Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The fairest fair that ever fared

So, perhaps this is not appropriate for a blog whose subtitle reads "an explication of domesticity."
I never was too into appropriate.
At Bible study last night, a good portion of what we studied came out of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. The focus of the study was on the truth that life is not fair, but "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
This study was incredibly apt, because just earlier that day, I had done a radical revision of a piece for my Teaching College Writing class. The subject of my piece? Life is not fair.
I thought I would share:
Read, if you care.
(I promise: there will be no more rhyming in this piece for you to bear)
In high school, I worked part-time as a waitress in a local restaurant that might as well have been a retirement home. The restaurant floor was in a constant traffic jam, backed up by blue-haired old ladies in wheel chairs, widowers hunched over walkers, and waitresses swerving swiftly through these customers, attempting to serve the rest of the over-65 clientele promptly. In our small town, each of my customers always ended up being a childhood friend’s grandma , so I frequently heard remarks such as, “my how you’ve grown! I remember when you were still in diapers!” and “now honey – stay in school. It is the best life insurance you’ll ever have!”

One afternoon, I went out to a table in my section, and there sat my first-grade teacher, looking exactly as she did when I was in first grade (old), and her husband. I said “hello” and “what can I get you to drink?” and it was clear that she, understandably, did not remember me.
            As the meal went on, I realized it wasn’t just me that she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember what she had ordered to drink. She couldn’t remember whether she liked gravy on her mashed potatoes. She couldn’t even remember the name of the restaurant where she was eating.

            I remembered her, however, quite clearly. Before first grade, I was still under the Sunday-school class delusion that everything in life was fair. The sort of fair that manifests itself in an even-number of goldfish for each person; the sort of fair that calls on the first student that raises his or her hand in class.   
            My first-grade teacher shattered that delusion. In first grade, in addition to learning the basics of mathematics, phonics, and earth science, we were also given opportunities to exercise our artistic faculties and create. These opportunities, if given in any other context, would have been more than exciting for my six-year-old self. During my formative years, I was given the nickname the “craft queen.” After arriving home from pre-school and kindergarten, I would raid the crayons, the construction paper, and the glitter glue, because each afternoon was an opportunity for a masterpiece. And, of course, behind every masterpiece lies a master (or, in my frilly-dressed case, a mistress).

            In first grade, I was not given mastery over my creations. In fact, I was not even given mastery over my creative tools. My first grade teacher, a dinosaur even from my now-adult perspective, provided us with specific crayons (generic, not Crayola), specific construction paper, and specific scissors. Right-handed scissors.
            I am left-handed.

            After a day of cutting unsuccessfully, left-handed, with the right-handed scissors (my lines were crooked and my fingers were blistered), I came home, raided my craft stock-pile at home, and took my left-handed scissors with me to class the next day.
            When craft-time came, I started cutting away (quite quickly, I might add), with my left-handed scissors. As I was cutting, I could feel her, hunched-over, looming behind me.
            “Why are you not using the scissors I gave you?”
            I replied with a simple, “I’m left-handed. Those are right-handed scissors. So I brought left-handed scissors.”
            She reached down and snatched my scissors out of my hands. “You have to use the scissors I gave you,” she retorted, “each student uses the same scissors. It’s only fair.”
            At the end of the year, I received a “B” in art because, for some reason, “Anna cannot cut a straight line.”
            That “B,” of course, hardly changed the course of my life – I was still about to go off to college, about to receive the “best life insurance I’ll ever have!” But the lesson -- the lesson that complete fairness is almost always impossible. That left-handed scissors would be fair to me, and unfair to my classmates. That sometimes you turn in someone’s order before filling up someone else’s sweet tea. That sometimes old age brings walkers, sometimes it brings memory loss, and sometimes it brings nothing at all. And sometimes one eighty year old can remember whether or not she wants gravy on her mashed potatoes, and the other eighty year old draws a complete blank.

1 comment:

  1. You're such a great writer, Anna! I seriously love reading your posts :) And can I just tell you how much I connect with this post??? Everyday I wonder why some of my residents can't even remember how many kids they have, while others have perfect memories. AND, I'm left handed also, and my 4th grade teacher gave me a bad grade for my cursive because I couldn't slant it as well as the right-handers!! :( But really- what a jerk your teacher was- taking your scissors away!! Both great examples of the unfairness of life.