All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten

by vpundir | August 14th, 2005

Another lazy Saturday in August’s Edinburgh. Another show at “the festival”. Of course the shows are pretty expensive and I am not a rich kid by any stretch of imagination, so I finger through the Fringe guide for shows for £5.00 and under. “All I really need…” attracts my attention. At £4.00 for a concessional ticket, it appears promising. So far, I haven’t gone by reviews or WoM (word of mouth) and have done alright. So this can’t be too bad. I talk my roommate into joining me for the show, though he needs to leave early.

Well, as it turns out, today is the last of the four showings of this particular “play”. Interestingly enough, the venue Greenside appears to be some sort of a chapel rented out as a “festival” venue. Even so, the A.H.S. Drama/ American High School Theatre Festival production of Robert Fulghum’s collection of short stories, “All I really need to know, I learned in Kindergarten” turns out to be one of my best-value buys at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Granted, the actors were just raw high-school kids, and the direction was jerky at best, but the it’s not for nothing that these short tales by Fulghum are used as the first performance at school theaters all over the United States. In fact, the show I was at received a standing ovation.

Here are the scenes for your pleasure (for some scenes, I didn’t have the story, so I’ve jotted down the titles…you are welcome to post those). You be the judge:


Each spring, for many years, I have set myself the task of writing a personals statement of belief: a Credo. When I was younger, the statement ran for many pages, trying to cover every base, with no loose ends. It sounded like a Supreme Court brief, as if words could resolve all conflicts about the meaning of existence.

The Credo has grown shorter in recent years – sometimes cynical, sometimes comical, sometimes bland – but I keep working at it. Recently I set out to get the statement of personal belief down to one page in simple terms, fully understanding the naïve idealism that implied.

The inspiration for brevity came to me at a gasoline station. I managed to fill and old car’s tank with super-deluxe high-octane go-juice. My old hoopey couldn’t handle it and got the willies – kept sputtering out at intersections and belching going downhill. In understood. My mind and my spirit get like that from time to time. Too much high-content information, and I get the existential willies – keep sputtering out at intersections where life choices must be made and I either know too much or not enough. The examined life is no picnic.

I realized then that I already know most of what’s necessary to live a meaningful life – that it isn’t all that complicated. I know it. And have known it for a long, long time. Living it – well, that’s another matter, yes? Here’s my Credo:

ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Yes! Of course I can


A kindergarten teacher I know was asked to have her class dramatize a fairy tale for a teachers’ conference. After much discussion, the children achieved consensus on that old favorite, “Cinderella,” the classic rags-to-riches story that never dies. “Cream will rise” is the moral of this tale: someday you may get what you think you deserve. It’s why adults play the lottery with such passion.

“Cinderella” was a good choice from the teacher’s point of view because there were many parts and lots of room for discretionary padding of parts so that every child in the class could be in the play. A list of characters was compiled as the class talked through the plot of the drama: there was an absolutely ravishing Cinderella, the evil stepmother, the two wicked and dumb stepsisters, the beautiful and wise fairy godmother, the pumpkin, mice, coachman, horses, the king, all the people at the king’s ball: generals, admirals, knights, princesses and, that ultimate object of fabled desire, the Prince: good news incarnate. The children were allowed to choose roles, As the parts were allotted, each child was labeled with felt pen and paper and sent to stand over on the other side of the room while casting was completed. Finally, every child had a part.

Except one. One small boy had remained quiet and disengaged from the selection process. A somewhat enigmatic kid -“different” -and because he was plump for his age, often teased by the other children. “Well, Norman,” said the teacher, “who are you going to be?”

“I am going to be the pig,” replied Norman.

“Pig? There’s no pig in this story.”

“Well, there is now.”

Wisdom was fortunately included in the teacher’s tool bag. She looked carefully at Norman. What harm? It was a bit of casting to type. Norman did have a certain pigginess about him all right. So be it. Norman was declared the pig in the story of Cinderella. Nobody else wanted to be the pig, anyhow, so it was quite fine with the class. And since there was nothing in the script explaining what the pig was supposed to do, the action was left up to Norman.

As it turned out, Norman gave himself a walk-on part. The pig walked along with Cinderella wherever Cinderella went, ambling along on all fours in a piggy way, in a costume of his own devising -pink long underwear complete with trapdoor rear flap, pipe cleaner tail, and a paper cup for a nose. He made no sound. He simply sat on his haunches and observed what was going on, like some silently supportive Greek chorus. The expressions on his face reflected the details of the dramatic action. Looking worried, sad, anxious, hopeful, puzzled, mad, bored, sick, and pleased as the moment required.

