Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fighting With Myself

When I was in 6th grade, the nun who taught us religion said something I've never forgotten: "Think of the person you like the least. THAT's how much you love God." Another day, she offered this helpful observation: "The thing you dislike the most in another person is your own worst trait."

Sr Raeanne was all about hard truths.  She made you think. But she was also a tyrant, a vicious disciplinarian. There was a rumor that  - after years of shocking displays of temper and power-mongering over defenseless young children - she had finally been committed to a mental institution. But in fact, as I learned a few months ago from an old friend from the same class, she merely left the convent and got married.

I can still recall how she beat Jimmy Dillon because he wasn't singing "Spirit of God in the Clear Running Water" during our practice session for Mass the next day and how when Jeffrey Costa giggled (out of sheer nerves) while she was doing it, she hauled him up in front of the class to be beaten next. Jeffrey - a gentle boy - ended up becoming a policeman. I lost track of Jimmy Dillon, but the awful memory of his quavering voice, as he tried and failed to sing the song she forced him to perform alone in front of the class, remains with me to this day.

Common wisdom has it that experiences like those shape us more permanently than the words that were spoken. I'm not so sure. I remember that awful day vividly, but it did not cause me to lose my faith or to leave the Church. I just thought she was nuts.

Yet I still remember her words of wisdom. How much you love the person you love least is how much you love God. What you hate in another is what you hate in yourself.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately as I struggle with the care of an elderly, cantankerous relative. Her neediness and attention-seeking irritates me beyond reason and each time I manage to step back and observe myself (which is not as often as I would like), I wonder if Sr Raeanne was right. I wonder if I am so annoyed with her fretfulness and self-absorption because they are traits I dislike in myself. Seeing them lived out loud reminds me of how close to the surface they are in me.

And Sr Raeanne's thoughtful teaching style yet nasty way with the children in her class reminds me how easy it is to talk about inclusion, and how difficult it is to live it.


Entropy said...

Dear Jo..

This is beautiful profound thoughts and Wisdom ... I repeat this Poem by W S Merwin

They know so much more now about
the heart we are told but the world
still seems to come one at a time
one day one year one season and here
it is spring once more with its birds
nesting in the holes in the walls
its morning finding the first time
its light pretending not to move
always beginning as it goes

- W. S. MERWIN -

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Ajay, such a beautiful poem! Thanks for sharing it!

Cris McGowan said...

The Sr Raeanne type was pretty much a given in my experience of catholic grade school teaching but I do love those 2 quotes.
Is that where Deepak Chopra got them? I had no idea he was in your class!

I don't know that 6th graders are equipped to understand those deep truths yet but with patience and love in the classroom they might have a chance at it.

I can tell you for sure that hauling a child in front of a class to sing all by himself, as a punishment, will only do damage.

I learned this by being called "fog horn McGowan" and being forced to sing frequently alone in front of class.

It has taken me 49 years to undo that damage. I actually tried to find Jimmy on line w/o success. I'd like to tell him that it is possible to sing again. Jeffrey is apparently still in the FRPD.

I would say that common wisdom while perhaps "common" is in fact pretty much spot on.

You, my dear sister, are in a class all your own! Most children don't see with such clarity when a teacher is "nuts".

Personally I thank God every day for you and your vision.

You may stop beating yourself up now, dear.