When I was in Junior High, my counselor made a difference in both my life and the life of my best friend. Nicole and I were voracious readers, shy, awkward, quiet, smart. Obviously troublemakers.
Just how much trouble we courted became apparent when the two of us were called out of our respective classes and summoned to the counselor's office. The empty hallway had never been longer, the echoes of our footsteps never more ominous. What did he want with us? Slump-shouldered, I handed the secretary my summons. Nicole did the same. The secretary ushered us into the counselor's office.
Nicole and I sat on the chairs near his desk. Mr. Counselor opened his window, then sat to face us. He broke the tension with a joke at the expense of the anonymous student who had just left. We laughed along, but I, at least, was not pacified. Why had we been called to the counselor's office? What had we done?
He offered more inconsequential chatter: he was going to paint his house over the weekend and hoped the weather held. We must have talked about that paint job for 10 minutes. My mind screamed: "I don't care about your house! Why am I here?"
Finally he got to the five minutes that would actually make a difference.
Finally he folded his hands and gave us his best counselor-priest-jailor acting-in-your-best-interest look.
"It's been brought to my attention that you girls like to read."
We looked at each other and back at him. We nodded.
We both nodded again, waiting for the other book to drop.
"I'm concerned about you. Books are like drugs."
I'd like to be able to tell you that that moment turned my life around. I'd like to tell you that because of Mr. Counselor, I got off books. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't. The way he affected my life, and, I'm afraid, the life of my friend, was to make us more secretive. In class, our book reading became furtive, hidden behind text books or three-ring binders. Lunch hours we hid in the library, not wanting to get caught with literary contraband, knowing that the
Fortunately our parents treated the situation the way it deserved to be treated. Mine ignored it. They had tons of books in the house, and I was encouraged to read any I wanted. Nicole's house was also filled with books. Her father called the school and told Mr. Counselor exactly what he thought of him, even asking if Mr. Counselor considered him a dealer, since he managed a local bookstore.
Although they weren't the differences he meant to make, in those five minutes when Mr. Counselor tried to convince us that reading was as deleterious as drugs, he did make two real differences in my Jr. High life. He reinforced the message of fellow students: being quiet, smart, and different was a terrible thing. And he drove home what I'd already suspected: having a degree or position of authority doesn't mean someone is worth listening to.
When you spend five minutes to make a difference, will it be the difference you want to make?