Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed, 23 Oct 1996 18:39:50 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Random Thought: John

My muscles are so tight that my fingers hurt as I bounce them from key to key. I'm so emotionally drained that I almost have no energy to move my fingers. John just left my office. That's not his real name, but he is a very real and noble person--and maybe he is starting to see that for himself for the first time. We must have talked for about two hours. I want to tell you about John, share what I feel and what I am thinking right this minute while they're vivid because something John said as he left the office is about what we educators should be trying to do every day and with every student.

John came into the office and must have been standing by the desk for a minute or two before he quietly said as if he didn't want to break my trance, "Dr. Schmier, you too busy to talk with me?"

I broke away from the computer screen in a jolt, saying, "Nothing is too busy for you. What's up?" I lightly asked as I came around from my desk and invited him to sit with me on the floor among my toys. "Haven't seen you since the summer. How are things?" I was about to pull out a Tootsie Pop and offer it to him because I didn't catch the troubled look in his eyes and wasn't ready for his answer.

"I don't know. Hard. Confused. Hurt. I just don't know anything anymore. I had to talk with someone. You're the only one I know I can talk with. I was just wondering if you'd tell me if I belong here?"

My muscles tightened. I went on full alert. Suddenly everything around John became a blur as I focused in on him as hard and clear as a highpowered telephoto lens to catch every telltaling detail of his sound and movement. "Why do you ask?"

"Because that's what one of my English professors just told me and I couldn't think of anyone but you to talk with about it. She said I belonged in a special school but not here at a university. She knows I have dyslexia real bad and all I need is extra time. She didn't say it in a nice way either. She never offered to help me like you did. I don't think that was right what she done. Do you think that was fair of her, teating me like I was Forrest Gump and all?" he asked more with the tone of a plea than an inflection of a question.

I won't tell you what I angrily thought to myself. I'm sure you can guess. Anyway, before I could answer, he went on.

"It was like getting a beating again. I was hearing my step-father all over again yelling and screaming as he hit and punched me saying that I ain't worth the shit he was beating out of me. You know I told our class about my dyslexia and how my stepfather used to beat us and that I had to shoot him in the leg to stop that bastard from killing my mother. But, you never disrespected me. You always encouraged me. Not this person, and she don't know nothin' about that. It's just I get the feeling that she thinks that I'm not normal like the others."

I had a momentary flashback to that Monday "tidbit" discussion we had in class last summer on child abuse and how the discussion itself reflected the changing attitudes towards children in American society over the course of its history. I remembered how I marveled at the courage John showed by personalizing the discussion with a description of his own abuse and helping others to open up. It proved to be a turning point that brought the students together into a mutally supportive learning community. And I thought quickly of the talks John and I had throughout the rest of the summer quarter as I tried to shore up his weakened self-esteem and get him to see that he had emerged as a leader in the class.

I quickly jolted back to the present as John continued, "And, I could hear over and over and over all those teachers who said I would never be much. It really hurt when they threw me away like garbage into the slow classes that no one really cared about just to get rid of me. And now someone here wants to do the same thing."

He talked and I listened for about an hour. As he talked of his struggles with severe dyslexia, being abused, being treated as a "worthless retard" he revealed the foreboding, rocky landscape of his soul, scarred with crags and crevices--numerous, deep, dark, and sharp. It was hard not to cry. It was hard to breathe. I was almost unable to speak.

"Why are you here, at VSU?" I struggled to asked him.

"To prove something"

"What," I quietly continued.

"That I'm not worthless. That I'm a somebody worth noticing."

"To whom"

A deep and long silence followed my question. "To my teachers who threw me into a dark corner and didn't give a damn about me and wished I would go away so they wouldn't have to look at me. One told me that she didn't become a teacher so she'd have to trouble with the likes of me."

More silence and I was now struggling for air.

"I'd surely like to throw a college diploma in their faces," he continued. More silence followed. He lowered his head as if to muster strength. And then he said quietly, "To my step-father even though he isn't around anymore. I want to scream back at him that I am worth as much as him."

The air was now getting warmer.

"You're worth a hell of lot more," I assured him taking advanage of his deep silence.

