Pretty Good Life Shapers

February 27, 2011

I am reading the new 5th edition of the Pretty Good Joke Book, loaned to me by my friend Jan.  I have the first edition and the new edition has more than enough to keep me laughing for weeks.  My favorite chapter so far has been Third Grader Jokes, and like a third grader, I’m not going to share any of them with you.  Nope, I tried, and couldn’t come up with just one.

But it reminded me of the book from long ago entitled Everything I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. I think it took me until the third grade to learn the essentials.  I don’t remember having enemies in the third grade, not even other kids who wanted to “get me.”  OK, there was the Monroe Gang over on Hile Road, but they didn’t really do anything but threaten, unless you count when they buried my brother alive. (Boy, was my mom mad!)

In the third grade there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do, or wouldn’t one day be able to do.  I didn’t know we were poor, (couldn’t afford Catholic School Tuition) didn’t know the threats of alcoholism, (but didn’t like the smell of beer) didn’t know the people across the street were Protestants (and that meant they were heading to H.  E.  Double toothpicks.)   None of those things mattered.  I knew my parents loved me, got good grades and had lots of friends.  My two biggest mistakes up to that point had been lying to my dad and not bringing a sugar-free treat for the girl with diabetes when it was my turn to bring the Birthday Treat. I learned lessons about honesty and compassion from those mistakes, lessons I still carry with me.

I had fields to play in, berries (and grapes, and apples, and choke cherries) to pick, trees to climb (and fall out of and break my arm), girls to club with my cast (it had to be repaired).  We lived on a big lot and I could travel from the front property line to the back without touching the ground, swinging from tree to tree.  I was as strong as Tarzan.  I had a creek (pronounced crick) to play in, a hill to sled down, a dog to run around with, little sisters  (and eventually another brother; eventually another) to tease, a fort in the woods, eventually another in John’s yard (two stories), football, baseball, basketball (there were only three sports back then, my how we’ve grown).  There were woods we could play in and wood we couldn’t go near, so life had some drama.  Even with all the empty lots in our neighborhood, there was always someone to watch us if my parents had to go somewhere, and someone to watch if someone else’s parents had a doctor’s appointment.  There were 6-8 other boys within a year or two of me in school, (I think there were some girls too, but who pays attention to that) so we could always field competing teams.  We could sneak onto the airport property for hours of mindless entertainment and exploring, and since there were only a couple of commercial flights a day we never got into trouble.

As you can see I am taking this post to new heights of aimless wandering, thinking like a third grader will do that to you.

Around that time someone down the road jumped into the lake headfirst and died from a broken neck, and I discovered fear, and never really learned how to swim well.

By the end fifth grade my live completely changed.  New school, new kids who not only didn’t like me, they hated me.  I discovered what alcoholism was, discovered failure, understood poverty, my fears grew larger and my friends grew away.

So one thing I know is that showing real love, giving real time, doing real life with boys from the third to the fifth grade is just about the single most important thing a guy can do.  If a kid from eight to eleven years of age knows that someone other than their parents and relative care about them (Parents and relatives are required by law to love their kids, everybody knows that!) it can change their world.   friends move or we do, schools change, people die.  A boy with a genuine man friend is a genuine man in the making.  A boy with a listening man friend is a listening man of the future.  A boy with an imperfect man in his life (Not counting dads, all dads are imperfect, again it’s the law.) learns to live with their own imperfections, learns how to be a giving, forgiving, caring,sharing, and maybe most important, laughing man.  And he learns all these character shapers while he is still a kid.

I am not trying to say dads (OK and moms too) aren’t important.  They are the single most important positive influencers in the life of a child.  A teacher or small group leader, though, can easily be number two.  (Just don’t smell like number two…that’s a third grader joke for you.)

So if you want to change the world, for the better, teach. Be a life shaper. Either professionally or on Sunday morning.  Be a storyteller or a small group leader.  Make friends, create safe friendships.  You won’t know till heaven the difference you can make.

Oh, by the way, I think I’ve recovered from the fifth grade.  What’s large and gray and has glass slippers?  Cinderelephant.  What’s orange and sounds like a Parrot?   A carrot.

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