Thursday, November 1, 2007

August 23, 2006

Have you really had a teacher? One that saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right along side their beds.

The last class of my old professors life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.

The teaching goes on.

In an attempt to have my students reflect on the people that have made an impact on their lives, I read to them Tuesdays With Morrie at the end of the term. I ask them, Have you met your Morrie yet? Tell me about them. My heart swells with stories of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, ministers, and yes, sometimes even a teacher that is found within a classroom. Inevitably, they ask me about my Morrie. Though prepared for the question, I always weep.

MKJ was my junior and senior English teacher in high school. She saved me in a way. She very much saw me as a raw and precious thing. She saw something in me that I was unable to see. I was a difficult teenager. I acted out. I questioned everything. I pushed boundaries. To make it worse, I was a very smart kid with an even smarter attitude. She was relentless and never gave up on me. I vividly remember a football game when she grabbed me by the shirt, took me to my parents, and said, "John and Cindy, when you kick her out of your house, and you know you should, she has a room at my house. Together we will help her find her potential."

I was shocked that a. she said that to my parents, b. she really was willing to put me up if my parents put me out, and c. she actually cared. It was a slow process, one that would take years, but eventually I figured out what she was talking about...the reaching my own potential.

MKJ and I kept in contact for years via email and the occassional visits. I updated her frequently, but like many times, life starts to get in the way. Too busy to return the email or phone call. Computers crash and email addresses are lost. After a few years, I desperately tried to get in contact with MKJ. No response. I was convinced that I had dissappointed her or worse that something tragic had happened to her. Eventually through the grapevine I heard that she had retired due to health issues. I was really unsure as to what had happened to MKJ.

However, today as I was walking down the hall lost in thought, I literally ran into someone in the hallway. I looked up and it was MKJ! Immediately we hugged and both wept. Her first words, "Where have you been?! You are one of the ones that sits in my heart!" We briefly caught up and traded every bit of contact information that either of us could provide to insure that we NEVER lose contact again. I called my mom soon after and cried again. My mom said, "Remember, I always told you everything happens for a reason!"

This afternoon I immediately sat down and sent MKJ a very long email updating her on my life and asking about hers. I want to share with you the last paragraph of what I wrote to her today.

I am so excited to be in contact with you again. I can't thank you enough for making a huge difference in my life, not just in high school, but even when I was deciding a degree program, a profession, deciding what kind of adult I wanted to become, and more importantly, when I am making decisions about my kids on what really matters. Your influence has reached beyond me and has helped me be a better person and teacher and in turn helped to make many a student success story. My kids always ask me who my mentor/role model is. I always say the women in my family and my most favorite teacher, MKJ! As a repayment I have made a decision "to pay it forward". That is how we change the world.

I am so excited that this year, when I am asked who my Morrie is not only will I tell them about this woman, I will be able to tell them of our reconnection and our on going friendship. Not only was I lucky enough to find her the first time, she returned!

I do indeed believe our own personal Morries help us to change the world one small moment at a time. I hope you all take the time to think about the question I pose to my students at the end of reading the book...who is your Morrie? I hope that you are able to share your stories and pay it forward as well.

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