Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ica-russ Falls (or Ica-russ Rises,The Sequel)

We were on the ground, but we were still flying high.  We had soared over our school, dropped our cargo, and at least one of the precious Sukhia for President pillows had been found and retrieved (ironically, by the one classmate of whose vote I felt assured, the one who is sitting next to me as I type this, 45 years later). The mission had been a success.  It would be the talk of the school the next day; now, if we could just get through the next 48 hours or so without any nasty consequences...
It was History class, on the morning after our triumph; a fitting class for an event to occur that would put an end to what might have been a historic political career.  It was a day that will live in infamy in the annals of-----that will go down in the record of------a day that will forever be memorialized in-----well, in point of fact, there are no annals or records of such things, but if there were, then what I’m about to tell you would be in them. Oh yes, it would assuredly be in them.  

History was a large group class which met in a room which must have been the school’s original auditorium.  There were probably at least 150 of us in the class, which would have represented about half of all the juniors.  (Remind me to tell you about our History homework sometime.)  We sat in alphabetical order, from the front to the rear, so I was near the back of the class, far from the teacher, and close to an open doorway.  I was basking in the glory of our momentous flight, which, in my mind, marked us pioneers of aviation.  It’s not as if I was expecting the same ticker-tape parade that Lindbergh received, but some sort of ceremony would be-----my musings were rudely interrupted by a tap on the shoulder, and I turned to see a stomach-churning sight. It was someone I immediately recognized as an emissary from the school office.  Then, as if in slow-motion, I heard the words that have replayed in my mind countless times, “Principal Henley would like to see you.”

