Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shame and Love

"Shame" is not a concept I spend much time thinking about. It's not something I was raised with (quite the opposite, really), and is not an emotion that has much hold on me. The closest I've come though, was in the 6th grade.

I was not a "neat" child - which is to say, I was probably like most 9 or 10 year old American kids. I was easily distracted and a "dreamer" (or alternately accused of being a "space cadet" if you'll recall that lovely 70's idiom) and today some well-meaning doctor would likely say I had (and still have) Attention Deficit Disorder or an inability to focus on things that do not seem of import to me. I was, as you might imagine, not overly concerned with keeping my personal space tidy or organized.

The only place this really mattered, other than my room (which I'm sure pained my Mom), was in school. Each student had their own desk in the classroom and at the beginning of the year, there were little paper name placards declaring who was assigned to which one. As the months went by and my area was often rather messy, my teacher began to take serious note of the situation. I may not have been terribly concerned with my lack or organizational skills - but my teacher was; and she became determined to "make an example of me".  Each day, we students would come in and open our desks to retrieve our materials for the day. The desks were the kind where the top surface (polished pine-colored wood veneer) lifted, and there was a long shallow trough to hold pencils, pens and a ruler, and a large, rounded metal compartment underneath to store your books, paper and other supplies - which in my case often included a sweater and possibly snacks left over from Lunches Past. Though all the necessary components were there, writing on the surface of your desk (amongst other things), was "frowned upon". It turns out, those "other things" were even more important.

Each student was expected to "keep personal areas clean and clear" (or some such phrase that didn't carry much meaning for me at the time), but as I have mentioned, neatness was not my forte - I had other concerns that seemed far more important, like trying to pay attention to what the teacher was saying when it was distractingly lovely outside or singing to myself when I became bored. While I was at the top of my class in the SRA Reading Labs (anyone remember those??), I fell behind on the keeping-my-area-neat rule a few times too many, and my teacher decided that Something Had To Be Done. I came in to class one morning to find that my desk had been dumped unceremoniously upside-down, and the contents were spilling out Everywhere. To gild this image, there was a sign written on a piece of binder paper and taped to the now topside bottom of my desk, which read, "Pig Sty". The students laughed at my distress as they came into the classroom, and the teacher angrily told me that now I had to clean it up. This seemed unbearably unfair (not to mention physically challenging), and I remember the embarrassment of not being able to hold back tears as I tried to lift and overturn the heavy desk and gather in the papers, pencils, books, sweaters, probably food and other items that now completely surrounded me. Once I had the desk righted and had put everything away as best I could (most importantly to my teacher, that meant nothing peeking out from under the lid), I was made to put the sign on the back of my chair and leave it there all day. Or was it all that week? It is the first time I can recall, that I felt shame.

Shame was not a concept I had been taught, or even really been exposed to, much less internalized. Looking back, I think it is a credit to my mother that I hadn't encountered it before this time. Having been raised by a Pack of Wild Hippies (no, really - I don't think Mom would argue that point),  I hadn't encountered lessons-via-shaming before this. It was one of the creeds if you will of the Hippie philosophy, that shame is unhealthy and there are better ways to get lessons across to a child. What you DID teach your children - with all sorts of interpretive freedom of expression, of course - was Love. If anything can be said to be the "religion" I was raised with, it is Love.

Is it really such a far stretch then, that all these years later, I have found myself drawn to a religion that espouses Love as the highest ideal? In one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is asked by a scribe what the first or greatest commandment is. Jesus answers,

"The first is, ' shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength'. The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Love - for God, for your "neighbor", for all you encounter - Love is the greatest commandment. How can I not be drawn to a Teacher with such a powerful, earth-shaking, life-changing message? /3/17/12

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