To My Six Year Old Nephew As He Starts First Grade

English: France in 2000 year (XXI century). Fu...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know right now it is all the excitement of a new backpack and a new pencil-case and new notebooks and maybe a bit of apprehension about who your new teacher will be, and if your best friend is going to be in your classroom.  You are already, academically speaking, way ahead of your fellow students, and I think you know that, so that isn’t going to be an issue.  But I foresee a day, maybe not soon, maybe not even this year, but someday you are going to ask some nearby adult, “Why do I have to go to school?”

I asked that question over and over again during those 12 years, and I never got a good answer.  I don’t think teachers and parents have an answer to that question.  “You have to do it because we had to do it,” is the closest they’ll get. Because, really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If the point really was to learn ‘reading, writing and arithmetic,’ then the last place they’d send you is to a room full of distractions. (i.e. other kids)

No, the answer to the question, “Why do I have to go to school?” is not to learn how to spell ‘Mississippi’ or the square root of 144, or the date of the Battle of Hastings.

The answer is, you go to school to learn how to be a functional member of society. You go to school to learn how to make friends.  You go to school to learn how to get what you need (attention, assistance, resources) in the midst of competitive forces.

This is the secret to a successful academic career: learn how to get along with people.  This world isn’t made up of facts and figures, it is made up of people.  Especially nowadays with all the information you need literally in the palm of your hand, always accessible.

Oh, sure, if the apocalypse comes and our cell phones stop working, you’ll need some facts, like how to make fire, and which wild berries are safe to eat.  But you won’t learn that in school anyway.  No, the people who would survive the apocalypse are the same people who succeeded at school, the same people who learned how to just get along with everyone.

This is what I wish I had learned in school.  I wish the adults around me had stopped harping on my bad grades and had harped instead on my lack of friends.  I wish they had taught me the skills I needed to stop being so afraid of people’s emotions. Instead, I learned to hide from the other kids.  I learned to bury myself in fiction. I learned how to dress and walk and talk so anonymously that people who sat next to me in home room for four years of high school do not remember me being there at all. (this is not an exaggeration – this really happened.)

Anyway, back to you, my favoritist nephew. All you really have to do for the next 12 years of your life is learn how to make friends, and keep them.  Learn how to be nice and caring and empathetic. Learn to work with people who think differently than you do.  Learn how to enjoy the company of others.  Because that is why you have to go to school.

It won’t be easy, but it is worth the effort.

An open letter to a lost friend

To celebrate your anniversary, you posted a picture from your wedding on your Facebook page.  It is one of those perfect pictures, where everyone in it looks beautiful and the moment it captures is a moment worth capturing.  A moment that holds a million memories.

I remember the moment. I remember the song. I remember the dance.

I am in that picture. On the far right side. You could have easily edited me out.

We met when you were nineteen and I was twenty. We were instant best friends. For the next couple years we were inseparable. We liked the same music and books, TV shows and movies. The local pub was our second home and our circle of friends were the best people in the world.

And then…

You met your future husband.
You stopped going to the pub, because he didn’t drink.
You started eating the foods he ate, you started liking the music he liked.
His hobbies became yours.
You changed.

I started a new job, and gained new friends.
I started reading new books and thinking new thoughts.
I changed.

At a party, I said something to you that I will regret forever.

You moved away with him.

And then…

Two years later, inexplicably, you forgave me. You asked me to be a bridesmaid. I said yes.

In the picture, you and I are joined by two of our friends from those happy days. The song is “I Think I Love You” by the Monkees, and the dance is the routine we made up for it back in ’93 at the height of our Karaoke year.  We knew the song and the dance so well that even though it had been a while, it all came back to us like we’d danced it the day before.

I look closely at my face in the picture, looking for the signs of what I was thinking. It has been seventeen years since that well captured moment, but I will never forget those thoughts.

I was thinking about the horrible thing I said to you, at that party, the last time we did our dance to that song.

I was thinking about how I made you cry.

I was thinking about how the music for our song started as if timed with my terrible phrase, and how I pulled you onto the dance floor anyway and how you danced through your tears, and even managed to smile, but I knew that things would never be the same between us.

And they never were.

You moved back for a little while after your wedding, then moved away again.  I never really got to know you as a wife and mother, and now…  Now more things than a few nasty words separate us.

That captured moment contains the thoughts of another.  Inside that happy moment is a sad one. The words are meaningless, but the meaning behind them is clear. I thought it was his fault. He came along and suddenly my best friend was gone.  I missed you so much.  I lashed out at you with all my feelings of pain and loss and hit you where I knew it would hurt you the most: I insulted him.

But you forgave me.

I pull back my focus from my own face and look at the whole picture. We are beautiful. We are happy.

Maybe when you look at that picture, you only remember the joys we shared.  The fun we had together.  Because, I can see now, all of that is captured there too.

You could have cut me out of the picture, but you didn’t.

Another inexplicable forgiveness.  For that, and for all the moments this picture captured, the happy ones and the sad, I thank you.