I remember distinctly my senior year in high school. The stress. The classes. The homework. The internship. The paying job. The homework. The college application essays. The scholarship applications. The little sleep. And with all the stress and the attempts to keep my grades up, I was eager to sign up for the easy elective. The slight glimmer of hope in my otherwise busy and stress-filled senior schedule. It was the equivalent of underwater basket weaving. It should have been cake. It was pottery.
Those first few classes seemed easy enough. We sat around the wheels as they spun. Our wet hands clasped around mounds of clay. Forming the grey mess, pulling it higher, slowly, and digging our fingers into the top, stretching out, carefully some piece of art to take form. A vase. A plate. A bowl. A cup. Something beautiful would emerge. Those first few days, we watched as our instructor so gracefully drew his hands up around the wet clay, a masterpiece emerging. Then, mimicking his moves, we tried this ourselves. Small, nervous giggles turned to outright laughter as several of us lost control of the wet canvas, the clay becoming quickly lopsided and flinging violently off our wheels. It was funny. At first.
Soon, the rest of my class was excelling, surpassing my still limited skills. Pottery did not come easy for me. I needed easy. While others finished project after project, lining up their As in the shelves for the kiln, where after they’d color them with beautiful designs, my projects had yet to leave the wheel. Not one.
As the stresses of my senior year weighed me down, the nagging applications constantly whispering a reminder of their incomplete state, I found myself more and more frustrated with the demands of what should have been my Easy A. Pottery was supposed to be my outlet. Something to take away the stresses of my daily life. And yet, here it was, reminding me of everything I couldn’t be. Everything I was not.
Maybe it was a rash decision. Maybe I’d thought it through the way a 17-year-old does. I walked down to the office and demanded to speak to my counselor. I’d never sought him out before, seeing him only in passing in the halls and on the days he’d sign off on my schedule for the semester. But now, here I was in front of him, asking, pleading, demanding that I be transferred out of pottery. I didn’t care what class he transferred me into, I only knew I didn’t want to be in this one for one second longer.
What he said at first surprised me. Like pottery I thought, this too, would be easy. Getting out of a class, something I’d heard of but never tried for my self, seemed like it should be a simple matter of paperwork and my life would get easier before I’d even left his office. But, it wasn’t going to be that easy. “Why?” he’d asked. Why did I want out of the seemingly easiest class the school offered? My response started with logic and soon let way to tears. I couldn’t take it. He gave me the speech I’m sure he’d given hundreds of students before me, the “don’t be a quitter” speech. He told me how quitting was a slippery slope, a dangerous path to allow myself down. He said if it started with pottery, where would it end? What if I quit every time something got hard? This logic only enraged me. I was not a quitter. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and I just needed to make this one really hard thing go away. After a few more canned speeches, he saw the twitch in my eye – the one that was birthed by late nights, little sleep and a pottery wheel that spun out of control in a way that summed up my teenage existence - he finally conceded. I managed an even easier class – late arrival, followed by helping out in the cleanup of a coffee machine. It was bliss.
Years later, at any given hardship in life – be it work related or a chore I really would rather not do, or even a diet, I would recall his words to me. About how becoming a quitter is a curse you set upon yourself. Tonight, I found myself the one handing out the canned speeches, the monologue of “what kind of life will you lead if you quit everything?” This speech is directed at my 6th grade daughter. Her spinning wheel is sports. She thought they’d be easy. She thought they’d be fun. And now, well, now she wants out.
How easily she must forget, it was just two weeks ago, she begged to quit basketball, just as her team was in the final week of the season. Now, she’s berating me with tales of how boring and hard wrestling is. Wrestling, the sport she begged to join. Just a week into practice, she says it’s too hard. Her coach is too stern. She’s not having fun. “But you made a commitment to your teammates,” I tell her. It is to no avail. She doesn’t care. She just wants to quit.
Speech after speech, question after question, she just pulled the covers higher over her shoulder, and rolled in bed away from me. I wasn’t giving her what she wanted. I told her to think about and I left her room.
I see now what my counselor was warning me about – a life filled with the easy way out. The road most traveled. He didn’t want that for me. And I certainly don’t want that for my daughter.
So, now what? What do I do? Let her quit? Let the quitter’s curse take root in her? I tell her about the scripture I have printed out and taped to my desk, “Do everything you do as if you were doing it for the Lord and not the people.” It has no impact on her. She can see no way of honoring God with her wrestling, just as I could find no way of honoring him with pottery, especially given the amount of profanities that typically streamed from my mouth as the unruly clay would fling off my wheel.
Molding another person’s character is a very difficult task. Lots of people quit that, too. But this is a responsibility that I will not falter on. Of this I am sure. What I don’t know, is what to say or do to convince my daughter that quitting is not an option.