My life has been so chock full of the bizarre lately I’m truly grateful to have found ten minutes on a Friday night to write about it. Trust me, it’s that good.
It all started late last week when the local health department notified our school of a confirmed case of pertussis. What’s pertussis, you ask? Whooping cough (pronounced hoop-ing). “But I thought no one got that anymore because… vaccines and stuff.” Well yes and no. It doesn’t spread like wildfire like it used to and it’s usually not as severe as it could have been. But, as I found out this week, even the vaccinated can get it (albeit usually in milder form) and apparently booster shots are recommended and quite often for the inoculated. One learns something new every day.
In a small school such as the one where I am vice principal (I still like saying that) a highly infectious disease can certainly make the rounds rapidly. To make a long story short… We’ve had a few more confirmed cases since the first. I haven’t heard of serious complications. I think we’ve helped maintain a sense of calm. We closed the school early on Thursday. I have personally been in close proximity to every single student and in every single classroom as have numerous faculty. Everything will be OK.
And… we’re taking precautions. My daughter had developed a cough over the past two weeks that is probably NOT pertussis but after all of this one cannot be too cautious. Today I brought her into her doctor along with my son who was also coughing. To make matters murkier there are also strains of strep and influenza going around our larger community. We haven’t seen the actual doctor in a number of years; it’s only ever his physicians assistant. I don’t mind. Although, she is always pushing flu tests on us even absent any symptoms. Today I walked in, told her the whole story, and then said, “The good news is you’ll get to do one of those swabby tests you seem to love so much.” I didn’t think of those words in terms of a “shot fired”. But I should have. The PA stared at me with a wry smile and declared, “Actually, I think the kids are probably fine in terms of whooping cough based on what you’re telling me. It’s you I’m worried about. I mean, you’re standing here obviously tired, haggard, you know. I can tell you’re run down.”
Before we’d left the office the kids had been tested for every airborne illness known to man. Yours truly? I dragged my “tired and haggard” parts out of there with my head hung low. On my way to the car I passed a raccoon digging through a dumpster. I took a good look to see if the dark circles under his eyes looked better than mine before Googling whether my insurance would cover botox injections.
I came home and returned to my lovely and unexpected Friday off. Lately I’ve been watching a few things here and there. There are the Youtube videos about aviation, engineering, and all the many JFK conspiracies. And then there’s Netflix. I decided to do a one-month trial in order to watch the third season of The Crown. I can’t help it. If it’s about the Royals I’ll probably watch. If it’s written well I’ll definitely watch. Maybe it’s my British ancestry coming through and manifesting itself in my TV viewing habits; but I simply cannot turn away from
the train wreck that is the House of Hanover Windsor.
In particular I have have been fascinated to learn more about the life of the late Princess Margaret, the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth. Brilliantly portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, Margaret is a troubled figure. Denied the opportunity to marry her first love, Peter Townsend, she ultimately found solace in photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. For the moment, overlook the fact that Townsend was already married. Oops, forgot that detail while trying to make her a sympathetic character. Never mind the fact that she admits she thought Armstrong-Jones was gay when she first met him. Never mind the fact that she forgot about her own vows when cavorting around the world with a man half her age. I mean, come on you pesky moralist… The point is that HRH Princess Margaret was a chain-smoking gin fiend. And in this I can relate.
It is not just Netflix and Youtube that have captured my interest lately, though. Tonight my wife asked if I would accompany her to the movies. I’m not usually big on the big screen (the commercials and previews are cumbersome to me) but I do enjoy spending time with my wife. Tonight our kids rounded out the group. The flick? We saw the new Tom Hanks feature about the life of the legendary Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers is, undoubtedly, an American icon. I must admit that as a kid I didn’t care much for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I found it kind of slow and boring and Rogers’ hyper-gentle personality to be a drag. In fact, the only times I enjoyed watching his show was when he left his studio and went on location. I still remember vividly the time he went to the Crayola factory. Then again, those episodes played out more like a Youtube video on engineering.
But as I grew I came to understand the value in what he was doing, even if it wasn’t quite my speed. As a teacher I can appreciate his work with children. As I came to learn more about his personal life I really came to sense that he was a genuine man who loved what he did and, more importantly, he was a man of prayer. The movie we saw tonight brought into focus the fact that he was a man who worked every day on trying to do what he saw as God’s work, laboring – sometimes with great difficulty – on the virtues of patience, humility, and gentleness. In many ways I can relate. In my own life and career as a teacher and vice principal I try to exemplify these same virtues. It seems odd sometimes. One tends to think of the vice principal of a school as the stern disciplinarian, something I definitely am not. Forgetting the fact that “vice” is right in the title, I see my job as someone called to help young men and women find and then stay on the path of virtue. If that comes in the form of reminding them of our dress code or making sure they are in class then I need to do that without personal animosity. Look, I will be me. I will let God work His discipline through the personality He gave me. I’ve never been an ogre and I’m not going to start now. Learning from Mr. Rogers I will focus more on prayer for specific people every day and continue to help my students in kindness and humility.
Lately I have been contemplating who I am. I don’t mean in the “existential crisis” sort of way. But I’ll be turning older soon. It’s only natural to take stock of one’s life when one reaches 30. Having done that many years ago I decided to take stock once again. God has bestowed many blessings on me. Whether I realize it or not; whether I like it or not, He made me who I am. I am soft-spoken and somehow I command the attention of dozens of teenagers. I get no sleep and yet somehow I’ve remained immune to most diseases. I doubt myself all the time and yet somehow I’ve been able to help my students find confidence in God’s Will for them.
As we came home from the theater my children fought with each other, almost coming to blows over some silly squabble. Calmly and with the gentlest tone I diffused the tension. I saw them off to bed, poured myself a gin and tonic, stepped out onto my porch and lit a Marlboro. I listened to the sounds of my kids coughing themselves to sleep. I yawned. And I thought of how wonderful God is and how wonderfully He made me…
…a cross between Princess Margaret, Fred Rogers, and a raccoon.