I learned a lesson that shaped my life in what was perhaps a tangential conversation to a day’s English lesson, and gave meaning to a well-intended, yet immensely distressing, event a year before.
I was a freshman in high school, and oh-so-fortunate to have a teacher named Paul Meredith. He taught not only the accelerated English course I was in, but the course for those who struggled so much they didn’t even qualify for the most basic of English classes. The kids on the outside, the ones we didn’t see.
Of course we called him Mr. Meredith, and one day, Mr. Meredith told us, “it’s not what happens in your life that determines who you are, but how you handle those events.” Or words to that effect. A new thought for me that day, but one that’s echoed throughout my life.
There was another Paul who entered my life a year before, in eighth grade. This Paul was one of those we didn’t see in high school, but in junior high, because our school was so small, he was visible.
Paul had been going to a different school up to then, called Mark Twain, for boys with behavioral problems. Much to my shame now, we tended to look down on them. Paul apparently had progressed enough they thought he could handle coming back to our “regular” school.
I guess he had a crush on me. He stood out from the other boys in my class because he always called me by name and was incredibly polite. I bet someone had worked with him on that.
One day I was wearing an elastic-waist skirt, peasant-style with a matching blouse, and another boy yanked it down. While my friends scrambled to pull it back up, Paul hit the boy in my defense, more than once. In fact, I think there was quite a scuffle. As a result, he was sent back to Mark Twain.
I had a hard time with that. I kept trying to explain what had happened, that he was only defending me. My parents & teachers told me his intention wasn’t what got him in trouble. It was how he handled it. Much later, I finally understood
I’ve cried more than once remembering him, and what he did on my behalf that cost him. It wasn’t about me, yet, it was. I hope someone told him, “Paul, yeah, you messed up, but hey, she stood up for you. You made the right impression.”
What’s more, for years I’ve wanted to tell Paul that whether or not I showed it, whether or not I even realized it at the time, I deeply appreciated his calling me by name.
No doubt his anger was the consequence of something that wasn’t his fault, and ultimately, it wouldn’t be what happened to him, it would be how he handled it that would determine the man he would become. Anger is tough to change, but he was young, and he was trying.
To both the man and the boy named Paul, I remember you.
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