Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Wed, 31 Dec 1997 09:12:55 -0500 (EST)
Well 1997 is preparing to sneak out and 1998 is preparing to slip in. As people prepare for tomorrow's morning-after-the-night-before exhaustion and a marathon of watching college football after a revelrous night and morning of all that ushering in and ringing out dancing to the tune of the Times Square Rag, I was thinking about a young lady I'll call Margie who gave me permission to tell her story.
She was a student in class last year. I use the term "student" very loosely. She was physically in classroom--on occasion--but never in the class or into the class. When she was present I never knew whether she would be hungover or flying high. I knew she certainly would not be prepared. Her graphic journal entries of arguments with her uninvolved father who "pays me off with checks for school", cursing paragraphs--by her description--of both her mother "who cares more for her bottle than me" and a threatening stepfather who "cares more for the dog because I'm not 'his blood,'" daily partying, sexual escapades, drinking binges, and smoking and sniffing, taken singularly and collectively would have made Poe's blood curdle and brought down the house of Usher on the first page. It was if she was deliberately rubbing my nose--maybe other's as well--in her excesses. She seldom worked with the other members of her quadrad though they struggled to include her. Oh, how they struggled, but to no avail. When I rose to her baited antics and entries, it would be as if she dematerialized in front of me so my words would just pass through some apparition without touching anything. Other times it was as if she closed an inner eye lid and didn't have to see me. Still other times, she would roll her eyes and take a blase "here comes some more of the sermonizing crap" stance or tighten into a "I've gotten this from my #)($*(&^# 'loving' father, mother, and stepfather and I don't need it from you" strut. There was no reaching her; there was no touching her. Each time, countless times, I extended a helping hand, she would slap it away. At the end of the quarter she was in my office crying hysterically that the "'F' you gave me is going to ruin my life." She screamed that her "$)%(*##&" father was going to cut off her money, her "@#)(&$@" stepfather was going to pull her out of school and put her to work, her ")$(%$A^&^#" boyfriend was going to walk out on her, her "#@#)(%*%^# mother" was just going to drink and watch "if she can see straight" and "it's all your fault." She ripped her journal out of the box and angrily rushed out.
I called her "my pillar of hell." That was over a year ago. I never saw her again and never heard from her. Hadn't really thought about her--until last week when out of the blue I received an e-mail message from Margie wishing me a happy Chanukah. The message reminded me that "hell" in German means "bright."
Margie told me that none of her forboding predications had come to pass as she knew they wouldn't and "at the same time they had". All, "my unloved ones," as Margie said, "forgave me and didn't do a thing to me because they didn't give a damn about me. They only cared about themselves. They just didn't want to feel guilty." She said I was the only one who ever cared enough to see through her and hold my ground, and "it's a mystery to me why I couldn't stop wondering why." She didn't understand why she kept her journal as if it was something holy. What was equally inexplicable to her was how, after she left Valdosta, she would go to her journal after coming out from a stupor and read one of the daily "habits of the heart" I would write on the board and we would discuss for a few minutes at the beginning of class. "I kept asking myself, 'Why am I doing this?' But, I couldn't stop thinking about how you asked why did I write down those words if I was so down on myself and thought they were a bunch of hokey bull shit. I wondered about that a lot, more and more, about how you asked me if I trying to say something to myself."
She told me, "Do you realize you never gave me advice, not told me what to do, just asked me a bunch of frightening questions. Well, I've started answering them for myself.....I've taken some big steps in the last few months." She moved out of her parents' house, got her own apartment, told her father to keep "his conscience money," left her boyfriend, got a job, and enrolled in a local community college, and is going for help. " She said she remembered--and so do I--her shouting, "why are you doing this to me." She remembered me calmly telling her that she did it to herself and asked if she realized there are always consequences. She remembered me saying that if I did anything else it would be a sign that I didn't care. She remembered me saying--I don't--"I did it because of the love I have for you as a person. She remembered her screaming back, "Don't love me. I don't need it. I need the 'A' to live."
"Well," Margie went on, "I was wrong. I didn't need the grade. I needed the love and faith. I see it now. I guess I just needed to believe that someone believed I was worth believing in so I could take a chance of believing in myself." Margie ended her message with "I want you to know that you played a large role to help me start helping myself whether you know it or not. You're always with me. I first you were a pain in the ass. Now you're healing of my soul....I'm going to recover and decided to dry up inside me and light up that fire inside me you always said I was throwing water on."
What an unexpected Chanukah present.
I briefly tell you Margie's story because I believe in each student and tell you this story of why I believe each student is a human treasure of this country, of the world, for the future; and how I hope this and other stories will broaden and raise people's view of students.
Margie convinces me that in the soul of every student burns a fire. Yet, so many can't or won't go inside to warm themselves at it. It is so easy to be one of those uninvolved passerbys who sees only sooty smoke lazily drifting skyward to pollute the air and settles to blacken the scenery. But, I believe that while that unattended fire may burn low, the flames may flicker, the hearth may be a tad cold, the fire is never extinguished. With some tender stoking, some persistent waving with a sheet of paper, some bending over on your hands and knees, some deep breaths and puffing cheeks and blowing, its embers just may be fanned into a roaring blaze. You won't know until you've blacken your hands, stuck your the nose close to the glowing ashes, reddened your face, and gotten a little dizzy.
Because of Margie, if I was in the resolution-making business, I would resolve that to make 1998 a "you ain't seen nothing yet" year and to make 1997 a "if you thought it was something" year, I would contribute to global warming. Sound anti-environmental. It's not. I'm not talking about the fires of burning fossil fuel. I'm talking about the one thing this year that has nothing to do with El Nino. I'm talking about igniting the fires of the heart.
I would resolve to resist the tidal pull of everyday life, not get out of this season's feeling, and stay in my faith in the students. I would resolve now that I'm back from break I don't break with my faith in students, now that the vacation is over I don't let my belief in students go on vacation. I would resolve while I file into the classroom, I don't file away this feeling after reading Margie's message under the "proper holiday." I would resolve to understand and not forget that I don't have to go to national parks to see this land's natural beauty; it's before me in the classroom where the sun rises on wonders great and small. I would resolve that I keep getting my faith in students up and out, strike it as a match to help students see they have their own matches in the pockets of their soul, and use it to help students kindle their own fire and brighten their glow.
When that happens, I can stand up, hold out my hands to the fire, and feel myself warmed knowing that the world burns a bit brighter and warmer. That kind of global warming we all can stand.
Make it a good day and a blessed new year. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____