Friday, November 23, 2012

Goodness Gracious Me (Part 2)

This is the finale of the story I began in the previous post about trying not to morf into a toad in response to an encounter with a particularly ungracious toady person. Got one (or more) of those toad-people in your life? I'd love to hear how you handle them.

In the meantime, please scroll back to Part 1 to refresh your memory before you continue reading.

- - - - - - - -
Mrs. Persimmon’s tirade about the equipment I’d inadvertently broken droned on. I couldn’t have felt worse about it but no matter how apologetic I was, she couldn’t get past it.

Then suddenly, like a heavy brocade curtain dropping, she stopped in mid-rant, turned to the class and said, “Today is the Great American Teach-in. This lady is here to talk to you about whatever it is she does.” She then returned to her desk. We all stared at the back of her crimson neck as she turned her back to us and began pounding an agitated rhythm on her computer keys.

So the ball was in my court. I felt about two inches tall. I was a bad girl. Bad, bad girl. And everyone present knew it.

My first impulse was to pack up my things, take my toys and go home. But 30 pairs of adolescent eyes were looking expectantly at me. I couldn’t tell if they were waiting to see me burst into tears (which is what I feared might happen at any moment), or if they truly wanted to see how a grown-up person should handle an embarrassing situation.

When did I become so grown-up anyway? I may be fifty-something on the outside, but on the inside I’m often still a kid. This, however, was a time I knew I had to fake it and act mature.

So with face blazing, I fumbled forward. It was the most flustered, disjointed presentation I’ve ever given, but at least I made it through to the end. And oddly enough, the kids loved it.  

Mrs. Persimmon, who had kept typing non-stop during my program, remained frosty when the bell rang and the first set of students was exchanged for another. She basically ignored me.

“Get out your books and read,” the new class was instructed as I stood at the front waiting to be introduced and begin my next presentation. After five minutes, I finally sat down and looked to Mrs. Persimmon for some sort of explanation or instruction. None was forthcoming. She continued to peck at her keyboard.

Am I being punished? I wondered. Or has she forgotten I’m here?

When ten minutes of my 50-minute allotted time had ticked away (she was well aware that my PowerPoint took every bit of 50 minutes), I approached her desk and asked how much longer it would be until I could begin.

Sheepishly, she answered, “A few more minutes. I guess I should have told you that this group always reads during the first portion of class.”

“That would have been good to know, yes,” I replied.

Looking directly into my eyes for the first time since our initial explosive encounter, she added in an almost-pleasant tone, “By the way, the media specialist just e-mailed that the broken equipment can be replaced immediately, so everything will turn out fine.”

“Well, I’m very glad to hear it,” I said, resisting the temptation to say, “Fine? You call the humiliation you’ve caused me fine?” Try as I might, I was having a terrible time not biting back with the same hostile tone with which she’d earlier lambasted me. I wanted so badly to tell her just how rude she’d been and that I would never, ever, EVER do another classroom presentation because of her.

But in a flash of insight, I realized that if I did, I’d actually become the 12-year-old I felt like at that moment. I had to let this anger go. I needed to BARF.

BARF is the anger-management tool I talk about in my book, More Beauty, Less Beast, and the upcoming Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate. It’s an acronym that stands for:
B: Back Off
A: Admit
R: Redirect
F: Forgive  
So I BARFed. I excused myself to the restroom (backed off; put physical distance between my offender and myself) and admitted to a roll of toilet paper that I felt so disrespected and belittled that I wanted to stuff it’s very self where the sun don’t shine on Persimmons.  

I had to wait on the last two steps for awhile, but it turned out to be easy to redirect my intense feelings when I went to pack up my equipment and found that my projector case had been stolen and Mrs. Persimmon sympathetically promised to try to track it down (it was found the next morning thrown into the bushes behind one of the buildings).

So did BARFing make my bad experience turn into a good one?

Did it change anything that had happened or alter my offender’s actions in any way?