"You don't know what it's like to get thrown around every day. No one does. It does more than bruise your body. It bloodies your soul. It put welts all over your spirit," he moaned with painful poetry. "It hurts to move and it hurts to think and it hurts to feel. It's hard to believe in yourself when you're always slapped around and it's beaten into you that you'll never amount anything. Pretty soon you stop trying. He and a lot of people beat all the good out of me in all sorts of ways."

"Did they? Then, how did you get here?" I asked.

He looked startled at me.

"I got me here."

"Sounds like they screwed up and left something in you that you found and used." He looked at me. "Tell me, if your stepfather was around, do you think he would he listen?"


"So, to whom are you really trying to prove something? To whom should you really be proving something?"

"I guess to myself. But it's hard, so hard. All my life that I can remember people have been beatin' up on me by telling me that I'm a loser. Am I loser? Tell me that I'm not a loser."

"What do you think?"

"I don't want to be....."


"I don't know....No." he asserted, and then faltered, "I guess."


"I guess because I'm here in school."

"And what does that say about you?"

"That I'm a winner, I guess."

"And don't you ever forget that!! You're right. You're here on this campus because of you!! Believe that!! You're here in this office asking encouragement because you don't want to quit!! Believe that!! You...are...a...winner. Believe that!! What did it take to get here."

"I guess I didn't really want to listen to all that poormouthin' about me."

"What did it take?"

"It took a lot of fighting, overcoming, hard work. But, it's so hard and I'm so tired always fighting."

"Now one said life was either fair or easy. It's only the worthwile stuff you fight for. What did it take you to fight for you?"

Silence. And then, a hesitant "That I believe they were lying? That I believe in myself?"

"And what does that say about you."

"That I can do it."

"Now say that and believe it each day. One day at a time. Don't listen to yesterday and don't worry about tomorrow. It's a long, hard journey. Don't think it won't be without some falls. Just take small steps, one at a time."

We talked for about another hour about all sorts of stuff. After John got up off the floor and turned towards the door to leave, I looked up from the flor and said to him, "John." He turned. "If you don't do anything else, BELIEVE. If you believe, you won't listen to what anyone says, and you'll do everything else."

As I strained to get up head for my desk, John called out, "Doc."

I turned. There we stood looking at each other. He stared at me with a look I don't have the words to describe, and said, "You're right. I can't let yesterday cloud out today and I won't let tomorrow squeeze out today. I can't worry about what other people think and say. Today is all I have and I'm going to learn to put all I have into it. I'll try to believe. No, I...will...believe. And, if I need to, can I come by just to talk?"

"Door's always open. Phone is always nearby, here or at my home."

He paused for a few seconds and then asked, "Why didn't anyone else care enough to help me to get to see what you see. Why are you the first one who as ever believed in me?"

"The second one," I could barely whisper with my clogging voice. "Don't forget. You were the first. It was you who got you here. You fought to believe but just didn't realize it. I only saw what you really saw."

He smiled. "Before I leave I just want you to know that you teach like teaching is a prayer. What you do is worth a damn. You do make a difference. Don't stop doing it."

All I could do was offer a slight, humble nod.

He turned to the door, put his hand into the bag behind it, pulled out a Tootsie Pop, held it up like a victory sign, smiled, and disappeared into the hall.

It was only about two feet to my chair. But, it ached so much to go that short distance. And it seemed that I moved in slow motion. I just slumped in my chair, quiet, frozen, thinking, physically tired, emotionally drained, but damn if I didn't and still feel spiritually exhilarated.

I think--no, I know--an e-mail friend of mine, Herb Rotfeld at Auburn's College of Business, is right. What John said as he left the office was more than a compliment. It was for him a self-assurance. Maybe it was the beginnings of a self-discovery as well. For me, it was more than a compliment. It was a self-realization. Somewhere in the dark, inner recesses of my memory, I recalled Herb--at least, I think it was Herb--having said that this is what we educators should be trying to do, every day, with every student and with ourselves--helping students discover themselves, to believe, as they help us discover ourselves. Today, both John and I reminded each other and we both realized why each of us is here. I think each of us discovered a bit more of, peered a bit deeper into, and hopefully will heed more of what Socrates called our "inner oracle." Right now, I feel that I did something worth a damn.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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