Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1999 14:33:45 -0400 (EDT)
I was listening to the Kol Nidre chant Sunday night as the holiest Jewish religious holiday, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, began. It is a day each of us of the Jewish faith looks back on the past year asking for forgiveness for any hurt we intentionally or unintentionally may have caused someone else. Yom Kippur is the culmination of we call the Days of Awe that begins with Rosh Hashonah, the New Year eight days earlier.
As the gripping melody drifted throughout the sanctuary, I suddenly thought of something I knew already: the Day of Atonement doesn't occur at the end of the old year, but at the beginning of the new year. I then realized why. All of the Days of Awe are as much about looking forward with hope as they are about looking backward for forgiveness. The real statement of these High Holy Days is one of hope: "this moment is not it; it's not the end; it's a beginning; it's never over; there is more to come." The Days of Awe, then, are really awesome Days of Hope.
And to my surprise, with that thought about hope, the sounds around me stilled and I was whisked to an oil painting hanging on my office wall. It has been there since the end of last semester. I hung it where I would see it everyday I enter the office and whenever I'm sitting at the computer. It's not an eye-catching masterpiece although it catches my breath every time I look at it. It wouldn't fetch millions. Almost everyone who would look at it would think it was a worthless, crude paint-by-number canvas of a Georgia buckle-up car seat campaign. But, to me it is a work of art. It is one of my most precious treasures among by sacred objects of teaching. It is worth more to me than a Chagall, Rembrandt, Van Gogh. It is a painting of HOPE. It was given to me at the end of last semester as a "thank you" gift by a student I'll call Suzan. She won it in a senior high school art contest. It was the first thing she ever won, but, as she handed it to me, she didn't realize at the time it said that she was a winner.
How to tell you quickly about Suzan with a "z." A second semester first year student, she entered the classroom that first day of the semester as if no one had ever sang "Happy Birthday" to her or had thrown her a birthday party or had given her a birthday gift. There were four students in that class named Susan; hers was the fourth in alphabetical order and the only one spelled with a "z." When I came to her name, I feigned utter exasperation. I joked with her, saying that her parents must be poor spellers. She seemed to perk up when I specifically mentioned her. "You are now 'Suzan with a "z"'," I blared loudly. Her eyes lit and a smile appeared. When I handed back her first week's journal, I said to her, "Suzan with a 'z', don't you know I have a bad neck." She looked at me. "You wrote slanted this way and slanted that way; you wrote in circles. I nearly twisted my neck off reading you journal."
"You really read my journal?" she exclaimed. And that was the beginning. The more I read her journal, the more I began to understand. There were times that I expected reeking fumes to emerge from the pages as if they were sulfur pits. In her brief lifetime, she had suffered a grievous loss, the deepest loss anyone can experience. She had lost her self-respect. That is the worst of all hurts. Let's leave it at that.
Over the semester, oh so slowly, as we talked, as she sang solo, in front of the class, as she drew her share of the Dr. Seuss project, as she worked with the others members of her triad, as she composed some of the lyrics and sang in the Bruce Springsteen project, as we talked some more, as she slowly spoke out more and more during tidbit discussions, as we talked still more, as she presented her scavenger hunt items, she slowly began risking to hang streamers and bright balloons around her spirit, one at a time. Her sense of being hopeless slowly became less and less, and she slowly became hope filled. Slowly, oh so slowly, she got a faint glow. Slowly she was beginning not to just have confidence in herself, but a respect. Slowly the hobbles on her soul were weakening. Aa spark slowly appear. It had become a flame by the end of the semester. And you know something, when the flame of hope burns, darkness doesn't have a chance. Darkness can't survive when there is light of hope present.Her closure item was a birthday horn that she jumped up and tooted loudly as she tearfully told us she was Joshua who had brought the walls around her tumbling down.
"Suzan with a 'z'" is not at VSU now. She transferred to another school. She sent me a letter at the beginning of the semester. I've been reading and thinking about it everyday. I think that is why Kol Nidre sent me to her painting. I was never far from it in the first place.
I won't share most of the letter. It is too personal. But, with her permission, I will let you read what she wrote towards the end:
Whether you know it or not, you have played a very important role in my life. You gave me hope when there was none. In that class I got class. You helped me to open up and to stand up for what I believe in--me. Now, I do believe in me. I have hope for me. And I have faith in me. Most important, I respect me. I feel like there is nothing but light inside me. I DO NOT let people run over me or even step on my toes! I don't let me do that to myself anymore. No more of that. You made me see that I can be anything I want if I just realize I have all these dreams inside. But most of all, because of all those risks you took with me, I see that if you hadn't you would have lost me and I would have stayed lost. So, now I see that just like you, I risk a lot more if I am always afraid to take any risk on me. I just wanted to say thank-you and that you will always be someone I consider a friend.
Now HOPE is one neat word. It's one of those "way up there" words. I'll have to give it to Kenny when I see him because it's hope that makes teachers crazy enough to believe they can change things and shape lives. I don't believe for a second a teacher with hope can treat a student crudely or rudely, come at a student with sneers, fangs and claws. I don't believe a teacher with hope can condemn, abandon or surrender a student; I don't believe a teacher with hope can do other than care with love, without judgement. That teacher can just care, support, and encourage. And, in the presence of a teacher of hope, it is very hard for a student like Suzan "with a 'z'" to anything other to herself than to love and care. For, if you are a teacher with hope you can only fill the classroom or yourself with wonder and light; if you are a teacher with hope you positively can only teach with positive teaching; if you are a teacher with hope, you cannot be an abrasive that creates sores, only be a soothing salve that helps you and others heal sores; if you are a teacher with hope, you can only be an elevator that lifts spirits to greater heights and helps you and other to rise to the challenges and to aspire above the depressions; if you are a teacher of hope, you can only follow the right road map that makes you take the right turns to where you think, live, and act right; if you are a teacher with hope, you ride as one of the Four Horsemen of Success along side faith, belief and love, making up quite a thunderous cavalry that stampeds over resignation, tramples fear, and stomps on surrender.
I have discovered over the last decade, that hope comes in a lot of shapes and forms: it's a drink that keeps you young and healthy; it a battery that empowers you with powerful energy to weather the storms of disappointment when you want to quit. escape, cop out, stop; it's an armor that protects from the attacks of fear, anxiety; it's an acetyline torch that cuts through all barriers.
Hope is a "go for it," "take it by the horns" word that encourages me to encourage others to take a chance; it won't let me go home; it won't let me sink into cynicism; it won't let me think or say, "Nothing I can do will....." No, hope says that we will do something this day that has never been done before. It's hope that makes the stars shine brightest in the darkest of nights; it turns nightmares into dreams and lets you dream the beautiful dream.
I shared a part of "Suzan with a'Z''s" to urge each of us to work hard to make sure that each day of teaching is a triumph of hope. People like "Suzan with a 'z' remind me that there is nothing like working in a hope-filled room. There is currency on earth that can match its worth. I admit that I am an incredibly hopeless "hope-aholic," that I instinctively and impulsively surrender to hope. It burns like a fire in me. I bring it with me; I build upon it. False hope you say? I say that the only false hope is no hope. I choose to be an eternally hopeful wower because it sure beats trudging along heavy-footed yukker filled with anger, fear, frustration, discouragement, depression, disappointment. "Suzan with a 'z' shows me that. Hope doesn't just float, as the movie title says. It's a floatation that keeps all of us afloat.
Make it a good day. --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" -\____