In 7th grade, I had Glasses…

Posted on October 13, 2010

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There was some sort of secret about being in 7th grade at New Covenant Christian School. 

It was a one day event, an initiation even, that we had heard about but never experienced.  “You won’t see it coming,” the older boys told my class while we stood in a circle around them on the hot pavement, “And when it happens, there’s nothing you can do.”  We tried to guess, but the clues did not add up. The boys would talk about that day in riddles.  Recess was a constant reminder to my tiny seventh grade classmates and I that we had not yet passed the initiation and were therefore not yet qualified to understand the secret looks and conversations of the 8th Graders.

In 7th grade,  I had glasses.  That doesn’t sound that bad, except they were purple.   My favorite hairstyle was a ponytail; even up, my hair hit about halfway down my back.  My favorite shirt was a rainbow tie-dyed t-shirt with a cross in the middle.  I got all A’s, I thought talking to boys on the phone was kind of rebellious, and without meaning to I would often become the teacher’s pet.  I had been to the principal’s office once in fifth grade- it was because I wore shorts when it wasn’t yet hot enough to be necessary, and therefore, was against the uniform rules, so I had to be written up.  That made me cry.   Since then, my worst gaffes were almost dating a boy and forgetting to memorize our weekly Bible verses every once in a while.  I did NOT like breaking rules. 

And then one day, ponytail, glasses and all, I showed up to school and my teacher immediately took my lunch box from me.  She had taken everyone else’s lunch boxes too.  We filed in and were told to sit on the floor. My nine classmates and I exchanged glances. We felt it.  We knew.  Today was the day.

My sweet, maternal teacher who wore high heels every day to class (and was slightly eccentric, in a nice way) was suddenly speaking harshly and giving orders.   “Give me your lunches!” “Go sit in the hall!” “GET ON THE FLOOR!”  My classmates were hungry and confused.  But we were also kind of fascinated and wide-eyed, soaking in the mysteriousness of this day.

I, however, was getting angry.

I knew what was going on.  My class had been learning about the Japanese internment camps.  We read a book on it for Literature class, learned about the circumstances in History, and talked about what God thought about it in Bible class.  This day then, this enigma of a day, must be an attempt to show us what it was like.  We were supposed to be the Japanese.  My teacher, then, represented the unjust Americans who kept them in their camps.

At this point, my teacher announced that some of us would be eating our lunches, and some of us would be given 2 saltines.  She started handing out the saltines at random while letting some kids open the lunches that their mothers had lovingly packed them.
 
I felt anger, hot and tight, inside of my throat.  “This isn’t FAIR! You give them their lunches,” I told her, so she told me to sit outside.

I refused.

Then my friends started rebelling too, because the mysteriousness of the day was gone.  Everyone realized that oh yeah, they didn’t have to sit in the hall, or hand over their lunches, or do anything our stupid teacher said.  It wasn’t FAIR.  “We know our rights!” my little seventh grade class chanted.  It made my teacher cry.

“This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go!” she shouted at me, crumpled up in the seat of the only remaining desk in the room, “You ruined the whole experience for the class!”  As soon as she broke character, I was devastated.  Embarrassed.  Horrified.  I had ruined everything, I had ruined the experience for everyone, I had made my dear sweet teacher bawl her eyes out in front of the entire class.

I couldn’t think about that experience for years because of how upset and guilty it made me feel.  But recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  I can link that experience with a few others, maybe a handful of times that I have lost my temper and felt that feeling of anger almost choking me and rising up inside.  It is the feeling that I get when I face injustice: in small ways, like bosses abusing their power, or teachers who don’t grade fairly, and in large ways, when I think about the starving children I saw in Haiti in the shadow of the mountain where the rich lived, or about systemically racist laws in our country, and ignorance towards immigrants, and our own large mountains of wealth casting shadows on our homeless and poor.

It is tempting to look back on seventh grade and laugh and think about how funny looking and naïveI was.  But I’ve actually spent a large part of my life figuring out how to follow rules without losing myself, how to follow God without always having to follow Christian men.  And I ask myself, still, how do I face injustice?  I can’t just yell at my boss or superior if I feel I am in an unjust environment until they cry. 

Shockingly, I actually want to keep things about my naïve seventh grade self, like the intense indignation towards injustice that only a naïveseventh grader can feel. The bravery to stand up for what’s right.  The faith that led me to wear a cross on my t-shirt (but don’t worry, I got rid of the glasses).   I actually don’t think I was being very noble in seventh grade:  I knew I was safe, I knew my friends would eventually eat their lunches, and I was probably just being selfish and prideful.  But I think that even now, in the face of injustice, whether it be in our workplace, our country, or our world, we are supposed to be angry.  We should NOT be angry in a way that makes us bitter, not in a way that leads to any ounce of hate. We should be angry because we love the people who are hurting enough to fight for them.

 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27




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Posted in: Seriously