Thursday, May 21, 2009

Like A Kidney Stone

SPOILER ALERT: If you've never seen The Dead Poet's Society, and don't want the ending given away, skip this post until you've seen it. If you don't care about having a 20-year-old movie "ruined" for you, then go right on ahead.

Toward the end of The Dead Poet's Society, feeling that he can't escape the life planned out for him by his parents, Neil Perry commits suicide by shooting himself. The moment the sound of the gunshot is heard, most likely every person in the audience held his parents responsible, feeling that they just didn't get it.

I felt that way too, but there was someone else who I thought didn't get it - Neil. He, tragically, didn't get something that I understood from grade school: This too shall pass. Like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

This is what I thought all those times I was being bullied by Robert, John, Levi, or any of a number of bigger or stronger kids when I was in grade school. Somehow, I was able to step outside of myself, and look at the situation as a third party, thinking that in a few years they would "grow out of" their need to beat people up, and look back at how they treated me with shame.

This is what I thought when I was made fun of by the other kids, and none of the girls I was interested in would go out with me in high school. Again, somehow I was able to step outside of myself and say that in a few years they'd realize that the guy who wasn't cool enough and was way too geeky, was actually the better catch.

And this is what I thought as I chafed against some of the rules I didn't like from my parents. Even as far back as age 12, I took the long view, thinking "They may not let me do this now, but in six years, I can do whatever I want."

I was patient. With the bullies, with the girls, and with the rules. And I was right. Eventually the guys who were always waiting for me at the corner of Clinton Street and Melmore Gardens grew up and became productive citizens. Eventually the girls who thought I was too much of a dork married guys who were like me and wanted their kids to be like me. And eventually I moved out of my parents' house and didn't have to follow their rules anymore. I have to admit, however, that by the time this last thing happened, I didn't really care about flaunting most of those rules.

Neil didn't get it. He didn't get that he just had to wait it out another year or so, and then walk, to the consternation of his overly controlling parents. Instead, he gave himself a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I teach grades 6 through 12, and middle school is a very ugly time for kids. High school isn't much better. With everyone trying to figure out where they fall in the social pecking order, they can be incredibly mean to each other. I wouldn't go back there for all the money in the world - unless I could take my 52-year-old brain with me, and then I'd be dangerous.

But there's one thing I want all of my students to know: that despite the horrible ways their classmates might treat them, and despite how limiting the rules of their parents may seem, this too shall pass. Like a kidney stone, but it'll pass.

It's really too bad that Neil didn't understand that, because once he got past that stone, he would've been a stronger person for it. I'd like to think that I am.

Oh, and while I'm ruining old movies for you, Rosebud is the sled.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth PietrafesaMay 21, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately...trying to figure out how to explain to my kids that seriously, it gets better, and grown-ups don't act like teenagers do. I never believed it when I was growing up, and when everything is magnified in intensity with hormonal insanity there's no logic. But I keep remembering one thing- I was all upset in highschool about one thing or another, and was pitching a fit to you and I said "These are supposed to be the best days of my life, and they SUCK!" And you said "Who the hell told you these are the best days of your life?" And I stammered a bit and came up with..."uhmmmuhmovieserrrrjohnmellencamp?" And you just said "It gets better." And it did.