Did it drain away my seething resentment toward Mrs. Persimmon and pour a little much-needed graciousness into my spirit? 
Yep. It absolutely did. And graciousness is the hardest thing in the world to come by in responding to ungraciousness, isn’t it?

Our commonly perceived definition of “gracious” is “marked by kindness and courtesy.”  But Webster adds, “godly” and “compassionate” and “generosity of spirit” to the portrait of graciousness. As my friend Marian reminds me, even the bad stuff – maybe especially the bad stuff – serves to make Papa God increase within us as the “I” decreases.

Gracious is what I want to be, what I aspire to be. But it’s very tough to be gracious when the Persimmons of this world bring out the 12-year-old in me. Handling a toad often makes me turn into one too. But it doesn't have to be that way.

With a little more BARFing, I hope that one day my insides will grow up to match my outsides.    

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodness Gracious Me!

Niagara Falls from the US-Canada pedestrian bridge
This woman was NOT the epitome of grace. In fact, she didn't seem to have a gracious bone in her body.

The school administrator (who was a long-time fan of my books) had asked me to speak to Mrs. Persimmon's (not her real name, of course) 7th grade English class for the Great American Teach-In. I had to scuttle my schedule, but yes, I agreed to do it, remembering the dozens of rewarding times I'd spoken to students about being an author in years past.

So the Teach-In day arrived and I, along with numerous other tote-lugging adults of varying professions, trudged what seemed like five miles across the expansive campus to the school's media center to check in. There, we were each assigned a classroom and a semi-reluctant student to escort us there.

My escort was a curly-haired young man of about 13 who couldn't seem to find it within himself to make eye contact (or offer to carry any of my bulging cases containing my laptop, projector, books, or props) or answer any of my ice-breaker questions with more than one syllable.

I couldn't hold that against him. I was young once and didn't have a clue how to talk to strange adults. And as far as grown-ups go, I guess I'm about as strange as they get.

So we finally made it round the bend, up the stairs, and down the never-ending hallway it to my assigned classroom, only to find it dark and deserted. Hmm. It was 15 minutes before my scheduled starting time, and I had made it very clear in my previous correspondence with the administrator that I needed a minimum of 15 minutes to set up.

"No problem," she had said. Well, it was a problem now.

"What should I do?" I asked my young escort. "If I don't start setting up, I won't be ready to start when the bell rings."

"I dunno," he replied, reaching forward and trying the doorknob. Surprisingly, it turned. So he pushed it open and went in. I followed. Then without a word, he flipped on the light, turned, and left.

I waited an additional five minutes, but still no Mrs. Persimmon. As uncomfortable as I was making myself at home in the classroom of someone I didn't even know, I really didn't see any way around it. So I unpacked my equipment and began to set it up as the students trickled in.

And then the unthinkable happened. As I bent over to plug in my projector, the cord somehow got wrapped around a metallic piece of equipment about the size of my kitchen mixer that was sitting on the table and sent it crashing to the floor.

"Oooooh, are you ever gonna get in trou-ble..." became the taunting chant of a cluster of bug-eyed boys who immediately gathered around the busted high-tech electronic device.
"Those things cost about a million dollars, I think."
"Mrs. Persimmon is gonna blow."
"You better tell her you did it, lady, cause if she thinks it was one of us, we're dead meat."

 I hadn't a clue what it was I broke, but I had a sinking feeling that I was sunk.

So the bell rang, and finally Mrs. Persimmon made her entrance. She marched directly over to me with lips pursed, glanced up at my first slide I was attempting to center on the wall screen, and barked,
"Who are you?"
"What is this?"
"Who let you in here?"

 Taken aback, I replied, "I'm Debora Coty, an author. I'm sorry - didn't the administrator tell you I'd be speaking to your class today? The door was open but no one was here to meet me so I started getting my presentation ready."

"I don't know anything about it," she said curtly. With that she turned on her heel and went over to her desk across the room, where she turned her back to me and began typing on her computer.

