If you get the chance, do it. I had the chance to job-shadow one of our English teachers at the middle school. Most of the school day proved entertaining, enlightening, engaging. The day started with the pledge of allegiance at 7:40 a.m. and ended with the buzzer and the exit race at 3 p.m.
The day did include moments of tedium, partly because the class project seemed incredibly dull for the end of the English and language arts class year. It was a career unit asking these seventh-graders to review their gifts and prepare a computer presentation of what future occupation they might pursue. If I were king of school curriculum, I instead might have encouraged the students to prepare their summer reading list. I instead might have let them enjoy the end of the school year by them sharing their favorite novels, short stories, or poetry.
I admit to dozing when the students were busy being studious on their project. Tap, tap, click, click. I also used their project time to plan future columns in my notepad. One of the pages in their career unit packet posed the following scenario: “You are at your 10-year high school reunion. Someone comes up to you and says, ‘OMG! What have you been up to since high school?’ Be sure to include your pathway choice and your future career.”
I joked with the teacher that my 10-year reunion wasn’t at all what seventh grade me had predicted it would be. When I was in seventh grade I had intended to become a senator, after serving as a Navy pilot (preferably in a bi-plane), after law school, after election to the House of Representatives. That was my ambition. Not quite what happened. When I did return to my 10-year high school reunion in 1981, I was a Lancaster County country preacher.
Next, turning serious, I whispered to the teacher that at my 10-year reunion we had a death wall naming all our classmates who didn’t make 10 years due to cancer, accident, or … The star quarterback committed suicide a year after graduation. One was killed by the police in New York City. Several died in Vietnam.
My mind wandered. My notepad reminded me that June 6 would be the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, otherwise known as Operation Overlord. My brothers and I grew up with a personal connection to D-Day. One of our father’s best friends was wounded during the assault. He was an Army captain. His hand had been blown off, replaced with a metal claw. We boys called him, to his sheer delight, Captain Hook. He loved shaking our hands at church during the passing of the peace. Although, that was only for us.
A later pastor, very enthusiastic, thought it touching and spiritual to invite the congregation to push toward the middle aisle, form a circle, and hold hands as he offered the benediction. Our friend felt uncomfortable holding hands because it often made the other person uncomfortable. Maybe we adults should be made uncomfortable, lest we forget the price of peace.
Though the statistics vary, our friend was among the 22,000 U.S. casualties suffered on June 6, 1944. Of the 22,000, nearly 3,000 were killed. They never made their 10-year reunion. War cartoonist Bill Mauldin, creator of ‘Willie and Joe,’ wrote: “No normal man who has smelled and associated with death ever wants to see any more of it. The surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry.” Let us also honor the British and the Canadians, the French too, our Allies with whom this crucial day was won. We could not have done it alone. We only are as strong as our Allies are strong.
If a seventh-grade boy in 1938 were asked to write a paragraph about what he might say to classmates at his 10-year reunion, how could he have imagined that in six years he might have been a Ranger scaling the cliffs facing German machine guns? How could he have imagined he’d be among those huddled in a landing craft — scared, prayerful, stoic — waiting for the ramp to drop? How could he have predicted he’d be parachuting into occupied France? Odds are he wouldn’t want to talk about it at all. He wouldn’t have to.
I wonder what today’s seventh-graders will be called upon to do. History turns terribly fast. When we face tough decisions, I do believe we can trust the American youth.
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.