There was no doubt about what was going on and no doubt that it was important. One look at the pig and you knew. The pig was so earnest. So sincere. So very “there.” The pig brought gravity and mythic import to this well-worn fairy tale.

At the climax, when the Prince finally placed the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot and the ecstatic couple hugged and rode off to live happily ever after, the pig went wild with joy, danced around on his hind legs, and broke his silence by barking. In rehearsal, the teacher had tried explaining to Norman that even if there was a pig in the Cinderella story, pigs don’t bark. But as she expected, Norman explained that this pig barked. And the barking, she had to admit, was well done.

The presentation at the teachers’ conference was a smash hit. At the curtain call, guess who received a standing ovation? Norman, of course, the barking pig. He was, after all, the real Cinderella story. Word of a good thing gets around, and the kindergarten class had many invitations to come and perform “Cinderella.” Sometimes the teacher would have to explain what it was about the performance that was so unique.

“It has a pig in it, you see.”

“Oh, really?

“Yes, the star of the show is… a barking pig.”

“But there’s no barking pig in ‘Cinderella’.”

“Well, there is now.”

Hide and seek

Larry Walters flies

Donnie, the leaf raker

The stuff in the sink

Problems and inconveniences

The bench


I have married more than a thousand times. Officiated as the minister at a whole lot of weddings and usually managed to get so involved in each occasion that it felt like I was the one getting married. Still, I always look forward to marrying again, because most weddings are such comedies.

Not that they are intended as such. But since weddings are high state occasions involving amateurs under pressure, everything NEVER goes right. Weddings seem to be magnets for mishap and for whatever craziness lurks in family closets. In more ways than one, weddings bring out the ding-dong in everybody involved.

I will tell you the quintessential wedding tale. One of disaster. Surprisingly, it has a happy ending, though you may be in doubt, as I was, as the story unfolds.

The central figure in this drama was the mother of the bride (MOTB). Not the bride and groom or minister. Mother. Usually a polite, reasonable, intelligent, and sane human being, Mother was mentally unhinged by the announcement of her daughter’s betrothal. I don’t mean she was unhappy, as is often the case. To the contrary. She was overcome with joy. And just about succeeded in overcoming everybody else with her joy before the dust settled.

Nobody knew it, but this lady had been waiting with a script for a production that would have met with Cecil B. DeMille’s approval. A royal wedding fit for a princess bride. And since it was her money, it was hard to say no. The father of the bride began to pray for an elopement. His prayers were not to be answered.

She had seven months to work, and no detail was left to chance or human error. Everything that could be engraved was engraved. There were teas and showers and dinners. The bride and groom I met with only three times. The MOTB called me weekly, and was in my office as often as the cleaning lady. (The caterer called me to ask if this was really a wedding, or an invasion he was involved in. “Invasion,” I told him.)

An eighteen-piece brass and wind ensemble was engaged. (The church organ simply would not do – too “churchy.”) The bride’s desires for home furnishings were registered in stores as far east as New York and as far south as Atlanta. Not only were the bridesmaid’s outfits made to order, but the tuxedos for the groom and his men were bought – not rented, mind you. Bought.

If all that wasn’t enough, the engagement ring was returned to the jeweler for a larger stone, quietly subsidized by the MOTB. When I say the lady came unhinged, I mean UNHINGED.
Looking back, it seems now that the rehearsal and dinner on the evening before the great event were not unlike what took place in Napoleon’s camp the night before Waterloo. Nothing had been left to chance. Nothing could prevent a victory on the coming day. Nobody would EVER forget this wedding. (Just as nobody ever forgot Waterloo. For the same reason, as it turned out.)

The juggernaut of fate rolled down the road, and the final hour came. Guests in formal attire packed the church. Enough candles were lit to bring daylight back to the evening. In the choir loft the orchestra gushed great music. And the mighty MOTB coasted down the aisle with the grandeur of an opera diva at the premier performance. Never did the mother of the bride take her seat with more satisfaction. She had done it. She glowed, beamed, smiled, and sighed.
The music softened, and nine – count them, nine – chiffon-draped bridesmaids lockstepped down the long aisle while the befrocked groom and his men marched stolidly into place.

Finally, oh so finally, the wedding march thundered from the orchestra. Here comes the bride. Proceeded by four enthusiastic mini-princesses chunking flower petals, and two dwarfish ringbearers – one for each ring. The congregation rose and turned in anticipation.

Ah, the bride. She had been dressed for hours if not days. No adrenalin was left in her body. Left alone with her father in the reception hall of the church while the march of the maidens went on and on, she had walked along the tables laden with gourmet goodies and absentmindedly sampled first the little pink and yellow and green mints. Then she picked through the silver bowls of mixed nuts and ate the pecans. Followed by a cheeseball or two, some black olives, a handful of glazed almonds, a little sausage with a frilly toothpick stuck in it, a couple of shrimps blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. To wash this down – a glass of pink champagne. Her father gave it to her. To calm her nerves.

