Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My Life at Templars

Wow. Chana tells about how my high school treated her. Although I know none of the details of her personal story, it certainly does not sound like something wildly inconsistent with the personalities involved. The fact is, there are few things more merciless and terrifying than sweet, well-meaning, condescending people determined to save your soul.

I was talking to Miri over the fast, desperately trying to remember my own high school experience. I know, for example, that Templars neither quashed me nor attempted to do so. I remember being largely happy. And yet at the same time, without remembering the content, I am reasonably sure that I constantly asked questions. So really, the question becomes, why wasn't I quashed?
]There are two basic reasons. The first is: my massive ego. Really, I think that this was the principle cause. You see, I spent high school convinced that I was a heck of a lot more clever than any of my teachers (I am not saying that this is true- ego rarely allows for objectivity). I was similarly convinced that I was right, about really just about everything. Thus, arguments posed no threat to me- if I was unable to convince them, it's because they didn't understand me. If I failed to win an argument, it had no impact on my practice. Even if they had presented me with brilliant, powerful, and irrefutable arguments that my beliefs were wrong, I was strongly shielded with the walls of ego and would shrug and skip off my merry way.

So why did I argue? Because, quite simply, my largest problem in high school was not quashing, but sheer intolerable boredom. I wrote stories and poems in the margins of my notebooks; I took notes in script, fancy colors, or mirror writing; I memorized poems and speeches from Shakespeare; I wrote stories on my calculator; but mainly I asked questions. Good questions, argumentative questions, pointed questions, whatever. As long as my mind would be on, would be fencing or grasping or doing something.

Of course, I exaggerate somewhat. I was involved in the sides that I argued, often really trying to understand what the teacher was saying. (A snippet of memory where I earnestly insist that Ramban and Rashi can't both be right if they disagree) I had the Zionism argument, and the free will one about a billion times, and a couple of bad-things-good-peoples, and I really did care about what I was saying. But, I am ashamed to say, I cared very little about what my teachers had to say about the matter. This granted me a lovely combination of not objecting to stopping when the teacher demanded it and also not acting as if I were particularly vested in the case- as if it were all an intellectual game. Thus, people tended not to realize that I needed quashing, and when they tried it to some degree, I sort of didn't notice/care. Just like I didn't care enough about the argument to try it when not only their points, but their entire philosophies, perspectives, everything, annoyed me. Sometimes it just wasn't worth the trouble, because I just didn't care. That's not a boast, mind you- a more idealistic, honest, passionate, deep person (like Chana) would have cared, would have invested herself in them or their philosophy or even our arguments. But I was too practical, too egotistical, too bored, too sardonic. They could frustrate me, confuse me, enrage me, insult me, but they couldn't get close enough to quash me.

The second reason is my group of friends. I hung out with the good girls- the ones who went on to Michlala or BJJ. And to their everlasting credit, they had no problem hanging out with me, for all of my crazy arguingness. They even argued a bit themselves. And, more impressively, they hung out with the girls who wore pants and talked to boys, just so long as they were geeky enough to want to play word games or discuss books at the lunch table with the rest of us. So first of all, I had a lovely smoke screen- everyone assumed that I was with the good girls and would eventually shape up, settle down, and marry a kollel boy. And secondly, there were enough thinkers in the group- including those who went to BJJ and also people like Miri- that whenever I got a little quashed, they were there to tell me how darn right I was, and also give the old ego another pat by assuring me that I was clever and justified. We would argue amongst ourselves, quite a lot, but they tended to respect me, or at least tolerate that quirky Tobie. I was blessed to have them.

I don't know if I would have had the courage to actually fight them. I'm not a fighter by nature. I tend to smirk quietly on the sidelines and then go off and do my own thing. You can call it discretion, or cowardice, but there it is. But because I never really suffered, I do feel obligated, just briefly, to mention this point:

They were good people. Probably not every single one of them, but in general, they tended to be sweet and well-meaning. I feel as if I know them, because some of my friends or classmates are probably going to be them in a generation. Most would cook all night for you if you needed a meal. Most were living difficult, stressful lives for their ideals. Most really wanted you to straighten out because they just didn't know what would be with you, and it would be a tragedy, rachmana litzlan, if you turned out wrong, because you were such a smart girl, such potential, such a good heart. Most were willing to go above and beyond to help you, devoting their lunches and breaks to talking to you. They may not all be smart, or tactful, or sensitive. Few of them are open-minded or understanding. Fewer still treat you as an equal. But they are sweet and they mean so very, very well.


Ezzie said...

To some extent, that's more similar to my own experience than Chana's was (though I had a few interesting ones). Very good post.

Richard said...

One of your sidepoints here is a point I try to make often, but people don't seem to understand:
These teachers of yours were nice, probably more than nice; but that doesn't say anything about their quality or character. After all, the Big Bad Wolf was nice to Little Red Riding Hood.
I'm just saying that nice is an insufficient character by which to judge.

Tobie said...

No, the wolf acted nice. These teachers were genuine caring people. That may no be enough, but it's something.

Miri said...

It is definitely something; especially insofar as it is the one admirable quality which I still lack and they stil have in spades. So I guess you really can learn something from everyone.

Scraps said...

Someone can be very nice, very well-meaning, and still be completely misguided. I'm sure you're familiar with the road that's paved with good intentions. Someone who is nice, with best of intentions, can (and evidently did) do worlds of damage, good intentions notwithstanding.