time.

Thus, in the middle of Math class, he announced to the class that I was no longer allowed to ask the question 'why' - in fact, I was no longer allowed to ask questions for the rest of that class.  He then asked if I would please stay after class, at which time he reiterated the same message to me.  I was embarrassed and, frankly, mad!  I mean, what teacher tells their student to stop asking questions!  At any rate, I defied his rebuke (in my eyes) by working extra hard in his class and eventually obtaining an excellent final grade.  But I carried that injustice with me for a long, long time.

So on Saturday night, finding myself in Mr. Pauls' company once again, I took the opportunity to tell him about my bit of baggage from his class - much more lightly than I have described it here, and with humour, but nonetheless a full rendition.  Of course, he had no recollection of the event and I must say that he handled it extremely well - he even apologized...with considerable grace. Almost to my surprise, Geoff and I quite enjoyed the evening with him and his wife, and discovered many things that we have in common with them.

I should note one other thing that I mentioned to Mr. Pauls on Saturday.  When Matthew was born and began to evidence a very good vocabulary at an early age (like, 250+ words by the time he was 18 months old!), it didn't take him long before he, like his mother at that age and forever after, started asking 'why?'  There have been times in the four years since then that I have thought about, pondered, and even empathized with, Mr. Pauls - thinking that if I have to hear just one more time the question 'why' I am going to explode.  I have even toyed over the years with the idea of forbidding Matthew from using that word again...but have never done it, in keeping with my bit of baggage!  Perhaps because of my bit of baggage, I've become a bit empathetic to the why-askers of this world - whatever the reason, it was good to finish with that piece of my past on the weekend and to enjoy the prospect of meeting up with Fred again in the future.

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