Never Lock Your Knees
A Momentous Day in Middle School
Being inducted into the National Honor Society made me sick. Sort of. This story has come up twice in as many weeks, so I decided to share it. It may have been the “Junior” version of the honor society. I attended a “Jr. High School” that included grades 7, 8, and 9. I know this occurred at that school.
We liked ceremony in those days. Pomp and circumstance still had a good deal of pomp about it. Most days I would say we don’t need all that, but I have to admit that I like some pomp and circumstance. Ritual matters and we need good rituals in our lives. The key word in that sentence is “good.”
Neither of my children have been inducted into any society, so I don’t know how it works these days. All those years ago, it was a big secret. There was no checking records online through an app on your phone. No student knew for certain that they would be “tapped” in. On the day of the assembly, another student who had been through the same ritual came and literally tapped me on my shoulder and I knew I could get up and join the line of students making their way to the gym.
We lined up in the hallway all excited that we were the chosen ones. A teacher gave each of us a small white candle to hold. (Yes, like the ones you use at church for candlelight communion.) As the line moved forward into the gym, each of us looked into the bleachers to make sure our parents had indeed been notified — by a letter mailed through the United States Postal Service — and were waiting to watch this moment. Before I was into the gym, I spotted Mom and Dad beaming, so happy.
I wish I could remember the details of the ceremony. I’m certain there was a speech by the principal. All the kids who had not been tapped on the shoulder were sitting there too. Those of us with the candles were lined up in a straight line facing them and all our parents and all the teachers. When the time came for the candles to be lit in the ritual, someone did just that. I don’t know if one person came and lit each candle or if we did like Christmas Eve and “passed the light” down the line. I do know two things.
- There was A LOT of talking AFTER the candle was lit.
- No one had ever taught me to keep my knees loose instead of locking them.
There I stood, as straight as I could holding an open flame mere inches from my face in a hot middle school gym with parents and peers watching me. I kept my eyes on my parents. That would have been a good thing except my mother also kept her eyes on me. And, as I watched her, before I registered that I wasn’t feeling so great, Mom leaned up and scooted right to the edge of the bleacher. The look on her face told me something was horribly wrong. I just didn’t know what.
About the time I was thinking, “What in the world is wrong with Mom,” I started swaying a bit. The student next to me stopped me from falling. Suddenly, I felt everything that Mom had seen on my face. I didn’t know if I was going to pass out or throw up. I did know that I did not want to do either of those things in front of that entire assembly.
So, I ran.
With my tiny white candle in hand, I ran for the door to the hallway from which we had just entered. Mom was there before I got there. She splashed water on my face from the water fountain, made me drink some, had me sit down in the hallway. Soon I felt better.
As far as I know the ceremony continued. I did not go back in.
I guess the mixture of nerves, locked knees, and a flame in my face was just too much. Mom told me that as she was watching me, she watched all the blood drain out of my face. She said it was like a stopper had been pulled as she watched my face go pale just before I almost fell which was just before I ran out of the assembly.
Never lock your knees.