A Day in the Life of a 4th Grader

My teacher gave us this assignment for real. It was called A Day in the Life of a 4th Grader. I handed it in for real. But this is the real one. The one I gave my teacher had nice things in it. This one not so much.

When Mrs. Edmyn handed out report cards she gave me a paper to take home. I tried to take it home. While I was walking home from school I got in a fight. That boy Derek caught me from behind. He hit me in the back of my head and I fell. He kicked my knapsack open and looked in it. He emptied it. I told him no, that I had to take the paper home. He tore it up to pieces. So I punched him because I was angry and scared. He punched me harder. I didn’t want to fight. We both were hurt and went home.

The next day my mom signed my report card. I was scared because I did not have the paper. I hoped my teacher would not remember. On the way to school Derek caught me again. He rubbed my face in the snow and punched me. I swore at him. He just laughed.

When I was in the classroom I gave Mrs. Edmyn my report card. She said the signed paper was not there. I told her that I lost it. She got very angry at me. She yelled at me. She said my parents were supposed to come in for a parent teacher interview.

I cried right there in class. I did not cry because she yelled. I did not want to tell her what happened to the paper. I did not want Derek to get in trouble. I cried because I felt bad for my mother because I was bad. I felt sorry for her. Not me. I couldn’t stop myself from crying.

The kids made fun of at recess for crying. It was a bad day. I felt sick. Mrs. Edmyn said she was going to call my mom.

After school I walked home by myself. I felt so scared and sick. I felt all alone. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted that boy Derek to stay away. I walked slowly so that it would take me long to get home.

My dad pulled up in the car. He said to get in. He looked serious and I felt scared. We drove down to the park. Nobody else was there.

He asked me if I had a bad day. I said Yes. He said he had just got back from talking to Mrs. Edmyn. I thought I was in big trouble. He said that I wasn’t in trouble. Nothing she said made me seem bad. I told him I lost the paper. He said it was ok and not worry about it anymore.

This was the day I remember. This is my real Day in the Life of a 4th Grader. It’s the day my dad made better.

Conscience Jolted and Yet No Apology

I’ve maintained for a long time that men need to hold each other accountable, at least to a certain degree. A few months ago I was on the receiving end of some firm advice and since then I’ve taken the time to digest the experience.

It was a late Saturday afternoon–gray and overcast, the roads still shiny after a light drizzle–and my wife and I were making a last second trip to the grocery store.

When I signaled to enter into the left hand turn lane, a weathered, aquamarine Toyota Echo darted across three lanes, forcing me to brake hard to avoid a collision. I could have stopped, but the maneuver slowed me down to about 30 km/hour. So, in total disregard of my wife’s protests, I zipped around the beat up compact and made the left-hand turn.

Appearances, especially during moments of indiscretion, can definitely be deceiving. When the car had cut me off, I assumed the vehicle was being driven by either an old lady or a teenager. I mean, who else pulls out in front of you and reduces their speed like that?

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to find out his identity soon enough. When I was weaving my way through the parking lot looking for some prime real estate, my wife pointed out we were being followed. Now that I was aware of this, I chose the closest available parking spot to the store. The Echo didn’t park, but stopped behind me with the engine still running.

In my rearview mirror, I watched an absolute brute open the passenger side door and stand there looming at the edge of my bumper. He looked apprehensive, unsure of who he was confronting, but determined to make his point.

“He’s waiting to talk to you,” my wife said, disgusted and embarrassed.

Slowly, I undid my seatbelt, opened the car door, and calmly walked over to discuss the incident.

In such a moment, it’s amazing how resignation can be so calming. As I approached the man, I could tell he was a hardworking blue collar, and as I drew even closer to him and saw his face I could tell by the scars and harshness of his eyes that he had been in countless fights.

“Do you always cut people off?” he asked.

“No, I try not to,” I said.

“You cut my wife off,” he said, poking me hard in the chest.

“Get his license plate,” his wife said, her face visible in the open door. I could tell by the look in her eyes she was concerned that it was going to get ugly.

When you’re a man getting poked in the chest, regardless of the physical prowess of your provoker there’s a rush of adrenaline that kicks in. I could feel it flood over me, leaving my fingers and toes tingling. I started to wonder if I was going to have to defend myself.

