Lessons for All Ages — First up: Middle School

I’m very excited about a special opportunity I have next week: to visit several sixth grade classrooms and talk about my book. The teacher who invited me to do so asked me to prepare a presentation for it — points of emphasis, ideas to discuss. The request got me thinking.

If I had to choose a target age group for And Then it Rained: Lessons for Life, I’d probably say first and foremost, 17-35. One of its underlying messages is about finding yourself in those all too crucial, and very challenging years post-high school. Yet, as I’ve always known, and as I’ve realized so much more as I’ve reviewed the “lessons” for the purposes of this presentation, the takeaways of this story span all ages. In honor of this, today is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll do with a sample of some lessons for specific age groups. I’ll start with those middle-schoolers I’m going to talk to. (As a sidenote, each lesson is based off a verse from a poem I wrote that forms the foundation of the book. It’s entitled, you guessed it, Lessons for Life).

Don’t concentrate on weaknesses

But don’t let strengths define

Character is what matters most

Everything else disappears with time

The important thing to note about this lesson is that it’s not just about weaknesses. I suspect most parents drill into their kids at a very young age that everyone’s different, and if someone’s bad at one thing, they’re probably good at another. Yet as I learned at a very young age, it’s equally important not to define someone by what they’re good at.

Go ahead, I bet you can name them , or at the very least, picture them — who were the guys on your football team? The class nerds? The “bandos?” (yes, that was me, I was in band). Who was your prom queen? The pretty girls? The popular crowd? Every school has them, and the problem is, as those people — and you’re going to be placed in one of these categories — you start to define yourself that way, too. You end up defining yourself and others by things that within ten years, maybe five, maybe even ONE year, won’t matter at all.

The most important things, as I learned by wrongly focusing on both the good and bad characteristics of my idol (why the bad? Well, what do you do when you’re jealous of someone?) are those that won’t change: How do you approach other people? How do you treat other people? Are you sincere, do you have integrity? Do you smile and say hi to each person you see… ?

Speaking of smiling and saying hi….

All it takes to be an idol

Is for one person to look at you that way

Smile and say hi to each person you see

You never know what it might mean to their day

Yep, that’s all it takes, or rather, all it took for someone to become my idol. It was a perfect storm of sorts: a time when I not only needed someone to look up to, but also comfort; a light in the dark, an escape from the troubles of a dad’s severe alcoholism and parents’ divorce.

Enter Maya.

Looking back, she really didn’t do a whole lot. She never stopped me for a long conversation, or even asked much about what was going on. But because I admired her so much, that simple smile and hello, that pinch of the shoulder was all I needed to cheer me up. You may never know the affect such actions have on other people, so just in case, you should always do them. They might make you a friend…. In the right circumstance, they might even make you a hero.

The final lesson in which I plan to focus on with the group of youngsters I’m talking to next week is this:

If only you could hear the words that others try to say

If you only you could understand what others try to do

If only you feel the love that others try to show

If only you could see, what others see in you

Many of the verses in my poem are made up of some of my favorite quotes, and there is one contained here: “I only wish you could see what I see when I look at you.” (Kobi Yamada)

At the time I read that quote, I was riding my bike twice a week to talk to my idol, and listening to her tell me (and show me, through certain stories) how discouraged she was. On one side of the counter (she worked in a coffee shop), stood a person who was incredibly down on herself; on the other side, stood a person who looked up to her and believed in her more than any in the entire world.

How sad.

I often rode the 20 minutes home from our visits wishing I was brave enough to tell her those things, wishing that telling her those things would actually make a difference. Which was why the quote obviously struck a chord with me.

We all get down on ourselves some time, we all have times when it isn’t worthwhile, when we enter a dark hole we struggle to climb out of — no matter how old we are. Take a step back every once in a while and pay attention to what you mean to those around you. They may be trying to say something you really need to hear.

What are some important lessons you learned in middle school? How did they shape you?

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