Of the many grammar lessons from my days at Notre Dame School in Clarendon Hills, several from Sister Marie stand out and have ‘stuck’ with me.
The first was from the day I found myself desperate to, well, ‘go’ (to the bathroom) and danced in place in front of Sister Marie’s desk, begging, “Can I go to the bathroom!?”
She responded, in her stern, calm form, “I don’t know, Mr. Callahan, can you?!”
We’d learned the distinction between permission and ability in ever possible way at Notre Dame School – in church and school, and my sloppiness in either would not be tolerated, no matter how desperate my fidgeting.
‘May’ denotes permission, ‘can’ speaks to ability. I had asked Sister Marie if I was physically capable of urinating, when I was simply seeking permission to exit the classroom and, hopefully, make it to the bathroom in time.
(I should have just wet my pants and lived with the embarrassment, but I’m afraid she would have made me clean up my puddle.)
“May I go to the bathroom, Sister Marie?” I asked with a respectful tone demanded by my desperation.
The second grammar lesson still with me is the distinction between ‘in’ and ‘into’ (not exactly earth shattering, but important in life I’ve learned).
‘In’ speaks of to or toward something – coming in, going in, being in(side), while ‘into’ expresses moving to a point within. The difference isn’t significant (and can be used interchangeably in certain cases), but Sister Marie used a graphic example to illustrate the difference – fire. One does not put one’s hand ‘in’ a fire (unless one is Joan of Arc), but ‘into’ a fire and from that one learns a lesson (keep your hand out of fires, young man, but it proved to be a difficult lesson).
So in honor of Sister Marie, among others, I offer this:
you need to put
into the fire,
to remind yourself that it’s
and it’s always been
Oh, and I made it to the bathroom on time that day.