AUGUST 29, 2015
Growing up in Louisa – Glass Houses
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
It isn’t because I don’t know some dirt on people from the time when I was growing up, but rather it is because of a personal ethic I have. I have a perspective of loyalty for people who have always been kind to me. I have chosen not to write about the ‘juicy’ stuff I knew about. You see, the glass-house model applies to me, just as I’m fairly sure it applies to everyone. I cannot throw the preverbal ‘first rock.’ In my memory there’s a list of people I knew who struggled with their own personal vices while they also tried to remain pillars of the community, good parents, and good citizens hoping to leave an honorable legacy. Many overcame their vices and accomplished admirable goals even when circumstance ought to have thwarted that possibility. That is the story I will present from my memories today, but without names. If you choose to guess, just remember, you may be wrong. Even if you’re right, it’s not the person, but the heroic people around them.
One larger than life person that I knew, and everyone who lived and worked in our little town knew, suffered seriously from alcoholism. He was a friend to everyone and was highly respected throughout the county. Nearly illiterate, he struggled with the requirements of his job that required him to understand difficult and complex things. He wasn’t dumb in the least. Internally he knew how tough it was to survive with his handicaps. This was likely one of the reasons he turned to drink. Daily he struggled with his reputation on the line, but he pushed to overcome. Thankfully, he had friends and family members who helped, and many in the community that overlooked his faults and helped hide the obvious. His habits were already widely known and whispered about, but also widely forgiven. By describing this man, but not mentioning his name, I don’t intend to judge this person, but rather to point out his personal bravery and the love and support of our community in those years. That is a community worth writing about. The personal tragedy the man suffered in his life demonstrates amazing perseverance on his part, but even more worthy of note are the loving and caring people that allowed him final victory. The point is not his weakness, for we are all weak in our own ways. Rather it is the combined strength of a caring people that writes the final chapter.
As perfect as our school system was and as skilled as our teachers were, some hid weaknesses common to mankind. These days we are not shocked by affairs of the heart any more than any other generation should be. For it began long before David saw Bathsheba bathing on a roof top. In second Samuel of the Bible we read about the ‘murder’ perpetrated by King David out of his lust for another man’s wife. In our day, while all of us heard whispers about thus and so, we sometimes saw the resulting damage. We know of divorces, which in those days were scandalous. There were suicides, and public fights, with children and others feeling the assaults and carrying the memories. Sadly, these things happened. We saw a few grow callused and skeptical that anything good could remain, but many families rose from the ashes and closed ranks. They purposed to embrace positive outlooks and grew stronger from the circumstances. These are the real heroes.
Luckily, there are a few that get through life never knowing the scandals such as those currently being suffered by famous names in the twilight of their careers. Whether earned or not, we cannot know, but regardless a legacy is destroyed. I remember the shock when I was told of a certain beloved teacher that was known to drop his pencil so his perspective of skirted young ladies was vastly improved. This alleged fact colored my opinion negatively at first, but later I saw the truth that even the giants among us are after all, just people. Another teacher flirted openly with the pretty girls and nearly succeeded to put one student’s honor at risk. I gasped when I was told, but in my mind I understood for she was a pretty girl, indeed. A storekeeper flashed some young girls showing a pent-up illness while yet another harassed a youth nearly every day. This was a form of bullying and made living hard for the undeserving child. There were students that carried secret burdens of rape, sometimes perpetrated by family members or so called friends. The heroes were those who refused to take on the role of victim. Some overcame by helping others to overcome. There is no counselor better than the one who ‘has been there.’ Through the ugliness of man there are always beautiful possibilities, made more beautiful by the contrast of darkness.
Some of us understood poverty and went hungry, feeling that we stood out and didn’t fit in with the rich kids. The funny thing is, there were very few rich kids and ironically many of the ones that were comparatively better off didn’t know it. It is the mantle of teenagers to want peer approval and to ‘be like everyone else.’ That is sometimes an impossible burden of which we must adjust or else, succumb. Many vow to rise above that and become materially successful. Some carry it overboard by hoarding and becoming stingy, and others even become cheats, or justify criminal behaviors. Better, there are those who remember the deprivations of their past and strive to help others from the despair they have known. These are the heroes.
In my memory I knew stepchildren and illegitimate children that felt they were not a part of their family. They thought themselves as unwelcomed and unwanted. The hurt and sufferings of those can be tragically debilitating, or even cause the opposite problem of never achieving a measure of personal success. Some are never satisfied while others withdraw from society. I have studied some of these and have seen them hiding in the dark corners of life. Others, often through new found faith, rise above those circumstances and look instead to serve the burdened. Those have a real message and can make life worthwhile for all. They help improve the dreariness by displacing despair with hope. Those are the heroes.
In the news today all around us we see, read, or hear about people who feel victimized and fight with their personal short-comings. This week one young man saw evil and personal attacks in everything and vowed to get even. Innocent people died at his disturbed hand, but we also read about off-duty soldiers who stepped up and saved many lives on a fast-moving train in France. It’s the latter that is worth making the news. This must be our model.
Folks, we often cannot help our circumstances and often cannot even always control ourselves. We are a weak lot on the whole. We cannot help what happens to us, but we can have hope by having faith and knowing that others have overcome. That is life’s challenge. To rise above that which would weigh us down is the greatest thing we can do. Mankind needs more of that model and less of the soap operas of life.
That is what makes the larger community worth living in, and that is what we owe to ourselves and others. Scandals happen because after all, we are people. We have our burdens, weaknesses, lusts, and temptations, as well as an innate nature to find trouble. We are hardly better than the toddlers I get to see most weekends that seem to only want that which they cannot have. Like a magnet they find the very thing that could take their lives were it not for the vigilance others. There’s the key, my friends. We must maintain hope and be ever vigilant. We’re not here to judge, but to understand and give a welcomed hand. When the circumstances are right, be the hero. That must be our legacy.