Some people really have a way with words. They know just when to use them.
I found out a few months ago that one of my teachers passed away. She taught me English back during the 1979-1980 school year.
I don’t remember a single lesson from her class.
What I do remember is that she loved me. She never told me that, but she always had a kind word for me. That was important for me because my mom had died the previous May and I still wasn’t in a good place that fall when school started back. At all. I needed a teacher like her in my life. One who could see past what I chose to show the world and deep into who I really was.
I didn’t receive or deserve any citizenship awards or academic recognition that year. I still have my report card where she mentioned that I talked too much (an understatement), but she also shared some lovely words about me on those tiny lines that teachers used to write messages to parents back then.
I left her class when I moved up a grade and she left my mind. I never left hers.
A lot of time would go by before I ran into her again. When she saw me, she immediately recognized me and shared that she had kept up with me over the years. I was touched, but as a young mommy to two small children I again moved on, leaving the memory of my teacher behind.
It would be almost two decades before I thought of her again. I won a prestigious award for my profession. I was named Teacher of the Year for all the middle schools in my county. It was very exciting: the dinner, the awards, the newspaper articles, and the very lovely trip my husband and I were able to take with the cash prize I was given.
None of that came close to touching me like the small envelope that showed up in my teacher mailbox one day after all the Teacher of the Year festivities had died down.
It was a note from my teacher telling me how proud she was of me.
Of all the awards and prizes I received, her words meant the most.
I never displayed those awards. In fact, they have been gathering dust somewhere for many years, but I can still tell you where her note is. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it.
We started exchanging Christmas cards after that and both had a chance to share our words with each other. I looked forward to her card every year. This year I didn’t get one from her. I knew I wouldn’t, but it still made me sad. I sent one to her house, hoping one of her children would open it. I wanted to share with them how much she had meant to the young girl I was so many decades ago.
When I found out she had died, I was sad but also so grateful for every word we wrote to each other over the years. It, of course, meant the world to read about how much she had cared for me many years ago when I was definitely one of her more challenging students, but I’m also immensely grateful I had the chance to share with her all she meant to me.
They made all that happen.