This is a blog concerning the lives of a teacher, an Okie, a misadventurous redhead with a big temper and a good deal of neuroses, an activist, a coffee-obsessed runner and a friend to many friends. All of these people live in the same body and take turns running the keyboard. This is a blog about the struggle for equality and peace and blood and sometimes just for fun.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Thank You For Sharing
I have published this elsewhere, but thought I'd share it on my blog for a wider audience. I wrote it a little over a month ago.
I took a group of students on a field trip today. It’s fun when you can take college sophomores and juniors on a trip. They appreciate it so much and seem to take pleasure in the idea that as far as their youth is concerned, one or two more field trips for the purpose of education can still be in the cards. I love it.
We went to a wind farm, up to the education center. Had a tour, viewed the Ed Center and ate some lunch. Then we got to go to a turbine and even go inside. It kicked ass. It was cold, but not as cold as I had expected. It was heavy jacket weather. Lunch was catered and as they were paninis, I took along a panini grill and cooked for everyone. It was a nice way to serve my students. They are an affable group, interested in knowledge and silliness and learning to write better.
We took several opportunities to stop and write in the moment. The urgency and energy of writing when you’re there is one which comes across authentically later, is detectable months after the writing and activity are over. Of course, we have to share, warts and all. There’s something I always ask my students to do when they share their writing together. At the end of the reading- out loud, of course- I ask them to simply say “Thank You For Sharing.”
I do this for several reasons. The most obvious is affirmation that someone took an emotional risk and shared their writing and a part of their soul with another. To be vulnerable takes trust, to build trust takes risk and affirmation.
I have another reason, and her name is Diane.
Dr. Diane Holt- Reynolds to be exact. It hurts a little to say her name.
I met Dr. Holt-Reynolds in the Fall of 2002 as I was beginning a master’s program in English Education and she became my advisor. I’d never been to graduate school before. I had no idea what to expect. No preconceived notions, nothing. Nobody I knew had ever been to graduate school. Nobody I knew did these sorts of things. That’s why I needed a mentor. She was a calm soul, one I always picture by the ocean, clear blue skies and thin white clouds in the background and happy waves dancing at her feet. She had short, dark, curly hair and mischievous eyes, and a smile that put people at ease. My first class with her and a bunch of other first year students began with a bit of arrogance. How hard could it be to learn to teach English? I already knew the stuff, right?
Heh. Diane said “Let’s just close the door and admit that we don’t know everything about grammar.” Yeah right. I did an internal eye roll. Then she gave us a test. Every single student failed. Except for one guy- and the rest of us decided right away that we didn’t like him. Then she taught us to teach grammar. I wanted to be like her- a gentle soul bent on helping others be better at what they do.
It took me three weeks to realize that she was left-handed because her right hand didn’t exist. She had had a prosthetic hand since she was a kid; her right arm developed to the elbow but that was it. It did not seem to impede her in any way and my admiration for her grew even more. We went on writing marathons and Writing Project outings and conferences. Everyone knew Diane and liked her immensely. When we shared our writing, she asked us to say “Thank you, for sharing.” So we did. No explanation, just a request. One did not wonder why.
At the same time, I was in the throes of a nasty divorce and suddenly needed a job. I might have to drop out to find work but I didn’t want to leave my program. She gave me a graduate assistantship and I worked for her for six months until she died.
Diane had a recurrence of ovarian cancer. It came on fast and hit hard. I went to doctors and hospitals with her and a cadre of concerned friends. They shaved her legs and we brought cake and drew funny chicken pictures on blown up hospital gloves. She did her best to help people around her.
One day she asked that I call the Social Security office for her. I gave her ID number and they asked why I called. ”Ovarian Cancer”, she said. I repeated it.
“What stage?” I relayed the question.
“Stage four.” I told the disembodied voice on the other end. She drew in her breath.
“Terminal, then.” I drew in a quick breath myself. That’s when I realized she was going to die. And there was nothing I could do. She opened her library to me and I selected a few books. She insisted I take “A Perfect Storm”, so I did. Couldn’t bring myself to read it.
And I couldn’t, and she did. But I did attend her memorial, with chocolate cake (and chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles) and strong coffee. After losing the ability to digest food, and between the delirium of morphine and the agony of cancer spreading unchecked through her body, Diane advised me to find the joy in all I do and to never eat a meal unattended. Before she died, the department established a scholarship in her name and she was thrilled. I was the first recipient, and perhaps the proudest. I finished my master’s, taught for awhile, finished a doctorate and here I am.
Today, eleven years later, in bright sunshine of a visitor’s center, amidst two stories of clean glass, roaring wind and the bright faces of students and colleagues, we prodded our imaginations and wrote our stories. My students took that risk with me, to write something authentic and to show that vulnerable side of themselves, and in the echo of their words I can almost hear her voice and the waves of the ocean.