My junior year of high school we took U.S. History. One day at lunch, part-way through the year, I found a classmate crying in the hallway. She told me she had failed the last few history tests and she was too intimidated to ask the teacher and she was just so, so lost. We were not particularly friends, but I politely offered to help and I remember being surprised when she was eager to take me up on it. So she came over a couple nights later and we sat at my dining room table and ate brownies and talked about tariffs. After we got our next test back, she wrote me a profusely sweet little note, “ALICE! Thank you so, so much for helping me! I got an 84!” An 84, I thought, That’s good? I would hate an 84. And every time I remember that I thought that, I am ashamed. I want to go back and grab my sixteen-year-old self by the lapels of her worn-out uniform sweater and shake her. I want to tell her that in six years’ time she will not remember a single one of her own silly test grades but she will remember that beautiful, hard-won B-. She will remember the smiley-faces that were drawn all over that note, and she will be humbled by them.
This Christmas my family flew up to Minnesota, and en route we had what became an eight-hour layover in the Atlanta airport. We sat and we sat and I watched the people. There were a lot of servicemen and women–lots of Marines especially–some hurrying to catch a flight and some just waiting. As one after another went by and I hoped for each one that he was going home, I realized that though the women in uniform looked like women, the men mostly looked like boys. I did the math in my head, and realized that most of them were probably closer in age to my students than they were to me. Then they looked very young indeed. In the midst of all of that sitting and watching, I wrote this in my prayer journal, about my students: “I must keep repeating my mantra from earlier in the year, before I cared about them so much: You love them far more than I ever will and You do it better. There is nothing I can break down that You cannot build back up and stronger. I will trust in Your love for them.”
My sophomore year of college was my hardest. Everything looked very grey to me and I felt grainy and sad. If you have been reading this blog long enough you may remember. That March, at the tail end of my spring break, my mom and George came up to visit me. I remember running out into the ice and snow to meet them when the car pulled up. My mom got out to hug me, and then she said, “Oh, I brought you something.” She leaned into the car and turned back around holding a mason jar full of bright yellow daffodils from home. Just last night I remembered all this rather suddenly and for reasons I still cannot articulate, I cried while remembering. The snow, and the slate-colored sky, and the weary brick of my dorm building, and then my mother’s familiar hands, holding daffodils which she had carried over nearly five hundred miles of highway.