Friday, December 11, 2009

This I Believe

For several years, NPR encouraged listeners to write an essay titled, This I Believe. So I did. I did not however, send it to NPR like I wanted to. And now they don't do it anymore. Story of my writing career. So, for the first time, oops second time--I read it this week at a Relief Society meeting--I offer my essay.

This I Believe

I believe in second chances. Not necessarily the kind that romance novels tout, although who can’t applaud that, but second chances in all respects. Rooted in a belief in redemption, my hope is that all of us hold fast to knowledge that few mistakes are fatal, nor are many first attempts completely successful.

My students roll their eyes when I remind them that I expect not just one edited draft, but several, before they turn in that final offering. No matter how good your first draft is, I nag, your second and third will be better.

Still, it’s not with student essays that my hope for second chances resonates any more than for new love. My deepest, most abiding hopes are for those who have taken a path that is in a slow or quick descent. Too many of these people have been led to believe that their journey is one way—there is no way back to higher ground. Too many others, watching them make these mistakes turn their backs on loved ones, broken-hearted but resigned to what they fear is a hopeless cause.

I reject that negative approach. I reject the cynicism that perpetuates the idea that people never change. I acknowledge that these doubts often develop through seeing a loved one improve only to regress again. Perhaps I should admit that I believe in third chances and twentieth chances. I should also acknowledge that in the large collection of light bulb jokes I’ve heard, my favorite is the one where we are asked how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Only one, the teller responds, but the light bulb has to really want to change. It is an absolute truth that we cannot control another person or their choices.

What we can do, however, is give each other permission to become better people. I believe in suspending doubt, even though the softened heart that results might get bruised. I believe that while we might be culturally or chemically predisposed toward certain weaknesses, we are not powerless to change. Some weaknesses are relatively easy to eliminate—chewing gum with your mouth open or using words that are inappropriate or inflammatory come to this teacher’s mind. More difficult to amend are substance abuse addictions or long held, childhood learned prejudices. Still harder are habits that harm or exploit others.

Some people will need extensive help and may even need a space away from the general population. Would that our corrections departments truly believed in second chances. Far too many employed in these programs have hardened their hearts to the point that recidivism is expected.

I believe in our ability to stand up after falling and to climb out of the depths in which we are mired. I believe that we are stronger than we acknowledge, but that we need others to believe in us as well. Call me crazy, I believe that Miguel de Cervantes gave us Don Quixote as a role model. I’d rather be accused of being delusional while encouraging a Dulcinea than be sensible and give up on people.

I teach teenagers, I mother my own children, I associate with much loved friends and family, and I look in the mirror at least once a day. I believe in second chances. I depend on them. I rejoice in them.


Jana said...

Mama, that's very good! I'm bummed that I didn't get to hear you read it out loud the other night. I must admit that I didn't get the Don Quixote reference, as I somehow graduated from high school (and soon college) without ever reading it :).

I also like the new background, and I'm very impressed you did it all by yourself! Keep posting!

Leslie said...

Send it in--maybe it'll inspire a reunion show. ;) Good stuff with many a good point. So glad you re-entered the blog-o-sphere.

David said...

I found your blog!