I am a senior in high school in Golden Valley, Minnesota. It is here that I have been taking French for six years. I have never hated to love a class more than it. I never understand anything, but I love to be a member of the class. This was especially true the past three years.
When I started French in high school, I was in the lowest level, which was taught by Madam R, a small, middle-age woman from Madagascar. She taught these lower classes with intensity and passion, and it really showed when she interacted with us.
When our studies became overwhelming, Madam would stop everything and teach us a song. She would then go on to teach us the dance to the song. Following that, she would make the whole class get up and do the dance with her. I never had so much fun making a fool of myself with Madam and my classmates.
As the years went on, we did more and more of these types of things: acting out plays, writing movies, reading poems. It truly was a joy in my stressful day.
One day two years ago, it all turned on its head. My classmates and I returned from Spring Break to painful news. The school nurse had come to class to tell us that Madam had been diagnosed with cancer. Tears streamed down the Madam’s eyes as the nurse spoke. The nurse went on to tell us that we would all have to wash our hands before class, so we would not get Madam sick.
Everyday that I had French, I would drop my stuff off in the classroom, and then go to the bathroom to wash my hands. It became a ritual: French meant clean hands. Over the course of the next year, class and this ritual continued as usual. Every so often we would hear updates on how Madam’s cancer was doing. Madam’s treatment appeared to be working, and Madam’s cancer was almost gone. In reality, Madam was just taking one step forward to go two steps back. Quickly, her cancer became worse, and she no longer able to teach my class, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t continue to wash my hands.
Madam passed away at the end of this summer. Her funeral was filled with fun memories and beautiful stories about her character.
I still take French, and I still wash my hands before every class. It is my way of honoring Madam.
Although it may appear that my motives were altruistic, deep down, I was doing this all for my own good. I couldn’t sleep thinking that I was a bystander to Madam’s cancer. Washing my hands was a way for me to stand up to cancer. It was good karma though. If washing my hands can be seen as a good deed, then I am sending my good vibes to Madam up in heaven.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.