Recently I was struggling with ‘writer’s block” and I was encouraged to think autobiographically in order to ‘prime the pump’. This was evidenced last week and continues today as I recall lessons of perversity and perseverance.
Home life wasn’t a lot of fun for me. I had an older brother, who I have sometimes thought a socio-path, who delighted in making my life miserable. I returned the favour using the only weapon in my arsenal, humour. I wielded scathing humour as a cutlass. It only made him madder but that was the best outcome I could achieve.
School became a welcome break. It offered an oasis of peace and a new audience! My first years of school went swimmingly and then came grade 4 and Mrs. L. (the poor guy that married her!). No teacher ever fully embraced my ‘class clownishness’ but Mrs. L. hated it and I believe hated me! In her desk drawer she kept “the strap”. The strap was a six inch strop meant for sharpening razors. If she had used it for that she might have taken care of her moustache and those chin whiskers. (Are you getting why she might not have liked me?) But she had other more diabolic uses for it!
There was seldom a day that went by that this strap did not find its way into her hand and across mine. Perversely the more she struck out at me the more I struck back, mocking and catching her in the slightest of mistakes. I was already pretty well read and was an early enrollee in the ‘grammar police’. Being so corrected by a ten year old drove her to a frenzy. Both the class in general and I were delighted with the froth and frenzy but I alone bore the brunt of it.
These days such action by an educator would lead to a quick dismissal but the 60’s were a different time. The rule was “If you get into trouble at school, you will get it at home as well.” The rod was not to be spared no matter how bruised the child.
It seemed I had no choice I could only persevere. On rare occasion I would restrain myself only to be goaded by Mrs. L. “Don’t you have something smart to say?” and of course I did! We were trapped in a vicious cycle. It especially drove Mrs. L. nuts that besides being a constant thorn in her side I was also a quite good student. I think she would have loved to fail me but could not.
At the same time that I was earning her ire I was accruing a perverse kind of admiration from my class. I have often thought that the plot for “cool Hand Luke” was stolen from my grade 4 year. While my hands stung throughout the year, I developed a certain cache with my peers. None dared openly to befriend me, but there were secret offers of admiration and consolation.
The year finally came to an end and it was then that I became convinced that difficulties were something that could be got through. I had successfully graduated into grade 5! I had got an early degree cum laude in Perseverance. This would be a valuable degree in years ahead had I not also reached high honours in Perversity. This harden attitude toward authority plus a heedless use of cutting barbs became the bane of my existence. It was the fruit of the poisoned grade 4 tree that became a perennial in my garden for years to come.
It has only been as I have since planted my roots on the soil of God’s love that I have been able to see the difference between dogged perseverance and the gift of patience and to learn that perversity is a noxious weed to be ruthlessly rooted out of my garden. We all, to varying degrees become weed infested both by nature and by nurture. The Good News is that my Father is the Gardener. He uproots the bad and perverse and he prunes the good.
I have had a lot of conversations with the Father about those days. In my mind’s eye I see him unashamedly holding that sharp tongued little guy and his tears pouring as balm over those stinging digits. That lad should never have been treated like that and yet there are wonderful and foundational lessons that were learned. Perseverance produces character after all and with my Father the gardener the crop can be a bountiful and eternal one.