Taking Care of the Little Things


I suffered through school. It scarred me, and I hated it. Teachers have let bureaucracy grip the classroom. Gaining tenure and benefits has too often trumped helping children find success. There are great teachers in our school systems, but how many of them have their talents placed in a position of irrelevance?

I'm sure this point of view will anger some, and will even be read as an insult by a few, but a dozen years in the system didn't do me a lot of good, and though there are few things in life I look upon cynically, school is one of them.

But five of my teachers were pivotal in making me who I am today. I owe them for my success as a person, and my success as an intelligent and thoughtful human being. They made school bearable, and gave learning purpose.

One of these teachers was my high school guidance councilor, who sacrificed a lot of her own time for me.

I met her at Wal-Mart today, in the bread aisle. I said hello, and twenty minutes later I felt I had connected with another person in a way I hadn't connected with anyone in quite a while. She's retired now, and though there's a forty+ year gap in our ages, I found that we still had a lot in common.

Maybe this common ground was what drew us together when I was younger, over ten years ago. I think so. I think she understood me.

I mentioned five teachers who were pivotal in my growth. Each of these teachers have two things in common. They were the only teachers who I feel understood who I was, what I dealt with emotionally, and who took the time out of their schedule to see me through, to give me even five minutes of one-on-one time, and who motivated me with love.

They were passionate about what they did, and that passion wore off on me.

Today my former teacher and I talked about some of these things, discussing how school fits some students, while others are left alienated and alone, surviving in a setting they find wholly uncomfortable, as I did. She admitted that she felt the same way, even as a teacher.

The role of guidance councilor fit her perfectly, as it left her to herself and allowed her to reach students one on one or in very small groups. Their guards let down, she was able to communicate with them in a way only a very rare teacher or parent can manage to communicate.

This was how we spoke to one another today, completely openly, honestly, genuinely.

So why, later, did I feel so vulnerable and scared?

While I spoke to her I was glued to that moment, giving not a care about anything other than what we were discussing. It was fun, and even more importantly, it was enlightening. I learned a lot in that short period of time—too short. I learned people still care, that I'm not alone, that there are others like me who feel the same way about the world, a little cynical and under pressure by a society who doesn't treat well its introverts, yet still fascinated by life.

When we said goodbye and walked away, my heart dropped. I had lost the confidence I had just gained, and felt demoralized and even a bit depressed.

I was keenly aware of life's impermanence. I was fourteen years old when I first met her. Ten years had traveled swiftly by, and we were both much older now.

But more so than anything else, I felt empty. I had opened my soul to another person, and though it was worth it, later I had no way to immediately close myself up again. I was leaking soul-matter all over Wal-Mart.

Is this why more people don't open up on a deeper level, connecting with each other how many people like myself wish they would? I'm a sharer. I have no trouble at all getting down to the nitty-gritty details of life. My closest friends know this, as I've shared things with them that are uncomfortable for both sharer and listener. Yet each time I open myself up I feel two things. I feel it is worth it, and later I feel guilty.

How can it be both? How can something so wonderful—connecting with someone—be so painful?

All I can say now that I've gotten hold of my emotions and have gradually found the good in what has happened today is that I want to make her proud of me. I want to make the other four teachers proud of me as well, even if I haven't spoken to some of them in nearly 20 years.

I want to do for others what they have done for me. I can do this through my writing, I know, since books provide such a rich learning experience for readers, and on that level I will be teaching, or at least sharing knowledge, but I want to go deeper than that.

I feel that I can repay their kindness by being, myself, a good person.

Patient, passionate, compassionate, confident. As they were.

If these five teachers have taught me anything, it's that we can change another person's life by doing something as simple as caring. A smile, a kind word, a minute of attention. Sometimes the smallest things make the most lasting gifts.

One teacher taught me to read and write, and another taught me to enjoy reading and writing. One teacher taught me to never doubt my talents, and another encouraged me to use them.

And my high school guidance councilor, she showed me that I never have to go through life alone.

Today she reinforced that lesson.

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24 Responses to Taking Care of the Little Things

  1. Yet each time I open myself up I feel two things. I feel it is worth it, and later I feel guilty.

    How can it be both? How can something so wonderful—connecting with someone—be so painful?

    Very true. I've been contemplating this exact thing over the past couple of weeks. Another great read J.R. as always. Thanks.

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    1. Getting to know people takes courage. The more I think about it the less I want to criticize the mass of people who don't bridge that gap.

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  2. "Sometimes the smallest things make the most lasting gifts" - Absolutely, J.R.!
    We remember or are drawn to certain people not because they are smart or wise or wealthy, but because they are caring and not afraid to show it. They are the ones who smile and encourage us; who want to know who we really are. Then, love us just the same.
    I think that's where the "guilty" comes in . . . we bare our souls and then think - how could this person still like me after what I just confessed?
    The good news? The do!
    Beautiful reflection here, J.R. - so glad I stopped by. :)
    Blessings!

