“In a Little While, She Taught Me for a Lifetime”
For most of my life, I wanted to be an English teacher. English teachers always seemed “cool” to me—they could quote poetry and Shakespeare; they seemed smart, deep, and caring–more so than teachers of other subjects. Looking back, I know how important their compassion was to me—it was the sixties, my mother had remarried to a black man, and her family—my family– was terribly racist. It hurts the most when people who are supposed to love you don’t—and I witnessed grandparents, aunts, and uncles scorn and reject my mother. My soul ached for her…and so I wrote poetry and searched for wisdom and understanding and found it most often in my English classes. I remember a memorial plaque at my junior high school which was dedicated to a long-time English teacher, a woman long gone, a teacher I never knew. The plaque read, “In a little while, she taught us for a lifetime.” I got that. In my deepest soul, I understood–and that is the kind of teacher I wanted to become.
And I did become an English teacher; I am now in the third decade of my career—the last 22 years spent at a small liberal arts university whose motto is, ‘to contemplate truth and to share with others the fruits of your contemplation.” I have taught Homer, Plato, Sophocles, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, and Virginia Woolf, just to name a few of the literary giants often studied in the traditional canon—so imagine my astonishment when I found the most exhilarating and beautiful truths from an entirely different source—a source that would never be studied in any official curriculum, never translated into another language, never memorized and quoted by any English teacher: My source? A four-year-old, my son’s daughter, my granddaughter Kassidy. You see, when Kassidy spills her milk or breaks a toy, she says, “That’s okay…we can clean it” or “that’s okay, we can glue it.” When she needs a hug or just feels tired, she says, “Hold
me, hold me.” When she accidentally trips me on the stairs or knocks over my favorite
vase of flowers, she says, “I’m sorry.” So, when I contemplate truth, I realize that
Kassidy–who can’t even read yet–may be the wisest and most inspirational teacher I
have ever known. And she is right–most things are okay—or will be; it is not a weakness to ask a for a hug or an embrace if I am sad or tired; saying I am sorry when I err or misjudge is wise—and healing.
In her little while on this planet—a place fraught with racism, disappointments, and too many moments of feeling unloved, Kassidy has taught me for a lifetime. I offer you these thoughts—the fruits of my most recent contemplations. This I believe.
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