In the inner city of Akron, a little girl with undiagnosed ADD and dyslexia was starting third grade. Her parents had split up the year before due to her father’s alcoholism. They got back together, but he had also started drinking again. All this contributed to her doing poorly in school. She was bullied and felt stupid and worthless.
How can we measure a life or convey it’s impact on the world or even on a single person. That year, my third grade teacher changed my life, and she only taught in the afternoon. She taught us art and poems. We learned songs in other languages and were introduced to things like pomegranates. But more than all that, she noticed me. She saw something in me that only my mother saw (and honestly I didn’t believe her because weren’t all mothers supposed to tell you that you were smart and good). When I showed her my own poems, she sent them to children’s magazines to be published. When I came in crying, she listened to me. She made me feel like I had value. How do we measure such a person?
Through the rest of elementary school, I would come early or stay late to help her set up her class, and when she retired, I began to write her letters. At twelve, I would tell her of my parent’s divorce, and at twenty-two of my miscarriage.
Through the years, she was a constant source of encouragement and support. I shared my thoughts, hopes, and fears with her, and she carried them as though they were precious.
Whenever she traveled, she sent me postcards and descriptions.
Aside from letters, she always sent me a Christmas card, often with a gift. She remembered me. In all the busyness of life, she thought of me. How do we value such a person?
This Christmas, a card did not come. That was how I knew. In all the years, sometimes we wrote more and sometimes less, but she never missed sending me a Christmas card. When I googled her name, there it was: an obituary. Her whole life was summed up in a few hundred words. Of course, no one had told me. They probably do not even know that I exist, and yet her existence so profoundly impacted mine.
So here I am, trying to find a way to grieve this amazing woman whose life enriched my own in ways beyond measure, trying to honor who she was to me. She was not a mother, wife, or co-worker to me. The closest you could come would be to call her friend, but she was much more. She was the epitome of “teacher”. She taught me about beauty in the world and about perseverance when I couldn’t see beauty any more. She taught me about worth by applying it to me when I could not apply it to myself. She taught me about friendship in a way that we don’t see much anymore- steady and faithful and across age and societal barriers. She taught me by example what it means to live out faith. Even in death, she is teaching me how much taking a little time out of your day to think of someone else can mean. It can make all the difference.