Saturday, September 8, 2012

4. Making the Grade

THE BEST lesson I learned in Catholic school was this: I am the best judge of my own progress.

I'M NOT against letter grades, but, when it comes to art, I'm the only one who knows if I'm happy with my improvement. Thank you Sister Rose Anita for teaching me that.

JUNIOR HIGH. I wasn't beautiful. I wasn't popular. I wasn't even funny. But I knew who I was and I liked myself. That did not endear me to the Immaculate Heart sisters, and it didn't take me long to be labeled.  I clung fiercely to my identity (rebel) and refused to give in (disobedient). I continued to laugh (stubborn). And, most of all, I loved to paint and I knew I had talent (proud).

ONE ART lesson stands out. It's Christmas time – the assignment is to paint a stained-glass window design. I'm in my happy place, quietly working, when Sister stops at my desk and asks if she can show my piece to the class. She takes it to her desk, folds my art into a tiny square, then proceeds to cut it up with scissors. She unfolds it, it falls in tiny pieces onto her desk, and she says, with a smile, "Oops, I did that wrong. I was trying to make a snowflake. But Nadi won't mind. She'll make another one."

I REFUSED (obstinate) and, as a result, received an F on the assignment. It was my first F. I should have been upset. I should have argued my case, told my parents, even cried. Nope. Not me. I smiled. I think I actually enjoyed it. I know I enjoyed the look on Sister's face.

I CONTINUED to paint at school, but only when assigned, and I never cared about my grade. But I loved working at home on my own. Only one painting remains from those days – Siamese Cat – and only because my parents framed it and hung it in the living room, where it remained for 40 years.

AND I ESCAPED those corridors. Not with humility and grace, maybe, but with anticipation of new adventures (hopeful), and with my confidence intact and tucked safely away in my back pocket (happy).