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  3. I envy you your five teachers. Sadly I had none of such, or at least none who reached out to me. Maybe, if I'd had just a little encouragement I'd have been writing long since rather than only in the last few years. What I am I carved for myself, and though I see myself as selfish in many ways, helping others serves its own ends and I do love to help others learn the craft of writing as I learned it myself.

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    1. I understand perfectly, Anna. I am sure I was not the easiest child to be around, especially in school when I was often bored out of my mind, but I was very fortunate to have a few teachers who saw something positive in me. I also know others aren't as fortunate. They slip through the cracks and it breaks my heart.

      I have to stop myself from being bitter about it all. :(

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  4. This was a very reflective post. I have to say it makes me want to get back in touch with my old high school mentor. He was the best! I was heavily into animal rights when I was in high school and was willing to do just about anything to get my point across. He taught me some valuable lessons...one being that nothing is ever black and white and another being that I should always try to see where the other person is coming from. I still use those lessons he taught me those many years ago.

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    1. Those are invaluable lessons. We simply cannot live in a "society" without them. Some try though...

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  5. I had one teacher who took a deep interest, I was to move into his family home my sophomore year, he died in an accident that summer. I was never able to connect again and sadly gave up. You were so truly blessed JR.

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  6. JRN:

    I'm a teacher and this post has helped me immensely to think what I am doing. I cannot remember any teacher from my school who was like the one you've mentioned but College helped me connect with wonderful teachers.

    Thanks for this post, dear JRN.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. You're so very welcome, Susan. If this post helps even one single teacher, I'm truly honored and proud that I wrote it. The world needs teachers like these for every student.

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  7. In can be scary opening up to people, leaving that fear behind perhaps after we have seen them. To open up we need to have a degree of trust in them and also make ourselves vulnerable.
    I guess I'm paid to help people and to allow them to open up and I always try to remember how they may feel afterwards.

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    1. You're one of the best people I know, so I hope those who open up to you don't suffer as badly as I do sometimes. You're doing a more important job than teachers, imo, taking care of those society has absolutely no use for anymore, except to enjoy.

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  8. Hello JR.
    I never liked school...hated it in fact and left when I was only 14 (much to the disgust & ire of my parents). There have been times in life I wish I had stayed & learnt more, especially when it comes to English grammar, which I am not very good at, but I have never let my lack of skill in that department deter me. If anything, it has propelled me to be the best I can be.

    When we share & open up ourselves, we become vulnerable. Some misuse that vulnerability, while others take it & nurture it into loving & caring relationships. You are fortunate to have had that with your teachers. Some people go through life never having experienced that kind of relationship.
    Very reflective post JR.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Andy.

      It's never too late to learn. I feel I've learned more since I've been out of school than I ever did in school. They taught me to read and write and do some math and I'm thankful for that, but I'm my best educator.

      I know many who would take advantage of that vulnerability. I stay away from them the best I can.

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    2. BTW JR, I have a special gift for you at my blog.
      Award Time...Sharing The Love Again!

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  9. I wonder how many writers, artists, and musicians dreaded school. I know that after my first year, I most surely did. As you note, it was the few caring teachers that made the ordeal bearable. Bless their kind souls.

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    1. I bet a great many dreaded it! A teacher has a large effect on how we fit in and what direction we go in. Many of us probably needed to feel a bit like outcasts and yet still have at least one guiding light to get us through it. Maybe...

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  10. I was lucky, very lucky. In high school, I had some very good teachers, each of whom I owe a great deal to.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that, William. The other way makes me sad.

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  11. Such a great post. I had a couselor who helped me through a touch time and had a few teachers who molded me. I know exactly how you feel about the sharing. I used to be very closed off, but something happened that made that change and now I share too much. So I try to be careful now about sharing too much too soon.

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    1. I think sharers are better for it, but I like your way, to be careful not to share too much too soon.

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  12. JR, this is a wonderful post and there is so much to think about. I too am a teacher and feel the huge responsibility that this brings. I'm sorry to hear that you had such a terrible time in school. Unfortunately, for many school is often a battleground. Do you know the poem "Back in the Playground Blues" It is so important for teachers to make their classes safe and nurturing places to be. My philosophy is to give children confidence and they will learn, my colleague's teach them to read and write and they will have confidence, two very different approaches.
    You say you want to do for others what these five teachers did for you, you can do this through your writing. This is true, however I think you will have more influence through your direct contact with people, through your openness and sharing, even if this openness leaves you "leaking soul matter all over Wal-Mart" (I love this phrase) Never close yourself off, be true to yourself, the road will be difficult but worth every hard step.

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    1. That's beautiful, thank you! I agree, I can do more for others on an individual and personal level than I think I could ever accomplish through writing, but I hope writing can also open the doors to meeting new people to have an effect on individually and personally.

      I think the confidence comes first. Many people don't learn because they don't think they can, and it's sad that society reinforces this on a near-daily basis :(

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