What you noticed as the bride stood in the doorway was not her dress, but her face. White. For what was coming down the aisle was a living grenade with the pin pulled out.

The bride threw up.

Just as she walked by her mother.

And by “threw up,” I don’t mean a polite little ladylike *urp* into her handkerchief. She puked. There’s just no nice word for it. I mean, she hosed the front of the chancel – hitting two bridesmaids, the groom, a ringbearer, and me.

I am quite sure of the details. We have it all on videotape. Three cameras’ worth. The MOTB had thought of everything.

Having disgorged her hors d’oeuvres, champagne, and the last of her dignity, the bride went limp in her father’s arms, while her groom sat down on the floor where he had been standing, too stunned to function. And the mother of the bride fainted, slumping over in rag-doll disarray.
We had a fire drill then and there at the front of the church that only the Marx Brothers could have topped. Groomsmen rushed about heroically, mini-princess flower girls squalled, bridesmaids sobbed, and people with weak stomachs headed for the exits. All the while, unaware, the orchestra played on. The bride had not only come, she was gone – into some other state of consciousness. The smell of fresh retch drifted across the church and mixed with the smell of guttering candles. Napoleon and Waterloo came back to mind.

Only two people were seen smiling. One was the mother of the groom. And the other was the father of the bride.

What did we do? Well, we went back to real life. Guests were invited to adjourn to the reception hall, though they did not eat or drink as much as they might have in different circumstances. The bride was consoled, cleaned up, fitted out with a bridemaid’s dress, and hugged and kissed a lot by the revived groom. (She’ll always love him for that. When he said “for better or worse,” he meant it.) The cast was reassembled where we left off, a single flute played a quiet air, the words were spoken and the deed was done. Everybody cried, as people are supposed to do at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride in his arms through the whole ceremony. And no groom ever kissed his bride more tenderly than he.

If one can hope for a wedding that it be memorable, then theirs was a raging success. NOBODY who was there will EVER forget it.

They lived as happily ever after as anyone does – happier than most, in fact. They have been married about twelve years now, and have three lively children.

But that’s not the end of the story. The best part is still to come. On the tenth anniversary of this disastrous affair, a party was held. Three TV sets were mustered, a feast was laid, and best friends invited. (Remember, there were three video cameras at the scene of the accident, so all three films were shown at once.) The event was hilarious, especially with the running commentary and the stop-action stuff that is a little gross when seen one frame at a time. The part that got cheers and toasts was when the camera focused on the grin on the face of the father of the bride as he contemplates his wife as she is being revived.

The reason I say this is the best part is not because of the party. But because of who organized it. Of course. The infamous MOTB. The mother of the bride is still at it, but she’s a lot looser these days. She not only forgave her husband and everybody else for their part in the debacle, she forgave herself. And nobody laughed harder at the film than she.

There’s a word for what she has. Grace.

And that’s why that same grinning man has been married to he for forty years. And why her daughter loves her still.

Fathers and sons



This is my neighbour. Nice Lady. Coming out her front door, on her way to work and in her “looking good” mode. She’s locking the door now and picking up her daily luggage: purse, lunch bag, gym bag for aerobics, and the garbage bucket to take out. She turns, sees me, gives me the big, smiling Hello, takes three steps across her front porch. And goes “AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!” (That’s a direct quote.) At about the level of a fire engine at full cry.

Spider web! She has walked full force into a spider web. And the pressing question, of course: Just where is the spider now?

She flings her baggage in all directions. And at the same time does a high-kick, jitterbug sort of dance – like a mating stork in crazed heat. Clutches at her face and hair and goes “AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!” at a new level of intensity. Tries opening the front door without unlocking it. Tries again. Breaks the key in the lock. Runs around the house headed for the back door. Doppler effect of “AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

Now a different view of this scene. Here is the spider. Rather ordinary, medium gray, middle-aged lady spider. She’s been up since before dawn working on her web, and all is well. Nice day, no wind, dew point just right to keep things sticky. She’s out checking the moorings and thinking about the little gnats she’d like to have for breakfast. Feeling good. Ready for action. All of a sudden all hell breaks loose – earthquake, tornado, volcano. The web is torn loose and is wrapped around a frenzied moving haystack, and a huge piece of raw-but-painted meat is making a sound the spider has never heard: “AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

It’s too big to wrap up and eat later, and it’s moving too much to hold down.

Jump for it? Hang on and hope? Dig in?

Human being. The spider has caught a human being. And the pressing question is, of course: Where is it going and what will it do when it gets there?

