In fifth grade, I was the marble champion of the school. I started out with a small Ziploc baggie of tiger-eye marbles purchased from K-Mart. By the end of the year, I had a fine velvet marble bag. Actually, it was a re-purposed Crown Royal bag, but at that tender, naïve age, I didn’t know the difference. My marble bag brimmed with clearies, steelies, tubbies and solids. Those were the names of the marbles I had won from everyone at school. I was the reigning queen of marbles at Sunset Elementary. On the last day of school, I brought my prized possession for one last day of marble conquest. Unfortunately, in the excitement of summer vacation, I left my marbles in my desk.
I went back to the school a week later and sought out the janitor, who insisted he had never seen my beloved purple bag. I cried for days. I knew exactly where I had left it. I figured someone had taken that awesome bag of marbles and would taunt me with it in middle school, insisting that he or she was the actual marble champion. Or that janitor; maybe he had given it to a thankless grandchild, who could never appreciate the hard work that went into winning all those awesome marbles. I lost sleep thinking about my favorite tubby, a clear, light purple beauty, scarred with the nicks of battles won. I remembered every marble in that bag, and mourned the loss of every one.
But the thing is, when I got to sixth grade, no one cared anymore about marbles. I had figured there would be a big marble showdown on the first day of school, as kids from different elementary schools competed to prove their worth. Wrong. There were no marbles in middle school. I was a little relieved that I didn’t bring that purple bag to sixth grade and seal my identity as a nerd.
The second lesson I learned that year also kept me awake nights. At the end of fifth grade, the math unit we worked on dealt with telling time. I could not quite get the hang of telling time, and I struggled with it throughout the month of May.
At the end of the year, I still couldn’t quite tell time, I am now embarrassed to say. All summer long, I worried that there would be a big test on the first day of sixth grade. I imagined all the sixth graders in the lunchroom, poring over the time-telling test.
I imagined all summer long, that those of us who failed the test would be sent back to Mr. Arnold at the fifth grade building. I dreaded returning to Mr. Arnold’s class. Not only because of the time telling thing, but Mr. Arnold and I did not end the year on a happy note. I made fun of his bald head, while swinging on the swings, and he sent me to the principal’s office. Apparently, not all bald people share my sense of humor about the advertising revenue possible on such a large, smooth surface.
Anyway, much to my relief, there was no test on the first day of middle school. No one even cared whether I could tell time. It took me about a week to realize that I wasn’t being sent back to Mr. Arnold’s class. After that first week of school, I finally relaxed enough to enjoy being in middle school.
The lessons I learned are these: First, don’t waste your summer vacation — or any day of your life, or even a moment of time — worrying about stupid stuff. Most of the stuff we worry about never happens. I lay awake all those summer nights, worrying about a test that never came. That pattern has continued throughout most of my life, but as I get older, I realize what a waste of time all that worry is. So relax. Don’t worry. Everything will work out.
The second lesson I learned: Don’t take yourself or your accomplishments too seriously. Oh. You’re the reigning marble champion of fifth grade? Wow. Everyone in middle school will be really impressed with that. Actually, we are all just people doing the best we can, getting through life. Whether you are the president of this, or the champion of that, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is due equal respect. We all have successes and failures.
Don’t try to make yourself better than other people, and don’t try to make everyone better than you. Everyone you meet has his or her own hard battle to fight. The best thing you can do is to be kind.
My advice to everyone about to enjoy summer vacation: Don’t worry, everything will work out in the end, and be kind. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.