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Posts from — September 2012

Kindergarten Wisdom

Kindergarten Wisdom

Back in the early 70s, I was at university and looking for a way to pay the bills. Fate opened the door to a teacher’s aide position, and I found myself working in a kindergarten to a wonderful woman, Julia Harper. My duties included things such as helping Mrs. Harper in the classroom, keeping an eye on our kids in the cafeteria during the half hour lunch break, and making sure that the kids got picked up after school. I had just begun a formal study in philosophy at the University of Florida, and the timing couldn’t have been better, since proverbial pearls of philosophical wisdom routinely fell from the mouths of the babes in my charge. One day, a little African American boy named Jamie tugged on my jeans. Looking down, I saw two, beautiful, brown eyes gazing up at me, and I was so charmed that all I could think of to say was, “Yes?” whereupon Jamie asked, “Are you God?” I told him I wasn’t, and thought I would have a little fun, so I fired back a question, asking him when the universe was created. Not missing a heat, he said, “1968.” I guess that was right, at least as far as his universe was concerned. On another occasion, a roundish girl named Teresa climbed to the top of one of berms bordering the playground, then rolled all the way to the bottom of the hill, landing right beside where I was standing. I thought I’d have some fun, so I asked her, “Teresa, as you were rolling down that hill, were you filled with existential dread and the sense that you might fall off into the void?” Teresa replied matter-of-factly, “No, I had my eyes closed.” There was another occasion, this time in the cafeteria. I was standing at a table where six kids were eating lunch and together. One of them was Jamie, the other, Hans, who was white. At one point, Hans noticed me standing by the table and pointing to Jamie, said to me, “We’re brothers.” I asked him, “Really?” He nodded. I thought I would push the issue a bit. “Are you really, really brothers.” Hans replied in the affirmative. “No, Hans,” I said, “I mean, do you have the same mother and father.” Hans regarded me with a look that could only be described as tolerant, and said, “Everyone has the same mother and the same father.” He had stopped me in my tracks. “They do?” I asked. “Yes,” said Hans, “Mother Nature—and George Washington.” One day after that, when the kids were waiting in the pickup circle after school, Hans came over to me and out the blue asked, “Do you know what doesn’t matter?” I was already entertained, and asked, “No, what doesn’t matter.” As though expressing infallible logic, Hans answered, “When a bee stings you on the shoe, that doesn’t matter.” Over forty years later, I’m still laughing at that.

I was a young man then. In less than a year, I would become a father. Philosophy was setting my inner life on fire, and the kids, spontaneous and immediate and undistracted by thinking provided me with a grounding in my heart, and I still feel extraordinarily privileged to have had that job for the year I did, and grateful to Mrs. Harper, wherever she is. I think that those of us whose hearts have been closed by too many years of suffering or struggle; who still believe that happiness lies just ahead in the next relationship or the next promotion or the time when we can pay off our debts; who feel, as the Fisher King Myth puts it so beautifully, “sick with experience,” should spend some time in a kindergarten as soon as possible. After that, most of the things we fret about, things to which we assign life-or-death importance, turn out to be a bee sting on the shoe.

September 10, 2012   Comments Off on Kindergarten Wisdom