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January 28, 2000

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Eric's Biography
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Who among us can't sympathize with a kid who's made a mistake?

Who here doesn't feel that sick feeling in the pit of their stomach, when they look at a boy, sitting across from them? A boy who is a basically good, and kind, and intelligent person. A good student, well liked by his friends. But a person who has made a bad mistake, a stupid error, and now is replaying it in his head and kicking himself, over and over again? We've all done it -- done something minor or major, and let it blow up in our head so it gets worse, and worse. Then when we're caught, we try to figure out what possessed us? Why on Earth did I do this thing? It's stupid -- why would I do something stupid?

In the In Nomine role playing game, there's a demon called a Shedite. It has no body -- instead, it crawls inside a mortal's head and takes up residence, and influences him. Corrupts him. Makes him do things he wouldn't normally do, and makes it seem like his idea. The Shedim delight in making good people doubt themselves and turn away from good works, because they see the evidence of their own darkness.

Well, I don't believe in demons -- not of that sort. But I think we all carry Shedim inside of us. That little voice that says "go on. You can do it. No one will know. You know you want it." The voice that says it's okay to steal something -- who will ever know? The voice that tells a young man it's okay to undress his girlfriend, passed out on her bed from alcohol. She must want it. The voice that tells us that getting away with something is as good as not doing it. That eating a cupcake but not being seen is the same as not eating it. That picking up a bag and walking out with it successfully makes it yours.

And when you get caught? That voice disappears, and leaves you alone. The Shedite beats feet and you're on your own, sucker. You get to look people in the eye and have no easy answers for them. You don't know why you did it. You just did it.

When I was eleven years old, I stole a three cent York Peppermint Patty from a Laverdiere's Drug Store in Madawaska, Maine. I had no reason to do so -- I could have scraped up a nickel, more than likely. I just did it. And the Manager saw me and nailed me, and grabbed my father and mother who were also in the store. A stupid little meaningless theft. But it wasn't meaningless to my parents. Nor to the Manager. He told me in serious tones that he was writing my name down. If something else happened he'd remember this, and know it was my second offense. My mother reminded me of that fact, and Mom and Dad sat me in the car and talked to me for a long time. Angry, yes. But more than angry -- disappointed. And I couldn't tell them why I did it. I had just done it.

I felt vaguely nervous walking into the Laverdiere's in Fort Kent for the rest of my time in Northern Maine. Even though it was a different store than the one in Madawaska. Even though no one would know or care about the three cent Peppermint Patty I'd failed to steal, it stuck with me. The dishonor of it stuck with me. I was stained and I felt it, every time I walked in there. And I knew I had a record -- my name was written down, somewhere in the annals of Laverdiere's history.

I've done other stupid, meaningless stuff before. I've gotten away with some, too. I think we all have. Every last one of us.

Ten minutes before I started typing this, I had a boy sitting in my office. A boy in a lot of trouble. A good boy. One I like, and who we trusted. One who abused that trust, and did a stupid thing. A more significant one than a three cent Peppermint Patty. And who couldn't easily say why he did it. A boy who got caught, and now is replaying it, and feeling dishonored and stained and scared.

I sympathized, and felt for him. Deeply. Everyone involved does. Hey -- if you believe that teachers or school administrators enjoy disciplining students, enjoy talking to grief-struck parents, enjoy seeing someone with so much potential go through the ringer, then grow up, will you? We hate it. We hate it. I don't know a single educator who likes the process of nailing a student who's screwed up. Don't you get it? We want students to succeed and graduate and have a good, productive life and enjoy themselves while we do it. We're not out to get students. We wouldn't work for this lousy money and these long hours if we didn't want students to succeed, all right?

It hurt, watching him. I recognized my own mistakes. I knew how he felt. I sympathized with him.

But I also did my job.

So far, thirty-two sucks.

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