We were in the 5th grade. To be more specific we were in Mrs. Shepherd’s class in the 5th grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Shepherd, was a direct descendant of Attila the Hun. She ran her classroom like a military boot camp. On the top left-hand corner of the chalkboard she posted her solitary rule of conduct for the school year. It read as follows: Love one another. That’s all…According to Mrs. Shepherd that was the only written law that all 5th graders under her rule would be required to follow. I found it to be sort of amusing until one fateful day on the playground when I infringed upon her single classroom decree.
I got in a fist fight with my friend Steve. Now I was no match for Steve, who had 4 older brothers that were championship wrestlers and football players. One of his brothers went on to become a hall of fame wrestler in the State of Wisconsin. What I was thinking? I was in the 5th grade and that of course explains it all. Male egos at that age are just starting to really get out of check.
Mrs. Shepherd stomped out on the playground (like only she could do) and broke up the fight. I think Mrs. Shepherd could have broken up a bar brawl, if she had been so inclined. She made Steve and I face each other in front of all of our classmates. And then she dropped the bomb… “Steve, you tell John that you love him.” “John, you tell Steve that you love him.” I was thinking that I would rather be shipped off to Siberia than tell him that I loved him. But remember who Mrs. Shepherd’s ancestor was…None other than Attila himself. She won. We lost. We expressed our love for each other in clear terms, so could hear us.
I only recall two or three terribly embarrassing moments during the wonder years at Wind Point Elementary. That incident of course would be one of them. The good memories with Steve far outweigh the negative ones. We rode our bikes all over the place, played pool at my house, and generally created mischief. The wonder years for the most part were just that...
Friday night there will be a mini-reunion in the city where I went to elementary school ,and one year of junior high. I will see people I knew at Wind Point Elementary for the first time in over 36 years. I mentioned to a friend last week that I was a little nervous about this whole thing. 36 years is a long time. But it occurred to me today that perhaps we should simply practice Mrs. Shepherd’s sole rule for her classroom: Love one another. And I don’t mean that in a syrupy sort of way. I mean it the way she actually intended it to be interpreted, I think. We should come to such a reunion with the resolve to care about each other in a respectful, kind, and even compassionate sort of manner.
I don’t anticipate anyone having to face off and tell each other that they love each other at the reunion Friday night. But I have a strong hunch that I will observe pockets of people expressing mutual concern and respect for each other. We no longer have to be forced to express our love to each other. We are well beyond the 5th grade now. And I think we have figured out that valuing each other is pretty important.
Oh and by the way…Steve will be there Friday night. He is dealing with a very serious illness right now. I have a few things I need to tell him. But I am really glad that Mrs. Shepherd won’t be there looking over my shoulder. She made the wonder years not so wonderful that fateful day in 5th grade.