“Men are not suffering from the lack of good literature, good art, good theatre, good music, but from that which has made it impossible for these to become manifest. In short, they are suffering from the silent shameful conspiracy (the more shameful since it is unacknowledged) which has bound them together as enemies of art and artists.” – Henry Miller
The principal came home last night in a mood.
“What’s the matter?” I inquired, doing my best to play the role of supportive spouse.
“I’ve spent the whole day in meetings,” he complained. He’s not fond of meetings in general. He’s a man of the people, choosing to spend his time out in the open among the 300 or so students who frequent his campus. But these meetings were especially troublesome. These were budget meetings. Meetings to address the 7 million dollars that must be cut from his district's budget for next year due to the disastrous condition of our state finances. What will go? Athletics, drama and music programs, libraries, classified staff like custodians, secretaries, receptionists... and teachers.
Just hours before I stood atop a tall set of metal bleachers, watching our youngest participate in his first ever track meet. A sea of purple spread out across the football field. Track is a no cut sport at our local junior high. Anyone can participate. Tall, short, big and small, all are welcome. All you need is a pair of sneakers and a willingness to put in the hours of practice each day, running, sometimes until you cannot run any more. Everyone gets to play.
For hours these purple people ran. Sprints and relays, some fast, some slow. Time and time again, as the smoke rose from the starter’s gun, the legs of these purple people pushed them, as fast as they could, towards the finish line. Along the track their teammates cheered, clapping, yelling, willing them to finish. I found myself drawn to the slower ones, the ones at the back of the pack, their faces red with exertion, eyes straight ahead, pushing forward with a determination that was remarkable.
To finish is to win. Unlike the end of a baseball game, there is no final score. Sure, there are those whose times are best, but a runner will tell you he/she is working to better his “personal best”, to push themselves beyond what they thought they could do. To challenge themselves to do better. To succeed. To build self esteem.
I was not an athlete. As much as I loved sports, tennis was about all I could muster. I played softball for a while, but that was before the days of Title 9 and girl’s athletics were few and far between. My home was the stage. I played flute in the band and spent my hours on the football field practicing marching formations and playing the Notre Dame Fight Song in my sleep. We performed in competitions, parades and at football games, spending hours bundled up in our long woolen band coats, waiting for “show time” to come.
Between hours of band practices I would go to the “Little Theatre”, practicing lines and blocking for whatever production we were doing next. I got to be an old lady once, a member of small group of friends who invited folks over only to poison them with a specially concocted brew of tea. I donned a straw hat and striped shirt and along with my friends got to impersonate a barbershop quartet as we sang songs to a packed house of parents and friends who applauded enthusiastically even though we weren’t very good.
It is those moments that I look back on in high school. It was those moments that made high school memorable. In addition to learning Spanish and Algebra and World History, it was through music and art and sports that I learned about taking risks and trying new things, what it meant to be part of a team striving to accomplish something together. As I stood atop the riser and faced the audience as the drum major of my high school band, I learned what it meant to represent something, to be proud of who we were and what we stood for. It was through these programs that I built my self esteem.
Where are we going as a state? How can we stand by and allow our legislators to take away the very things that our kids need to grow and develop and flourish? We should be outraged. We deserve better. Our kids deserve better.