Let There Be Light

Gayle R. Robbins

Memorial Day weekend kind of snuck up on me this year, as it was late on Wednesday when I suddenly realized this was the weekend which, in past years, would cause me so much stress.

Before, this would have been a most frenetic week around here.

But this week there has been no stress in planning of how we'd make it out to cover four graduation ceremonies (three on the same evening), the opening of Rainbow Beach and the farmers market, not to mention how to spend sufficient time at Rendezvous and then the Memorial Day ceremonies themselves on Monday.

Plus, there were those high school sporting events to plan for on Monday — why they're played on Memorial Day just beats the daylights out of me.

There was none of that this week.

There was, of course, stress of a different kind. But that's a stress which has become routine, even normal, these last couple of months.

I think what I'll miss the most is not going to the graduations. There you see seniors who you first saw maybe a decade ago, taking part in an elementary musical, or showing a hog at the fair, or being involved in some festival pageant.

Now here they are, old enough to be graduating

And I remember how much older I am, and how long ago was my own high school graduation.

I think, had it been in any way possible, I would have skipped going to my high school graduation ceremony — I would rather have stayed home or maybe gone fishing

Truth is, by midway through my junior year I was pretty much through with high school; I just didn't think there was anything left for me to learn.

What I was reading on my own, books I'd devour from grazing among the stacks in the school library and more often from the local Carnegie library uptown, were well ahead of what I was being forced to consume in classes.

I had had the benefit of a couple of really great elementary school teachers who, surprisingly enough, had impressed upon me the importance of learning on my own — of being self-sufficient with my own education.

One, Virginia Combs, my sixth-grade English teacher (who had a great sense of humor, especially when hinting at ways I could maybe get under the skin of her colleagues) brought me down a copy of Thoreau's “Walden” from the high school library one day.

“This may light a fire under you,” she said, with a mischievous glint in her eye.

I don't remember now what exactly it was I did, but a couple of weeks later I undertook my own little act of personal protest at some perceived injustice — which landed me in the principal's office.

Years later, when I was running my hometown newspaper, and I'd meet Mrs. Combs in Pielemeier's Drug Store, or the grocery store, or, more often than not, at the library, and I'd recently written some “crusading” editorial, she'd invariably put up her right had and say, “I tell people not to blame me for what you write!”

Then we'd spend a few minutes talking, and at the end she would lean over toward me (I would have to bend down to her level to hear her) and whisper, “Keep giving them hell!”

Then she would walk away laughing to herself.

I did go to my high school graduation.

Somehow or other I'd been tasked with giving the invocation at the ceremony — me, probably the least religious member of my class.

I was not much of a joiner in high school. I avoided almost all clubs, including the National Honor Society, which infuriated the guidance counselor, who never failed to bring it up, in way that was intended to make me feel guilty.

I had, however, and mostly by default (I knew how to properly read a Bible verse), been “chosen” by the basketball coach to lead the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, for which I got a windbreaker with the FCA logo.

So the invocation was left up to me.

It was brief, pointedly did not call upon heavenly help in the proceedings that were to follow, and was heavily influenced by the music I was listening to at the time — George Harrison (who while he apparently had little to say as a Beatle spoke volumes as a solo artist), Cat Stevens and especially John Lennon.

“Imagine, if you will, it's easy if you try, what we could all accomplish if, after tonight, we chose to live in peace and love, a brotherhood of man, the world to live as one.”

Let us just say it wasn't what they had bargained for.

I credit Thoreau — and Virginia Combs.

Gayle R. Robbins is editor and publisher of The Sun-Commercial. He can be reached at grobbins@suncommercial.com.

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