“I’ll bury you,” he hissed, poking me hard in the chest again.

I figured there was no point in telling him that his wife cut me off first. Everything about his demeanor said he was looking for an excuse to snap.

People were walking by, and I could tell the confrontation was turning into a spectacle. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my wife still standing by the car. She was observing the encounter with little emotion on her face. In her opinion I was getting what I deserved.

But I wasn’t concerned about being embarrassed. I was certain the brute could hurt me badly, but I was thinking about the repercussions of getting into a skirmish in public that would certainly draw the attention of the authorities.

On the other hand, I was feeling contrite – especially seeing the woman driving the car absolutely mortified by her militant husband. But no apology left my lips. I don’t know if this was my way of fighting back – the calmness, the lack of remorse . . . But it certainly managed to irritate him.

“Are we through?” I asked, meeting his gaze. I had hoped he noticed the apology in my eyes.

He stepped out of my way and I walked toward the store as though the incident never occurred. Although I had lost sight of my wife, I knew she was nearby. While I looked around for her, I heard him screaming, “If you ever do something this again, I’ll bury you! I’ll bury you, you here me!”

I didn’t acknowledge this ostentatious temper tantrum in the slightest.

Finally, my wife appeared and joined me. Before we went it, we talked in the grocery store lobby. She seemed more shaken by the incident than me. In a sense, I found it almost comical, but I also felt bad.

When we were shopping for our groceries, we crossed paths with the couple several times and neither of us said a word. Now that the brute was calm, I wanted to apologize to both of them, but I was also reluctant.

He was right. I was wrong. I don’t think I cut them off badly, but I know my driving showed lack of respect and impatience. He cared enough about his wife to defend her against the slight. I can appreciate that.

For me, my Christianity is less about what I believe and more about what I embody. I fell short that day, and in hindsight I consider it to be providence that there was a man out there willing to help me find my humility.

Men should hold each other to a certain standard, but there’s no harsher judge than a conscience jolted out of its dormancy.

Beckoned

I woke up beckoned. But to what? At the time I knew not “what” and yet there was a stirring within me—a desire to succumb to my unquestioning, absurd obedience to a feeling I could barely comprehend. Full of desire, I hopped in my car with no object or direction or plan. It was as if my past was before me, behind me, and under me while I tried to find a place where I could be alone in the most solitary sense that alone could be.

I picked up a few items at the store and drank back a coffee while feeling the stirring within me intensifying into a thought. And then, quite spontaneously, I “knew” where I had to be. There was a place from my past—a happy place full of memories—that I had not visited in years, and its very quality was its remoteness. And so my obedience to a “yet-to-be-revealed purpose” brought me along unpaved roads with old farmhouses, fields of wheat, silos and wooden bridges under a sky stretching itself thin with wispy clouds fading in the distance.

When I arrived at the shadowy edge of the woods I began to doubt. As I remembered it, the road was supposed to branch to the right and yet I pressed on. Just when my faith was about to fail, the road forked, leaving me little doubt as to what direction I would take and I began to feel my apprehension dissipate. I parked my car in a little clearing by the riverside and when I got out of the car I could hear the sound of running water below a tiny, rickety bridge that let me know I found the right place. At first I thought I was being called to fish, so I rummaged in the back of my car for my rod. I then put my headphones on and allowed myself to enjoy my singularity while the sounds of nature merged with my choice of music.

“What’s to become of me?” was the prevailing thought that penetrated even the golden satisfaction I was taking from the golden sunlight that bathed everything: the tall grass, the shrubs, the reeds, the lilypads, the dark waters concentrated with vegetation and the small fish just below the surface. It was a dark thought that seemed strangely appropriate given my proximity to living poetry itself.

I walked along the shore until I found an appropriate spot to fish, and with every step I felt the tall grass rubbing against my exposed legs, leaving me itchy. With a snap of my rod, I flung my lure to a spot vacated by weeds and began to reel it in. The sun caught every bit of silver during the lure’s descent, from the splash of its landing to its retrieve past weeds and gnarly old roots protruding above the surface. In all honesty, it was quite difficult to avoid getting a snag and there were no signs of hungry fish. Since it was apparent that I was not meant to hook on to a literal symbol of my childhood past, I walked back to the car and put my rod away.

