A tough road makes journey a little easier

When my father spoke Greek with the disciplinarian of the Catholic High School where I played hooky at age 14, I thought I had it made.

The Norbertine priest joked in the language I never learned, and the two laughed. They continued speaking Greek and I thought I’d get off with a warning, and not face a harsh punishment for cutting classes at Bishop Neumann High School in South Philadelphia. Our parish, St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church, was in North Philadelphia, but for some reason, students were required to travel some 45 minutes by bus. South Philly was “foreign country “to me and I felt treated as an outsider by the mostly Italian and Irish Catholics boys from there. You don’t know how many fights I’d get into — always trying to prove my “manhood,” and agreeing to meet a kid under some bridge where fair fights were conducted. It was a major reason I cut school. Not to run away from a fight, but to avoid getting into one.

The Greek priest and my Greek father finished talking, and I sat waiting the verdict. Got hit with the maximum sentence. Twenty days detention. Twenty days staying after school to think of the wrongs I committed, and to seek forgiveness from the Almighty. Twenty days in hostile territory where I had not one friend.

Named Philadelphia Bishop at 40, John Neumann died at age 48 & canonized a saint 100 years later

Students requiring discipline were ordered to appear at a special classroom at the school whose namesake, former Philadelphia Bishop John Neumann, would eventually be canonized, and the school’s name changed to “St. John Neumann.” Could never figure out the 19th century politics of the Catholic Church which permitted his remains to be buried in North Philadelphia, where I lived,  and not South Philadelphia, where the fictional “Rocky” was depicted growing up. I visited his memorial (St. John Neumann, not Rocky) at a site near Fifth Street and Girard Avenue, near the old Schmidt’s Brewery, and was disappointed when given one of the type of cards passed out at funeral homes with the deceased picture and his bio printed. I wanted a real live relic, the kind us Catholic were famous for providing the masses hundreds of years in our history.

Detention wasn’t so bad. Got respect from some classmates who saw me in a new light. The tough kid who could take a punch and not complain. Got into no more fights the rest of the school year.

Also learned a fellow could “work off” his detention twice as fast if he was willing to endure some discomfort and apply himself. You’d get credit for two days of detention instead of one if you spent your hour kneeling rather than sitting in the classroom. I could do it, take the extra pain, and finish up my sentence quicker. I didn’t know it at the time, but it set in motion a way of life that would do me well from then on. Enduring a little hardship now, for a greater reward later. Finishing the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in three years rather than four years. Getting a master’s degree in two instead of one. Changing careers while approaching 40 and going to law school with kids nearly half my age, the toughest endeavor undertaken — and that includes attending Officer’s Candidate School in Ft. Benning, Ga., and journeying in a place I learned the most about life, Vietnam.

Kneeling to a Higher Authority, even for an alterior motive, showed me I could not only survive, but flourish in a world that often appeared to lack compassion. You have no where to go but up, once you rise from your knees and go forward.

13 comments on “A tough road makes journey a little easier

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael j Contos, Michael j Contos. Michael j Contos said: A tough road makes journey a little easier: http://t.co/xYYwMvy Kneeling,you have no where to go but up, once you rise from your knees. […]


  2. This made so much sense Michael (the truth always does)

    I’m starting out on a hard road myself right now and – you just make the walking (and the climb)so much easier by posting your truth and thoughts for me to read and follow.

    Thanks for that and for being you,



  3. souldipper says:

    I loved your last line most of all.


  4. Thank you Michael… you are a beautiful writer… I feel a book coming on? Maybe… sometime… Diane


  5. braonthree says:

    Well, Michael, in my own family, the Greek language itself was put in detention. My grandmother wouldn’t allow it spoken in the home (she wasn’t Greek), and so my father never learned it. Those of us descendents who learned a little had to do it in schools.


    • contoveros says:

      I wish I learned more than just the curse words and how to say “good morning” in Greek. But, I’d smile at one of my favorite judges while he sat on the bench and I wish him all the “Scata” he could deal with in a day. He would beam a big shit-eaten’ grin never knowing that scata meant just that: “shit.”

      Welcome, my fellow Feta-cheese lover.

      michael j


  6. Thank you for your post today Michael, (I needed a good punch in the arm) and a reminder that you only get to where you are by hard work and sacrifice… another thing though is that the work never ends… because after the “congratulations” there is usually no one standing at your front door handing you that silver platter… it is in who you are… the work… and then even harder work to see it through… I have to laugh… I too went back for my masters as an older student and was recently declared “the elder” at the Finger Lakes School of Massage… It never stopped me either… so much more to do now… now that the work is done!? a never ending journey for sure… I think there are lots of us “worker bees” out there in blog land… where do we find the time to talk of such things? Diane


    • contoveros says:

      We find the time to talk by investing ourselves in others just like us.

      The Worker Bees. I also like the Solitary Bees, which are for the more sensitive among us who prefer being with a group no larger than six.

      Hard work is good for the soul and I hated to hear it said, but sometimes it helps in building “character.”

      Like someone named “Diane, the Elder.”

      michael j


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