The neighbour lady thinks the spider is about the size of a lobster and has big rubber lips and poisonous fangs. The neighbour lady will probably strip to the skin and take a full shower and shampoo just to make sure it’s gone – and then put on a whole new outfit to make certain she’s not inhabited.

The spider? Well, if she survives all this, she will really have something to talk about – the one that got away that was THIS BIG. “And you should have seen the JAWS on the thing!”

Spiders. Amazing creatures. Been around maybe 350 million years, so they can cope with about anything. Lots of them, too – sixty or seventy thousand per suburban acre. Yes. It’s the web thing that I envy. Imagine what it would be like if people were equipped like spiders. If we had this little six-nozzled aperture right at the base of our spine and we could make yards of something like glass-fibre with it. Wrapping packages would be a cinch!

Mountain climbing would never be the same. Think of the Olympic events. And mating and child rearing would take on new dimensions. Well, you take it from there. It boggles the mind. Cleaning up human-sized webs would be a mess, on the other hand.

All this reminds me of a song I know. And you know, too. And your parents and your children, they know. About the itsy-bitsy spider. Went up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain. And the itsy-bitsy spider went up the spout again. You probably know the motions too.

What’s the deal here? Why do we all know that song? Why do we keep passing it on to our kids? Especially when it puts spiders in such favourable light? Nobody goes “AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!” when they sing it. Maybe because it puts the life adventure in such clear and simple terms. The small creature is alive and looks for adventure. Here’s the drainpipe – a long tunnel going up towards some light. The spider doesn’t even think about it – just goes. Disaster befalls it – rain, flood, powerful forces. And the spider is knocked down and out beyond where it started. Does the spider say, “To hell with that”? No. Sun comes out – clears things up – dries off the spider. And the small creature goes over to the drainpipe and looks up and thinks it really wants to know what is up there. It’s a little wiser now – checks the sky first, looks for better toeholds, says a spider prayer, and heads up through mystery toward the light and wherever.

Living things have been doing that for a long, long time. Through every kind of disaster and setback and catastrophe. We are survivors. And we teach our kids about that. And maybe spiders tell their kids about it, too, in their spider way.

So the neighbour lady will survive and be a little wiser coming out the door on her way to work. And the spider, if it lives, will do likewise. And if not, well, there are lots more spiders, and the word gets around. Especially when the word is “AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

The briefcase

Christmas/ Valentine’s day

A tomb with a view

Are there any questions?

“Are there any questions?” An offer that comes at the end of college lectures and long meetings. Said when an audience is not only overdosed with information, but when there is no time left anyhow. At times like that you mostly assuredly do have questions. Like, “Can we leave now?” and “What was this meeting scheduled for anyhow?” and “Where can I get a sandwich?” The gesture is supposed to indicate openness on the part of the speaker, I suppose, but if in fact you do ask a question, both the speaker and the audience will give you drop-dead looks. And some fool-some earnest idiot-always asks. And the speaker always answers. By repeating most of what he has already said. But if there was ever a little time left and there was a little silence in response to the invitation, I usually asked the most important question of all: “What is the meaning of life?”

You never know-somebody may have the answer, and I’d really hate to miss it because I was too socially inhibited to ask. But when I asked, it’s was usually taken as a kind of an absurdist move – people laughed and nodded and began to gather up their stuff and the meeting was dismissed on that ridiculous note.

Once, and only once, I asked the question and got a serious answer. One that is with me still. I went to an institute dedicated to Christian understanding and Biblical truth in rural Montana. At the last session on the last morning of a four-day seminar on Christian influence in American culture, led by intellectuals and experts in their fields, the man heading up the seminar, Dr. Alexander Lapagia rose from his chair at the back of the room and walked to the front, where he stood in the bright sunlight of an open window and looked out. We followed his gaze across the river to the iron cross marking a cemetery from the WW II era. He turned and made the ritual gesture: “Are there any questions?”

Quiet quilted the room. These four days had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now there was only silence. “No questions?” Lapagia swept the room with his eyes. So, I asked. “Dr. Lapagia, what is the meaning of life?” The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go.Lapagia held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at me for a long time, asking with his eyes if I was serious, and seeing from my eyes that I was.

“I will answer your question.” Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into his leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went like this: “When I was a small child in Italy during World War II, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine-into deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, however, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But the light of Jesus – truth, love, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I was once a broken shard of mirror whom Christ has shaped into a better tool for shining light. I am a fragment of His mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know.

Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world-into the black places in the hearts of men-and Jesus can use me to change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.” And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.

Much of what I experienced in the way of information that summer is gone from memory. But in the wallet of my mind I carry a small round mirror still. I can now “reflect” upon what I learned on the meaning of life.

Are there any questions????

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