As I sat, waiting my turn, I imagined my teacher with piercing, relentless eyes. I was guilty. We were old enough to know better. It was my senior year in high school, the end of January to be exact, and I had participated in my first mob frenzy.
I thought of the previous Thursday and cursed myself. How did it happen? I was still unsure. Every year the senior’s were allowed to have a student-lead play. The teacher would choose a director. Then the teacher and director would select a play. Next, they would co-cast as the director was allowed to practice evaluating auditions.
That year we performed Dracula. There were red flags all along production. The leads continued having problems with their lines, however those in supporting roles were performing splendidly.
Set production finished ahead of schedule, because our back-stage hands were incredible.
Fast forward to the day before opening night, a Thursday. We were rehearsing in front of the theater after school, because the theater was locked.
I am not sure how the frenzy started, but I believe it began with one complaint. Something about previous plays always had the theater unlocked the night before for rehearsal. One of the leads was trying to convince himself that if the theater was unlocked, he would not be having difficulty with his lines. What began as a mumble, took on solid form as he repeated loud enough for all of us to hear. Next, someone seemed to agree and wondered why our teacher was not there with us.
What began with a small snowball, turned into an avalanche of complaints. All of the complaints were invalid, but that did not matter. We were experiencing the mob frenzy. We were reveling in the excitement of a crucifixion. I’m surprised someone did not have an epileptic seizure from the amount of effort we put into it.
Eventually we were exhausted. One by one we found our cars and went home knowing what we had done. We knew the wrong we had committed. The mob frenzy was my most pressing concern for the next several days.
The play was a flat tire with a dead cell phone bad. At some point someone told the teacher about the mob frenzy. Of course the teacher found out. I have 100% attendance when it comes to getting caught.
I am sitting there. Waiting my turn. Still frozen. Trying to figure out why I participated. The teacher had not abandoned anyone, especially me. I could not think of a single thing the teacher had done wrong. I knew my lines. I had performed them perfectly. I had even added a mildly decent cockney accent. Why did I participate? What drew me in to that crowd Very “high school” of me.
Finally it was my turn to face her. The dragging feet. The puppy-dog look. I was embarrassment.
She began with a question. No accusation. No admonishment of my behavior. Somehow she knew that the guilty ones would hang themselves, and the innocent ones would be revealed. It was such a brilliant question that I still revel at her maturity.
I fumbled through an awkward story, reaching apology, “I dunno,” kind of explanation. I asked how it went with my friend. The only thing he said was that from now on he was going to call her red on the head. How did I not notice his lack of participation? During their meeting he offered to be called brown on the mound. They laughed, they enjoyed each other’s humor. I sunk even further in my seat as I realized I was one of the guilty party. It made even less sense than before.
My teacher was mature. She gave forgiveness when we did not deserve it. She went on to give me the lead role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory within a couple of months. I believe it was her actions that kept me from ever being a part of another mob frenzy. She taught me lessons I will keep dear for the rest of my life. She taught me that even in the face of an invalid persecution, a leader will stand strong. She suffered, she cried, she struggled. But she also persevered as our leader, our teacher, our mentor and friend. For those who wanted it, she lifted us up.
Our relationship did mend, and I respected her in a way I did not expect. I chose to make the mob frenzy a memory and not a habit. We reconciled.
Question: Are you listening to the right people when things go wrong?