Halloween fell on a Saturday in 2020. It was now Friday, the day before Halloween; our eighth week. I was working with Lily in her office:
“Are you and the Principal on good terms yet?” I asked Lily.
“We will be fine. People just don’t like being called out. It’s an ego killer—You should know that,” she replied, smiling at me, “Don’t worry about it.”
I had told Lily about the ass-chewing I had received from the Principal because of that suicide story of mine. She knew of the article of course; and she knew what I was doing in my class with the students. As the school’s councilor she was very supportive. Upon hearing what happened, let’s just say she did not take kindly to how the principal made me feel that day: Actually, she was pissed.
Without my knowing, Lily privately went to bat for me with Principal Sam. After whatever she said, the Principal actually apologized to me.
I would never have asked her to do what she did, but this was the type of person Lily was. While I might have gotten an apology, and a little pressure taken off my shoulders, Lily was now on the Principal’s shit list. There had been tension between the two of them ever since.
In attempt to stop us from being distracted, Lily tried to bring us back on task, “…Enough fooling around Jose, we need to finish these little conversations of ours. Let’s just get it done.”
We were working on a project together for the next week. We were calling it, “Deciphering Texts.”
Adjusting my seat, I smiled and complied with her demands, “Fine Ms. Lily, whatever you say,” and resumed typing on the laptop that was on the desk in front of me.
A knock on the office door interrupted the silent punching of keyboards.
“Come in,” announced Lily.
It was Lauren, “Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds, but can one of you let me in Principal Sam’s office to get the speaker to bring outside.”
Laughing at her own cleverness, Lauren offered us her million-dollar smile. Lily and I exchanged a humorous look with one another over Lauren’s suspicious nature, as I responded, “I got it,” and stood up to bring her to the principal’s office.
After my week stay in a detox facility back in 2014, I came out a new man.
To help with my recovery I was prescribed medicine that was designed to block opiates from my system. This medicine made it so even if I did use, I couldn’t get ‘high’. Having gotten past the physical effects of withdrawal this actual medicine made me feel like I had recovery locked down. I could not drink alcohol on this medicine either; another bonus: I could smoke weed though—A Lifesaver!
Part of my agreed treatment plan with my family was to begin meeting a councilor on a weekly basis. Everyone came together in an effort to find me someone good. Who they found was amazing.
This councilor was an older man who got me asking myself some really good questions. His ability to make me think about what I was actually saying was like some form of magic. In truth, he talked very little. Like a ninja, he could pick at my words with precision and say simple things that would force me to dissect what I was saying myself.
This guy was expensive though; eighty dollars on top of what insurance covered per visit. But like he told me when we first met; “It was justified.”
With this guy’s help I had done some sole searching and decided that I hated selling stuff. Every job I’d had since graduating college required me to do this (Yes, even teaching according to doc). With this insight I decided that I was going back to swinging a hammer: I wanted to build things again.
With renewed ambition, and a desire to redeem myself, I created a business: JoJo’s Design and Carpentry Services.
Where did this name come from, you may ask?
Well, Sirena and I called our son this name often; it was just a nickname for him. However, I had envisioned it as a nickname of sorts for myself also. When I felt good about life, I would tell Sirena, “I have found my JoJo.”
In my mind, “finding my JoJo” meant discovering my inner child. And no, I was not ‘high’ when I came up with this—Okay…maybe some marijuana might have been in play….
***End Of Breaking Knews***
Our school decided to celebrate Halloween by letting students go trick-or-treating at decorated stations outside the building; all of it carefully set up to comply with social distancing requirements. Teachers and other building staff had done their best to put together something fun for them knowing that many cities in the state were not doing trick-or-treating this year due to the pandemic.
Most everyone was wearing costumes. I was wearing my ‘Robin’ costume as Lauryn (too cool for a costume) walked down the hall with me to grab a speaker to bring outside.
“I’m sorry Mr. J, it was me that gave Principal Sam your story,” she said; getting the truth off her chest as we had a few minutes alone.
She was referring to that suicide article from two weeks prior; the one Principal Sam chewed my ass over.
I had known this already, and decided then to tell her, “I know you did; and you don’t have to be sorry.”
Not mad, or surprised, just matter-of-factly, she replied, “Maybe I shouldn’t listen to what adults tell me to do so much, huh?”
I assumed that this meant Principal Sam had asked her to report on what was going on in our class.
“You said it, not me,” I replied, smiling through my mask; hoping she could see I was not upset. Continuing I said, “Everything happens for a reason and I should probably thank you Lauryn.” Grabbing the small speaker to bring outside I went on, “After getting called out by the Principal about my story I had a breakthrough…I realized that I would have to start opening up to you guys if I wanted to make our class work.”
There was no way she could understand what I meant by this, so she asked the only logical question, “What do you mean?”
