In every life, there are people who determine who you are or what you do. Aside from my immediate family, there are two individuals who helped define who I am, but I need to save those for another discussion. But we as humans interact with others and whether we know it or not, they do lead us in certain directions in life.
About 10-15 years ago, there was a short round nun, Sister Dragotta, who directed the religious education in my church. I myself am somewhat a loner and make a point to avoid people. This little nun was just the opposite. For some reason, she thought I was a nice guy and made it a point to sit with me when she saw me at a dinner or get together, even when I sat in the far corner of the room. Before I knew it, a dozen people where around me, because they wanted to sit with her. I always welcomed her, since I found her personality energetic and effervescent. I start calling her Sister Livewire, as it just seemed to fit. After her tour in the parish, and she returned to a Milwaukee convent, I sent her a card addressed to “Livewire Dragotta”. She replied back that she had a devil of a time explaining to the other nuns where she got that name.
One day after Mass, she stopped me in the foyer and asked me, “Dwaine, I want to ask you something. I want to ask you something.” (She said everything twice. She said everything twice.) “I want you to think about becoming one of the CCD teachers. (Sunday School). Just think about it, Dwaine. Don’t answer me now. Don’t answer now, just think about it.”
That’s where I went wrong. I thought about it. Twice.
I ended up teaching a class of 14 & 15 year olds. (9th & 10th graders) They were at the age where they start to realize they know everything, and it was at the time of my life, when I realized how little I really knew. So, it went better than I thought. In doing so, I realized teaching is just a higher form of learning, for I learned a great deal from the seven years of working with them.
One of the things I did every Sunday morning, was ask the kids, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how was your week?”
I did this for two reasons. One, it got the kids feeling comfortable talking in the class; and two, it got them talking about home and school, which helped me better understand their personal lives. I would say 90% of the kids came from good family life. (although some would have argued with me)
I would tell them they could not use One or Ten. One is when you died and went to Hell, and Ten was when you died and went to Heaven, so everything had to between One and Ten. I remember one girl came to class one Sunday morning in a foul mood. When I asked her, “Scale of one to ten?” she said, “One!”
“You can’t use One.”
“Well, then 1.5!”
I sadly said, “Oh! Your dog died and your house burned down!”
“Oh! Your house burned down!”
“Oh! Your dog died?”
It didn’t take long for her to start laughing and talking about the real cause of her foul mood, which didn’t deserve a low number. There was one interesting young man who always gave me a complex number such as 8.233654. But it was always above an eight. We figured 7.0 to be normal.
The class was interesting and I had each kid for two years, so I got to know them pretty well. There was one girl who was an only child with a dominant mother and effeminate father, so she herself was dominating and outspoken. This was a time in my life that I was somewhat separated from my first wife, and was the object of a few discussions among the parish populace. Didn’t bother me any as life continued on, but she would make a few sly remarks about my personal life at times. I just ignored them and kept going. Yet, after the two years I had her, and she moved to the next class, she would sneak out of that class about once a month and sit back in mine.
I had one young man who seemed to make it his lot in life to disrupt the class. He was an only child also, whose parents were wealthy through an inheritance and a bit arrogant. They were ones who liked to churn out rumors. A few years later, I happened across him and he said, “Remember me? I was probably your worst kid in class!” I wasn’t just about to give him that satisfaction, so I stated, “You? Worst kid in class? Nah. You were a piece of cake!” I felt the hot air gush out of his balloon.
There was one girl who had a perfect attendance and at the very last class I brought her a rose to show her my appreciation. She wasn’t there, due to a late school function the previous night.
I created several exercises to try teaching them something, some successful and some flopped. I had purchased a roll of butcher paper and drew sections for each week. Each section was further divided into squares to match the number of kids in class. Their task every Sunday morning, was to color or draw something about themselves, or school or home, or whatever they wanted in their assigned square, and then sign it. At the very least, they had to sign their name in pencil to show they were there. The very least.
At the last class of the year, we would take that rolled up paper, the scroll, into the gym and roll it out. The kids would walk along it and see what all they did throughout the year. I pointed out to the class, that the empty squares showed they were not at class, and those squares would never be filled.
I said, “Look at some of the beautiful colors people used! The ideas they had at the time! Amazing! … and some have simply signed their name in pencil.”
One young man said, “But you said we could do that.”
“I said, at the very least, put your name in pencil. You will never have an opportunity to add to the scroll now. This is just like Life. You only get one chance each day. Don’t let the day slip away without leaving a mark.”
There was another exercise that involved a weird puzzle I created of a tree with branches. Live and dead branches. The idea was to show them you have to trim off the dead branches before new ones can be grown. The purpose of the exercise, was to make them understand, we all make mistakes and that is okay as long as you learn from them. (trimming off the dead branches) So, the bottom line is, learn from your mistakes, but also realize others make mistakes as well. Forgive them as you forgive yourself for making mistakes. That’s how we all learn.
There was a pop test I gave them. It was a list of 20 people, and they had to list on a scale of 1 to 5 whether they could live with them. The list of people was strange. I had: a reformed alcoholic, reformed drug dealer, someone with AIDS, someone who got out of prison for murder, someone who was gay, someone who had a sex change, etc. Even listed then president, Bill Clinton. They had to be honest. Then they added up their score and compared it to a perfect score of 100. Afterwards I asked them, if Jesus took this test, what would his score be?
One of people on the list was an ex-neo-Nazi. I explained to them what the word “neo” meant, but made the mistake expecting them to know what a Nazi was. When I realized there was a problem, I asked the class who could define a Nazi? Silence. Then one kid raised his hand and asked, “Wasn’t he that, … that Hitler dude?” I tell you Dear Reader, I almost cried. There is no doubt they could tell me who Michael Jackson was, or Hans Solo or any actor who played on a sit-com. But someone who irreversibly damaged millions of future generations? No.
That really affected me, and when I got home I asked my daughter if she knew what a Nazi was? She was the same age as these kids, and she replied defiantly, “Well, yes.” I looked at her, and had to ask, “Well, what is it?” She replied, “It was the political party in Germany during World War Two.” I stated, “That’s right”, without letting her know I forgot about the political party stuff. That young generation was redeemed by my daughter, at least to me.
Okay. I rambled on too long.