Yesterday, I received a message from a former student, Mary, who graduated about six years ago. She was a member of one of the best AP Lang classes I ever taught and a class that still ranks amongst my favorite classes I have ever taught. I am truly blessed because so many of her classmates (Mary included) are Facebook friends of mine; it’s like I can still walk into that classroom from so many years ago and we can talk about literature while eating ravioli.
So, Mary contacted me. She’s in town and wanted to see if we could get together. And without thought, I immediately agreed because…well…it’s Mary. And Mary’s amazing.
I have seen Mary’s amazing-ness years ago. I saw it in the grace with which she moved, in the deep chuckles of her laughter, in the brilliance of her smile. I felt it in the power of her hug and saw it in how she would curl up in her chair and talk literature and rhetorical analysis and language and persuasion and research.
I saw it when she taped four pieces of paper together and sketched out a hand sewing together the Earth. I still have that sketch. It’s framed and in my office because I keep on meaning to take it to my classroom but I can’t because I love it so much.
I saw it when she did a stifled drawing of a clementine orange while talking about literature and rhetorical analysis and themes and social commentaries.
I saw it when she offered advice to her classmates. Or the time she mischievously advised me “not to do it” (I’m not certain what “it” was ) when a student suggested that the way a Chinese family removed the body of their deceased daughter (a story about suicide in the book Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston) was by letting it “float down the river.” I just looked to the side, away from the girl who suggested this impossible possibility and caught Mary’s eye.
I wasn’t upset.
Amused. Very amused. And perplexed at the process of how a well became a river.
I love Mary. I have loved her for years because she keeps on coming back into my world and makes it brilliant with the nuances of her laughter and the arc of her incredible grin. She gives me joy in the way she will still curl up in her seat and tell me stories and then ask me questions and the next thing I know hours have passed and I haven’t noticed the passage of time and I mourn the fact that the time has passed because I have to return to my world of mundane paper grading and household chores.
I love Mary’s practicality. Her presence of mind and how when she talks to a person she is truly and fully present and isn’t staring off at the world around her. I love her sincerity. Her lust to live life in its most pure form.
Mary is currently a nurse working in the…let’s see if I can get this right….mid-thorassic telemetry unit. I think I got it right. I was able to figure out most of what she did through vocabulary analysis. Woot for language. And she told me stories, today, about one of her patients, a woman in her seventies who calls Mary Nurse Mary.
What a perfect name for such a perfect woman. Because even though Mary is only in her early twenties, she truly is a remarkable woman who is wiser than her years and is so much more than just a young twenty-something year old woman. I’m not trying to degrade her or debase her based on her age.
But it’s so easy to underestimate the young, to merely bypass their words and their thoughts and their ideas because of the nature of their youth. And Mary is a woman I would never underestimate because I have seen how she processes information and how she gives of herself without thought.
She saves lives. Even if she doesn’t think she does because, in her stories, she merely cleans the dressing/wounds, handles medication, and ensures that her patients are comfortable. But when she described to me the stories of her current favorite patient, I could see the love Mary feels illuminate every corner of her body to the point that she was a burning torch with the passion she feels for her job, for her patients, for this one woman.
Nurse Mary sat with me at Starbucks for three hours and pulled stories out of me that I never tell people because they are my stories. And in telling her those stories, I felt different levels of microscopic weight lift and fall upwards into layers of the atmosphere and become particles of clouds that were flowing off to the horizon.
Nurse Mary has offered to give me field hockey sticks for the Girl to help nourish the Girl’s newfound love of field hockey. Nurse Mary has allowed me to adapt her into a character in a future young adult series that I want to write. Nurse Mary even remembered the title of my current novel and asked that I finish editing it so that she could read it.
Nurse Mary encouraged me in my aspiration to hike the Appalachian Trail and talked about how encouraged and motivated she was by my choices and my actions.
It’s not that I am looking for extrinsic approval. It’s not that I am dependent on the approval of my former students.
But listening to Nurse Mary’s wonderful laughter and feeling the powerful pressure of her hug as she hugged me not once or twice but three…four…times (I’m not certain…I didn’t count because I was too busy laughing and telling her how much I loved her), I was once more aware of my new sense of confidence, of the healing that I have been experiencing over the last year….a healing that I didn’t know that I needed but, God, I am so grateful that I have undergone.
Nurse Mary gave me a reminder of the joys of life, joys that I do my best not to take for granted. She is the personification for my hope for this world. For as long as Nurse Mary is upon the Earth and caring for her patients, she is bringing a powerful and remarkable healing that will change the world.