“Just wait until you read this week’s article…you’ll get it.”
Knowing me well enough to accept I would not elaborate at that moment; and would have only told her to be patient, she changed the subject, “What are you doing for Halloween tomorrow?”
“Leominster is still doing trick-or-treating, so me and the three boys are going together. I’m pretty pumped. I haven’t taken the twins for probably five years now.”
Lauryn had learned of my situation by now: I was a father to identical twin boys that were now twelve, and one boy that was now six; turning seven on November 1st, the day after Halloween.
Having been married twice, I had two ex-wives that made getting all the boys together on holidays like this very complicated. Probably realizing this in here head, Lauryn spoke her truth as we walked through the door back into the cold outside air, “Mr. J, your life is more f***ed than I can even imagine, isn’t it?”
Loving the brutal honest nature of her words, I responded with a laugh, “You have no idea…”
Week 8 (10.30.20):
“P.A.I.N. through Worry”
“HOW could you change the world?”
After writing this question on my white board I slowly turned around to look out at my students. A familiar silence filled the room.
What was I expecting them to say?
When I am trying to make a point, I often do this. I ask questions or do something that I do not fully expect them to understand at first. Sooner or later they will understand this about me…
Last week’s article I wrote was about ‘Anger.’ After reading it, you may be wondering how I feel right now. You may be worried that I’m still upset over that argument with the principal.
Well, I need you to understand that just like every emotion that makes up this class on P.A.I.N., feeling angry is natural. Last week’s lesson (article/story) showed you what happens when this emotion takes over.
The fact is, when I was young, I was known for my temper. My past is full of events that lead to walls being punched and words being thrown at people that were not very nice. Looking back, I almost always experienced feelings of shame afterwards.
I have since accepted that worrying about things done out of anger is inevitable.
Let’s be honest, looking at the world today there are millions of things to get angry over. In last week’s article I “stirred the pot” by bringing up some of the things that are dividing us. Now let me try and defuse any conflict or controversy by telling you here that I made most of it up.
I was never really that mad. The Principal and I were able to make amends soon after we got in that little disagreement of ours, and the story about my walk around the neighborhood was simply a collection of thoughts that I have had over the years— I do walk though.
Let me explain why I wrote what I did…
In the first few weeks I have done the following things with these weekly articles of ours: First, I tried to bring us together: Then, I tried to get us thinking: And last week, I tried to get us all invested.
Now that you know this, PLEASE keep the following things in mind as we proceed. If you are going to enjoy what we are doing here then you must do three things: 1) Ask questions about what you read, 2) Be patient with trying to understand, and 3) Have faith that everything will make sense at the end of this class. —You are, in fact, part of this story now: My hope is that when we are done here you will be inspired to take action in some way to change things, this world needs you!
Alright then, with that out of the way, let us get back to class:
“What would happen if you COULD change the world?”
After being called “dumb” for implying that someone could change the world, I returned to my white board and wrote the slightly different question you just read. “Imagine you could,” I said, “What do you think would happen?”
Again, nothing but silence and blank faces filled the room. But I could tell that I had them—I could see their sleeping minds waking up.
To be honest, this is all I ask for as a teacher: To inspire my students to think, to wonder, to ask themselves; “What if?”
These types of discussions are my favorite as you can never anticipate where they will go. That is the beauty of encouraging people to use their imaginations (a skill we no longer use enough).
Truthfully, I had no idea what they would say.
With no one speaking, I began to think that having them write down their thoughts in their journals may be the best way to proceed with the lesson. But then these words broke the silence…
“You would piss a lot of people off.”
The words were not spoken loudly. And they were muffled because the student that said it was in the back of the room with a hood on and their head down. Like usual, I had simply assumed that this child was not listening (you know what happens when we ‘ass-u-me’). But when this student muttered these words the entire class heard exactly what was said.
And so it began, a wonderful discussion about why so many people would be upset if we COULD change the world. The hooded figure, Candace, said it best, “We would have to convince everyone to think like us. Which would mean convincing countless people that their way of thinking is wrong. Who wants to be told that they are wrong?”
I love being a teacher. It is a great feeling to be presented with questions by students that you don’t know how to answer.
“What do you think—Is Candace right?” I asked the rest of the class.
“But Mr. J, I’m worrying about how to change my own life. That’s hard enough. I really cannot be bothered with something so hypothetical.”
“I understand that,” I said, “But, let me ask you this: Does human conflict affect your ability to find peace in your life—Do you find yourself worried or ashamed over what is happening around you?? If so, doesn’t this hinder your ability to change your own life—To find the ‘happy’ you are looking for??”
No one spoke at these rhetorical questions of mine, so I put these words in their mouth for them, “If these things do effect you, then I can think of only solution…We Must Change The World—sorry.”
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
Can you change the world?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“Some things are worth fighting for.”
— No Easy way out by Robert Tepper