Saturday, April 2, 2022

Pie-Eating and Pole-Vaulting


Isn’t is curious the little things we remember? Out of thousands of conversations and experiences in our lives, some rise to the surface of memory and announce themselves as significant. Why? Perhaps these are the bread crumbs our invisible Soul twin leaves for us to find the path to ourselves. 


Sometime around 4th or 5th grade, I entered a pie-eating contest in a summer camp hosted by my gym teacher, Mr. Salcito. Such an absurd event, but I won it and when I went to claim the promised prize, Mr. Salcito couldn’t find it and said he’s give it to me later. He never did.


In my senior year in high school, I had a glorious moment sailing over a high bar and breaking the school’s pole vault record. Every day at lunch, the Headmaster would announce the sports victories and losses and pay special attention if anyone broke a record. I was not on the best terms with the school administration, as I was just beginning to flex my social protest muscles. Nevertheless, I looked forward to a moment of recognition I had earned. It never came. He simply said nothing about it and never corrected his mistake or apologized.


Now one reading of these two stories is that I’m a bitter old man disappointed in the world because of two trivial incidents that I  just can’t let go. “Build a bridge and get over it!” would be the appropriate advice and I agree.


But from another point of view, perhaps this set me off in the direction of public acknowledgment of worthy achievements, be it breaking a sports record or winning the Cookie Jar contest. As an antidote to my trivial disappointment, I created a ceremonial calendar at school that gave space and attention to such public celebrations. I gave daily shout-outs, encouragement and acknowledgments to the kids in my classes when they did something noteworthy, be it a lovely glockenspiel solo, a dynamic dance move, a soulful moment singing or selfless helping their neighbor learn their part. Knowing that we all long to be seen and known, I promised myself— at first, intuitively, without speaking it out loud—that I would praise children, privately and publicly. Not in a random meaningless “You’re awesome! I love you!” style, but sincere praise that comes from noticing something they said or did that revealed yet another facet of their genius and beauty, that they added something to the community that we needed and appreciated. 


So Mr. Salcito and Mr. Atwater, I’ve long forgiven you and indeed, thank you for the way those tiny moments of neglect set me off on a worthy path. But hey, if you want to send me that prize, let me know and I’ll give you my address. 


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