Tuesday, April 25, 2017

School of Hard Knocks

I’m going to share something this morning that many people may scoff over. It is, nevertheless, true. I was once painfully shy. I seemed to be fine around those I knew well, namely my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. But whenever I was in the presence of those I didn’t know, I remained silent. This wasn’t always a good idea. Things often happened that threatened my well-being, but instead of letting others know that I was in pain, or frightened, I silently suffered through whatever had taken place, as I did my best to blend into the woodwork, as the saying goes.

One of my earliest memories of first grade was not a pleasant event. It started out innocent enough. For a year and a half, I went to the same elementary school that my paternal grandmother had once attended. It was an old rock building full of interesting sounds. Floors creaked, pipes rattled, and the very walls seemed to echo with children’s voices from years gone by. Some of the students were convinced the school was haunted. Since I didn’t know what that word meant yet, it didn’t bother me. I was more fearful of my classmates and teacher than of items that may have happened in the past.

I had reason to feel that way. One afternoon I crossed the room to sharpen my pencil. I heard a sharp sound and glanced out of our open classroom door. Horrified, I watched as our first grade teacher broke a yardstick over the unfortunate posterior of one of my classmates. That image stayed with me for months. It explains in part why I was hesitant to tell this teacher anything. One of my goals for that year was to stay unnoticed by this person who seemed mean and oppressive. 

It didn’t help that one of my classmates happened to be this woman’s niece. This young lady was a bit spoiled and she made the most out of being related to our teacher. Her word was law. One fall day as I stood out among the giant trees in the playground behind the school, this girl decided to include me in her game of make-believe. It was a common practice to pretend that the bases of the giant trees were houses and families were made up of other students as homes were set in order. That day during lunch recess, my teacher’s niece pretended to be the mommy in our pretend family. A young boy was assigned to be the daddy. I was relegated to the role of the child. Things seemed to go along quite well for a time. Then “mommy” came up with a brilliant idea. She turned to “daddy,” and said, “Let’s help Cheri learn to hold her breath.” 

This didn’t sound good to me, but I was small for my age and unable to fight both of them as they held me down on the ground in our makeshift home. “Mommy” sat on top of me and held her hand over my mouth. She then instructed “Daddy” to pinch my nose shut. “Daddy” wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he realized this wasn’t a good idea. “She won’t be able to breathe,” he argued. “I know,” ‘mommy’ giggled. Meanwhile I tried to free myself from her grip, but remained pinned on the ground. I felt overwhelmed by a horrible feeling and I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t cry out because her hand was still over my mouth. Things grew worse as “daddy” finally gave in and pinched my nose shut.

I’m not sure how long we remained in that position. I know I struggled as I never had before, but they were too big for me to budge. I nearly lost consciousness and thought that I would perish. Before all went black, I remembered something I had learned in Primary about prayer. I knew we were supposed to pray when things weren’t going well. I silently sent a frantic prayer heavenward. As soon as I asked for help, the bell rang. My captors immediately released me and ran toward the school. I lay in the dirt and gasped for air.

When I felt like I would live, I shakily stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves from my dress. Then I walked alone toward the school since everyone else had already made it inside. Needless to say, I was tardy, but for some reason, the teacher didn’t say anything to me. She was up in front of the class reading a story to my classmates, something she did every day after the lunch break. She merely nodded at me as I quietly sat at my desk and pondered what I had just survived. I was only six years old, but I knew something significant had taken place. It was more than the brutal treatment by two of my classmates. I had felt a strong sense of comforting peace moments before the bell had rung. I knew in my tender heart that my Father in heaven had heard my prayer that day. Not only had I survived my near suffocation, but I was not out in the hallway being punished for being tardy. That in and of itself was a miracle. 

I never did tell anyone what had happened that day—but it never happened again. For a time, I was left alone, though I never felt that I was. I knew my Father in heaven was very aware of me and that He was protecting me. It was a knowledge gained at a young age, and something I treasured—most of the time. I was not a perfect child, but I did strive to make good choices. I still had a lot to learn, but that one experience shaped me in ways I would not fully understand for many years. 

There were other experiences that reinforced what I learned that fateful day behind the school house. I knew that in times of trouble, God was only a heartfelt prayer away. This knowledge has provided an important lifeline during my mortal journey. 

I mentioned in my last blog post that I would share some of the experiences that have helped shape me into who I am today. I am doing this, hoping that these items may help others who are struggling, who are seeking to find their way. Today’s lesson: Prayers are answered—immediately when the need is great, but often in ways we may never understand. We are watched over throughout our lives, even though at times we are permitted to experience pain and sorrow to fully appreciate the joy that also exists.

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