The 30 or so students sat mutely staring at me, and I back at them. What was I supposed to do now?

And then I noticed the pathetic broken high-tech mixer-thingie sitting on the table. I knew before anything else happened, I had to do the right thing, if nothing more than to be an example to 30 impressionable kids who were waiting to see how this would play out.

So I walked over to her desk. "Mrs. Persimmon," I said in a voice that sounded extraordinarily timid even to me, "I need to tell you something. While I was setting up, that white piece of equipment over there got knocked off onto the floor and appears to be broken. It was an accident, and I'm truly very sorry."

Mrs. Persimmon's eyes grew to the size of Frisbees as she took in the electronic gizmo with its little head cocked askew. Her face turned this amazing shade of maroon-purple as she leapt to her feet.

"WHAT?'' She shouted. "You broke my machine? Do you have any idea how MUCH they cost? I don't know if we have any more and I use it every day. I can't believe you broke it, OH MY GOSH, how could you be so clumsy? If you only KNEW what you've done! This it TERRIBLE! TERRIBLE!"

And she went on and on for what seemed like an eternity, alternating between fretting, fussing, yelling, and berating me. Right there in front of the students. As If I were a bad dog who'd peed on her carpet. She just couldn't get over it and move on ... the more she stormed, the madder she got.

Okay, since this is getting a little long for a blog post, I'm going to pause here and continue the story next time. So tune in for my next post, same time, same channel!  



Monday, November 12, 2012

Twists in the Road

While recently reading Stephen King's "On Writing," I was struck by a revelation decidedly not Stephen-King-ish. In fact, the king of horror would probably scoff if he heard me say it, but Papa God brought me to an epiphany of sorts through Steve's life story.

Without really meaning to, in relating the odd events of his early life, Steve verified in my mind the amazing fact that the Almighty is constantly preparing us for our future by the events of our past and present.

This fact is amazing because it demonstrates with no uncertainty that our Creator cares about us personally and has a plan for each of us - a destination in mind for our life-journey that may very well include hairpin turns and hair-raising twists in the road. We can't always fathom their purpose at the time, but they serve to bring us closer and closer to our final destination.

And each segment of highway is divinely intentioinal. Each bump, rut, slick patch, and S-curve is by master design.

For example, one of Steve's early jobs (before he became a bestselling, mega-author and was a poor, struggling writer trying to support a wife and children) was washing hospital sheets and restaurant tablecloths. The dirty linens were often a week old by the time they were delivered to Steve.

Just picture, if you dare, the bloody gore and disgusting nastiness of decaying body tissues and old food crawling with maggots and fungus that he encountered daily (which he describes in revolting detail in the book). Now consider what kind of stories Steve writes today. See a connection?

It made me look back on my own life story at all the seemingly incongruent sub-plots and red herrings that turned out to contribute heavily to the inspirational writing, music, and speaking programs I produce today:

*The decade of piano lessons I fought against with tears, pleading, and gnashing of teeth
*Every voice and bell choir in existence that my parents made me join while I was growing up
*Mr. George, my long-time youth choir director who got me used to being onstage
*The English teachers that pushed me into writing contests in middle and high school
*The class officer elections that forced me to speak to the entire student body with my knees knocking

*The college acting classes that I thought were just for fun, but taught me stage presence
*Countless sermons I heard three times every single week of my life because I wasn't allowed to miss a church service (All that Bible-study seeps into your bored brain whether you mean for it to or not.)
*A front row seat to observing Christianity being lived out loud in real life by family members and friends who kept strong in their faith through struggles, questions, doubts, hardship, and illness
*And I mustn't forget this important one: Being raised in a home where a sense of humor was valued, appreciated, and cultivated. A laugh a day keeps the blues away!

So I owe a nod of gratitude to Mr. King for inadvertently pointing out the obvious: We are a pre-ordained product of the components of our past. And all the twists in the road are there for a reason.

Now I just have to figure out what all these hot flashes are preparing me for :(