A Gift

How do I explain my feelings at this moment? Surprise? Wary? Humble? Glowing? The cold light rain this morning kept me indoors. As sipped a cup of freshly brewed coffee, I strolled around the darkened house. I was thinking about my youth and how I always had a sense of being invisible, of being the odd one out. I never cut an academic swarth. I never was part of the social cliques. I was at best a mediocre athlete. I was never really good at anything. For a long time into my adulthood I carried and refused to acknowledged this sense of displacement. And yet, now the contents of a nondescript peach colored envelope I unexpectedly received in the mail a few days ago tells me that somehow I’ve gotten to the place at which I am supposed to be, doing what I am suppose to be doing.

I didn’t know what a gem lay in that innocent looking envelope I was about to open. Like some buried treasure it had lain unnoticed in the middle of a growing mountainous “we’ll get to it later” pile of mail my wife and I had created in a corner of our bedroom as we ran helter-skelter from florist to photographer to baker to musician to grocery store to garden shop to to beautician to police station to motel to rental store to travel agent to jeweler to friends’ homes to synagogue to hardware store to print shop to post office to goodness knows where else trying to put together and pull off a “small” (“bare bones” 120 guest list–my angelic, darling Susan can’t do something like this the wrong way) open-house, outdoor wedding of our youngest son, Robby, on three weeks notice. As we cooked, cleaned, begged, painted, sighed, decorated, prayed, arranged, ordered, rearranged, mowed, organized, screamed, kissed, telephoned, stamped that letter lay camouflagged among an batch of assorted beginning-of-the-month bills, seasonal offers for new credit cards, announcements of raised credit ceilings, requests from a host innocuous charities, and colorful flyers in all shapes and sizes enticing us to buy everything from literally soup to peanuts and join in the seasonal gift-giving frenzy.

Yesterday, emotionally drained and physically tired, after cleaning the cluttered of what seemed like a stadium after a weekend football game, as Susan was driving around town returning stuff, I sat down to wade through the heap of mail and came upon the envelope. Amid all the growing clutter of torn envelopes and creased sheets of useless papers and folded handbills and holiday catalogues that now lay scattered around the table and on the floor, that envelope didn’t really catch my eye. By the time I got to it, I was more than a bit desensitized by all the junk. I opened the peach envelope with a somewhat production line motion. “Another nice card,” I yawned to myself. I didn’t notice that it was addressed only to me instead to my wife as well. I guessed that it was just another ole season’s greeting card. It appeared to be. The front flap had a deceptive image of a cute little child holding a puppy emerging from an unwrapped gift box. It was what is called a “precious moment” card. I didn’t know how true that was. I opened the card non-chalantly not knowing what a precious moment was about to occur and with a quickly, matter-of-fact, on-to-the-next piece started to read the hand-written note on the inside flap. With equal quickness, before I finished the first sentence, I slowed, stopped, and started to re-read each word with slow deliberation. Everything went silent. Tears formed. Breath deepened. Concentration deepened. Quiet emotion stirred. I felt enveloped by a fulfilling, peaceful aurora. I sat up straight and then leaned over. I slowly put the card down on the table. Picked it up again and slowly re-read it. I felt like I just had been routinely panning a pile of sand with any expectations of a strike when lo and behold there lay a gleaming, huge nugget. The card was from a young lady whom I’ll call Trudy and about whom I prefer to say nothing. I will say her card took me back to those many conversations we had on the hallway floor while she was in my class–and for a time afterwards–when she did some heavy talking and I did mostly heavy listening. I haven’t seen or talked with her for almost two years. This is what she wrote:

Once in one’s life you meet that one person that may say something or do something that wakes you up and changes your life forever! Because of the things you told me, I am a stronger and a more open-minded woman. I have faced many obstacles this year of 96′, and through every obstacle I thought of you, telling me how valuable of a human being I am and how much potential I have, and how I shouldn’t, can’t let anyone or anything, especially myself, tell me otherwise and take away by sacredness. More important than your words, you showed me, you lived, that teaching is love, and that I was worth being loved and cared about.

Although years have come and gone since you were my professor, I wanted to take a few minutes this holiday season and tell you that you have touched me. You are for me and others a gift, a good and special gift, and remind you how terrific you really are!

Thanks for inspiring my life. Never forget that for years to come, you will not be forgotten. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I am a gift to her? What a gift she is to me! I can’t think of any greater gift to receive as a teacher and a human being than to know that somewhere and somehow my life has made a difference to someone and I helped to change the course of another’s life. I think that in our haste to lengthen resumes, to keep that job, to acquire reputations, to write that book, to give that conference paper, to impress others, to play it safe, to intellectualize or theorize or philosophize, to be that consultant, to focus on this or that technology, to find this or that method or technique, to develop this or that curriculum, to write up reports, to assess, to receive that grant, to get that promotion, to grade this or that assignment, to transmit that information, to keep discipline in the classroom, to get that salary raise, to get that appointment, to get tenure, to acquire material possessions, to test, to fight the administration, to engage in turf wars, to work budgets, to pursue careers, to stay ahead of others, to get control over things around us, to cover the course material, we lose sight of what teaching is all about. It’s a people activity that’s about discovering and using the power to reach out and miraculously touch the souls of others, and change another’s life in a way that helps them see and seize the power to touch themselves and change their own lives.

Make it a good day.

–Louis–

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