Things one might deem rather trivial, meaningless things really, can remind me of who I am, what is important to me, and what my goals are. These things have changed over time; years ago there was the key, a cat’s-eye marble, and a pressed penny. Those objects held a large cache of memories for me — the cedar chest full of journals and letters I’d locked away from prying eyes, the admiration on my friends’ faces after I’d won the 1st grade marble tournament, my mother’s humorous indulgence at my plea for the “squished penny” souvenir from Downtown Disneyland’s Main Street.
Over the years, these personal mementos have evolved, and I no longer have those sacred childhood talismans; today they are my mother’s Seiko watch (the hands haven’t moved for a decade and it’s entirely too small for my wrist), two brittle, parchment-thin rose petals (ZuZu’s?) discovered in a coat pocket from what sadly turned out to be the final round of a game my brother and I used to play, and a coconut lovingly mailed from Hawaii to Alaska and then rerouted to Massachusetts, California and back again, replete with postage stamps to prove it. These three small tokens represent me and, during difficult times, help ground me - they remind me of what’s important in my life and help to reestablish my sense of purpose. Yesterday, unexpectedly, I acquired a new one.
This email, from a student currently in my literature class, is in response to my sharing a story about a 13-year-old me making a bad decision and deliberately hurting a classmate. That story has shaped me in innumerable ways and is the catalyst for my eternal search for redemption – a continued quest to be a better person than I was at 13. This is a story I have begun to tell often and, despite its repetition, I become emotional with each telling. I wish I didn’t. I truly do. But, just as this story will remain my albatross, the crying just comes with the telling.
After sharing my story, I excused the class so I could pull myself together. I really had no idea I would get quite that upset while retelling this story. There was something in the faces of these beautiful kids that … I don’t know … just punctured me. I was mortified and honestly worried about returning to this class on Tuesday.
So, back to the email. I could not have asked for a better talisman of redemption. I take my role as teacher (also counselor, advocate, surrogate parent) very seriously and the material benefits and rewards are relatively few. That said, the real rewards are what I internalize from it: often being the second biggest influence in a child’s life; being a role model for how these individuals relate to one another now, on the field or the court, and in the classrooms, but also for the rest of their lives; for instilling in them the values and skills they need to live their lives usefully and successfully; for holding and protecting their trust and faith in other human beings, … you know, the little things. But, sadly, it’s often difficult to discern what stays with them and what doesn’t.
This email could not be a better indicator of what indeed stays. I imagine taping this epistle to the front of one of my favorite journals and rereading it every few months as a reminder of what I do and why I do it. I could not have asked for a better reward for my efforts and my time. It is truly priceless and something I will forever treasure.
I didn’t imagine adding another talisman to my collection but alas, here it is. Just in the nick of time.