Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ste. Em and The Commander

Every now and again I have to pull out my Deaconess Call Documents and look at them. When my failures as a teacher sit too close in front of my nose they provide the concrete evidence that I belong where I am. There in black ink, it spells out clearly the location of my placement. Absolution spoken into my ears relieves the guilt, and fingers thrust into the water of the Baptismal font on Sunday morning are as into Christ’s side. “Take eat…” I am baptized. He has taken me into Himself. S’OK.

That doesn’t relieve me from the responsibilities of what I have been placed here to do. The first priority was to install some sort of a physical education program. Sure. I can do that. I’ve coached soccer, refereed it. In fact, a friend and I were the first female licensed junior referees in Northern Illinois. I’ve coached tennis, too. I was taught under Dennis van der Meer, who was Andre Agassi’s first coach. I’ve even umpired US Open Tennis. No big deal.

The first year I was at GSLS I decided jump ropes were a good way to start out. I had two girls in the class, so it seemed to be a good “mixed-crowd” thing to do. Worked fine for two days. Then The Commander came back to school after being sick for a couple days.

We pray the Catechism daily. I decided to have the students recite the Commandments individually on Tuesdays and Thursdays just to make sure they knew them. Tuesdays were “Army Days.” That’s when I picked the volunteers. Thursdays were “Navy Days.” That’s when they volunteered themselves. “Marines” were the connivers. They figured that if they didn’t volunteer, they didn’t have to recite. Hah! I volunteered them on Navy Day. That's how they became Marines. Marines are Navy guys who are volunteered. They whined. That’s when the kids learned my two rules in the classroom:

1. The teacher wins all arguments.

2. You can’t change rule number one.

The students earned nicknames during this period, and The Commander especially his. He’s a tough kid, takes karate. He has a temper, and doesn’t care if he uses it. It could be horrific. Yet, his leadership skills were just as incredible. The other students looked up to him. As irritable as he could be, he could also be compassionate. I needed to rein him in. So I found a hammer. “Stay in line, or I’ll bust you.” It happened once. He earned it back, and never lost his temper again. Remarkable kid.

He was ill for the two days I introduced jump ropes. On the day he returned he decided to take over. Enough was enough. He tried jumping, and it wasn’t working. He walked over to his buddy, the Sarge, and tried to enlist his aid. “Forget it. She ain’t gonna budge.” Besides, the Sarge could jump rope. The girls could jump, too. No help there. So, he went to the Gunny and S. Sgt. Both of them were struggling, so both of them willingly obliged to help him out.

The Commander was the spokesman, of course. “We don’t want to jump rope anymore. It’s for girls and sissies.”

“Really?” I asked. I looked down at The Commander. He wasn’t a tall kid, but powerfully built. If anyone was made for jumping rope, he was. “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that something I want you to do is only for sissies and girls? That something football players like Rosie Greer and boxers like Mohammed Ali do is only for sissies?”

“That’s right,” he said.

“You guys agree?” I asked the others.

They did.

That established here was my deal: the Gunny and S. Sgt could already jump a little bit. They had to give me 10 in 15 minutes. The Commander had to give me 5 in 15 minutes.

“Five what?” he asked.

“Five jumps in a row or you write sentences. Nobody tells me what is sissy or not.”

“I can’t write sentences. My dad will whup me.”

“Then you’ll jump.”

Jump he did. Jump they did. Apologize and be forgive they were, too.

By coincidence that night The Commander saw a show that night on Buddy Lee, the jump rope king. He was hooked. Soon he was doing cross overs and jumping reverses. He could jump so fast it was hard to see the rope fly through the air. His skill encouraged the others to do well, and he shared what he knew with them.

Properly run, the Law is like that. More freedom within it than without. More joy within it than without. The others still jump beautifully, and are now teaching the next class of jumpers how to do the same. There has been no more talk of “jump rope is for sissies and girls.” There is joy in what has been given.

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