Well, the Lilly-South conference was over. It was an interesting conference for me. It was my first outing since the pneumonia. None of the usual on-the-go frenetic attending of session after session, giving my presentations, having on-going intense conversations, night time schmoozing. On orders from “the boss,” reinforced by the concern of my friends, I had to take blocs of morning and afternoon breaks in my room to rest She was right, they all were right, since I nearly gave out as I and my good friend, Todd Zakrajsek, closed the conference with a two hour plenary. At the airport, I thought all that rest would be for naught since a surprise glitch in Delta’s computer was going to make for a less than comfortable and restful six hour layover in Atlanta. But, gods were looking over me. There was an unexpected but soothing, heart-warming, energizing, and fulfilling Lilly-like conversation with Naomi at the Greensboro airport; there was the mechanically delayed Valdosta bound flight at Hartsfield that allowed me to get the last seat literally five minutes after the plane from Greensboro landed at the next door gate to the Valdosta flight; there was being in Susan’s comforting arms as my original itinerary had scheduled; and, then, there was Beth
We went out for dinner at a local restaurant, and who should come over as our server but Beth (not her real name). I hadn’t seen her for almost two years though I had thought about her on and off over the years wondering if she was still in school, even still alive.
“Dr. Schmier,” she literally screamed out.
“Beth!” Then, I immediately asked, “You clean?”
“You beat me to it,” she said proudly. Her face lit up, and with a nodding of her head, answered crisply, “Yes!”
I knew, just by the way she held herself. I beamed and gave her the thumbs up sign. She knelt on her haunches as if she was taking our order “I want to tell you that I’ve been clean for a year and a half now. Thank you for saving me. I wasn’t clean right after we finished class no matter how hard you tried to keep me that way, but you knew that. I went back to my old ways, feeling sorry for myself, being down on myself, blaming myself for everything, selling myself to the lowest bidder. But you and your damn ‘you clean” kept creeping into my heart and mind. You don’t know how many times I called you a ‘son of a bitch” when I took a drink or smoked a weed or screwed around. But, you kept haunting me. Deep down I guess I knew I really wanted to be another one of your ‘Kims.” Deep down I knew I had failed you and myself. Then, finally, one day I saw you were right and I asked myself ‘you clean’. I didn’t like the answer. I suddenly heard you and wanted another kind of answer. Have been clean ever since. You’re in my heart and soul every day. I should have told you that earlier. But, you saved me by helping me save myself. I’m so happy with myself now, and kicking ass in school. Now, what do you and Miss Susan want to drink?”
That bit of soul food so satiated me, I almost lost my appetite for the steak. As I struggled force down that delicious steak Susan and talked how I had struggled to help Beth. In fact, I had written a “quickie Random Thought” about her I called “53.” As we left the restaurant, Beth bounded over, hugged me, and gave me a peck on my cheek. “Thanks for being there and still being there,” she whispered with a tear I could hear in her voice. “Thanks for always seeing me, and always giving a damn about me when I didn’t, and for never stopped loving me in spite of everything until I started doing all that for myself.”
“Thank you,” I whispered with a tear in my voice. “And, thank yourself as well.”
The gods were looking over me yesterday. Beth got me thinking–and feeling. I’ve never known a student who wasn’t worth the trouble and effort required to make her or his life whatever it could possibly be. Why? Because I’ve never known a student who didn’t have the unlimited potential for success, happiness, significance, and worthiness; I’ve never known a student who wasn’t worth the discomfort, and even frustration, to help her or him learn to weave the thread of her or his life into a magnificent fabric; I’ve never known a student who ultimately didn’t have the inner strength to resist every temptation, overcome every tragedy, control attitudes and actions; I’ve never known a student who didn’t have worthy dreams within her or him; I’ve never known a student within whom laid the love to embrace, to care, to feel gratitude, and to forgive; I’ve never known a student who didn’t have the capacity for great joy and astounding achievement; I’ve never known a student to didn’t have the inner courage that could be tapped for her or him to believe in herself or himself, to come to terms with frustrations and failures, to withstand unkind words, and to overcome unexpected betrayals; I’ve never known a student who didn’t have the potential wisdom to choose her or his own path and to choose the right path; I’ve never known a student who wasn’t worth whatever it took to help her or him find a special purpose and a meaningful place; I’ve never known a student who wasn’t a new experience from whom to learn, a new possibility to explore, a new way to grow, a new direction to take, and a new world to experience; I’ve never known a student who didn’t have everything she or he needed to be lying within her or him.
If–and there is really no “if” about it–I unconditionally love each student—and “love” is the right word, I’ll work long and hard to become an alchemist of the heart and mind, as well as of body and soul, helping each student transform herself or himself into a nugget of gold. And, as I love each student, I consciously hold my feet to the loving torch to model these loving behaviors and attitudes and feelings. Are there bumps in the road, disappointments, sadnesses, inconveniences, challenges, frustrations, discomforts, problems, and annoyances? Sure. I don’t always succeed. But, when a setback happens, as I told my good “Lilly friend,” Shoes Johnson, I see that inability to touch a student as one less victory rather than as a surrendering and paralyzing defeat. That’s the power of having a purposeful “Why.” Knowing that everybody is an invaluable somebody, gives me the strength to persevere and the energy to keep chasing after the Muses rather than being chased away by the Furies. You see, life in the classroom is no more or less complex than each human being in that classroom, than life outside the classroom, than life itself. Things will not always go the way we plan; we can’t control anything other than ourselves, nothing works 100% for everyone all the time and everywhere; nothing important comes easy or instantly. But, can you eat with gritted teeth? Can you smile with tightened lips? Can you run with shackled legs? Can you embrace with folded arms? Can you see with jaded eyes? Can you truly dream with blighted perceptions? Of course not. Deepak Chopra is so right. To paraphrase him: to be alive is to be a lover, and to be a lover is to live. I find that is an ultimately truth with my Susan, my children and grandchildren, my friends, and each student. And, no amount of pretending otherwise will alter that reality.