On Thursday, December 21, I received the best Christmas present ever of my professional career. Even as I think about it now, I turn into a big pile of goo.
I taught 4th grade before becoming a librarian at the high school. One of the benefits has been seeing the last group of former students of mine grow and mature into wonderful young adults. One student in particular stands out. He was a little Amish boy who didn’t want to be in school. His dream, at the time, was just to be by himself out in nature. He would have loved to try out the survival skills needed to be Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Who needed math, English and Indiana History? I felt for him because I know the feeling and love of being in solitude, enjoying the the quiet stillness of nature. But the part that bothered me was the fact that he was one of the best creative writers I had ever seen during 15 years of teaching. I still have a book of poems from that class in my office at school. His poem about watching deer is a highlight in that book. One day, my patience with this little guy had reached its end. He made a bit of a smart comeback when I confronted him about his lack of effort. Needless to say, we went out into the hallway for a “Come to Jesus” meeting.
Fast forward 8 years. This little Amish boy ended up deciding to forgo joining the Amish church and finish high school instead. He homeschooled in junior high and entered the public school system again when he was a ninth grader. I was surprised to see him one day as I was getting ready to do a book talk in his English class. For the next 4 years we enjoyed small conversation and saying “Hi” in the hallways. About 3 weeks ago I found out he was graduating at the end of Semester I in December. I saw him in the hallway, told him congratulations and asked him what he was planning for the next year. Imagine my surprise when he said he was joining the Marines. We were both in a hurry, but I was hoping to finish the conversation later.
On Thursday, we both found ourselves in the hallway during class. He promptly came up to me, held out his hand and we shook hands. Then he said, “I’ve wanted to tell ‘Thank you’ you for a long time. You’ve always been a special teacher to me, and I could tell that you cared about me. You know, I remember that speech you gave me in the fourth grade. At the time, I wasn’t so happy about it, but I thought about it quite often afterwards. You were right, I could do a lot more than I was doing. And I just really wanted to tell you ‘Thank you’.” Well…I held it together, but I get teary-eyed even now thinking about it. We talked more about his decision to go into the Marine corps and his Amish family. I wish we had more time to talk. And I wonder if he’ll ever know how profoundly his ‘thank you’ has affected me.
Sometimes, I’m sure we all wonder if we are truly doing our calling. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But there are times that I question. However, that student was placed in my path for a reason in 2004, and I was placed back in his path for a reason in 2012. We each taught the other in ways we may never fully comprehend. What a blessed present this truly has been…
Currently reading: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys