Ms. Schneider, Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Me

Posted on December 24, 2012


Hey, did you ever do that thing kids do called ‘Scavenger Hunt’?  I never did, but on a few occasions we’d have kids knocking at the front door looking for “Eye of Newt – (no, not him,) toe of Frog, Wool of Bat, and tongue of Dog, Adder’s fork, and ‘Blind-Worm’s sting?”  No, I think I’ve got it wrong.  All that stuff was from a play by Shakespeare! 

What did they collect?  Someone tells me that there is no set list of items for ‘Scavenger Hunts’.  You could make up your own list, but it might, for example, include a certain color crayon, a ‘Wheat’ penny, a Maple leaf, a Red marble, so on and so forth.  Of course you wouldn’t have to knock on someone’s door to get the Maple leaf, would you?

This sort of thing has fallen out of fashion for good reasons.  It’s just not advisable to let kids go from door to door these days, unless you know all of the neighbors – and even then, do you really know them?  Trick or Treat is a whole ‘nother animal these days.  Less of it and more parental accompaniment.  That’s not to say that Scavenger Hunts are out, just the ringing of neighborhood doorbells. 

As I said, I never went on a Scavenger Hunt, per se.  In my case, what happened, was that I got into a wee bit of trouble in school and my teacher devised some creative punishment for me and my co-conspirator.

I was a mischievous kid with a craving for attention – good, bad or otherwise.  So, in 7th grade… Yes, I know, most of the foolishness should have been beaten out of me by 7th grade, but what can I tell you; some kids just take longer to mentally mature.  I physically matured early, but not mentally – so in 7th grade, I still had a lot of larceny in my soul.  If you were looking for a little punk to disrupt a class, I’d be among your ‘go-to’ options.

Where was I?  Oh, yes – one Fall day, in my 7th grade Math class, myself and a buddy, whose name escapes me at the moment (starts with an F and rhymes with the word ‘prank’), as ‘Agent Provocateurs’, orchestrated a deal where at precisely 5 minutes before the end of class, we were all supposed to drop our Math books on the floor, which as you can imagine, makes quite a jarring sound. 

Amazingly, we succeeded in recruiting the entire class in doing this little stunt.  Oh, there may have been some ‘goody two shoes’, who opted out on account of they were too much the little angels to do something so spiteful – or they were chicken.  But the majority bought in.

What was even more fortuitous, was that at the precise tick of the clock that this was supposed to come off, the teacher was writing something on the Blackboard!  So, at 2:35 PM, in near perfect unison, something like oh, I’d say, 19 textbooks hit the floor spatttttt!!!  God, what an incredible effect! – it gave the teacher a bit of a start. 

For some reason, she didn’t get the joke the way we did.  Poor Ms. Schneider! Ms. Schneider, if you’re reading this, I sincerely apologize – it was a nasty thing, and we should have been more sincere about it at the time.  It goes without saying, she wanted to know who set it up. 

The upshot of the whole deal was that she put forth a proposition.  It was this.  Not a one of us were going anywhere until the ringleaders or the ‘perps’ we would call them now, stepped forward and owned up.

Me and my un-indicted co-conspirator clammed up for awhile and no one was snitching.  But as the moments of the stand off ticked by (which seemed more like the better part of an hour, but was only mere minutes), I came to the decision that if I thought it was such a genius idea, I ought to be the one to take the credit and the consequences for it. 

Don’t think that I was brave or courageous – oh, no, don’t get that notion.  O.K., maybe a little.  But mainly it was that I thought it was quite a funny bit and in my own perverse way, I was proud of it.  What a rotten kid, eh?  You don’t know the half of it!  Looking back just to all the fights I started and finished, I don’t know how I avoided getting expelled.

But let’s get to the denouement. Ms. Schneider, was a quick thinker.  I guess if Math is your area of specialization, you probably are more adept at solving problems than in my case, creating them.  I was, and am, more of a Right brain person – which made Math class more risky for me to begin with. 

Thank God they didn’t have Ritalin then.  I think my Mom (also a school teacher, but thankfully, not at my school), would probably have authorized its use for me.  Head on a stump, baby!  Again, I digress.  See, I still have the ADD problems.

All right, back to Ms. Schneider’s brilliant solution.  Me and my partner in crime, were to go out after school and collect food and canned goods for the needy for the Christmas season and Thanksgiving coming up.  I didn’t dare tell her that since I didn’t ‘do’ homework anyway, I had nothing but idle time from 3 PM til about 6 or 7 and that doing something altruistic saved me from having to shoot Heroin during those hours.  Latch key kid – nuff said?

