A True Story
I think I mentioned before that I went to a Catholic school. We were taught by nuns in a four room schoolhouse. Eight grades, in four rooms. If you think we got a substandard education because of that you'd be wrong. When it came time to enter the public high school we were given placement tests and as a result more than a few of us began as sophomores. But I want to tell you about something that happened in the fourth grade.
Our fourth grade (and fifth grade) teacher was Sister Francis De Sales. She was as old as Egyptian papyrus and not much taller than we were, shorter than a few of us. She was the first nun who thought well of me. Up until than I was......rambunctious, mischievous, and a kind of leader of a like minded pack. We drove prior nuns crazy but Sister Francis found incredible ways of channeling our energy and producing positive results. She unlocked the magic of reading for me, I will always credit her with that.
Anyway, back to the fourth grade. It was late April, spring was full of life, and so were we. So you can imagine the groans that arose from the class when Sister told us on a Monday that we all must find a poem to read aloud in front of the class for this coming Friday. So i set out in a rather desultory manner to find the shortest poem I could. And by sheer chance I found a poem by one A.E. Housman, its called, "With Rue My Heart Is Laden"....STOP LAUGHING! So on that friday, shortly after the glorious freedom of lunchtime/recess, bright sunshine, shirtsleeve weather...we were hearing poems and...gulp..getting up in front of the class, kitty-corner so as to face both class and teacher, I took a deep breath and read....slowly, ...
WITH rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leaping 5
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.
The laughter and giggles soon quieted under Sister's steely stare, then she turned to me......"well, Mr (deadboydeadboy), what do you think that poem means." "Means?" "Yes what is the poet thinking"? And then I noticed Sister's eyes were....shinier than usual...and my fourth grade self was hit by a sudden rush of empathy, I swear I felt bad for her. "What do I think he means?" ("can't show a soft side, half the gang is here")......."I think he's sad, rue means sad, mom made me look it up". "Good for your mom. Why is he sad?" as casually, and off-handedly as any kid with his lumps..."He's sad cuz all the kids he grew up with are gone, dead or something". Sister stared at me for a long minute......but she was far away, lost in another time. And I knew, KNEW< that she was feeling what the poet was feeling and I got hit by that empathy again. I had grown to like her a lot...she'd taught me a lot, she thought well of me! I wanted to go over and give her a hug, she looked like she needed one. But hell, half the gang was there........so I sauntered back to my seat as nonchalantly as I could, sat down and looked at the springtime outside and I looked at Sister Francis...and for the first time in my life that I remember....My heart was laden with rue