If Principal Henley wasn’t a former Marine, we all thought he was, so it had the same effect. He was a huge grizzly-bear of a man who ran his school with a firm paw.  (Whether my inordinate fear of bears can be traced back to my three years at Lyman is an interesting thought, which deserves further study----perhaps a doctoral thesis when I’m posthumously famous:  “The Principal’s Bearing: The Impact of the Dominant Male on the Numerous Neuroses of R. Sukhia.”  I also spent a lot of time with my friends at Baer’s, a record store in the Winter Park Mall, which displayed a huge stuffed Alaskan Brown Bear in attack-mode, standing seven or eight feet tall, threatening us as we perused the racks of records.  Since then, whenever I hear music, I think I sense on some level that there may be a giant grizzly in attack mode nearby.  It’s a heavy cross to bear---yikes, there’s the b word again!)
“If you are through with your parenthetical thoughts, Principal Henley would still like to see you.”  Boy, it didn’t take him long to hear about what we did, I thought, too shaken at the time to put my thoughts in quotation marks.   I walked the thirty or forty yards to the office with a sick feeling. 
But before I take my seat in the principal’s office, there’s something else you should know. The Sukhia name was not unfamiliar there, thanks to my two older brothers, who had preceded me at Lyman.  Doug, two years ahead of me, was what you might call a “free spirit,” never very scrupulous about rules.  For example, the school handbook said all male students should wear socks.  You might say Doug thumbed his toes at this requirement. This was central Florida.  It was hot; it was sandy.  It probably still is.  We couldn’t wear sandals, so we had to wear your basic shoes, often loafers.  The fact is, they were much more comfortable with socks than without them. The only conceivable reason to go to school sans socks would be to flout the rules. I remember hearing that once, when Doug was once sent to the office for that infraction, and he was asked why he was sock-less, his response was, “We only have one pair, and my brother is wearing them today.” That brother, Eric, the oldest, had been summoned to the office numerous times for various offences. I could ask him for details, but I’m having a hard enough time moving the story along.  Suffice to say that Principal Henley could not have been elated about the prospect of a Sukhia representing the senior class, in the same way that no king would want the court-fool in his cabinet (court-jester sounds better, but court-fool is more accurate).
There I was, seated in the bear’s den, and the bear was agitated.
 “Where were you yesterday afternoon, young man?”
“I was in a plane, flying over the school.”
“You were supposed to be in class.”
“Yes Sir, but I had an excused absence.”
“There’s no excuse for skipping Algebra class.  I’m taking you out of the race for class president.”
“Taking me out of the race?  That’s not fair!”
This was completely unexpected, and no doubt, unprecedented!   I was quite sure that no one else was ever punished in this way for dropping pillows on our school from low-flying aircraft.  A stern lecture, an after-school detention, my Algebra grade reduced from a C to a D----any or all of those would have seemed to me to be a just recompense for skipping a class or two.  After all, I had brought an excuse, signed by my mother.  Nobody questioned what the appointment in Orlando was on the previous day, and my excuse had been approved.  But my protestations were unpersuasive.  Ten minutes before, I was riding the temporary wave of euphoria brought on by our successful mission.  But I left the office deflated, and feeling ill-used. The principal’s decision seemed decidedly unprincipled.  He was removing from our student body the right to have their idiot-of-choice as president, and this seemed to me to be downright un-American.
I remember becoming more indignant as the day wore on.  I was mounting petition drives and sit-ins in my mind.  This was bigger than me now.  This was a civil rights issue.  I was now the Martin Luther King of Lyman High School.  It was as if I had been refused service at the school lunch counter because of my race----my race for class president.  While Barack Obama was still a mere child kicking soccer balls in Kenya or Indonesia or Hawaii or Kansas or all of the above, I was being persecuted, in Florida, for having the audacity of hope, the audacity to believe that a goof-off could get elected class president. But I did not despair because I knew there was no way my classmates would stand for this injustice. Songs would be written, armbands worn, slogans shouted! 
“Free the Longwood One” 
“Let Russ Run, Let Russ Run
“Rosa Parks sat on the bus.  The Junior Class Stands Firm with Russ“  
I was preparing my speech for the first rally.  “I have flown to the mountain top.  I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you…”
Strangely enough, the campus-wide protests I envisioned never materialized.  Evidently, the right to choose a goof-off as class president was not one of those for which my classmates were willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, or their sacred honor.  They were basically okay with a government that was not of, by and for the class clown.  In retrospect, it may also be that they were focused on matters that somehow seemed more important to them at the time than supporting my right to bombard the school with campaign materials, things like getting into good colleges so they could pursue their life goals.  Also, with me out of the race, my friend Steve Perry, who actually had some ideas for improving our high school, was the clear front-runner, and our friends didn’t have to make the difficult choice between voting for Steve or voting for Doofus.  Principal Henley had actually done our class a huge favor. 
By the way, in case you’re wondering, I don’t recall any consequences for my friend Tim, the pilot.  I suspect he came to his senses and cut a deal with the administration:  “Give us Sukhia, and your part in this won’t make it to your permanent record.”  Anyway, Tim went on to fly for the Air Force and Delta Airlines.  I visited him and his family in a suburb of Atlanta a few times.  He did not seem to be permanently scarred from our experience.
What I didn’t grasp at the age of sixteen is that authorities have been placed over us by God. 
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
Principal Henley had every right to make an executive decision that he believed to be in the best interest of the school.  Yes, there was nothing in the school handbook specifically forbidding students from campaigning for class office by air when they should be in Algebra class (although there may be something along those lines in the handbook now) but anyone with any sense who wanted to represent his class would think twice before pulling such a stunt. (Who was my campaign manager, Ferris Bueller?)
There are two occasions when we, as believers, must resist the God-ordained authorities: The first is, when they require us to do something that violates God’s Word.  When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh began to fear that they were becoming too numerous, and they might rise up in resistance, so he commanded the Hebrew midwives to surreptitiously snuff out the lives of baby boys during the birth process.  They would not.  When later confronted by Pharaoh, their excuse was, “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.”  Was God displeased with the midwives for disobeying and lying to their God-ordained authority?  No. In fact, we read, “because they feared God…Therefore God dealt well with the midwives.” (Exodus 1)   To obey Pharaoh would have required them to disobey God by taking innocent life.  On the basis of this principle, Christians such as the ten Boom family in The Netherlands were justified in hiding Jews from the authorities during the Nazi occupation of their country.
The second occasion when a believer must resist the governing authority is when he forbids them to do what God commands them to do.  After he broke the bonds of death, the Lord Jesus sent his disciples forth to declare the message that if men and women would repent of their sins and trust in Him as their Lord and Savior, they would be reconciled to God, and receive the gift of everlasting life.  But when the followers of Christ were filling Jerusalem with the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the authorities “commanded them not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4)  
I did not come to faith in Christ until several years after high school, but if I had been a believer at Lyman, and the authorities had told me I couldn’t talk about the Lord even in private conversations in the lunch room, or I couldn’t refer to Christ in an English assignment about the person in history whose life influenced me the most, then I would have had no choice but to disobey the authority, and suffer the consequences.  That would have been a cause worth fighting for----the right to drop pillows from a plane----not so much. 
There’s an epilogue to my story.  My younger brother Kenny ran for president of the Class of 1971, but to find out what happened you’ll have to check back later---after I’ve talked to Kenny and gotten my facts straight.

No comments:

Post a Comment