With my headphones still on, I went and sat on the bridge while trying to come to terms with that part of me that wanted me here, for whatever reason. I looked down into a portrait of life in the water framed by the weeds swaying in the current. Little fish swam back and forth, each with their own personality. Several catfish would swim through the picture, two of them almost affectionately swimming together, like lovers. There were potential meals all around these fish and yet it was not time to feed. There was no fear between them, like an unspoken truce, an unspoken understanding. My understanding was unspoken, too. It was felt. I was beckoned. But I certainly wasn’t beckoned to sit on an old bridge from my past and contemplate fish.

“What’s to become of me?”

While I sat there completely obedient to a sense of somehow belonging to this picture, I hummed to my music in full acceptance of the patience required of me. I watched a dragonfly repeatedly dipping itself into the water, a rhythm totally unto itself. I truly had no idea what this creature was trying to accomplish. I watched a bird in the distance stop helicopter-like, scanning the surface for potential prey. And yet it never dove. Every image around me contributed to this overall sense of life and fecundity, as opposed to the normal reality one experiences where life and death are present as unified opposites. It was a remarkable moment.

And then I felt beckoned again. But to where? I had been here countless times and had never known another path other than the one I took along the waterside. My eyes were opened, though, and a sandy trail leading back into the forest suddenly revealed itself, summoning me to my feet. I walked again, not necessarily expectant of anything profound or meaningful. The forest quickly gave way to a clearing and once again it forked, leaving me with a choice. I decided to follow the path that ran closest to the water, and I felt my spirit soar when I completely exited the forest and came upon a bird sanctuary so vibrant that it’s beyond my talent to describe.

The emotions in me swelled, and as I walked I tried to come to terms with my happiness and delight in contrast to my melancholy and malaise. I wanted to sing, and yet I wanted to be sick. “It’s f—ing beautiful,” I said aloud to myself in awe. I wanted to be alone with its beauty and yet I wanted to share it with her, too. I wanted her to see it with her own eyes, and I imagined bringing her here during the autumn when the colors would be even more intense. The whole thing was too much for me to process. Grandeur is infinite and yet I felt so limited in what I could understand, in what I could allow my spirit to feel. It was overwhelming.

As I walked further into the sanctuary, I began to feel the “stirrings” within me starting to calm and the emotional extremes finding resolution. The water glistened and birds were everywhere. Each step I took resulted in frogs leaping and grasshoppers taking flight. The wind was mild and the osprey hovering effortlessly in its current of air seemed mindless of my presence. Eventually I came across a tower for watching birds and without hesitation I climbed the steps to the top. I imagined what it would be like to take her here and have her in the moment. It seemed that her presence was everywhere. It started within me and radiated outwards, illuminating the hills in the distance, the water shining before me and the water fowl dipping their beaks below the surface. I swear I could smell her in the breeze, in the fragrance of grass and vegetation at the height of summer.

I climbed down from the tower renewed, and yet I pressed on. I found myself singing to my music again and I felt peaceful. It was as if my soul had spoken to me. I imagined a bench in the beyond and I knew if I pressed on she would be waiting for me. I just knew that she would. It became hot as I walked along and since I brought nothing to drink I yearned for even a sip of the stagnant water that was worthy of mirroring the sky and yet undoubtedly unfit for quenching human thirst. It was at this time that I came across a Canadian goose that was killed in the middle of the path. All that remained were a few feathers scattered in memorial. Undeterred that death’s signature had etched its place in the pristine sanctuary, I walked on, as if into the haze of a long forgotten memory just about to surface.

Once I could see that the path came to a “T” in the distance, I knew I was upon my destination. As I approached, a wooden bench sat poised for a breathtaking view of the marsh, with a pastoral portrait of farmland in the distance and blue herons all around. I sat on the bench and spoke to her like I was expecting her to be truly there all along.

“I knew you would be here,” I found myself saying.

I could feel her response.

“I knew you would come,” she replied.

“It’s so beautiful here, we were meant to share it,” I said with excitement.

“Let’s enjoy this moment together, but understand that you’re to walk back without me.”

“I’m to return to alone?” I asked, feeling sadness creep in.

She nodded.

“I don’t know what’s to become of me?” I said. “I still don’t know why I’ve been beckoned?”

She had compassion in her eyes. “So that you can leave me behind.”

