When your eyes meet, and countless memories of middle school through early high school years flash before your mind’s eye in the speed of a blink of an eye.
Is this really happening? Am I really seeing the substitute teacher that many of my peers despised standing right in front of me? Has it really been 12+ years since I’ve seen this woman? I thought.
This WAS reality… it WAS really happening. I blinked my eyes and genuinely heartfelt said, “Hi _____. It’s been a LONG time!” We smiled at one another and proceeded our attempts to “catch up” on life since my years at Annandale Middle and High schools.
Back when I was in 5th grade, my math teacher was out for many weeks due to a surgery. The substitute teacher was the woman I had just re-met after 12+ years. As my peers and I walked into the classroom back then, many students stopped dead in their tracks with others running right into them. Everyone stopped talking immediately, hustling to their designated desk without a peep. I was amongst my peers doing this. Everyone was seated, had their math book open, and their finished homework next to it before the bell even rang. The substitute teacher (ST), sat erect in her “teacher chair” with lips a straight line, with the slightest curve of amusement that her mere presence had silenced every last student in the classroom. She seemed to have that effect on students everywhere she went. Seriously.
“As you already see, I will be your ST while Mrs. ______ is out for the next many weeks. You will follow my instructions, and if your don’t your behavior will be dealt with accordingly. For both our sakes it’s best to follow my instructions. You’re here to learn, not to misbehave or talk with your friends. You’ve been warned.” She spoke with absolute authority. Not a student wiggled in their chair until she said, “Please take out your homework assignment if you haven’t already done so.”
Here goes a LONG many weeks was what many of my peers were thinking, later voicing to one another. I agreed with them. But, I also respected our ST for her talking straight with us in her well known “no messing around” demeanor.
Today, as my previous ST and I talked, I learned a lot about her, her family, and her childhood. As she shared, I understood her better for the person she was during my school years, and now today as the person she is. Her childhood wasn’t easy. She is the oldest of many siblings. Her father was a military man, so her growing up life was strict with a “no messing around” mentality. This trait had obviously carried into her teaching career. She then shared, “I carried that trait into my teacher career so students would understand that I’m the teacher and I’m in charge. They were at school to learn and that’s what we were going to do.”
I nodded my head in agreement and said, “I completely agree with you, that IS why we were there, to learn.”
I learned from her that being a ST is what she wanted to do. She didn’t want to get a formal teacher job, because as a ST she could pick and choose when she wanted to work as she, herself, had a busy life and was still raising her own kids for many of those years.
“Subbing was easy since my kids were in school, and then after that I was still called regularly to substitute for teachers. I didn’t feel I needed to get a formal teaching job, I was already doing that.” We talked in great length about how teaching has changed through the years and so much more. As she shared, I felt honored that she took the time out of her day to be here and talk with me as our paths had crossed so unexpectedly.
Learning about this woman helped me to better understand her as the person she was back when I was a teenager, and in the here and now today. By the way, when I re-met her all those same feelings of “feeling I needed to be quiet” did NOT happen, for the record! To talk and share together as adults was insightful for both of us and was truly a gift.
During this visit we each shared a quicker summed up version of what’s happened in the last 12+ years. At one point the woman, whom always appeared strict, non-emotional, distant, and military like, started to tear up. Immediately I was a bit concerned, as she paused biting her lip and looking away. Being that I work with people in an very safe and intimate setting that experience many different emotions, and crying is one of them, it didn’t startle me… as I knew she was about to share something that really hit deep to her heart and being. Her next words, “My husband just passed 3 weeks ago…” and her voice trailed off. Tears started to trickle down her cheeks. My heart went out for the woman standing next to me and I held her hand ever so gently. She smiled slightly and then told me the story about how it all happened.
The passing of her husband was something the family knew would be coming one day but no one had expected it that suddenly, or in the manner that it happened. Her, her kids, their spouses, and grandchildren were able to say their good-byes, but it all happened so quickly that know she was dealing with the weight of it all. She was now alone, sort of. She’d visited her kids and stayed with them for the first few weeks and now today, she was headed back home. And just before she began her drive home, our paths “happened” to cross. And she “happened” to share her incredible story of her life, her and her husband’s life. There is always the beauty of story in a life lived.
I don’t believe things happen for no reason at all. There’s always a reason. Sometimes we know, or find out that reason, and other times we don’t know until later. Or, I guess we’ll find out when we pass from this earth, perhaps.
Talking with my prior ST brought up a lot of memories, some of which her and I talked about together. She said, “You know, Kelly, I’ve had some of the most naughty students come up to me after they’d gradated, seeing me out in public they’d come up to me and ask for forgiveness for being such a naughty student. And you know what I’d tell them?” I shook me head unknowingly. “I told them, I forgave you way back when it happened. Thank you for the apology though. But, you should know, you were a little stinker!” She laughed, and I joined her. “Then I’d ask the young adult if I could give them a hug and every single time they would readily agree.” I smiled, with everything in my being, knowing that smile was as heartfelt as could be towards the woman.
This woman put up such a front being a ST, but deep inside she was full of emotion, humor (some very dry mind you), and love. She loved her students and she taught them in the way and style she thought was best, and did the best she knew how to do. I’m not here to say it was right or wrong, that’s not my place, or for me to judge. What I’m saying is that for me, to be able to hear from her firsthand, I got to better understand, hear, see and look back in years prior, to help me “get” this woman better.
That day, as her and I parted ways, I felt like my journey with my prior ST had come full circle. She was a part of my childhood and now as an adult I got to go back in time and reflect, talk about, share, and together we brought everything full circle. I thought it was pretty neat, because so often in life we don’t get the opportunity to bring something full circle… and that day, we did.
Just before parting ways, I told her, “Thank you for sharing everything that you did with me. I REALLY appreciated it. To see you again and talk was a blessing. I’m really glad we ran into one another. I’ll be thinking about you in the coming days and weeks as you begin to find a “new normal”.” My hands automatically went into prayer stature and her eyes watered a bit while I finished with, “You are a strong woman. Healing takes time. Be good to yourself and let your emotions out. You’re a special woman.”
When she spoke she said, “You always were a good kid!” BAHAHAHA! We both laughed out loud and she finished in saying, “Thank you Kelly. That means a lot to me. You’re on a really good path young lady. Keep it up.”
It was my turn to swallow the lump in my throat as I nodded and then thanked her once more just as she turned to leave. We parted ways, and later as I got into my vehicle to drive home my mind was still thinking about our lengthy conversation, all that was shared.
This really did just happen. God sure orchestrated our path’s crossing and that entire conversation, because I would not have seen that one coming. At all! What a blessing that was. Wow! I thought.
“Thanks Papa God!” I whispered aloud inside my car. I grabbed my sunglasses but before placing them on the bridge of my nose I looked into the sunset and knew that this meeting happened for a reason. She needed encouragement, love, support, someone to talk to that wasn’t family, and a breath of fresh air in light of her last 3 weeks of heaviness. To offer her all of those things was a gift for both her and myself. We were both blessed abundantly.
Today I want to encourage you, the reader and student “in life”, to take time for someone that approaches you this week to talk. Offer a listening ear, a loving heart, and a heartfelt acceptance unto them. Be the person that you wish they’d be for you. The world needs more listening ears, loving hearts, and supportive souls. I both challenge and ask you, would you be willing to do this for just ONE person this week? Don’t go out looking for that someone, that someone will find you.
Sometimes, the people we meet and get to know change them forever. And sometimes, they change us forever too. Let’s welcome these unforeseen changes!