Even though I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I love the idea of a fresh start. I want to erase all the big mistakes I have ever made, and begin all over again. To do this I would have to start when I was a little kid. I did something really awful in second grade for which I am still very ashamed.
School was a nightmare for me. Back then we had hard wooden desks nailed to the floor, and we sat in those hard wooden seats from early morning until three o’clock dismissal, and I would watch the hands of the big school clock creep and even seem to go backwards the whole time. Each day seemed interminable. The goal of school back then was to prepare students for a life of boredom and long board meetings, and I was too squirmy to succeed at either. Our desks could tip open and I spent most of the day playing with toys I had hidden inside or making up stories in my head. As a result, whenever the teacher called on me, I couldn’t answer the question. We were graded in elementary school, and I was at best a C student. The teacher’s handwritten comment was always about my failure to pay attention. “Daydreaming,” was the diagnosis.
I was also a poor eater, and was pathetically skinny. The school nurse called my mother and asked her if she was feeding me. My mother was a nervous type anyway, but that criticism hit her hard. She bought some foul-tasting tonic that was supposed to whet my appetite, but instead nauseated me. I just ate less and got skinnier. In other words, I was a complete failure in second grade.
The girl who lived next door, however, was my opposite. She ate everything on her plate, had rosy cheeks and curly hair (mine was lank and straight), and she made straight A’s. She was always held up as the good example by my mother. “Why can’t you be more like Margot Pevny,” she repeated. Margot was smarter, healthier, and she didn’t talk back to her mother. I hated her.
One day my friend Dee Allen came over to play. She didn’t have issues with Margot as I did, but she was mischievous. I suggested that we teach Margot a lesson for being so perfect. Her bedroom was on the ground floor and was beside the garbage cans. As we stood there thinking about a way to get even with Margot, we opened a can and we hoisted a bag of garbage into her room and dumped it onto her clean pink bed. Even at the time I felt bad about being so mean, but by then it was too late. By the time I made it home, my mother had already been called by Margot’s mother and told about the terrible thing I had done. My mother was so upset that she was crying. To this day I feel horrible about that heinous act. That child had never done anything to me, and yet I blamed her for my own inadequacies. I wonder if this act weighs on her mind as heavily as it weighs on mine.
Maybe I am thinking about Margot right now because I just read a book about kindness by Sylvia Boorstein. She is a Buddhist teacher and talks about the tradition of kindness and generosity at the core of Buddhism. It made me set a goal for the New Year. I won’t call it a Resolution because I would drop it as quickly as I set it. I will attempt to practice extreme kindness in 2023 in a pathetic attempt to make up for what I did to little Margot and everyone else since then whom I have offended. And with my blunt, impulsive speech, there have been legions of these.