Blog 12, Forgiveness Episode No. 3: 060314; Mr. Yeldon is the head drama teacher at Hutchinson Intermediate School in Milam ISD, near Beaumont, Texas. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent) He was formerly the head drama teacher at Milam High School for many years, before retiring, getting bored, and going back to teaching drama again at a lower level, mainly for something to do in his retirement. (A decision I respect him for, by the way.) I don’t know exactly how old he is, but I assume he’s in his 60’s, short of stature, fairly slender, drives a Jaguar or some other recognizable sports car that he covers with a canvas cover when he parks it in the parking lot at school. Reliable rumor has it that he is well-known and well-respected in his profession of teaching drama to intermediate and high school kids.
I know Mr. Yeldon because for three (3) years, (6th 7th and 8th grades) he was my son John’s drama teacher. Without getting cranked up about it, John is an actor. He can sing, dance and act. He had five years experience in acting, singing and dancing, with appropriate additional private training in all three fields prior to his association with Mr. Yeldon. In the early stages, Mr. Yeldon often acknowledged John’s abilities and gave him appropriate parts in any plays for which he was available; when John didn’t have previous commitments. We, my wife Lynn and I, and John, liked Mr. Yeldon, and appreciated his talents, experience and background in teaching drama. They got along well. Mr. Yeldon seemed to be glad to have John in his classes and in his productions.
Along about the middle of John’s 7th grade year Mr. Yeldon’s grandson passed away. We don’t know the circumstances, but the boy was fairly young, in grade school, and many commented on how hard it must have been for Mr. Yeldon to get over. We assume that this event had something to do with the change in Mr. Yeldon’s behavior. For the rest of the 7th grade and throughout the 8th grade, Mr. Yeldon got progressively more combative, more consumed with discipline and less with teaching, often attacking his students verbally, exiling them from the room, and/or sending them to the principal’s office. Drama class became progressively more difficult for John, who complained that Mr. Yeldon often attacked him personally for perceived disciplinary infractions which had previously been OK (a moderate amount of talking is to be expected; it IS drama class; some talking with classmates is required). When John would try to explain his behavior, or that of an accused classmate, he would be sent out of the classroom to stand on the porch. When John would ask permission to explain, he would be denied. It should be pointed out that John is a fairly strong-willed child who does not mind defending his positions in a respectful way, for himself or for others.
Things got progressively worse in class throughout John’s 7th and 8th grade years, but Mr. Yeldon still wanted John to perform as often as possible in school productions and in competitive drama tournaments, which John did, whenever he was available. Mr. Yeldon was suitably gracious concerning John’s performances. John, for his part, grew more and more restive about staying in Mr. Yeldon’s classes, and even began to talk of giving up drama altogether. For our part, Lynn and I attributed John’s negative attitude toward theater directly to Mr. Yeldon’s treatment of him and other students in the class. We began to believe that Mr. Yeldon was acting irresponsibly in treating the students in such a heavy-handed way. (This from a father who grew up in an environment and raised a previous family of three kids with the attitude that if you got a whipping at school, you’d get another one when you got home.)
Oh, yeah, now I remember, they don’t give whippings at school anymore; they just figure out other ways to put the kids in their place. From previous activities in other schools and other acting engagements, we knew that John’s favorite activity and favorite future goal was all about acting, singing and dancing, and we truly were angry and sad that Mr. Yeldon was having such a negative effect on John’s attitude.
The last straw came at the final performance of John’s 8th grade year, when he was the leading actor, and by all counts (even Mr. Yeldon’s) the star of that performance. We all expected that at the awards ceremony a few days later, John would get his due. He received a notice in the mail saying that he should attend to receive an award; so he did. At the awards ceremony he did receive an award, for some minor activity of such little consequence that I don’t even remember what it was. We were hot. We couldn’t believe it. The students who won the major awards weren’t even on the same level as John (in difficulty of the roles or in performance of the roles). Sometime later, after the drama year was over, Mr. Yeldon explained that because John was unable to participate in all the scheduled drama events during all three years (because he was performing in other venues), under the school rules Mr. Yeldon couldn’t give him the highest awards, even though John merited them. Later they had an informal awards banquet in which Mr. Yeldon said John would receive awards; but we didn’t even go, because we expected, rightly or wrongly, that John would be humiliated again.
Now Lynn thinks that Mr. Yeldon was really suffering under the burden of his grandson’s death and therefore deserves some consideration. As for me, until recently I was telling people, every time the subject came up, that Mr. Yeldon was a “petty little man” who wrongly took his own depression out on unsuspecting students; and more, that he mistreated my son to such a degree that John almost quit theater for good, when he truly loved it. I was hot, and I wasn’t getting over it. Now, due to intervening circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that under the rules Mr. Yeldon may NOT have been able to give John what I thought he was due; that maybe Mr. Yeldon would have rewarded John in some manner commensurate with his talents and skills if we had gone to the (second) awards banquet; and that ultimately I owe Mr. Yeldon an apology as much or more than he owes John an apology. Since I just came to this conclusion, I’m going to have to let it sink in a little before I actually go apologize, but I’m seriously considering doing that.
So how does all this fit in with forgiveness? Numero Uno: when I actually believed Mr. Yeldon had wronged my son, I should have forgiven him, up front, without saying a word to him or about him to anyone else. The real cruel joke is that I may be, probably am, the petty little man in this story. Whew! That’s bitter medicine. Forgive me, dear Lord, for being such a stupid idiot. I hope someday to be able to surrender to God enough on a day by day, moment by moment basis, that I can forgive perceived wrongs as soon as they happen, rather than waiting until my semi-annual trip to the altar at the prison ministry weekend. Somewhere in this story, Jesus is standing off to the side saying, “What about, if you’re going to claim to be a Christian, that you try, just a little, to act like it?”
On a different note, what if I had started out with love in my heart, trying to see the good in Mr. Yeldon, trying to understand why he did what he did before condemning him. It seems reasonable to expect that following that behavior, God might have moved everyone (even me) in the direction of reconciliation rather than condemnation. It might’ve changed all our lives for the better. It’s genuinely supernatural what God can do with us if we just surrender and trust and obey.