Thought Piece: Blind and see law

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 11, 2018

I have always felt as if my fifth grade teacher, Beulah Blessing, never really cared much for me. But I will always remember what I came to learn in spite of her.

Beulah Blessing was a life-long teacher and a strict by-the-rules disciplinarian. The combination of being some months younger than my classmates and being a knucklehead, too, contributed to her seeming to me to be on my case for most of that year.

This was about the time that public schools started offering free lunches for certain needy families, so more hands were needed in the lunchroom. The call went out to identify a couple of upper class students in my 1-6 grade school who would place on each lunchroom table a tray of 8 small milk bottles for the students, and to pick up the empty bottles after lunch.

I was asked by Ms. Blessing to take on this task and leave class 15 minutes before the lunch period, for which I got a free lunch, too (priced at 25 cents). I thought it was an honor to be chosen, and my ever frugal mother thought it made financial sense.

In retrospect, I think Ms. Blessing was glad to get me out of the classroom, and my selection likely was not an honor at all. (I am leaving out some of my knucklehead actions which support this conclusion.)

In my new but limited job I had to place and pick up the milk bottles on all the tables in one of the two lunchrooms, not just the tables my friends and I frequented. And there were more students now who were getting a “real” meal.

What I remember most of all of this whole experience was how hungry so many of the kids were. They ate as if it was their only meal, as the expression goes. Except in this case, I came to learn, it probably was their only real meal.

I did not know enough then about why anybody was hungry in my small circle of the world. I was just a kid. But I was old enough to be struck by seeing someone who gave every appearance of being food deprived, to put a kinder frame on it. How could this be?

This memory has stuck with me all of these years. My family was very conservative with solid work-ethic values, and they put a sharp frame on the why of it all. But I still wondered, having seen with my own eyes what I had seen, why a parent would knowingly allow their children to be hungry.

My sense of this is I still don’t know fully the answer to this quandary, even though I carry with me my family’s view on many things and certainly the belief in a solid work-ethic. But I have come to believe that no side of this issue, or any number of hot political, educational, social and economic issues these days, is fully right or fully wrong. It is much more complicated than that. And yet so many of us are quick to make this all-or-nothing judgment.

Life is a series of rich approximations of the “truth,” as anyone who has been married for a while will tell you. Which is why this insistence on “seeing” so many matters so clearly, and being oblivious to our often partial blindness (at best) of the other reasoned point of view, is so troubling. Who among us really knows so much so clearly and so often that we are ready to pass judgment about what we “see” and what we believe others are ”blind” to see?

What I’ve learned about life on the way to the courthouse is this: Ms. Blessing, who otherwise tormented me for a whole school year, unwittingly provided to me with my lunchroom duty a helpful sight line to an important and enduring calibrator in life: We should all learn to be careful about being so sure of what we think we are able to “see” and what we think others may be “blind” to see.

We live in an increasingly polarized environment. And there is sure enough blame to go around from all sides. But how in the world will we ever find a united way to work toward a common plan to solve these challenges if we think those of a different opinion are “blind” to the facts and that we have the unobstructed view to “see” the full truth?

— Mike Wells