In my first psychology course, 101, I remember reading in the introduction of my text the following three questions that men have been asking themselves from the beginning of their existence: 1) Who am I? 2) Where am I going? 3) And why? Those three questions, while never on a quiz or a semester exam, have remained with me throughout my working career and into my retirement years. As circumstances change in my life and age decreases my physical and mental abilities, I find myself reviewing those three questions once more.
I know a restful night’s sleep can dissolve many of our smaller problems: From Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, part 5, first stanza:
Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,
That slid into my soul.
A goodnight sleep can fuel the exuberance of facing a new day with hope and excitement.
In my quest to fulfill my childhood dreams I followed a path that meandered here, there, and everywhere before I returned to ponder the path of my youth. My final destination was one of acceptance, though imperfect, for my positive and negative attributes, and the understanding that, for the most part, I received my just dues in life’s journey. In many ways my life disappointed me. The dreams of my youth faded with the passing of time and the realization I didn’t measure up to the standards required for my dreams to come true. Despite my disappointment I know now without a doubt my country, America, provided me with every opportunity to fulfill my dreams. If I had measured up, I could have been a professional baseball player, a genius of some renown, an outstanding mental health therapist, or a gifted communicator like the late Tony Snow. The opportunities were there for me, and that is all anyone can ask for legitimately.
I am blessed, but I am not gifted. I am not gifted intellectually, physically, socially, or spiritually. If you ever heard me teach my Sunday School Class, and sometime later heard a gifted teacher, you would know the difference. I do believe I am blessed, but human giftedness is another matter. A human gift is bestowed upon an individual at birth and not manufactured through study or practice, yet those processes are needed for developing the full measure of his/her gift. These gifts go beyond smart, beyond good hand-and-eye coordination, beyond just a good musician, or beyond a fine speaker. They are special and rare.
We are stuck with our looks and abilities at birth, and it’s up to us to make the best of what we have thereafter. If we live in a place like America, though imperfect as as she is, our chances to fulfill our potential is better than any other place on earth. I look back on my life and wish somehow I had more to offer my children and my country, and that’s why I feel a certain disappointment in not amounting to more than I did. A close family member used the word failure to describe my life, and while it hurt at first, I now agree in part with her judgment. I gave it my best shot, and made out of it what I could. As the old saying goes, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
When I began my schooling in 1949 as a first grader, it didn’t take me long to figure out what kids to stay away from and what kids to befriend. I learned who the bullies were, mainly older boys; who the good marble shooters were; what kids cheated you when trading; and who the smart kids were. During the third grade, I became a business man. I bought three packs of Wrigley chewing gum for a dime, and sold them for a nickel a piece, making a nice profit. I didn’t start caring about academics until the 4th grade. I became suddenly aware that children who made good grades received praise and benefits that the dumber kids didn’t. I wanted to be like one of those smart kids, but I had a problem. I wasn’t that smart; my reading skills suffered from a lack of vocabulary; and my speech suffered from an inability to reproduce some sounds accurately.
During that time in my life I felt no desire to do homework. I don’t remember ever doing any, though surely I must have done something, maybe the minimum. By the eighth grade I began to study with earnest. By the time I graduated from high school, the guidance counselor considered me one of the most studious students in the senior class, but not college material due to my average scores on standardized college entrance tests. No doubt he was correct in his judgment that I studied hard. At the time his counseling advice upset me greatly. I so wanted to be considered “smart” that even to this very day I detest anyone calling me dumb, for I still unwisely take that seriously. Upon graduation from high school I received no scholarships for academic or athletic ability. Like a sailing ship without the wind to move it forward, I felt dead in the water.
During my high school days I learned how to study, and I learned how to like it. Upon entering junior college in a small town I began looking up every word I didn’t know in the dictionary, and eventually over time I increased my vocabulary significantly. As several short psychometric tests use vocabulary as a measure of one’s intellectual ability, my scores increased into the upper range of the bell curve. I express satisfaction in my higher scores only in the fact they affirm my hard work.
As it was my good fortune, my natural interest in psychology turned out to be one area of study in which I showed some aptitude. I pursued that field with dedication and with some success after a few delays and setbacks. I am now retired after 18 years in the mental health field. I didn’t set the world of talk therapy on fire, but I did manage to achieve my appropriate level of advancement. For what success and accomplishment I have earned, I humbly thank my country, America, one nation under God for all the opportunities she gave me to fully express myself during my stay here on this earth. What more could an average boy want? garland dale.