Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Strength in Numbers

The older I get, the more time I spend at school.  I often wonder how I managed to balance the demands of a house, kids, extracurricular activities, and everything that is required to keep a classroom running.  

Maybe it's that the demands of school have increased in recent years, as my responsibilities as a mom have decreased, keeping me balanced.  (Or, at least, marginally sane?)  If that is the case, then the superheroes that I work with who are juggling small children, houses, and teaching careers need more than new capes to keep them flying!

The Te@chthought Challenge of the day:

 Nov 5 What are your strengths? Which are you most grateful for?

 First of all, who decided that we would have two questions in one day?  Especially a day that began with me walking out the door at 5:45 am and walking in the door at 7:16 pm...

This past weekend I attended the wedding of the son of one of my oldest friends.  Amy and I became friends during freshman year in high school, and maintained that friendship for thirty nine years, sharing baby and toddler clothes as our kids grew, and enjoying the times we spent together, even though we lived two states apart.   Amy taught special education, and often joked that the two of us covered the spectrum from lifeskills to gifted.

Four years ago, Amy suffered a ruptured appendix.  It was later determined that she had a rare condition - appendix cancer.  And while I could describe the horrors of the HIPEC surgery, and all she did to beat this horrible disease, what you most need to know is about the strength that she exhibited, and the gratitude she shared with everyone through a journey that can only be described as hell on earth.

I vividly remember talking on the phone with Amy the day before her fiftieth birthday.  She had been so strong and positive for the year since her diagnosis.  But on that day she was sobbing uncontrollably when I called.  She had just signed the paperwork for a disability retirement.

She was devastated at the thought of giving up her career with her kids. 

When I got off the phone, I instantly called another friend and fell apart.  While I had been able to maintain a calm and supportive demeanor while talking to Amy, it wasn't until that moment that I truly realized that she might actually NOT survive this battle.

The last three years have been an amazingly emotional journey for me -- and all of Amy's friends, many of whom are teachers.  At her funeral this past spring there were so many people that a wall had to be moved to allow for more seating.  There were parents of students that she had had more than 20 years ago in attendance.  And since her death, even more of her friends have connected via social media, forming our own friendships based upon a common connection.

Teachers are like that.

When we talk about strength, we all do exactly what we need to do to make everyone around us feel supported and cared for -- and we fall apart behind closed doors.  If we're really strong at what we do, very few see us out of control -- either due to anger or tears -- at any time.  My strength over the last few years has come from reflecting on the fight of the strongest person I have ever known, and maintaining the attitude of gratitude she exhibited, the kindness and thanks she exerted, when most people would have lost patience with the world because of their own personal struggles.

The morning that I listened to a voicemail left by Amy's husband the night before telling me that Hospice was now in their lives was one of the most devastating days of my life.  There is a spot in the school where I gripped the wall and slid to the floor as those words echoed from my phone, that I now try to avoid when walking around the building.

That day, like so many days, I was (and still am) grateful for the support of another teacher.  Jen heard, held, and sobbed with me.  She helped me through that day and covered my homeroom while a substitute was called.

What am I most grateful for?  
The support and love of teachers everywhere.  From teachers like Art Drescher who continues to teach me in ways I'd never been able to predict would be as I sat in his class in 1971, to the newbies who are holding my hand as I learn Windows 8 that I work with in my own building today, there is a camaraderie that exists between teachers that is like no other.  There are few careers where people share so much, with so many, so willingly.

At that wedding on Sunday, I got the best hug from a former student, who happens to work with the bride, and I sought out Karel, to share the love that was Amy on a day when we both were missing her very much.  Did we talk about education?  You bet.

Heck, what else would teachers talk about at a wedding?