If Only Then I Knew

“Today, class, I’m going to give you a very different sort of assignment.”

This is Mr. Fuller, my middle school science teacher, he has alopecia, amongst other issues, though those seem to be existential in nature. If I knew the word at the time, I would have said he was neurotic, but because I was a 7th grade grade-A asshat at the time, I probably thought neurosis was when you wanted to romance a corpse. I was acerbic, maybe, but sharp, not quite yet. But on this day, some twenty years ago, I would begin a journey that would prove life affirming in ways I couldn’t have imagined at the time.

So when Mr. Fuller, whose head shone like a river rock, instructed us to do nothing, everyone in class couldn’t quite grasp the concept. Like most teachers, maybe like most professionals, most adults, Mr. Fuller was coasting through his daily routine, which by this point, had become so ingrained, he no doubt wondered if there was any other way for life to be. But on this day, Mr. Fuller didn’t seem like himself, which is not a bad thing, in his case. He wasn’t exuding stress, uptightness, he wasn’t staring daggers at the various kids clowning around in class, and he wasn’t muttering sweet death under his breath. No, on this day, he seemed, I don’t know, at peace with the way things were. Winter break, of which we were just returning from, had seemed to have treated him well, maybe he received what he asked for.

Again, many of my interpretations today were not even in the back of my mind at the time. I wouldn’t say I was a dolt, but the lights weren’t always on. Maybe too much weed. Maybe not enough. Who’s to say now? Either way, if we are being generous, I was the class clown, and if we’re not, then I was a burnout with a dim future on what could barely be considered the horizon of my future. Mr. Fuller, though uptight in the eyes of fourteen year olds, had his heart in the right place, I’m sure of that now. But teens, by definition, lack perspective, and nothing but time can provide that. So beat your shining skull against a wall all you want, but it ain’t gunna get through us any faster than a wish can extinguish a drought. Only time, and nothing else, has the ultimate say.

Which brings me to a cold day in January where I was first introduced to the concept of meditation, or mindfulness, or paying attention, or, as I said then, doing nothing.

“So, let me get this right, Mr. Fuller, you want us to do nothing, and then you want us, again, to do nothing for homework?” Me, proverbially scratching my head, I was skeptical, almost flummoxed by the unsettling of the natural order of student and teacher. They are supposed to assign homework, we, as students, were supposed to protest. But here, ostensibly, we were given the keys to the kingdom of everlasting freedom from the close confines of our education system, and we didn’t know what to do with them.

“Yes, class, I would like for you, just for two minutes, here, and for two minutes later this evening, to sit and pay attention to your breath. See what happens, witness your thoughts, but always turn attention to you breath and just see how it is, that’s all I am asking.”

We had arrived, or so we thought. Sitting, breathing, doing nothing? These were things we could accomplish in spades, right? Well, as it turned out, we ended up learning quite a bit doing nothing from January to May, and those lessons have maintained as a powerful force ever since.

So, I’ll say this, I think Mr. Fuller, in all his mirrored domed glory, saved my life, and maybe a few others that day when he introduced a concept so radical, so antithetical to what I thought life was about, that it would eventually turn me inside out in ways that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

Thank you.

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