A few years ago, before I’d ever thought myself bold enough to make a 3,000 mile away life-changing move – in what seems sometimes like another lifetime all-together – I was a high school English teacher in an inner city school in Massachusetts. Two months after my father died unexpectedly, I knew that my life needed a change and new meaning (and above all, a distraction) and I accepted a job teaching. Some thought me crazy, in such a delicate emotional state, to take on the challenge of teaching high schoolers in a city, but the experience is one that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
To express my gratitude for this time of my life would be almost impossible. These rough and tough teenagers became my lifeline. They got me out of bed at 5:45am every morning, whether I had the strength or not, and demanded that I show up for them. They forced me to hold back my tears for those 6 hours and act like I had it all together. While I mourned and grieved the death of my father, they helped me to feel whole again and to heal from unimaginable loss. They made me laugh until tears came to my eyes. Sometimes, I wondered who learned more – them or me. In quiet moments, I’d let them in and tell them about what was going on in my life at any given time, and listen carefully as they answered my problems with the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. I always tell people: If you want to know the truth about something, ask a child or a teenager – everyone else considers your feelings before answering. But, with children and teenagers, you get bare boned truth – whether you like it or not. They, literally, became my children.
Needless to say, teaching wasn’t always a pleasant experience. There were days I left utterly defeated and broken. There were days I cried for them and the difficult things they encountered – unspeakable things I’d never wish upon anyone, let alone fragile teenagers. Their strength inspired me. There were days I cried because of them, and how difficult they could be.
One particularly difficult day, with a classroom full of 9th graders before me, in my fourth year of teaching, I gave up. I literally threw up my hands and yelled, “That’s it! I’m done.” After trying, without success, to get them to do as I’d asked amid their noise and refusals, I told them that I wouldn’t be bothering them for the rest of the class. To do whatever they wanted. They looked at me quizzically, wondering when I’d give them the punishment for not listening. They quieted down. Eventually, they felt badly for making me so upset, and we started talking. I knew that the lesson of the day was lost at that point, and let conversation flow the way they wanted it to. It went something like this:
Them: “Why should we bother with any of this, Miss? It’s stupid. We’re not going anywhere.”
Me: “What do you mean you’re not going anywhere?”
Them: “Uh, we’re not going anywhere. We’re never going to use this. We’re going to be living here forever.”
Me: “No. No, you’re not. You guys can do absolutely anything you want to. Anything you set your minds to and work for. Look at me…I know that there isn’t anything I can’t do. You guys could tell me to do the most impossible thing, and I’d make it happen, because we each possess the power to do anything. ”
Them: “Yeah, right. Prove it.”
Me: (Oh, crap.) “Fine. Tell me what to do and I”ll do it.”
Them: (lots of discussion going on out of my earshot) “Meet Drake.”
Me: (without hesitation) “Done.”
Them: “Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen.”
Me: “Uhhh yes, it is. It may not happen tomorrow, but someday, I’m going to meet Drake, and I will prove it to you… and at that moment, you’ll say ‘Wow, she was right, anything is possible.’ “
After that class, nothing tangible changed. They weren’t suddenly inspired and they didn’t decide that they were capable of anything they put their mind to. Life went on, as it always does. I woke the next day, went to school, and taught my lessons. But I hadn’t forgotten my promise to them. And I knew that somehow, life would help me fulfill it.
Fast forward, 3 years later, to today. I’m at work, running around like a crazy person, but loving every single minute of it, when in walks none other than Drake himself. I knew I had to approach him and somehow convey that I needed to prove to a bunch of high schoolers in Massachusetts that anything was possible and I needed his help to do it. I mustered up my guts, and I told my story. He was a complete gentleman. He shook my hand, introduced himself, and gave a small smile, pausing to take two photos with me. And in that moment, not only did I know I’d proven to my students that anything was possible, but to myself, too. Life, truly, knows no bounds.
Sometimes the best lessons we teach are those we can access ourselves at moments of personal weakness. This was the case today, as I needed badly to remember that I may be small, but I am capable of anything I set my mind to. It’s a big world, but we are bigger.
Thank you, beautiful students, young people, our future, for teaching me so very much about myself and about what it means to matter to someone. Thank you for loving me and pushing me to work so hard. Thank you for still wanting to be a part of my life, so that, even now, 3 years later, I’m able to show you that I never forgot my promise to you, and I did it. Barbie did it.
Thank you, Mom, for always telling me (especially this morning before work) that I am capable of absolutely anything I want to do, because anything is possible. Today is a reminder of that, and I know I’m destined to grab this world and show it who I am.
Above all, thank you, Drake. Thank you for helping me prove to these young people, who look at you as an impossibility (and to myself) that truly, if we can dream it, we can make it happen. I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but I have to put it out there in the Universe because your small gesture is actually not small at all, and it will come back to you.
To My Sci-Tech babies,
Here’s your proof. What now?
Live your dreams. Think of the impossible and make it happen.
I love you guys, so very much.