Seeing Angels in my Rearview Mirror

Church today was wonderful.  I attend the Saturday night service because:  (a) it lets me sleep in; (b) it lets the kids sleep in so; (c) I can get the kids to go to church; and, (d) I like it.

Simple as that.  I like going to church, but I love the Saturday night service because it is very simple and down-to-Earth and not showy.  The praise team is all of two people, one of whom is generally off-key and off-pace.  It makes for a disjointed worship time, but I feel like this is truly worshipful.  God doesn’t evaluate us on our abilities to carry a tune.  God cares, I think, that we love Him authentically.

Anyhow, as I was sitting in church, listening to the sermon about Jesus telling the analogy of humanity being grapes and God being the vine and Jay challenged us to consider if we are truly “connected” to the vine and what kept us from being connected.  Note to Jay…it’s been an over an hour since the service and I still remember the sermon.  See, I listened!!

Okay…that aside…

as I was listening to the sermon, I thought about people who have been influential in my life….

For example, Mrs. Fox, my fourth grade teacher.  I was in her class 33 years ago, and I can still see her classroom, can still see the dappled shadows of the leaves freckling the window sill.  I can see the tubs where she kept our journals.  Mrs. Fox was amazing, inspiring, encouraging.  I loved her so much…love her still.  In her class, I learned about research writing, community service, and the joy of learning.  Mrs. Fox read to us daily; thanks to her, I found The PinballsThe Secret Garden, and From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Those books have stayed with me throughout my life.  I currently own three (at least) copies of the last book.  My mother made me a secret garden.  Through Mrs. Fox, I learned to love writing.  She used to tear out advertisements from magazines and give them to us with the assignment that we were to write stories about the advertisements….construct a narrative about whatever was happening in the pictures.  I still remember the quick flush of pride when some of my classmates said I was the best writer.  This set me on my path.

Mrs. Williams, my sixth grade teacher who recognized random acts of kindness and made me feel…worthwhile.  Like Mrs. Fox, Mrs. Williams read out loud to us…I loved the BunniculaHowliday Inn, and Max and Me and the Time Machine.  Mrs. Williams encourage free thinking and creativity.  Learning about Medieval England was a series of creative, independent learning exercises which gave us free-reign and ownership over our educations.

Mrs. Harding, my beloved creative writing teacher.  God, I love her…I model so much of my teaching after her.  I would give everything to be a creative writing teacher just so that I could honor Mrs. Harding’s legacy. To get into her class, we had to submit a portfolio…I guess this was my first real experience with acceptance and rejection.  Although….maybe not.

Because my father, when I was in ninth grade, saw me drawing a picture for my mom.  Dad took some time and looked at the picture, thoughtfully, and then asked me for a poem I had written that he had read.  He read the poem again, looked at the picture again, and then told me that I should abandon the picture and devote myself to writing…because I had real talent there.  The path Mrs. Fox had set me on was suddenly on fire as I saw myself as a writer, a valued writer because my father saw something in me.  I had never thought I had talent as a writer.  I just put words on a page because I could, not because I really wanted to.  But this changed with my father’s words.  He truly gave me acceptance when I needed it.  That poem, by the way, was published in my high school’s literary magazine.  But I never really think of this as my first chance at rejection….it was Mrs. Harding scrutinizing my portfolio.

Mrs. Harding:  I consider her my mentor, even though she probably had no idea how much I loved her and looked up to her.  Her class was an exercise in philosophy and freedom and absolute creativity.  In her classroom, we talked about politics, social issues, and problems within society.  In her class, I grieved the loss of my first friend who had died.  In her class, I peeled back the barriers between my emotions and myself and let my thoughts sputter onto paper which I promptly folded into quarters, shoved in the pockets of my jeans, and later mourned when my mom washed the laundry and obliterated my newest masterpieces.  Mrs. Harding’s first words to us daily was “circle up” and the classroom evolved from its sterile rows to a circle and I would curl up on the shelves/window sill and press my back against the window and listen to poetry and short stories and essays that would shape the last half of my adolescent life and leave a contrail that I can still see within myself today.  So often, I will say Mrs. Harding’s words and, every now and then, I mourn that I never wrote to her and thanked her before she died.

Dr. Van Ness, my favorite professor, my mentor, my thesis director, the near namesake for my son.  I love Dr. Van Ness.  When I was feeling lost and afraid at Longwood, Dr. Van Ness once just said to me, without any impetus, “Heather, when are you going to come and visit me in my office?”  Confession:  I had always wanted to be teacher’s pet and I never was.  Suddenly, a teacher, the hardest teacher in the department, reached out to me and made me feel…like I belonged.  He taught me so much more than British and American literature. He guided me to see literature through social, political, and cultural avenues.  He made me hone my writing. One year, I bought him a winged frog for his birthday (because who doesn’t need a winged frog?).  He mentioned how it would be the subject for a good story.  So I wrote him one.  And he said that he wanted to get it published.  And I wouldn’t let him because I was stupid and afraid of rejection, a major regret I now have.  Doesn’t matter, though….he saw something in me that I had forgotten, had lost sight of.  And, nowadays, when I question if I have any talent, I remember Dr. Van Ness asking me to get my story published…

I have so many more people to write about….so many more stories to tell.  Tomorrow…

Tomorrow I will write more.  Will show my love for Mama Katie and Sarah Wilkinson and….


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