Posted on August 29th, 2013
week ago today, Marcel forgot his lunch.
No problem. I drove to his school and let the brown bag in the office with the school secretary. She asked me to write his name and grade on a sticky note which she then placed on the brown paper bag.
“Do you want me to write his name on the bag?” I asked somewhat tentatively. I was confused even though I wasn’t saying as much. Wasn’t she just going to call him up to the office?
“It’s almost the end of first period,” she explained. “One of the office aides will deliver it during second.”
We are miserly with our apologies and deaf to well-intentioned criticism that could improve the way we serve our larger community.
I looked at the “office aides” gathered silently at the table behind me, reading. I wasn’t sure what they were poised to do exactly or why they weren’t doing that thing in a classroom but apparently delivering wayward lunches were part of their job description. I thanked the secretary and left.
You probably know where this is going already but indulge me. Marcel never got his lunch. When I picked him up from school that day, he was exhausted and emotional—although clearly relishing the opportunity to detail his friend’s heroic sacrifice of a granola bar that had sustained him until the final bell.
I was angry. Really angry. So angry that I drove back down to the school the following morning to inquire after the fate of the missing lunch. The same secretary quickly held up a clipboard to show the log used to track the names of the office aides tasked to specific errands—doubtless an infernal system developed to protect the administration after something similar had happened in the dark recesses of time. According to the log, a student aide had delivered the lunch to the appropriate classroom. Then the trail went cold.
A follow-up e-mail to the principal (yes, I’m that mother, don’t act like you didn’t know) elicited more detail but, in the end, attributed Marcel missing lunch that day to the sticky note going missing and Marcel’s own inability to recognize the brown paper bag lunch without any distinguishing characteristics as his own when it was held aloft by the teacher. In short, Marcel not eating lunch was Marcel’s fault.
After starting several replies to this e-mail, I decided it would be for the best if I just…didn’t.
Occasionally, I’ve made mention of a gloriously profane gossip blogger I read, Michael K of Dlisted. In a recent blind item, Michael was inserting his own opinion on the behavior of a celebrity’s assistant who, instead of calling emergency assistance immediately upon discovering their famous boss having a seizure in the floor, decided to film it with their phone for their own protection. Michael took this opportunity to insert the words “because people are the f*&$!*$ worst” before this explanation, then carefully inscribing a line through it.
It has been a week of denials and obfuscations, of silence and deflection on issues of varying size and importance. Marcel missing lunch wasn’t the end of the world. He lived. But as our week comes to a close, I am having a hard time shaking off this pervasive sense of disappointment in the way we relate to each other when things go wrong. We are miserly with our apologies and deaf to well-intentioned criticism that could improve the way we serve our larger community. But it is our society’s tacit agreement to eschew personal responsibility at all costs that leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth wondering, God help me, if Michael K isn’t right.∗