We encounter so many people as we travel through life. Some are simply strangers that we pass as we carry out our daily routines. Others provide services for us. We get to know them and even like them but our only interaction is when they assist us. We work with many individuals. We often find kindred spirits who become lifelong friends. Others are destined to walk with us for a time and then quietly drift away. We see the faces, remember the stories, understand that each of them has touched us in some way.
I have taught thousands of students. Most of them are now lost to me. They moved on with their lives and I hope and pray that they have found happiness. I remember them and the impact that they had on my own life. It probably never occurs to them that I may be thinking about them, but I do. I worry about the ones who struggled and dream that somehow they ultimately found a way to change direction and find the pathways that they needed. I imagine what the outstanding ones may have achieved. Mostly I want to think that they are all doing okay.
Once in a while we experience the great joy of being reunited with people who have been absent for a very long time. It is an exhilarating experience to find them once again. Of late I have learned about the fates of many people from my childhood, my teenage years. I now know that they have done their best to be good people. They have families and accomplishments of which they are quite proud. They did well during the years when we had drifted apart. It is comforting to find them again and realize that our friendships are so easily revived.
I have also found my former students from time to time. They have recognized me in stores, at the movies, while I was dining out. They are adults who are hardly recognizable save for the smiles that return their faces to the innocence of their youth. I remember their names, where they sat in my class, the talents that they were displaying way back when. It thrills me to learn about them. There is no greater gift.
Facebook may have its flaws but it has served as a conduit for finding those who have been lost. On any given day I may learn about yet another person who was important to me but who somehow became a stranger. Just a few days ago it was through that social network that I learned about one of my students, a brilliantly talented young woman who had caught my attention when she was in my class.
She had found my profile on Facebook and had tried to reach out to me with a private message over three years ago. She opened her heart to me and must have felt hurt when I never replied. Somehow the algorithm that determines what I see on my wall prevented me from receiving her message. It simply languished in a file somewhere in cyber space while I was unaware that it even existed. In a twist of fate, last week it somehow showed up along with other notes that had not previously come to my attention. I can’t explain why the words of my student suddenly appeared from so many years before but I am glad that they did. In the hopes that she was still somewhere out there I replied. Only minutes later she and I were conversing. It was so wonderfully serendipitous and somehow seemed to be destined.
There are people who touch our hearts so dramatically that we never forget them. This student is one such person. She was in a period of rebellion when I met her, often misunderstood by those who demanded a more regimented loyalty from the younger generation. I saw her as the magnificent soul that she was. Her talents were extraordinary. She possessed a creative imagination that marked her giftedness in virtually everything that she touched. She was so wonderfully unordinary. Mostly though I realized that somehow those demanding conformance had somehow confused her so that she didn’t fully understand her own brilliance. I tried to encourage her but never knew if I had been able to touch her beautiful heart.
I found out that she had dropped out for a time. I suspect that she had to determine who she really wanted to be. She moved to Arkansas where she experienced nature and the seasons. She began her own business as a baker and she one day began to consider even bigger ideas. She told me that I had influenced her thinking and that she wasn’t sure if she should consider being a teacher. Mostly she believes that her true talent lies in being a counselor and to that end she has enrolled in classes at a university near her home. She seems to have found an inner peace with her own soul.
I believe that she has the intellect and the strength to be anything that she wishes. She will be an asset in whichever field she chooses to pursue. She is a gentle soul filled with kindness and understanding. She has accepted herself and found the maturity and determination to march to her own drumbeat which is in actuality much like a symphony. I’m glad that I may now once again encourage her to be the person that I always believed she might be.
Somehow each of us manages to sometimes be in the right place at the right time. I suspect from her comments that this young woman thinks that I may have saved her when she was still young but the reality is that she saved me. At the time that I was teaching her my mother was in one of the most horrific stages of her mental illness. Were it not for the beautiful distraction of teaching I too may have gone insane. Working with students and especially those like this very special one kept me optimistic. They also provided me with a purpose beyond caring for my mom. It was good to get away from the horror over which I seemed to have so little control and to believe that just maybe I might be able to accomplish something worthwhile. Knowing that I did touch someone’s heart is a great gift because there were times when I was juggling so many balls in the air that I felt dizzy. I wondered if I was doing anything right.
What I would want this wonderful student to know is that she burrowed into my soul. I kept an image of her there and took it out from time to time with great pleasure. Now perhaps the two of us may keep in touch and support one another anew. I’ll never understand exactly how or why that simple message from her so suddenly flashed on my screen but I do know that it meant the world to me. Welcome back, Kristen. I’ve missed you.