As a less than stellar student in school I did not look forward to report card day. I knew who the "smart kids" were and they knew who the "not so smart kids” were...me. I could have done better, as was proven in my later years at college, but I would not "apply myself" (a phrase my father swore he invented). I was, for lack of a better word, lazy. If I could pick up the lesson during the lecture then why take home a book. Any of you readers do that? I would “cram” for exams like everyone else but often it was too little and very much too late to make a difference. I learned in later years I have a learning issue. I don't retain information like the other kids. I managed to get out of High School. I was in the top bottom third of my class. I went into the military and realized my level of education would not carry me very far, so I started to go to night school.
Symbolically, my first class of night school was a disaster. I never made it to that first class of Western Civilization. My trailer burned that evening. As I prepared for class I turned on the heater of my plywood box. The precise scientific manner of lighting the burner was to throw a highly combustible piece of burning toilet paper into a pan of fuel oil. I did this more than once. Evidently the fuel pan overflowed and when it did ignite it lit up everything covered in fuel oil. That meant the heater floor and adjacent walls. Needless to say old varnish covered plywood burns very fast. Smoke brought help from neighbors and soon the sirens could be heard calling the volunteers to their posts. Guys unhooked the butane and fuel oil tanks from their connections and moved them away from the trailer. Someone moved my car while I went back into my bedroom to try to save some personal items and clothes. I managed to save some clothes. Do you have a closet full of things? Are the things less likely to be worn at the far end of your closet? Yeah, mine too. Guess what, after the clothes bar fell it was a free for all to grab by feel rather than by sight, and what I managed to save were the older out dated clothes hanging at the far end of my closet. I made two or three trips back inside before some fella grabbed me (just like in the movies) and kept me from going back into the burning box. I was within feet of grabbing my golf clubs and two rifles, but it was not to be. I sat down on a pile of clothes and stared at the smoking metal shell that was formerly my residence. The guy that held me back came over and offered me a cold beer. Still one of the best beverages I have ever had. A fireman came up and showed me a partially burned western pulp book. Inside it were three or four charred twenty dollar bills. The books were left by my former roommate. I surely didn't read books back then. He had married and moved out but left the books there. Remarkably my former bunkie drove up about this time. I showed him the book and he said the book was his but the money was not. Strange indeed. That money was my seed money to start my life again. I went back to that Western Civilization class. Because I applied myself and worked hard I earned a B in the class. I took another class and earned another B. Before long I separated from the Air Force with twenty-eight hours of college credit and a 3.2 average. The only classes in high school I received a B in were P.E. and Lunch.
That night with the fire, as terrible as it was, prepared me to go to college and graduate school and finally school at Perkins School of Theology at SMU. The symbolism is abundant in this story. Starting again with the right attitude and motivation helps a person do things previously unknown to them. Am I different than when I was in high school? Sure I am. But who isn't different a few years after surviving High School? I am still not the smartest person in the class. I often still pull on a door clearly marked push. I have been known to lock my keys in the car. More frequently I can't recall my grandkids names and have to go down the entire list until I find the right one.
Learning is a never ending-process. I am struggling to keep up with the new technology of today. My Commodore 64 doesn't play well with others. My smart phone says return to owner and my memory is not ... what we were talking about? Glad we old folks don't get report cards anymore. Be Well, Gary K.
Pastor Gary Karschner is the pastor of the First United Methodist Church if Miles.