I'LL ADMIT IT. One of the scariest aspects of being a "man of a certain age" is the fear that I've reached THE END. Not the physical end, but that place old guys seem to come to where they stop growing; again, not in a physical sense, but as a person. You know what I mean: they think they've seen it all, heard it all and know it all. They "arrived"!
Maybe what's so scary about that for me is thinking that if I have arrived, then this is all I have to offer--that I've become all I can become except a cranky, old, dogmatic, Fox-News watching, horses's a-double-s.
When I was first introduced to the idea of "self-actualization" (especially Abraham Maslow's take on it) back in college, it rang very true for me. Without going in to the whole concept, let's overly narrow it down to this: Think of a continuous line, like a ruler. On one end is our Potential. On the other is our Actual. So, if I become a healthy self-actualized adult, it means, very simply, that I've moved along the scale from potential to actual. By the way, Maslow speculated that less than 1% of the population ever becomes fully self-actualized.
I hope, I HOPE, that during this era that I like to call my "second-coming of age", I will realize brand new, deeper and more significant potentials I can pursue.
But wait. Let me get my horse and cart in the right order. There are a couple of issues I need to clarify.
One: for those of you who are saying to yourself (as if anyone is still reading this), "I knew this guy was a 'secular humanist' all along. Just listen to this drivel," you're not the first.
Back in the day, I had a job as a teacher/consultant of sorts for people who worked with adolescents in churches. I would frequently use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to talk about what can happen as a teen develops. One time I was leading a conference for youth leaders in southeastern Oklahoma. A man came in to the conference wearing a snappy pair of white patent leather loafers and matching belt (think: Cousin Eddie) and introduced himself as "Pastor Roy Somethingorother." When I asked Pastor Roy why he had chosen to come to a conference for youth leaders he told me that he was only there to monitor what I had to say, to make sure I was not a "humanist."
All during the meeting I noticed him making notes in a miniature stenographers notebook like a reporter at a Whitehouse briefing. I expected at any moment for him to jump to his feet and shout, "Bingo, we've got ourselves a heretic!" He never did, and I never heard anything from Roy or whomever he was representing. Maybe he was just taking notes for his next sermon.
I do believe that we are created in the image of a creative God to be fully human. If that makes me a humanist, so be it.
Next: there is the big question of knowing what our potential is. Remember that line, our continuum, with POTENTIAL on one end and ACTUAL on the other? Before we can actually reach our POTENTIAL we need to know what it is. But where do we find that out?
Back when I was a kid, our report cards from school had a place for the teacher to record, in her opinion, whether or not we were "performing up to our potential." There was a consensus among my teachers that I was "NOT." There may have been one exception to that, my fourth grade teacher, even though she did check the "needs to improve" box.
Recently around our house, we've been going through some old stuff: treasures, photos, heirlooms, etc. In one of the boxes I ran across old report cards my mother had saved; although I'm not sure why unless she wanted to show them to parents of troubled kids to demonstrate there's always something to hope for.
Attached to my final fourth grade report card was a note from my teacher to my parents.
[If you can't read the letter in this image, I've included the text of it below.]
I'm glad that I didn't see this letter until 50-plus years later. It could have become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts had I seen it at the time. Instead, I like to imagine it as some sort of destiny.
I take heart that I helped make my teacher's career more pleasant. I like that she picked up on and commended my "gay outlook to everything," (I'm taking that to mean the 1960 definition of the word. Not that there's anything wrong with a more 2000s definition.) I am also relieved to note that my teacher apparently only owned a red ink pen and it wasn't just that all of my papers were graded in red. I liked the way she pretended to struggle with the proper use of the are/is verb form and its agreement with "Boys" or "David" just to make the rest of us feel good.
But I am most proud that Mrs. Burchette noticed, early on, a POTENTIAL for a sense of humor and that even THAT could take me "far in life." And, although I'm sure my parents had rather read something like, "He has the intellect of a rocket scientist", I feel SO self-actualized.
So, when my Grand-Girls say, "You're funny Pops," I think to myself, "Yes! Yes I am!" Thank you Mrs. Burchette, wherever you are.
Text of the letter:
It was a pleasure having David in my room this year. Boys like David are what make a teacher's career pleasant. He always seems to have a gay outlook to everything.
It was also nice meeting and talking with you. I want to thank you for all the help you gave me in working with David.
He is a boy to be proud of and with his sense of humor he will go far in life.