Let me tell you, I took this mission, which I really didn’t consider punishment, very seriously – as serious as a snake bite.  I was happy to do something meaningful.  There was no romance or noble adventure in Math, but there was in gathering food for poor people.  I really can’t explain that reaction to this day, but it’s true.  I also learned something quite profound, which I will share with you in a moment.

I went to many homes because I didn’t want to show up with a lousy handful of stuff.  I didn’t care much about my Math studies, but rounding up food for hungry families?  That was something I could wrap my mind and heart around.  I wanted to show that, by Jove, when it comes to collecting food for the needy, no one‘s going to show me up. It would be something akin to conning Bart Simpson into collecting goods for the less fortunate on a dare.

What did I learn in doing this?  That’s where things get interesting and counter-intuitive. At some houses, people would treat you with indifference, even when you explained the purpose for collecting the food.  Some people – well to do folks, maybe gave you something very token.  A pathetic pittance out of their abundance. 

You could tell by the cars in the driveway and the fancy furnishings and neat yard work that these folks were pulling in the bucks, big time or furiously trying to keep up with the Joneses.  But often times, they were stingy.  Sometimes they were like, “are you kidding me” and other times they gave me some nominal, token item out of the churlishness of their grinchy hearts, just to get rid of me. 

I guess their attitude was “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“.  I know that sounds like a juvenile way of describing them, but I’m getting back into the mindset of a 12 year old.  It was all I could do to not light a fire in their trash cans!

On the other hand, I went to some doors where the ladies of the house looked frazzled from taking care of young children and you could easily discern that the family was getting by by the skin of their teeth wondering where their next dime was going to come from. 

Renters, old furniture, worn out carpet, peeling paint, etc.  And they were the most enthusiastic and generous!  It was a selfless and personal sacrifice for them and they gave more than the upscale people.  Not proportionately more – they gave more, period.  This didn’t equate with my logical assessment of the world and how people are. It only proved how illogical my assumptions and pre conceived notions were.

I couldn’t understand it at that age.  I really couldn’t understand it at all.  I mean, yes, I comprehended it with my mind, but the irony was lost on me.  I hadn’t read in the Bible about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus or the Widow’s mite.  I can tell you, though, that this personal revelation was one of those life changing moments, even though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

So, next day I brought the stuff to Ms. Schneider and was pretty proud and happy with myself.  That wasn’t the right attitude either, but I didn’t make a big deal of it with her.  No spiking the ball in the end zone.  Those were just my inward emotions. 

I think she was wise enough to understand that she had hit a Home Run in dealing with me, even if I didn’t know it.  So, I hope you liked that story.  I didn’t know I was going there, but that is the way it goes with writing.  One’s subject sometimes insists you pull the car over and let it get behind the wheel.  And you don’t ask questions, you just do it.

The more I think about this episode in my life, the more I see a pattern that exemplifies the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. Thinking of the unanticipated and wondrous generosity of the poor, opening their arms to others in their same predicament, that I met on the food collection Safari, it made me think of Mary, the mother of our Lord. 

Mary and Joseph were working-class people.  As the song says, they ‘weren’t the Jet Set, they were the old Chevro-let set’.  It wasn’t just God that gave a sacrifice to Man.  Mary’s offering to God, was greater than anything ever given in the history of the world.  Greater than anything you or I will ever give.

You see, one of the things you have to understand about the ancient tribal culture of the Middle East and for that matter, many other parts of the world, especially those cultures that emerged from the Mediterranean, was and in many instances, still is,  the significance of the ‘First Born’

This is illustrated in the stories in the Bible having to do with the ‘birthright’ – most notably the story about Jacob and Esau.  Esau was the firstborn of Issac and according to the traditions already in place at that time, entitled to the special blessings, not the leftovers.  Without going into the details of what happened (see Genesis Chapter 27), Esau let his hunger control his emotions and the result was rather tragic.

For Mary to give to God her firstborn son, was the greatest sacrifice that a mother could give.  If she could have given both arms and legs in His place, she would have.  If she could have given her life in His place, she would have – without so much as a second thought.

All of which, in my mind, suggests to me that focusing on materialism and commercialism at this time of marvelous significance, is to trade our birthright for ephemeral and trivial junk in comparison.  No gift or blessing is more than rubbish in comparison than the gift of the Son of God and the Son of Man, and no family was ever more generous than that of Joseph and Mary

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8-9

Merry Christmas to all of you and my best wishes and blessings to you.