I’ve been privileged to know many lovely people in my young and not-so-young life.
Alberta who loved us thoroughly and for whom I cried bitterly when we moved back to Germany my first time. Grandmas, grandpas, aunties and cousins.
I almost could be persuaded to believe in God again just because of the enduring legacy and love of the teachers in my life (I’m thinking of you, David Huebner.)
This is the story I want to begin to tell. The other part of the story where people are good and kind and thoughtful and patient and insightful into the mind and heart of a child long undone. You’ve heard the hellish rest.
These people – so many teachers! – called me out on my unused potential and smartass ways, slipped me books and things to do while the rest of the class finished their work, covered my grubby hands with their safe and gentle ones, looked me in the eyes, spoke life over me and challenged me to look toward a hopeful future of learning and peaceful sleep. Not every teacher had the inclination or words of life, but most sure did.
Yep, I was that kid. A bit jumpy, needy, knobby and skinny; too smart for the profile, always in fight or flight mode, distracted and smelling too often of stale smoke and god knows what.
These people loved me in practical ways and they helped keep me afloat well into my adult years. How? Because I remember their kindness and words and hope for me. And their admonition to find a way to life through learning.
Shahin, our Turkish bus driver, who was ridiculously brilliant and perky and completely underemployed as a guest worker. He loved us and didn’t care that he was Muslim and we were scrappy little heathens. He also occasionally treated us to ice cream when the “staus” (traffic jams) on the autobahn made us super late getting back to the house over the Neckar river.
Janet Ostrom, John Entwhistle, Toufy Haddad, David Huebner, Don Carrier and Madame Sanchez: these are the names, the voices and the words that return to me even now.
Janet Ostrom did not look away from us, my siblings and I, in our scruffyness. John Entwhistle, the dashing skier, and Toufy Haddad, the endlessly patient and excited-about-learning scholar, both gave me extra work to do and lesson plans to create because I was often bored in class waiting on others to finish and I was outcast. David Huebner spoke life to me and gave me words that propped me up over years and years of internal drought. Don Carrier told the best stories in 8th grade geometry class and he loved his students like a gentle and storytelling grandfather would. (I still remember Theorem 3-13, “vertical angles are congruent.”)
Madame Sanchez tried to have me expelled for cursing at her in three of the seven languages she fluently spoke and she taught me that “Rolling your eyes is ugly. Don’t be ugly.” She was my one shot at anything remotely like charm school; she was tough and that was good. Madame Sanchez was the quintessential take no sh*t and do no harm teacher.
The Thuy family and the reclusive German woman who liked the herd of dogs we marched past her door each day; lunch ladies, principals and Herr Wolf who gave me the lead as Maria in the 5th grade Christmas concert because – I am convinced – he hoped to help raise my abysmal social capital. My friend, Steve Ratliff.
People who looked me in the eyes when what they saw was often bewildered and scrappy at best.
They were everyday ordinary people like us who took the time to notice, to listen and speak; pat a greasy head without flinching and to reflect a possibility of better things ahead if I was willing to work for them, take risks and keep learning.
I want to be like those people. In fact, I have tried to be like those people only I just realized it today. All of the years trying to be important and cool when really all I needed to be was present and aware – brave enough to act on a willingness to care about others. To help people see a pathway to life and the means to launch and relaunch in the everyday ordinary business of living. I can do that.
In this season of quieting and learning to be still, I finally detect another of my key motivators: seeing other people. Really seeing them.
And getting outside to play.
Let us be the people we needed – and often had in spades or spurts – when we were younger.
And let’s get outside and play.