Thursday, May 2, 2013

Olfactory Remembrances

What's wrong with this picture?!?!

When my kids sharpened their pencils recently, they would extract the pencil only to find the sharpener still running.  My husband suggested that maybe it needed cleaning out.  Ya' think?  (The container on the left in the picture above should hold all of the shavings!  I think we got a little behind.)  Anyway, as I was cleaning out our handy little machine, I took in a whiff of lead and shavings and was immediately transported back to elementary school. 

Does this ever happen to you? 
One aroma and you are six again...
or eighteen...
or in the hospital...
or at a church...
or on vacation? 
It happens to me frequently. 
My olfactory senses love to remind me of times gone by.

That whiff brought me back to my second grade class, standing in front of the manual sharpener screwed to the wall, rotating the handle 'round and 'round to get a nice, sharp pencil point.  Smelling of the lead, it felt as though it had only been yesterday since I stood in that classroom.

Second grade was a formative year for me. 
I had finally stopped crying every day -
yes, I cried most days of first grade -
and was happy to be at school. 
I was a quiet and compliant student at the time
(I didn't start getting bossy until 3rd grade)
and enjoyed my lessons. 
All the lessons except for telling time, that is.
I could never grasp that concept. 
But that's a blog for another day.

Anyway, in addition to finally becoming a bit more comfortable away from home, the other reason I remember 2nd grade so clearly was my teacher.  I loved her yet greatly feared her (thus, the compliance!).  I was often confused by her mix of empathetic kindness and old world authoritarianism.  It was as if the kindness were reserved for a handful of us while the disciplinarian acted for the majority. 

This was in the days of corporal punishment in the school system.  I remember being fearful of her unpredictable behavior.  There were times she was gentle as a lamb, and wrote our lessons on the board in her beautiful, round handwriting, encouraging us to do our work thoroughly and to the best of our ability.  Other times, she would lose patience and react.  I can vividly recall her taking two of my classmates, Philemon and Felicia, to the coat closet to beat them with a yardstick...often.

Okay, I'm just gonna call a spade "a spade" here, yes?

Philemon and Felicia were African American students taught by a teacher in her mid-60's in a 1970's classroom in the deep South.  Which means this teacher was born at the turn of the century, a time when the despicable Jim Crow laws on segregation had been recently written and observed.  You see, I think I knew subconsciously, even as a seven year old, that my teacher's kindnesses were reserved for those of us who were white.  And though I loved her so much for the gentle ways she treated me, I remember feeling shocked and disappointed by this realization.

Sunday at church, Deacon Shane spoke on the Gospel reading in his homily. 
"As I have loved you, so you should love one another," is a beautifully famous quote from Jesus to the disciples in the book of John. 
But loving one another, those we already love who fit into our families and lives, is not what Jesus meant, Deacon Shane so wisely pointed out. 
Anyone can do isn't difficult.
Loving one another is not loving our inner circle. 
Truly loving one another as Jesus loved us, the us who are not perfect but instead imperfect sinners, means loving all of those we don't understand...
relate to...
those we fear...
those who are different...
with a different skin color...
with conflicting political views....
even those who love a different God. 

"Jesus words meant, not that you expand your circle," Deacon Shane said. 
"He meant that you should eliminate your circle."

Oh, that circle we all learn as children.
The circle that my poor second grade teacher traced around our classroom, dragged around from her tainted upbringing. 
The circle that closes in on us in times of uncertainty and fear...
hatred and confusion...
doubt and anxiety.

But I cannot judge my teacher...cannot judge others who drew and continue to draw the circular line around them and theirs.
For there were other hatreds I brought to my community instead.
Hatreds masked as self-righteous judgments and jealousies.

Judgments of those with more success and money.
Judgments of conservatives or liberals (depending on my age!)
Judgments of anyone who didn't follow my prescribed path, be it religious, artistic or parental.

Yes, those telltale pencil shavings brought back a world of memory for me.
But they also drove home the lesson that I continue to need work on each day.
To love my neighbor as myself....
Especially the neighbor who lives farthest from my heart.

- Endeavoring to eliminate my circles today
(& squares & rectangles & cylinders).
Are you? 
If so, can you share below how you do it? 
Thanks for reading...and sharing.

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