Dear Mr. Molinari,
My face still reddens with embarrassment every time I think of our encounter when I was in the sixth grade. You instructed us to come to you individually for directions on finishing our first projects in shop class. I was making a “dog door stop.”
I listened carefully to every word you said. Because shop and making things did not come easily to me, I politely asked you to please repeat the instructions.
You then screamed at me: “You weren’t listening. Pack up your things and sit at your bench. You’re through for the day!” My classmates snickered, and I fought back tears.
I cannot tell you, Mr. Molinari, how many times over the past 65 years that scene has replayed itself in my mind. But in addition to the pain it evokes, it was one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.
If I say so myself, I was one of the better students in the “upstairs” classes. Reading came easily to me, and I was most often the winner of class spelling bees. But in our weekly shop class in the school’s basement, I was the world’s worst. My work was slow and laborious, and I think I hold the unofficial record for broken hacksaw blades.
As I plodded along, I noticed that some of the “dumb kids” on whom I looked down “upstairs” worked with confidence, alacrity and skill in shop. I now knew how they felt when teachers “upstairs” were mean to them. A vital lesson began to etch itself into my heart.
Don’t look down on anyone!
People have different skills and talents. As my high school Hockey Coach, Gilbert F. Adams,** whom I met when I was 14 and whom I eulogized at his funeral when he was 94, said on my last visit to him in a nursing home: “We’re all dumb differently.”
And as the wise Sage, Simeon ben Zoma taught 2000 years ago, “We can learn something from everyone.”
** You can search for Mr. Adams eulogy on this blog page.