The Examined Life

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, May 13, 2012

At the Pearly Gates

They told us to go to lunch in groups of five.  You have exactly an hour and a half they warned us.  Just go out to a restaurant with the other four people who are sitting near you.  And make sure you are back on time.  One of the people in my group was Chrissy.  She was a grade school teacher who taught grades 1 and 2.  She was young, early twenties, right out of school, a small blond girl with thick glasses.  You might even say she was attractive [looking] except there was something flighty, not quite together, about her.

The restaurant was crowded and it took a few minutes to get a table.  We were a bit concerned because we were on a schedule.  There was nothing really fancy on the menu, salads, spaghetti, sandwich plates with French fries etc.  We were all able to find something suitable except Chrissy kept asking for things that were not on the menu.  The waiter had to come back three times before she finally settled on something.  Chrissy’s food arrived later than the rest so we had to wait on her to finish her food. 

Then it came time to pay the bill.  Everyone wanted separate checks and most of us paid by credit card.  By the time most of us had paid, Chrissy was still picking at her food.  Finally she declared she was finished and presented a credit card to the waiter.  He quickly returned to inform her that card had been declined.  Chrissy pulled out her wallet which was bulging with plastic and handed him another card.  But that card too came back declined.  By this time we were getting concerned because we had been gone over an hour and we had a 20 minute walk back. 

When the third card came back declined we had all had it with Chrissy.  We took up a collection and paid for Chrissy’s lunch!  We rushed out of the restaurant and arrived back just in time to see the doors closing as we got off the elevator.  There were two monitors in the hall waiting for us.  They broke us up into two groups.  Chrissy and another guy were taken off down the hall and I was left standing behind two other ladies outside the closed door. 

“You're late!” the monitor said to the first woman.  Shocked, the woman begins to explain, “Well, you see Chissy had trouble finding food she liked and then Chrissy had maxed out credit cards and then...” Unmoved by the explanation the monitor again said, “You’re late!” at which point the woman again launched into her explanation.  “But Chrissy...”  At this point a second monitor arrived and escorted the first woman off to a private room down the hall. 

“You’re late!” the monitor said to the next woman who was standing in front of me.  “Well, you see Chissy...”  This time the monitor did not bother listening to her explanation furter.  A third monitor arrives and quickly whisks her off to another private room down the hall.  Oh Oh now what?  I’m next!

The monitor looks at me and says “You're late!”.  By now I know the explanation about Chrissy is not going to fly so what can I do?  After all, it is what happened isn’t it?  I hesitate.  What’s the secret password?  How am I going to get in that door and escape being escorted to the private room down the hall?  “You’re late!” the monitor coldly reiterates. 

“Yes”, I said. “It won’t happen again.”  Without a word the monitor steps aside and pulls the door open for me and quickly dart inside like a rabbit disappearing down a hole.

I quietly slip into my seat.  I can feel my heart pounding in my chest.  Wow, what just happened?   Could it be that when I meet Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates he won’t buy the excuse that Chrissy is responsible for the way I have lived my life?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Two Girls

I had been substitute teaching for about 6 months.  I go into one of the local high schools about 4 times a month.  It’s like a box of chocolates.  You can never tell what you are going to get, anything from Trigonometry to Auto mechanics with 14 to 17 year olds.

Today was my first set of 15-year-old drama students.  The class had just entered and taken their seats and I had gotten up to close the door when I heard shouting coming from across the large room.

 The shouting was so loud that people were actually looking in the room from out in the hall.  I closed the door and turned to see two girls.  One was standing shaking her finger at the other who was hunched over her desk with her head buried in her arms.  A group of students had gathered around the two and I thought for all the world that they were rehearsing some amazing scene from a play they were working on.  But as I drew closer I saw that the girl hunched over her desk was actually crying and that the other girl standing over her was truly livid.

By the time I reached the two girls the one standing had taken her seat in front of the other girl and was sitting there and a state of quiet rage.  I took an open seat in a row adjacent to the two girls and began to speak to the girl who had been standing and expressing her anger.

"What kind of a person are you being?” I asked her.  "I'm being an angry person.” she said as she turned toward me defiantly. 

"Where else does that show up in your life?” I ask.  "It shows up everywhere."  She said, "I'm angry at my parents, my teachers and I'm angry at all my friends,” she added in a disgusted tone. 

So then I said "And how's that going for you?"  At this point her tone softened and she said, "it's not going very well at all".

By this time all the kids in the room were watching what was happening.  "You know, being angry is actually a choice you make.”  I said. 
"What choice have I got but to be angry?  People are so stupid and they do such stupid things.  Being angry is all I can do,” she said as her tone began to shift back to anger.

"What is that you really wanted to tell the girl behind you?  What is it that you really wanted to say?”  I asked.

Again her tone softened and she said, "What I really wanted to tell her was that I'm afraid.  She's in my workgroup and she's not doing her work.  And if she doesn't do her work then we will all fail.  I'm just afraid that I'm going to fail!"

At this point I realized that was involved in the extraordinary conversation.  I could hardly believe that I was having a conversation like this with a 15-year-old girl.
I felt like I was going way out on a limb but I turned to her and I said "So why don't you tell her that, right now, tell her what you really meant to say?” 

I think everyone was astonished as she turned around and began to address the girl behind her who still had her head down on the desk. 

"I'm sorry I got angry at you.” she said.  "I didn't mean to be that way, I was just afraid that I would fail and I really need your help.”
The second girl raised up her head and they started talking about their project.  All the groups started working together on their assigned projects and I went back to sit at my desk.

A few minutes later one of the boys who had been watching what had transpired came over to my desk. 

"What did you do to those girls? Did you hypnotize those girls?” he asked.  It wasn't until that moment that I really got the significance of what had happened and how it must it seemed like magic to those that were looking on.

I later found out that the girls name was Angela and the girl she was angry with was in fact her best friend of many years.  Whenever I think of Angela and the day we met, I am filled with awe at the courage she displayed.  That conversation will always remain one of the most profound experiences of my life.