As with most single people, I spend time thinking about love: cherished memories, detours I’ve taken, mistakes I’ve made, ways in which I want to get it right next time. There is so much looking back or planning for the future that I nearly missed it. I nearly missed the most valuable lesson in love life offered me.
I walk from the back of the classroom up the aisle to my teacher’s desk. As I get close to Annabelle’s table, I notice her head is down. I slide into the chair next to hers and I whisper: “Are you overly tired or is there something going on?”. She lifts her head from within her elbow and turns towards me. Her glasses cannot hide the tears that fill her eyes. She tells the story of some family problems. I acknowledge how rough her situation is then stand up, walk to my desk, and take a deep breath knowing how little control I have over the help I can provide.
I spend some time thinking about my options before returning to her table and asking permission to phone the counselor to get her some help navigating this. If given her approval to have the conversation, the counselor can inform teachers. Annabelle may then get some time to balance home and school life. She agrees, we put the plan into motion, and I offer Annabelle the best words I can muster to let her know I am here to listen if she needs to talk.
The significance for me from that moment does not dawn on me until later in the week. I am out on a run by myself through the streets of Fishtown. Across Lehigh Avenue up Frankford Avenue, near Palmer Park I stop to walk a bit. I have become her, the teacher I promised myself I’d be.
I’m sixteen, my mom sits across from me in my bedroom asking why I did it. Why did I try to hang myself? I didn’t know, or moreso, I didn’t have an answer that I could tell her. She talked about how I’d probably never meet Axl Rose and that sometimes when things are tough all we can do is “pray that things get better”. The power of those words motivate me for many years because I would take pride in how much I accomplished without the power of prayer. Yet, I made a promise to myself some time between that bedroom conversation and the thirty days I spent in Philadelphia Psychiatric Center. I would become an English teacher who would teach students to use the power of their voices to express themselves through speaking and writing. As a student who put her head down frequently, who was suffering from depression, who was suicidal, I needed someone to notice me. No one noticed me, I hoped I would notice someone.
This year, this year, the moment opened to me. Through the perfect storm of running, yoga, searching for a truth within myself, facing the sensitive souls of teenagers, and writing, I met that sixteen-year-old self and learned to be with, learned to love, her and, to the best of my ability, act from that loving, caring, gentle place.
I think about how throughout my years of teaching, students have sat in front of me on bad days and good. I’ve taken phone calls in front of them about making decisions to need to end my mom’s life support and the finding of malignant cells in my body. They’ve applauded for me when my essays got published and they’ve laughed with, or at, me when I got up on stage to dance.
And, I think of all of the messy times in between. Some days, I screw up. I overreact, I engage in verbal scuffles, I swallow my pride, I ask for apologies, I gain forgiveness. Vice versa from the students’ sides too. We just never seem to stay mad at each other for very long and we come back to realizing that we are in this, their education, life, making sense of the often crazy world, chasing our dreams, together.
I am surrounded by love many times over on a daily basis. I sigh in gratitude and think of how I have probably been thinking about this love thing all wrong for a while. I pick up my pace and I smile to myself.
This day, I realize I am the person I promised myself I would be and I am living love.