“I don’t know how to,” I confessed. “I see you in everything, I feel you in everything.”

“It’s time you get going.”

“But what’s to become of me?”

“You’re to become stronger, more loving, less controlled with your emotions. Most of all, you’re to allow God to enter your solitude while you reinterpret every image of every step you took here. You will not think of me.”

At that moment, for the first time all day, I felt my solitude wash over me and I felt no resistance. I retraced my steps, from the herons past the memorial of feathers. I continued along the waterside path until I got back to the tower. An old man now stood in the tower and I felt fear and apprehension as I approached him, believing that it was important that my aloneness remained undisturbed.

“It’s a great day to be out here,” I said.

He looked down on me, shirtless, aged from the sun, and replied: “Have you made the full circle?”

“I only walked to the end of the path,” I confessed.

“A tip for you,” he said. “Use a bike.”

Sure enough, leaning against the tower was a rusty, old bicycle that he used to circle the marsh.

I continued back to my car with this sense of being profoundly disturbed into health. It felt like I was departing with the knowledge that I had been pursuing my idea of her all along.

In the end, I was beckoned deep within the sanctuary so that I could surrender my love to an ideal more beautiful than my memories.

Inspiration of A Dog’s Religion

When it came to writing the book “A Dog’s Religion,” I thought about my subject for three or four months before I started to even make notes. The inspiration for the book came when I was attending a church in Warren Ohio.

Often I would choose a church with a theology I disagreed with because I found that I emotionally interacted with the material more. In the end I seem to get more out of the service. In this particular case, the pastor was talking about having a relationship with God. This was a subject that got my attention. He went on to talk about the “lost souls” and how it was Christ’s commission for us to make disciples so that others might be saved as well. I’m curious when people talk about being “saved” because I’m never quite sure what they mean. Saved from death? Saved from eternal punishment? Saved from their sins?

Of all the questions posed above, I’m most intrigued by being saved from sin – in a certain sense anyway. The fact is we cannot undo what we’ve done. Our actions in this world are indelibly traced into our history and there is no disconnect. It’s mortifying to think of some of the things we’ve done, and I’m sure most of us would love to erase moments in time when we’ve made a decision that hurt someone badly.

But I’m not sure this is what the pastor was concerned with when he talked about saving souls. He wasn’t talking about self-forgiveness as a result of believing in God’s forgiveness. He went on to make the congregation think of the faces of people they work with, their friends, their relatives, and how these people were in eternal danger as a result of their failure to acknowledge Christ as their savior. He even made the comment that other religions were not efficacious enough for salvation because believing in Christ was the key.

While I was listening to him describe the urgency we must adopt in order to accomplish this task, I started to look at the faces of the congregation around me. Were they buying this? Sure, some people stared ahead with glassy eyes, already thinking about the football game or what they were going to have for lunch. Others were nodding with a certain fierceness in their eyes. And then others, at least in the moment, looked rather ill or saddened as they sat there considering the fate of many of their loved ones.

Instantly, I formed this connection. The pastor said that the greatest joy in life was to have a relationship with God. However, if you do not form a relationship with God in your lifetime you are not only deprived now, but deprived for all eternity as well. As far as I was concerned, there had to be a way to create a circumstance that illustrated the cruel and unsympathetic nature of this type of thinking. The ability to believe in God, and even better, have a relationship with God, is a very special gift for the individual, and not all of us are “chosen” to receive this gift without a great amount of struggle (or at all for that matter). So if people lack that sense of spiritual connection and go about their lives with a void, it seems to diminish the “miracle” of that gift by simultaneously making it the vehicle by which people are eternally separated from God as well.

Kierkegaard wrote thousands of pages on this subject, and in the end I’m not sure if he believed in God or not. But he’s a great example of a man who wanted to. He “chose” to try to the best of his ability. If having a relationship with God is so fundamental to a meaningful life, the commission should be to share with people how you’ve been spiritually enriched by finding this connection so that they can make the choice to try to develop this in their own lives (and then pass it on themselves).

So “A Dog’s Religion” was born from a situation where I decided that even one person holding an exclusive view of salvation was too many as far as I was concerned. Instead, I decided to write a book that would leave the impression that God will make every individual’s struggle worthwhile when all is said and done.

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