I was invited to a writing workshop where we discussed the difference of writing from the head or the heart. So the facilitator suggested we start with a memory, and she brought up one from her childhood days in school. It immediately brought up a memory in me of when I was in eighth grade.
My eighth grade school was somewhat an experiment in crowd control. So essentially all the classes were in a cul-de-sac. There were four or five rooms in each pod as they were called, and the windows were such on the inside walls that if you stood, you could see into every room in the pod. I can well imagine the consultations with childhood psychologists that the designers arranged to come up with that educational marvel.
Anyway, one day while sitting in class, not at individual desks mind you, but two person tables, I was siting next to a girl who was on the edge of hostile with me. Somewhere in the day, she decided that it would be a good thing to push all my books and papers off the table to the floor, so she did. At that point a vast cosmological conspiracy came into play. Needless to say, her action pissed me off. So I set about to tell her so: “You fucking….” was how I started. And then the entire universe; which meant our classroom, the pod, all of Arlington Heights, Illinois and Chicago and the planet decided, at that moment, to be utterly silent.
Except for me: “….bitch.”
Okay, not a huge deal. The teacher was staring at me, so I figured some detention. However; oh yes, there was a however. That’s how conspiracies work you know. The however was the Vice Principal of the school, a guy we called Sarge because of his flat top red hair, standing in the doorway. Uh oh….
So to the office I was marched. And there the story stopped being funny.
I don’t remember anything Sarge said to me. I imagine he was drilling into me the usual blather guys like him gave kids like me. However, Sarge added an extra learning tool: his finger. He didn’t wave it in my face, he poked in into my chest, while I stood against the wall. Repeatedly. I quit counting at 13 as I recall. When I left his office, my chest was cherry red and very sore. The next day I had a bruise on it.
I returned to my classroom with the real message that Sarge taught me, and that was humiliation. Shame. Inequality. Lack of respect. Violence solves the problem, or at least anger. I returned to the classroom, which was very quiet then, and for the rest of the day. I was angry and helpless, I wanted to beat the shit out of that girl, (lesson learned!), and out of Sarge. More than that, I wanted to go home and be alone.
In our group as we talked about our memory, and the heart response it generated, I said I wanted to tell that fucker to quit poking me. One of the other writers simply said, “So do it.” And then we set to re-writing the piece from the heart.
During that part of the exercise, I envisioned Sarge, and again the universe intervened. I didn’t visualize Sarge as he was then, but as he is now, somewhat an older man, likely near his eighties if not older, a tired old man, somewhat crippled up. Vulnerable, and weak, like I was back then. It was a lot easier to tell a younger Sarge to get his finger out of my chest, and to tell him to fuck off. But as I sat there with my pen in hand, envisioning this old man, my pen stopped. There was more to the story of Sarge that I didn’t know, couldn’t judge. So I told Old Man Sarge that I didn’t like the way he treated me, that he humiliated me, and really that was all I remember of his lesson. And then my heart unfolded a little more. I told Sarge that I released him for hurting me.
As I did so I realized that I was releasing him to die in peace. He may have other regrets, but I wasn’t one of them any longer. In so doing I also realized that now, I can live in peace. A little bit more so at least. It was time to quit re-reading that chapter of humiliation, of powerlessness, of shame. That night in writing group my heart unfolded a little more, and I flipped the page.