“You Changed My Life.”

Today was a think-about-Sarah kind of a day, a day where I couldn’t get one of my former students out of my mind.  I was asked a question about important students and she almost immediately popped into my mind.

As a teacher, I work with up to 75 students or more on a daily basis and it’s hard to try and make a connection with even ten percent of them.  I love my kids.  I really do, but I have students who are very much hands-off kinds of students and I respect them for this trait.

Sarah, from the moment I saw her, was special.  I always remember her with her brilliant blue eyes staring at me while she held her pen expectantly, waiting for me to drop some nugget of amazingness.  Poor girl.  First of all, I don’t drop amazing nuggets.  I might give a kernel of information here and there, but the only nuggets I drop on a consistent basis…never mind.  That’s just getting crass.

Second of all, she inhabited a class that was..well…yeah.  I don’t want to write anything that might be hurtful but…yeah.  Ninety precent of the students were wonderful.  A couple were…well God loved them.  That’s for sure.

The first writing assignment was about a rite of passage.  I think Sarah wrote about moving from Indiana to Virginia.  I can’t remember if it was her first or second essay, though, that made me drop my pen and force myself to breathe because the writing was so beautiful.  She took words and strung them on colorful sentences and pulled the reader through her many-spectrumed mind.  Walking through her essays was much like walking through a forest saturated in beauty.  I never wanted to leave.

One essay (number one or two…can’t remember), I read to the class.  Here she was, a junior in a senior level class, and her essay was fan-friggin-tastic.  It rang with voice, tone, mood, rhythm, imagery, metaphors, and similes.  All the greats out there took a deep breath and sighed as they recognized a future initiate had stepped into their ranks.

And I was the lucky woman to be her teacher.  Because I got to read her work for not one but two years.

Sarah is perseverance and strength and resilience and courage.  She has a debilitating disease which, when it flares, can pretty much cripple her due to pain.  However, she still goes to classes and still does her work and still does her best to capture the essence of life and put it in a bottle so that she might sip on its nectar day in and day out.

When she applied for college, she knew she would need financial aid.  I remember the day she came to me, her beautiful eyes bronzed with tears, because the financial aid package was nowhere near sufficient for her to attend her dream school.  Together, we picked up the pieces of her shattered dream, put them together with hopes and prayers that maybe a little mercy would be found, and tried again.  She made phone calls that I would have never have been brave enough to make and talked to people only as a mature young woman could talk and advocated for herself.  I can barely advocate for my children and this incredible person advocated for herself.

Strength, perseverance, integrity, dignity….

She got the money, even though I seriously doubted she would receive anything more than a pat on the hand and a “better luck next time” statement.  She was radiant hope and ecstatic joy when the letters came through confirming that she was going to be able to attend the perfect school.

Hope, beauty, glory, gentleness.

I believe for Christmas, I gave her a pen.  For my 16th birthday present, my parents gave me a pen as an acknowledgement that I loved to write and that writing was my life’s blood.  This was far more meaningful than a car or a huge party could ever be.  I was being given a tangible gift of their approval and acceptance, even though my dad wasn’t crazy for my poetry because it didn’t rhyme.

I held on to that pen for years, barely using it.  It was too lovely to be held in my gangly hands that are nothing more than clumsy mitts on the ends of my arms.  But, as Christmas neared, I looked at the box and that beautiful pen and thought of my Sarah.  My beloved girl who dreams of writing and is an amazing writer (yes, I switched tenses…deal with it.  She is still my beloved girl and she still dreams of writing and she still is an amazing writer!).  Maybe the pen would never fit very well into my hand, but I knew it would fit into hers.

So I did my best job at wrapping (another debacle is watching me try to be girly and wrap things all nice and pretty….I do a great job with tape though!) and wrote her a letter about the pen and when I received it and how I was passing it on to her.

And soon after, I received a letter from Sarah, written to her future protege, about her mentor and the pen and the day Sarah received the pen and how Sarah had held on to this pen until she knew it was time to pass it on.

I don’t cry at school.  I was damn close to tears that day.  I might have actually cried but I might deny it because I don’t cry at school.  All right.  I probably did well up and actually leak out a couple (lots) of tears.  But this was important.  Because Sarah is/was important.

Sarah will always be important.

This last Christmas, Sarah created her own personal literary magazine that showcased her growth as a writer.  As I turned the pages of my own personal copy, I found the dedications page.

It was to me.

Even as I type these letters, my heart aches with pent up emotion because it is so lovely and means so very much to me.  Because I didn’t think I gave her that many kernels or nuggets.  But, somehow, this great woman who is published dedicated a personal literary magazine to me.

I don’t deserve this.

And, on the last page, on the fly-leaf of the back cover, was an advertisement.  For The Pear Tree House.  My baby.  My novel.

Oh, Sarah.  I could write you a million poems that would show you my love and appreciation and thanks.  But they will never fully tell you the rich stories that we share.

I hope this blog, somehow, does a little justice to your wonderfulness.  Because you are, indeed, wonderful.

Love you!  Mean it!

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2 thoughts on ““You Changed My Life.”

  1. Thank you so much Heather. This is precious and you are precious. We’ve both impacted each other so much and I’m so thankful to have ended up in your class on that first day at Clover Hill. And yes you do give me nuggets of useful knowledge. You gave me the whole mountain. Without you I wouldn’t be writing, and that’s huge.

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