The summer between ninth and tenth grade I read Great Expectations on the deck next to the trees. Not equipped, or just too fresh to understand, it eluded me. But because it was assigned reading, the pleasing, achieving, insecure girl sat and read, and told myself I liked, and even understood it. I’ve always meant to go back and read it again.
17 years later, a quote flew onto my desk. Literally. It fell out of a binder I pulled from a shelf. The quote read,
“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” – Great Expectations, Chapter 9
The first link on a memorable day I walked into a class to meet my student teacher mentor. Still the pleasing, achieving girl on the inside I stood up straight, smiled, and walked in. She briefly gazed up, half smiled, looked me up and down (or maybe that was only in my head) and appeared somewhat annoyed as she helped a student. She said, “one minute…have a seat.” I pretended to look around the classroom, but really I was looking at her. She was beautiful, probably in her late fifties, wore high-heeled boots and leggings on her thin legs. She wore lipstick and looked polished. It made me slightly intimidated, but I loved that she cared about how she looked while standing in front of rambunctious teens, but wondered why at the same time.
I’ve thought about calling or stopping by this teacher’s house who became a friend and mentor. We promised we’d go to lunch here and there. Intentions. She made a scary thorny rite of passage like student teaching fun and personal. A lady who laughed and rolled her eyes at the silly and ridiculous, who stood up for me when students cheated and parents disagreed, and who wanted to talk about neighborhood royalty and design instead of grade point averages when we sat at parent teacher conferences. And – she always asked about my love life. I liked her whimsy, romance, and moxy. She had independence, a hard work ethic, a bookcase organized by color, and five daughters. She also had or would have the beginning stages or Parkinson’s, but no one knew.
My last day of student teaching, she gave me the book A Gift from the Sea, which confirmed parts of our souls were kindred spirits. She told me her tradition of screaming as loud as she could while driving away on her last day of school and gardening all throughout the summer. I walked away feeling accomplished and perfectly placed in my teaching assignment for more important reasons than teaching philosophies.
A few years after our time together she retired to care for her husband and herself. I ran into her at a restaurant and she looked and sounded the same. She said she was writing her history down. Now this is no ordinary history, and even when she told me I knew it would have the English teacher spice and her own vision. She read me two pages and they were funny, detailed, about nothing and said everything. Just the thing children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would actually want to read one day. Her voice will lift off the pages. The sterile dates and details transformed. She is doing it in vignettes and then letting them come as they do – she’ll order them chronologically later she said. She said she feels pushed to do it. That she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll have her memory.
The importance of writing our voice and memories down rested heavy in my chest as I listed to her read her words over the phone. Write stories down. Hers were as simple as a childhood memory playing a game, or how she felt about being one of many Judy’s in her class. That one was entitled “No Nomenclature”
And I am the larger. Better. Enriched. My life has many amazing people and chain of events. Sometimes I fear I’m letting my golden chains rust over. The momentous day I met her was so ordinary. The uncomfortable joy. Now for my promise of lunch to continue, and polish the chain.
What moments and people in your life have unexpectedly marked and changed you? What is it about these experiences that we hold close?