I mentioned earlier in the week that I was in touch with an old grade school pal who is with the State Department. I've also been in touch with another friend that I haven't seen since childhood. He went on to become a nationally prominent newspaper publisher, although he left the paper business a few years ago. J wasn't a flashy guy or the kind of guy you would immediately identify as a future star. He was very smart, but he wasn't a top student or an athlete and he doesn't have an Ivy League education. He worked every day after school in a grocery store and attended a state college.
There was much that was objectionable about their approach to education, but those grade school nuns did provide us with the fundamentals. None of my grade school friends that went on to great success had outlandishly privileged childhoods. We lived in a tough, mostly working class town. I'm not saying it was better in the old days. In many respects, it was not better. But I have a warm spot in my heart for my earliest friends Even as children, they were hardworking, unassuming, very decent human beings.
Perhaps the most important thing we learned from the nuns was that our personal gain was less important than service to others. If success comes, it should be incidental to one's greater mission. Service wasn't the window dressing of Christianity; it was at the heart of the Christianity of my childhood. By comparison, the public face of Christianity today often seems crass, self-serving and exhibitionistic.
Stephen came up in the conversation with one of my old friends. Stephen was a bully. He and I got along fine, but he had an explosive temper and he could be cruel. The stereotype of a bully is that he doesn't go after bigger guys or other tough guys. That wasn't Stephen. He wouldn't hesitate to attack someone twice his size or someone several years older.
A few years ago, Stephen told me that he has been deeply remorseful about his childhood bullying. He went so far as to find and apologize to people he remembers abusing. He feels terrible about it.
I always had mixed feelings about Stephen. Not that his behavior was excusable, but Stephen was a neighbor and there was a back story. It was not pretty. Most of the time, the nuns were hard on Stephen, but I think they understood that there were serious problems--much too much for a little boy to handle.
It seemed, sometimes, that they tried to reach out to Stephen. They made him a "patrol boy" and gave him a badge. I didn't think that was such a good idea, but I can see what they were trying to accomplish. Actually, he wasn't too bad as a patrol boy-bus monitor, but was otherwise still out of control. I suspect that the only reason Stephen wasn't expelled was that the nuns realized that they were his only hope for something better in life.
I was thinking about another old friend who went on to become an Air Force colonel. He had an older brother who served in Vietnam. The night his brother came home from the war, the brother and his fiance were killed in car wreck.
I've always wondered if he was inspired by his brother to pursue a military career. Interesting thing is he isn't one of those military tough guys--a Great Santini type. He was an aviator for many years, but ended up more on the human services and public relations side of the military.
Whatever...he did good.