Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lessons learned; Lessons forgotten

One of the biggest influences in my life when I was growing up was Randy Nelson, my high school English teacher. Mr. Nelson was my teacher for three years at good ol' Dell Rapids High School: German my sophomore year, German II and junior English my junior year, and College-bound English my senior year.

In addition to instructing me on the wonders of the English language, literature, and the beauty of the German language ("Auf Deutsch, Herr Hendrickson, Auf Deutsch!"), Mr. Nelson taught me a lot about life and about being a good person. Although he never sat me down formally and told me what I needed to do, he still taught me by being a positive example. He never lost his temper, he always followed through on his committments, and he always treated everyone with respect. He could be strict, but at the same time he wasn't mean about it.

He was THE teacher that you never wanted to disappoint. Other teachers could get mad at you, and that happened to me quite a few times in my illustrious high school career. But you never, ever wanted to have Mr. Nelson disappointed in you, because he was (and still is) such a genuinely good person. It made you feel rotten when you did.

Case in point, my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to splice into my neighbor's cable, which is a bit illegal. We would have split the cost and be able to watch TV in our dorms. I let it slip to Mr. Nelson what I was planning and he said the words that have stuck in my mind ever since.

"Matt, you're a better person than that."

I was so ashamed of myself that I immediately scrapped that idea.

One of the biggest lessons he taught me was that the human mouth was much more destructive than a nuclear weapon. What we say and who we say it to can cause more damage than a gun, a knife, or a fist. And I always liked to think I followed that maxim... but I haven't.

I've said some pretty hurtful, damaging, spiteful, and just plain mean things over the past few weeks and months. Some on here (quickly erased), but also on e-mails, phone calls, and in person. My friends have read and heard my poisoned words and even the ones who weren't the targets looked at me like I was crazed. I've made people mad, I've made people sad, and I made someone very near and dear to me cry.

Because of MY words, I made her cry. She was inconsolable. All because my feelings were hurt and I was petty and so self-centered that she had to pay. I don't know what Mr. Nelson would say to me about that, but I have a pretty good idea:

"Matt, you're a better person than that."

No, Mr. Nelson, it would appear I'm not. I've hurt people with my voice. And no amount of self-flagellation, pennance, or apology will ever change that. And the fact that I apologized and haven't been forgiven goes to show just how much I hurt her. Maybe I don't deserve forgiveness. And if that's the case, then it's what I deserve.

I should find Mr. Nelson and re-take high school English. It's all too apparent I forgot some important lessons that I need to relearn.

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