Monday, August 05, 2013

The keys to the kingdom


Salvation can look like a Gideons' Bible.

It can look like a legal document, with a governor's signature and an embossed seal, commuting a condemned man's sentence.

Salvation can look like a beautiful woman with a pure heart, here to save you from your sorry self.

Salvation can look like a life preserver floating next to you in a choppy sea; it can look like an outstretched hand just before you slide off a precipice; it can look like the cover of your favorite record album.


Salvation, for me, looks like a brochure from the spring of 1976, one advertising this strange, unbelievably cool thing the East Baton Rouge Parish school system was calling a "magnet school." Inner-city Baton Rouge High -- venerable and grand and buffeted by the forces that had turned a small town divided by race and "the tracks" into a middle-sized city atomized into warring neighborhood enclaves -- was being remade into a school focused on academics and the performing arts, and not just anybody could get in.


THE SCHOOL'S new principal, Lee Faucette, was making the rounds of high schools and junior highs to make his best pitch to those schools' best students. And . . . sweet Jesus! Not just anybody could get in!

If you've ever been to junior high and hated it -- especially if you've been to junior high and absolutely hated school because you were somewhat good at it. . . . Well, if you have . . . and did . . . because you were . . . you know.

You know what a salvation Baton Rouge High was for kids like me -- for kids like us -- precisely because it was made for learning and not crowd control. Because there, you didn't have to be ashamed of learning. Because everyone there was there because there is where they wanted to be.


WHERE I didn't want to be come the fall of 1976 was at Belaire High, a soulless monolith that looked more like a maximum-security facility than an educational one. And to me, those magnet school brochures Mr. Faucette passed out looked like a Gideons' Bible, a commutation, a beautiful woman, a life preserver, an outstretched hand and a Bruce Springsteen album rolled into one glorious package.

I found this when my wife and I were in Baton Rouge cleaning out my elderly mom's house -- the home of my youth.  I saved it, and then she saved it, and then 37 years later, there it was stuck in a box jammed on a shelf. Sometimes, the only thing between you and a flood of blessed memories is cardboard, one-eighth-inch thick.

When we had to head back to Omaha, we filled our Toyota RAV and my mom's compact Kia with the stuff that mattered. My most excellent collection of 1960s G.I. Joes and Hot Wheels sits in the house that's no longer anyone's home, waiting for the estate sale.

The 1976 piece of card-stock salvation came home with me.

1 comment:

Jennifer Pitzel said...

Wonderful, James. Exactly how I felt. Thanks for putting it into beautiful words!