As I pondered the whole Exhorter dynamic during my long drive to and from the family reunion, what bubbled up was the issue of legitimacy.
While trafficking in legitimacy is a game the whole human race does relentlessly, the Exhorter tribe tends to do so a bit more often, with more damaging results.
I ponder the legitimacy structures in the Christian high school I attended. I have no basis for comparison to other high schools, but it seems to me that they were not toxic. The boys’ legitimacy on Monday morning was loosely correlated to how cute the girl was that they dated over the weekend. (I wasn’t allowed to date). Cars conferred a lot of legitimacy with Mustangs being top of the line and anything with a glass pack in the exhaust system being a cut above. (I rode the bus to school). Quarterbacks were more legitimate than defensive linemen. (I didn’t play sports). An A in trig was more legitimate than an A in English lit. (I couldn’t even muster an A in detention). And singers in the A Cappella choir were more legitimate than even the principal. (I was asked to stop singing in the shower).
All told, pretty ordinary stuff. There were cliques and clubs, the ins and the outs, the beautiful people and the riff raff, the rich and the not so rich (no po’ folk in the private tuition Christian school). But nothing that I would deem as toxic in retrospect.
I circled around that for hours. I clearly had zero chances of being legitimate with any of the currencies in use. What did it feel like to be utterly doomed to be non-legitimate for the entire year? It was a bit tough to pull up memories of feelings from 46 years ago, but I gave it a good whirl.
What emerged were the seven kids who offered me the gift of friendship.
Chris, Howie, Sylvia, Pat, Roxanna, Debi, and Arthur.
Four guys, three gals.
Three big shots on campus. Two nobodies. Two middle of the pack, ordinary people.
One of the top athletes and a top singer. A legendary procrastinator on homework. A political activist. Two laid back, disengaged, non-aligned kids. The son of a doctor in Newport Beach. The son of a missionary to Native Americans. The daughter of divorce. The daughter of a family with deep heritage.
I don’t remember a single one of them offering me legitimacy through association. In retrospect, all of the invitations appear to be simple, sincere and long standing. They offered friendship. That is all. Nothing more. Nothing less. No dues to pay. No privileges to gain. They just liked me and offered friendship.
And what is stunningly clear in retrospect is that I did not accept their friendship. Each one had a different flavor of relationship to offer, and in each case, I accepted ten to fifteen percent of what was offered.
The disconnect was stupendous.
I had no place to put what was offered. It was as if you walked up to me with two watermelons and you were all excited. You explained to me that these were organic and made THE BEST windshield wipers. You gave me one.
So what do I do now?
I don’t own a car. I have never heard of using a watermelon as a windshield wiper. Do I accept it excitedly and stash it in my locker? Do I stick it in the trash and hope you don’t notice? What if you ask me the next day? Do I take it home and offer it to Dad? What if he doesn’t know how to use a watermelon as a windshield wiper? What if he laughs at me in front of the whole family? What if this is one big practical joke and a lot of other kids are watching you prank me? What if this is a really valuable treasure and Dad would be furious at me for passing up an ORGANIC watermelon windshield wiper?
The pictures floating by on the screen are sickening. Sundry sincere offers. And I dance, and dodge, and duck, and run, and hide.
I couldn’t do friendship in my senior year in high school.
What’s up with that?
I looked at the years before that in Brazil. We lived in a small town from my age 10 to 15. I had a lot of friends. While there was the inevitable White privilege, I was most certainly lacking in all of the things that constituted legitimacy in the local kids’ culture. I could not hunt, trap, fish, paddle a canoe, throw a stone, use a sling shot, wield a machete, identify a snake, find a blue tarantula’s nest, make a kite, shoot marbles or run as fast as the other kids.
But, I had a lot of friends.
In retrospect, it seemed pretty normal. We played, we fought, we made up, we changed friends, we competed, we broke bones and promises, and generally acted like kids. I don’t remember anything particularly noble about my friendships and several things not so noble, but I was clearly liked by some kids in the neighborhood, and I welcomed their friendship and reciprocated, even though I would never be their equal in anything that involved skill or social status.
So what happened between Brazil and California?
I listed possible culprits.
When I was a senior in high school, Roman Gabriel was the star quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams football team. Monday morning chatter from the guys included awe-struck references to his strong arm. I wondered how someone with only a quarter of a back could have a strong arm. I had heard a lot about shepherds in the Bible, but didn’t really understand why you would have a flock of only rams, no ewes. And I was baffled by Gabriel being a Roman. Was this some pagan idol the Roman’s created worshipping the Jews’ archangel? Didn’t make sense.
Welcome to the world of missionary kids home on furlough.
So yes. Social ineptness.
Lacking a lot of currencies.
He distrusted America at every level and couldn’t wait to get his kids back to Brazil where they would be less likely to be corrupted by the depraved, Beatles-ridden California culture. I was not allowed to participate in any after school activities, or visit the homes of any friend from school.
So did I absorb some of his extreme caution and fear of contamination? Quite possibly.
Back in 1970 I had no idea about them. Were there one or more Brazilian AHS who were hugely anti-social in California?
Hmm . . . The season of molestation that produced the DID was well before this school year. Of course we had no idea that DID existed, much less that I was divided, but as I look back, I can certainly see a fair amount of switching going on in different sectors of the school day – like having to undress and shower, fully exposed, with a group of guys after PE.
The more I circled around that one, the more probable it seemed. There were dozens of reasons why one or more parts would have been broadly distrustful of any offer of friendship.
Hmm . . . back in the day, the perp drew me with offers of friendship, which then morphed . . .
A bit of projection going on? Ya think?!!!!
Quite depressing. I am going to park this here for a day and do some less public processing.
Copyright September 2016 by Arthur Burk
From the Hub