"A teacher's purpose is not to create students in his own image,
but to develop students who can create their own image."
I feel myself nearing the finish line of inspirational-women-I-have-known posts. Which isn't exactly true because I'm sure there are many more that have impacted my life for good, or for bad, than I could have written about. As I've been digging into the recesses of my mind for the past few days, I am amazed at what you can find out about the people you thought you always knew. Perhaps it's not the discovering that's important, but the acknowledging. When my dark side screams to be fed by anger, depression, guilt, and worthlessness, because I've done these self-imposed writing assignments I don't have to choose the negative. Instead I can call on the light I know is there and serve up a cocktail of beauty, strength, wisdom and humor. Who knew all this insight would come from one simple party idea?
I know who I'm going to write about tomorrow. But at the risk of doing a little more cheating, I want to call attention to a few more ladies who made a difference in my life.
First is Mary Carden - my 6th grade teacher. I think the reason I remember her more than some of the other teachers I had is because of her belief in me. You know how scared you are on that first day of school? You're not sure who's going to be in your class, where you're going to sit, if the teacher is nice or strict, if you're going to be put in a group with serious learners or boys who like to make farting sounds with their armpit. Maybe I'm the only one who had this first day of school angst. It was powerful, and if I were to walk into a classroom today, I would still feel it wrapped around me like a Mexican serape.
The sixth grade was kind of a turning point for me. I was not quite grownup. I had no boobs but hairy, hairy legs. I was on the verge of still being aware of my intelligence and learning that to get along in my world I was going to have to downplay my achievements. I don't know why that thought permeated my future, but insecurity won out over confidence every time.
In Mrs. Carden's class I had a cheerleader. An adult who didn't put me down or challenge my successes; she was an elixir of which I couldn't get enough. I did anything I could to please her. I learned my spelling words. I wrote stories. I was the first to raise my hand. I soaked up Mrs. Carden's praise like a sponge and asked for more. But I did this at a price. I wasn't the most popular kid as I was most likely known as a brainiac. I tried to walk the balance beam between being cool and being smart. I never mastered it. It was a struggle I had for many years. In the recesses of my childhood heart, I believed that I was smart. But I also believed I had to keep that knowledge buried in order to be included in my family of origin and in my peer group.
In the 8th grade I was blessed by another teacher, Barbara Bates, who encouraged me to dig deep and put my intelligence to the test. Much to my dismay she made me reach beyond my comfort zone and tackle books like Jane Eyre and Rebecca. To this day, when I hear the word "primeval" (not very often, I admit) I think of the Longfellow poem and Evangeline's search for her beloved Gabriel.
In Miss Bates' English class I became the queen of sentence diagramming. Kids today don't even know what that is. But in my day, it was an art form. I loved it. The more prepositional phrases, direct objects or compound verbs the better. I think one of my academic achievement was the time I correctly broke down this big ass sentence that Miss Bates put as a bonus question on our final exam. By doing so I won a bet Miss Bates had with another teacher, thereby pocketing a dollar for my efforts. Oh how precious that moment was for me.
What I should have learned from those women who saw through my need to be accepted crust to the insecure little girl who lives inside me was to believe in my own abilities, to trust in myself. Alas, I put more stock in what other people said (teased). Something I've spent the second half of my life trying to remedy.
There's just one more woman I'd like to mention in my prequel to the IWD Blog Party. Her name is Mildred Lisette Norman, but is known to the world as Peace Pilgrim. In 1953 this silver-haired woman began a self-imposed pilgrimage to promote world peace. Alone and penniless, Peace Pilgrim vowed to keep walking until, "mankind had learned the way of peace." In over 28 years she logged more than 25,000 miles.
I'm totally enamored of this woman's belief in and determination to bring about world peace
with little regard for personal hardship. She is, indeed, a woman to be praised. The reason I write about her today, however, is sort of self-serving.
Over the years, when I started thinking it was possible that I AM smart and capable, I let my fear of the unknown stop me. One day I faced that particular fear and walked into a college classroom. I started college a little late. I have re-started several times and as yet never finished. My bad.
After taking a few basic classes in writing and math, I broke out of my comfort zone and took a class in world religions. I almost walked out the evening the professor handed out the syllabus with the requirement to write three papers. My stomach churned. Being able to write and write a formal research paper are way different things. I was learning to be comfortable in my ability to put words together to tell a story, but to do research, and use footnotes? Panic set in.
My first paper was entitled, "Blessed are the Peacemakers." It compared the lives of two rather dis-similar people - Mattie Stepanek and Peace Pilgrim. I nervously turned the paper in (ahead of schedule - yeh, I'm a nerd) and waited to be dissed. (What was I thinking about being able to do college? Who was I kidding. I'm hopeless. I know it so now what?) Surprise! Here's what the professor said,
Well thought out, developed and presented.
You have a wonderful writing style. "
and that's all it took to make me feel a little - a lot - like Sally Field at the Academy Awards. At that moment, I also felt something inside me shift. Instead of listening to the voice of the demon whose mantra is "I can't" I began to embrace the possibility of I can.
That's not to say I don't fall back into old patterns. I do. We all do. But when I think of the power of the combined strength of all the women I've written about and all the ones we'll hear about tomorrow, and the ones that silently do their job but never get singled out, I've got to think if women ran the world we'd have a much better chance at peace. Peace in the world begins with peace inside each and every one of us.
Signing off to get ready for the party. Hope to hear from you and your friends, and your friends' friends,