Last Friday I took my friend to the airport on my way to the college to return a data projector and video camera that I borrowed for Dad's memorial service. I was feeling particularly despondent after dropping him off because he was such a big help with preparing the food for the services and he was one of the people who Dad had one of his last games of dominoes with.
I decided to go to the beauty supplier to get some hair care products for Sunita and I. I was looking at one of the shelves when I looked up and saw one of my students from many years ago. I remembered her name - Nicky - don't even ask how given the number of students I taught in my teaching career. I called out her name and she looked at me hesitantly and said "Sandra?" When I smiled and said yes, she came right over and hugged me. She was as happy to see me as I was her. We started talking and I was truly amazed at the things she remembered about me. I talked first though, telling her what I remembered about her. I recalled one day in school when she would have been no more than 18 or 19 and she was laughing about something but promptly covered her mouth. Why? She had a very small mouth crowded with teeth so they were very crooked and crossed over each other. She was embarrassed about her smile so each time she smiled or laughed she covered her mouth. I told her that day that no one who smiles as much as she does should be embarrassed. She told me that if she could afford to, she would get her teeth fixed. I told her that if that was something important for her, then she should find an orthodontist and get her teeth fixed, no matter the cost because she will have that for the rest of her life.
A year later, she came back to school and told me that her aunt had loaned her $1000 toward her orthodontist costs and she set aside some money each month to pay for the rest of it. Today she has a beautiful smile - in fact - a beautiful laugh. She was surprised that I would remember that but I did. She said that it was because of me that she has this lovely smile. She then told me some other amazing things. She remembered that I had a beautiful smile, that I was always smiling and that my lips were glossy and they still were. She remembered that one day I was doing her make-up and after I was done, I gave her a beauty mark near her left eye with an eyebrow pencil and said she looked beautiful. 15 years later, she is still putting on that beauty mark but I think it's now tattooed onto her face. She remembered that in 1997, I took all my students to my friend's home to sandbag her home so it wouldn't be flooded during the spring floods that Manitoba is infamous for. I said that I remembered that it was a cold day but we all went and she remembered that I was working alongside the students to pile the sandbags. I said that it was my way of telling my students that they were not simply learning how to cut hair but learning to be part of a community and to give back to the community when help was needed. She remembered that I used to take my students to the Victoria Hospital to volunteer to work with geriatric patients who could not afford to pay for hair and nail services and she was disappointed that the school stopped doing that when I left. She remembered that I liked travelling so she joined a cruise ship several years ago for two years and travelled all over the world including Venezuela which she knows is close to Guyana. She remembered that I had a salon in my home so I could stay home with my kids when they were young so she is now doing the same.
She said that I was a great influence on her life and she is now teaching at the same school that she attended when I was teaching. She is also taking some teaching courses to become a certified teacher and it's at the same college where I am presently working. With luck, I may even be teaching her again.
Why am I telling you this story? Well, these are the things I used to talk to my dad about. He would listen to anything I had to say with such rapt interest that you would think I was saying something important. To him, anything I said was important - at least that was the way he paid attention to what I was saying and he could recollect it years later.
I cried all the way home from the supplier, parked my car on the driveway, wiped my eyes and came into the house trying to pretend that I was fine (even with puffy eyes). I was emotional because of my realization that I would have these great stories but no one to tell them to - not anyone who would be as interested as Dad was. So my stories will stay as that - stories in my head - not appreciated in the same way as dad did.
Nicky is what makes teaching rewarding and that I met her on Friday when I needed to hear that I made a difference in one person's life was a gift that I will cherish. I recalled Dad telling me several years ago when I lent some money to a student to pay her tuition fees and she didn't pay me back that I could not save the world. I told him that I wasn't trying to save the world but if I can make a difference in one person's life, then my reason for being here would be worthwhile. I needed to hear that on Friday and live Mom says' God is in the midst of everything. He walked with me that day and gave me something to smile about when I needed it most.