I have dreamt of running across ice, unable to move forward facing the fear of falling down on the frozen pond. Bruised knees and elbows as I break my fall. Will I crack through the ice? Why can’t I have skates, so I can glide across to the other side? In my dream, someone or something is keeping me from getting those skates. Last night I learned about someone who is somehow managing to get to the other side without those skates.
At the end of class, while students made their way out talking of the winter cold-air, I noticed Maggie stalling for an empty classroom. She finally approached, describing some personal business that would cause her to miss the final class in two weeks: legal adoption proceedings in Texas. To Maggie’s great relief, we decided she could test early before her departure.
I had noticed her progress since the midterm, and Maggie explained that tutoring had helped her with the financial equations from the book- difficult material- but part of the program. As a teacher, while smiling and saying, “I am NOT a skating instructor, but a finance teacher”, I recognize sometimes giving some slack. But I have little tolerance toward SKATERS. School should be a challenge.
No skating for Maggie, a late-forties mom with full-grown children, who now found herself a foster parent after the Division of Family Services found two small homeless children living in a box. The biological parents, steeped in drugs and prostitution, subsequently fell through the ice. Adoption was the next step.
“I see you are doing God’s work, then” I said.
Maggie claimed she had no choice: the older boy had seen his dad stab his mom when he was 2, and both kids had been sexually abused. Fighting a seemingly losing battle, as she worked fulltime, attended night school, and cared for the children, she was no skater: Maggie was somehow running across a frozen pond, doing her best not to fall and break through into the frigid depths below.
“Think you’ll be solid by Thursday?” She hesitated. I offered to meet on Friday after work for review. She tearfully thanked me, as I began to experience a “White Shadow”-Ken Howard-moment.
As she left the classroom, she thanked me again for offering to meet for extra help. Don’t mention it” I said.
“You know, other teachers don’t help like this?” She said.
I smiled and shrugged.
“You are doing God’s work, too” she said.
I smiled, and nodded, and said goodbye.
Driving home, I realized that as we go through life, and find ourselves judging others, we may decide to give out some slack. At that moment, we are walking the thin ice between enabling and empowering. Guiding my decision is knowing that at anytime, I may find myself trying to run across a frozen pond, in need of some skates to get to the other side. Will anyone be there to help? I believe someone will. Maybe Maggie.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.