Sunday, February 14, 2010
a high school story
Raised as a Jehovah's Witness, I was encouraged (as were all Witness children) to forego the lures and luxuries of 'the world' and devote myself to full-time service as a preacher of 'the good news of God's kingdom soon to establish itself on Earth'. Lucky me. We were encouraged to complete our high school years, acquiring only enough basic skills to earn a living while we spent most of our time going from door-to-door (without any remuneration), and give up any thoughts of higher education.
The morning of the awards ceremony while sitting talking with my mother the telephone rang. My mother said, "It's Mr. Zobel." WHAT?? I did not want to talk to Mr. Zobel.
Mr. Zobel: Hello Bonnie. Just want to remind you that you need to be here for the award presentation no later than 1:00 this afternoon.
Me: I thought you knew that I will not be attending Mr. Zobel.
Mr. Zobel: Are you ill?
Mr. Zobel: Then you must come.
Me: I'm sorry, I won't be there.
Mr. Zobel: For what reason?
Me: aaah....I.........I.......don't want to be on stage and have to remain seated during the national anthems with the whole student body staring at me. They don't understand why ... they'll think I'm an idiot.......
Mr. Zobel:...........silence...................................I insist that you get yourself ready and get down here.
Mr. Zobel: You do not have to sit on stage during the singing of the anthems. I will escort you to your seat on stage after the singing of the national anthem and I will escort you off stage before they sing 'God Save The Queen'. I'll expect you in my classroom at 1:00.
Mr. Zobel: (click).
I went to the award ceremony. Mr. Zobel smiled when he saw me arrive. He was kind and gentle and infused me with some of his confidence. He made me feel as if doing this extra work of getting me on and off the stage with as little fanfare and humiliation as possible, was something he did every day. He offered me his arm and we walked to our seats on stage AFTER the playing of the anthem. He smiled again when he presented me the award and the cheque. Taking a quick peek at the audience, I saw the motley crew standing and applauding. I had not expected that. At the end of all the presentations, but before the next anthem, Mr. Zobel stood, motionned for me to join him in leaving the stage. He made it all so easy. So many little humiliations averted. So many long-held assumptions blown apart in one afternoon.
Upon returning to the classroom to gather my things and head home, I thanked Mr. Zobel for his help that day - and promptly began to cry. He asked what was the matter and the 'doors' opened and I told him about some of my struggles. He listened quietly, and acknowledged I had been dealing with a lot. He offered no advice. He made no criticisms of my mother or our religion. He gave what I most needed - a non-judgmental, compassionate ear and the assurance that I was handling things well and that he had every confidence things would eventually be resolved.
As I walked home clutching my award and cheque, I had many thoughts. I realized that Mr. Zobel had never been a Gestapo-like enforcer, he had been a supportive, if demanding, advocate. He recognized my potential and predicament and was trying to facilitate my development as both a student and a young adult. The tears in my eyes were now tears of gratitude - not for any award or cheque - but for being seen, valued, understood, appreciated and accommodated. I finally realized how easy it was to get caught in misperceptions, to make sweeping assumptions, to shut out caring people. I saw what a cloistered, confined and thus limiting life I led, and finally became aware that there were life lessons to be learned outside of family and religion if I was open to receive them. This had been an encounter with a true gentleman, a remarkable educator - and I had been forever changed.
Upon graduating a year later, I sent him a note to let him know that I understood what he had been trying to do and how much I had learned from him - on so many levels.
Mr. Zobel, all these years later - I remember you still - and in many ways due to you, I eventually did kick open the 'doors' and obtain a university education.