Robert Fulghum wrote a very popular and beautiful essay entitled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. But for me, it was third grade. In 1976, I was an obedient, eager, eight-year-old with banana curls in Mrs. Buckley’s classroom of the now demolished Greenville Elementary School. The nurturance of a grandmother, wisdom of an ancient sage, and surely the ability to herd cats, she was one of the best teachers ever. I learned cursive penmanship as she sang and waltzed her way across the chalk board, forming the letter’s graceful loops and curves (yes, this was pre-“dry erase”and “smart” boards!). Daily multiplication table drills each morning ensured that I knew my “times tables” by the end of the year. Spelling bees were ritualistically held every Friday where gold stars, fancy pencils, and a warm, proud smile awaited the champ. All the core skills one would need to form a foundation of personal independence. 1976 was also the year our country celebrated the Bicentennial – 200 years of freedom. Mrs. Buckley made sure that we understood the significance of this landmark anniversary by teaching a rambunctious group of third graders all about the Revolutionary War and ultimately producing a play about Nathan Hale (see previous comment about herding cats!). We learned what it meant to value independence and freedom from oppression.
But there was something more. Mrs. Buckley taught me a personal lesson about independence - one that, at the time, perhaps neither us realized the significance of. One day, the “other” third grade teacher with a mean, scary reputation had cafeteria duty and falsely accused me of talking at a time of requisite silence. I was mortifyingly embarrassed and in a state of disbelief. How could she mar my obedient reputation! Frightened, intimidated and frustrated, I began to cry. Mrs. B was waiting back in the classroom, saw my tear-stained cheeks and wrapped me in her arms. My face was conciliatorily mushed somewhere around her navel, yet somehow she managed to decipher my garbled, epic tale of injustice. She looked me in the eye and told me that I could stand up for myself. She told me not to be afraid or scared, and walked me down the hall to face my accuser. Conjuring as much bravery as my eight-year old timid self could, I took my stand and was vindicated. There may have been a few “winks and nods” happening between these two teachers above my head; but in my view, David had faced Goliath.
Thirty-six years have passed since that encounter, with a lifetime of decisions and choices that have often been immobilized by fear. Fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of risk. I did not stand up for my Self. Yet at a recent yoga weekend, Mrs. B’s priceless lesson was revisited. Freedom was the topic (in yoga-ese this is known as“moksha”, or liberation) - and yes, the moral of the story is that fear is the greatest enemy of freedom! Each day is now my own personal “independence day” as I ask myself that familiar question, "What would you do if you were not afraid?” I now answer and move forward in freedom.