We are more than the sum of our stories.
In telling those stories we can both reveal our humanness and declare our progress. We can make those stories our own and open our hearts to the stories of others – and to our whole and beautiful selves.
This is one of my stories, part of the sum of who I am.
In my twenties, I bumped into my grade two teacher, Mrs. H, at the grocery store.
I was amazed that she recognized me! How many hundreds of students had she taught in the decades since I had climbed up into my desk in her class?
I was delighted, too.
We had an adult conversation. We talked about the economy, about the worries about jobs, about how her husband had moved into another role when his job was eliminated. How my husband had started a sideline business when his job looked tenuous.
It was validating to talk with a teacher all those years later and feel like peers.
And then she shared something.
She said she remembered a day in class when I went to her desk to turn in an assignment.
“Mrs. H,” tiny young me said, “Nobody listens to me at home.”
I was stunned.
I didn’t remember doing this – not that I remember much from my childhood!
I remembered feeling like I was not heard, but I was surprised that I could have been so articulate or brave to actually tell someone.
My heart hurt a little.
For seven-year-old me, so starving for something that was missing.
And something else…
Mrs. H. continued with her story.
She had answered me by saying that they all must be busy.
And then my heart fell through me.
“I never should have said that to you,” she said.
She had carried this with her all these years! How much had changed in how we teach kids, in what we know about the effects of family dysfunction, in what teachers look for in the development of children into real human beings!
What she knew when I came to her all those years ago, was so different from what she knew when we talked – and I could see she felt the weight of that difference.
I wanted to lift that weight for her.
Compassion for her and her caring heart. How it must have hurt to hold on to that for so long!
Pride in my little scared self for saying something at all. How did I find the words?
Wonder that I had made it to where I could see these things, this adult-type person who recognized that we are all just doing the best we can.
It’s in that recognition, in that knowing that we each do what we think we can in our lives, that lets me release what could be the bitterness of memories.
“Nobody listens to me” was just one of the weights I could have carried with me all these years. On occasion, I still feel the pang of this one, but I see it for what it is, and now I reach out to my new family to be seen and heard.
Sometimes I feel a twinge of sadness at all that was lacking, at all the hurt I once felt.
Occasionally, there might even be regret that I was not whole enough to find myself and be myself and still be a part of what they called family.
But bitterness does not get to live here. I can learn from my feelings, make choices because of my memories, and still release them fully.
And sometimes love simply means peace – or distance.
Thank you for the lessons, Mrs. H. I appreciate you.