In elementary school I began each year seated at the back of the class, the result of a maiden name that began with the end of the alphabet. As the school year progressed, the talkers, the hard of seeing, the ones teachers needed to watch, made their way up to the front. I was shy and quiet, not likely to make a ruckus. I stayed in the back, a safe bet. The teachers relied on me to do as instructed somewhat well. I was a lazy student in elementary school.
In high school the assigned seating disappeared, but I remained in the back, mainly to disappear. The classes were bigger, with a revolving stream of kids from different years with different personalities. The cool kids, most of them older, all sat in the back with me. They left me alone, and I was glad. I was still shy and quiet, but only slightly more concerned with getting good grades. I did my work, but I can’t say I really did my best until senior year. Even then, it was a bit dicey.
In college and graduate school I worked my way up to the middle seats. My introverted personality didn’t change, but by this point I was having trouble focusing. Plus, the stakes were higher. My performance was still hit and miss.
In law school I sat front and center. I was there to do my best, and aside from a major freak out my second year, I did. I did very well in law school, and I’m proud that I pushed myself to finish (and finish well) something I often felt was beyond my capabilities.
I resumed my standby position at the back of the class when we started attending mass again two years ago. We sat in the fourth row from the back on the edge of a side aisle. It seemed like the place to sit with a then toddler and preschooler. If they became restless, we would leave without being too much of a distraction. If they were too loud, we would only annoy those in the back. It was safe and easy. We disappeared among the bodies.
One day I suggested we sit closer to the front, thinking the boys would be less wiggly if they could see more of what was going on. I hoped a priest within throw’s reach would intimidate them enough to sit quietly, if not entirely still.
They started behaving better when we moved up to the front of the church. They’re still young, and if we skip a week or two they have trouble getting back into the routine, but for the most part it’s much better. (Yesterday was brutal with Nicholas. Mikey had Sunday school so that helped.) What surprised me, though, was how much I changed sitting in the front.
Last year I wrote I was frustrated with the priest at my church. Perhaps I was more than frustrated. I said I thought he sucked. I was wrong about that. The person who really sucked was me. I sat at the back of the church, symbolically twirling my hair and snapping my gum, waiting for someone else to feed my soul without me having to crack a book or break a sweat. Now I sit near the front, where I can see his eyes and hear his story. Today I learned the same priest I thought sucked once lost his faith as a young seminarian student when he was detained for many months under a Philippine dictator, during which time he was physically and psychologically tortured. I think the most tortuous thing to happen in my life was the return of the middriff top with super low-rise jeans. Certainly it wasn’t being kept awake for three days and nights, or being beaten, or being told my family was going to be killed by my refusal to speak, or being told I was going to die by firing squad in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 days.
When I sit in the back in school, in church, or in life, it’s easy to fade from the line of the sight. That’s the point, of course. Unfortunately, it’s also easy for me to lose sight of my actions, my motivation, and myself. I skate by, and do enough to make me look good.
I graduated from law school with pride, knowing I earned it. I want to feel the same way about my life as a whole, and sitting in the front at church it a good place to start.