Lessons from the School Yard

It was a crisp October Monday morning in 1961 in Magnet Cove, Arkansas. The mighty Magnet Cove Panthers had fallen ignominiously (again) the previous Friday night en route to another 2-8 season, Orval Faubus was championing our racist raison d’etre each day, and that damn Catholic John F. Kennedy was in the White House. But, it was morning recess time and the BMOC (Big Man on Campus) in the 3rd grade announced to the boys on the playground, “Everybody with high top boots run with me and let’s chase the girls.” Oh, was I so proud! I had high top boots and they were pretty new! Now, I was not used to being in the “in crowd” due in part to my own alienation, certainly not irrelevant to my perception that I was from an impoverished family. But, on this autumn morning, by damn, I HAD HIGH TOP BOOTS! And for a couple of weeks this social agenda predominated in that class of 27 kids and I had the delight of belonging! (By the way, the girls were meeting secretly at the same moment nearby and answering the question, “What are we gonna do today” with, “Well, let’s go out there and be cute and let the guys chase us! You are right. Nothing has changed in fifty years.)

Well, in the following years, the BMOC’s would change, usually with a bloodless coup d’etat, and the agenda would change and even mature with age. But the pattern was set. We boys and girls learned the importance of determining which category we belonged in, where the power lay in the social contract, and hooking our wagons to the one that seemed most palatable and which one was most likely to predominate.

Today I belong to several group (even though I’m still alienated as hell!) For example, I am a Democrat, I’m a heterosexual male, I’m a licensed counselor, and I’m an Episcopalian…to name just a few. But, I’m far removed from the playground and my affiliation has gone far beyond the “high top boots” phenomena. My identity supersedes these superfluous labels. Each of them are important to me, but there is something (might I say Something, or even “Someone”) more important—we are all “one flesh” and…if I might segue…, as Rodney King said, “Why can’t we all get along?” The categories are so ephemeral.

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