Recently, my high school PE teacher came onto the Facebook scene. She was THAT teacher. The one that everybody loved not because she was lenient or “fun” but because she just cared that much. And she was a PE teacher who made you feel good about yourself even when you sucked at PE (ask me how I know). She would wade right into the awkward and hard discussions that you needed to have in High School, but most adults wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Everybody wanted her as a confidante and confessor. And I think that was largely why during my junior year when her co-teacher died (and he could be a whole other post ) , she left teaching and didn’t come back. It wasn’t just his death, but it was all of the brokeness that she held for all the students who came into her office. It clean broke her open and she wasn’t sure she could recover from it. I remember her sitting in the vestibule between the locker room and the gym just weeping the morning after we found out the news. I remember the vacantness in her eyes and the feeling that something was irreparably shattered. She kept showing up for us the rest of the year…. but the next year she didn’t come back.
So anyway, she is on Facebook after all of these years and a bunch of us found her immediately–most likely because we’ve all been searching her name and doing low-level stalking to touch base with her. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on the vapid landscape of Facebook, to watch her interacting with former students. She posted a profile photo last week in which she is still looking so lovely and young. And when people said so and someone asked her secret she said, “Well, my dear G, it is the opportunity to choose the outfit, pose, lighting etc. that helps a bunch. It also doesn’t hurt to move early and often, hydrate, sunscreen, have the luxury of working half time, yoga, looking for the good, prayer, hubby that keeps me sane, writing notes to lift others up, give legit compliments, have lovely children and family, oh, and Oil of Olay twice a day. I bet you are sorry you asked, eh?” which I just so stinking loved.
I’m watching all of these people from my past say the same thing, “You have no idea how you changed my life. You were so kind. I am different because you cared about me.” And it’s the poor kids and the kids who had plenty. It’s the band geeks and the FFA kids. It’s the special ed. kids and the honor students. The nerds and the popular kids. There are names there of people who I have long put on my ‘chronically mean, don’t look back’ list, because they were the villains in my story of high school, that are saying all the same things as the rest of us. I’m fascinated by that because they needed her just as much (probably more) than the rest of us and she SAW that and GOT it and didn’t put labels on them like I did, and have retained to this day.
That makes me challenge some of those labels and question why I’ve held onto them so long. Truly those people who were the villains in my high school story were also just awkward teenagers, trying to make sense of the world with hormones and acne and heartache and the margins of our small town crashing in against us all. My eyes are softer this evening even just considering that.
When she left teaching she went on to work in the university setting doing wellness programs for faculty, I think. She found a way to balance passion with taking care of herself. I suspect part of her felt guilty for going. I suspect that maybe things she went on to pursue never quite lit her up as much as her years in teaching did…. But I also suspect her heart was given the chance to heal and she found gracious space as a result. She is the kind of person who would push back the darkness in any setting and I have no doubt that she continued to change lives with her authentic and radical kindness.
Mind-blowing really, what kindness can do and how lasting the effects of it can be. It doesn’t seem to be a power house. It’s easy to blow off and brush by, but when a person just plain chooses to like you without reservations or labels or judgement, amazing transformation can begin to take place.
I’m watching Mrs. S’s Opus unfold on Facebook, and it’s a glorious melody. Would that we could all change our corners of the world as she has.