I’m a happy little boy. I don’t let anything get me down. But sometimes I’m disappointed and that puts me in a bad mood for a while. One of these events was when our teacher told us to write an essay. Another time I lost my marbles, literally. We used to play a game of marbles and I lost. This is a story about those times when my good mood was shattered and the lesson I learnt.
Teachers were forever giving us essays to write. I bent down as if writing or thinking what to write, but actually chewing the little red rubber and the yellow metal band that held it to the back of the pencil, while looking around to watch what the other kids were doing. Everybody’s nose was glued to the sheet of paper on their desks and they were writing furiously. “What were they writing? How had they managed to start writing so quickly, even without thinking? I wasn’t really interested in what they were doing, I simply had nothing to do because I couldn’t think of anything to write. I could only think; “Was I really the only one who had to think about what to write? My head was empty, not a single thought entered it.” One thing I was sure of is that the teacher didn’t care what we wrote. She’d given us the subject to write about and was taking it easy, thinking about her problems or she had simply not prepared a lesson for that day.
Some of the subjects given to us come to mind, “what I did in the holidays”, “what I’m going to do in the holidays”, “what is science?” and “what is my vision of life in the future”. I can only remember the content of the last subject, “We would be living under the sea. Cities would be built under the sea. Some cities would still be built on land but most would be built under the sea”. I wasn’t far wrong, because, according to a lecture I heard recently, about, dangers facing our environment, the oceans will disappear. To me this means that cities will be built where the oceans once were.
Today was the day the teacher would finally return the essays, complement the children who had written well and shrugged shoulders or sighed over the children who had performed badly. I was the sort of kid who always expected praise or at least a compliment and alway received a shrug and a sigh. So I was alway disappointed and when that happened I felt down in the dumps, and this was one of those days.
Valerie, the smartest kid in the class once again came in for praise. I wasn’t jealous, because the task of ordinary mortals like me was to worship angels like Valerie.She was very pretty, short with a stocky figure, bulging breasts and a sympathetic look in her eyes. Could it be that that look was meant for me especially. I didn’t dare consider this for a moment. “Dumb, big clumsy me admired by Valerie”? Impossible.
I wished only that once a teacher would praise me, even a little, even though I was undeserving of praise.
My mind filled with these melancholy thoughts I ambled, head down, kicking stones as I walked, along Burger Street to Heder, afternoon Hebrew school, which all Jewish children attended to learn the Bible and to read the Hebrew prayer book. I counted off all my weaknesses, cricket, no, soccer, no, arithmetic, no writing, no. Everything was no, no, no.
The only time I received attention was when I’d done something wrong, left my Hebrew book at home, talked in class, hadn’t prepared my reading and so on. I didn’t relish the grumbling complaints and shouts of our kindly Rabbi, about not knowing the place in the book of Deuteronomy, which we were studying at the time.
More gloom lay in store for me in the playground, a dusty piece of red ground, between the classroom and the communal hall, where we played, while waiting for our class to begin.
The game of the day was marbles. Other days it was kenneky, a game where you had two round sticks, one short the other long. The object was to scrape the short stick out of a grove in the ground, using the long stick. The winner was the one who scraped the stick furthest.
I’d started hopefully, with a bag full of marbles and ended with two. I kicked my feet against the wall, where I was sitting, shifting my last two marbles from one hand to the other. I glowered at the kids swinging bags full of marbles, they’d won.
Sorrel Waks, a scrawny little kid, always on the lookout for a bit of mischief, came up to me. We’d often bunked class to take in a movie, sitting in the back row, puffing cigarettes. He slapped me on the back and said, “don't take things so hard old chap”.
I looked up at him and lashed out, leaving knuckle marks on his smirking face. My pent up anger had found a target. He hit back and all the kids came round to see the fight. He was smaller than me and I easily had his throat squeezed between my hands. His face was turning bright red. The kids pulled me off, pushed me aside and scowled at me for being a bully.
This annoyed me still further and now there was no knowing what crazy thing I would do. A little fox terrier, called spotty, running around us caught my attention. I hadn’t managed to get any victory against the kids, I turned my violence on little spotty and slapped the creature through the snout.
Then I realized that I had done the worst possible thing. “I loved dogs, was I mad to strike out at the thing I loved, first Sorrel and now the dog”. I hated myself. I was sure everyone else hated me also.
Rev. Wolk, our white haired teacher, called us into class. I dusted off my clothes, put on a proud countenance and went to face my next disgrace. I was an insensitive monster and decided that was that and I wouldn’t let it get me down.
Each week in those days the kids were crazy about different things, a weekly craze. Once it was collecting marbles. Another time collecting motor car pictures and so on. A kid could gain the admiration of his friends by having a rare card of a motor car picture, or a card of a famous sportsman. These items were available at the OK Bazaars, a department store in a beautiful three storey white Art Deco style building, which happened to be on my route to Hebrew School.
They were sold in things called lucky packets. These also contained sweets, but mostly we purchased them for the cards. I regularly stopped to browse the entrancing objects on sale. Riding the escalators, I knew what was on each floor. It was a magical place for me. For a few pennies I could purchase an object that would change me from a useless, no good runt into a prince among my cronies.
Once, collecting autographs was the new rage. I saved up for two weeks and stepped into the OK Bazaars, one day on my way to Hebrew School. I bought a beautiful autograph book, with pink, red and blue pages in an embossed brown artificial leather cover. Proudly I showed everyone my autograph of Donald Bradman, the famous English cricketer and Danny Kaye, whose performance my mother and aunty Lily had taken me to see at the Colosseum in Johannesburg. I wrote him a letter and he sent me an autographed picture, which I kept framed on my desk for many years.
Proud of these achievements I marched into the Heder grounds, next to the Synagogue. Each type of autograph had several pages allocated to it, according to colour. Blue pages for Sportsmen, red pages for film stars and so on. One set of pages was specially for autographs of friends. I asked the kids to sign and at the same time permitted them to admire the signatures of the famous people.
I was sitting on the wall, next to the dusty patch of ground again. Valerie stopped playing with the girls and came up to me. She stretched out her hand, asking if I would allow her to write in something in my autograph book. My jaw dropped open from surprise and my chest swelled with prideI, as I handed her my book, which would become more precious with her autograph in it. I offered her a full, beautiful pink page for her to write on.
What she wrote was something about friendship. She had obviously witnessed my miserable performance a few days ago. I had forgotten about it. But she hadn’t.
She had written:
“Friendship is like china, once broken it can be repaired but the crack remains forever”.
I knew that friends were important in life, but through being angry I broke friendships. I tried to follow my mother’s advice to control my anger, but I couldn’t do it. I never gave up trying because I knew that it was the key to my happiness, but how to do it eluded me.
It took me 60 years but I finally found the answer. I’ve learned that anger can’t be controlled. It has to be eradicated from our being.
How do we do that? With patience. Slowly but surely. Through daily meditation I healed myself of anger. It’s not difficult, but you need to be determined and to think in terms of not having anger at all. Have patience. Anyone with determination, consistency and patience can achieve the state of no anger.