A while ago my friend Lucy was telling me of her concerns for her daughter Jill who is 13 years of age and appears to be straying off the path Lucy and her husband would prefer for her. You know the path, honors courses, polite, respectful attitude, athletic achievement; the be safe and make us proud path.

She said that Jill had been a superior math student only 2 years before and was possibly the top math student in her grade for the entire town but was now barely qualifying for AP classes. She was also beginning to hang out with the “wrong crowd”. Lucy said her daughter was lazy, that when told to clean up her room she would throw things out rather than put them away.

I told Lucy that Jill sounded like me. I was a really bright kid and after being accepted into the best high school in town on my merit I flunked out in 31/2 months. I was also branded as lazy but it never seemed right to me. I worked hard at the various jobs I had as a kid. I had a paper route at 12 or 13 years old and, sure, I sometimes bullied my younger brothers to deliver the papers while I collected the money. But, overall I did a good job.

Last night I continued to think about the conversation with Lucy and other “failures” of mine came to mind. None as serious as flunking out of school but somehow they had the same pattern. While in grammar school I wanted to be an altar boy. I signed up and began to learn the Latin mass. I was doing well but when it came time for me to memorize ‘The Confiteor” I didn’t do it and was dismissed from altar boys. I never got to serve mass. I was also doing really well in Boy Scouts but when I had to memorize the Morse code to move to the next grade I didn’t do it.

Lazy? Maybe but it just doesn’t fit. I really wanted to be an Altar Boy and I wanted to advance in Boy Scouts and I had the ability but something held me back. I still don’t know what it was but lazy just rings untrue to me. I have come to find that I was afraid to try and then fail because everyone else would then know what I had always believed; that I was not the bright kid I had pretended to be.

This word lazy has been popping into my head a lot lately and it reminds me of a piece I wrote some 12 years ago about the words can’t and don’t. The difference between those words came to me while jogging in Liberty State Park. I had been experiencing chronic knee pain for years and the thought came to me that they hurt so much that I could no longer squat. My thought was I don’t squat because I can’t. Suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps I’m wrong, maybe I can’t because I don’t. So I tried it. The pain was incredible but I did it and began to believe that can’t was the wrong word and that it needed to be replaced with don’t. I decided to squat like a catcher every day from then on and see what happened. What happened was that I discovered that the reason I couldn’t squat was that I hadn’t tried to and that when I tried I did it. A by-product of that change in thinking came a short time later when I found that my knees no longer hurt at all.

Now, some 12 years later, I’m rehashing a conversation with Lucy about the word lazy and the can’t/don’t argument comes to me. I never even tried to memorize the Confiteor or the Morse code. I can almost feel the terror of failing at those assignments so I didn’t try. I simply assumed that I couldn’t do it.

This theme no longer runs my life but it does come up from time to time. Some challenging situation presents itself, the fear rises, my mind says can’t and I just walk away. I learned a long time ago that appearing tough and confident and certain worked to hide the fear and shame that I had always felt. Gradually though, as I became sober and began to write and pull out these feelings I got better.

I don’t know what is going on in Jill’s mind but I’ll bet she’s not lazy. It’s more likely that she’s a teenager with all the confusion and fear that comes along with that time of life. I’m sort of glad that she’s wandering a bit. Maybe she’ll find herself a lot earlier than most.

Posted May 16, 2007

1 Comment

since Carolann began graduating about a week or 2 ago I found myself looking back at my high school years. i was close to brilliant and wanted nothing from school but to beat the other stiudents in my clas and by my junior year (when I ingested alcohol for the 1st time) I didn’t even want that. i was profoundly depressed and lost and didn’t know it. It did the best I could with that and find at 63 that my life somehow became everything I could have hoped it would be. My regrets which are many are dwarfed by the joy, hope and confidence I have found; following that voice Jung speaks of.

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