Wednesday, April 26, 2006
77. Are the Kids Alright?
We've suffered a loss in our town recently: A preschool teacher at the school where my wife teaches fell gravely ill and passed away. She was only in her mid-40s, and left behind children, one of whom is a first-grader. She worked with the local high school's cheerleading squad, and both schools will be closed tomorrow for her funeral. When the closing was announced over the high school's P.A. system, students cheered at the news they were getting a day off. One of them said to my wife that it was sad she died, but why get angry when something good--a day off--comes out of it? My wife maintained the kind of silence we reserve for such moments, when we're reminded of nature's grabby little heart.
But thinking of the disconnect between my wife and me and kids like that, I was reminded of the moment in A Christmas Story (1983) when the teacher, Miss Shields (Tedde Moore), interrogates her class after Flick gets his tongue stuck on the flagpole: "Now I know that some of you put Flick up to this, but he has refused to say who. But those who did it know their blame, and I'm sure that the guilt you must feel would be far worse than any punishment you might receive. Now, don't you feel terrible? Don't you feel remorse for what you have done?" Jean Shepherd is quick to cut in: "Adults loved to say things like that but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught." And I can remember talking to a teenager--a perfectly nice person--after seeing Larry Clark/Harmony Korine's Kids (1995), whose comments made it clear she knew what those kids were doing was pretty horrible, but typical. She did not share my dismay and despair. Now, Kids' world is Hell compared to Ralphie, Flick and Co.'s, but I don't think they are separate, like, say, good and evil are. I haven't thought this through, but it seems I cannot shake the desire to see the world as I'd like it to be while still knowing it spins along its own greasy wheels, driven by flame and leaving behind our "smudge and smell," and heaven help you if you don't know it.
I just wanted that teacher to go gently, but I also hear the grating whine of our orbit, hurtling through the dark. When I was in high school we had a spate of bomb threats--all idle, all rumored to be called in by students attempting to avoid various tests or assignments--and the school would dutifully send us all home--at our leisure, as I recall, since we were permitted first to go to our lockers. I was at mine, and a guy next to me asked what the homework was for one class or another. Clever me, I told him it didn't matter, since the school wasn't going to be here tomorrow anyway. A teacher overheard, spun me around, pressed my shoulders to the locker, and yelled at me to get my stuff and go home. (This was a Catholic school, so we were brought up "by hand," as Dickens put it.) Hmm. When young Bill Rowan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) in John Boorman's Hope and Glory (1987)--an autobiographical film about his childhood in London during the Blitz--arrives at school one morning, only to discover it has been bombed to rubble, he joins the celebrating crowd of children, raising his eyes skyward and shouting, "Thank you, Adolf!"
So I guess the kids are not alright after all; and I also must admit that there's "alright," and there's "alright," and we can only hope to grow into the better of the two--or, failing that, to see our failure as clearly as we can. Right now, I can only manage a shrug and a sigh, and attend the funeral.
Posted by Paul J. Marasa at 8:54 AM
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