Each year I receive several Christmas letters from friends and family. While I am not one to compose an annual update--I simply send a card and a photo--I do enjoy being on the receiving end, as it is nice to find out what's going on with those I hear from only once a year.
Today I received one I always look forward to. It was from the teacher I had in the third grade! Yes, we have kept in touch all these years. Miss H, as she was when I was 8, was but 22 years old as she taught my class, her first ever. Her letter today tells me she just turned 60 and is in the middle of her 38th year teaching third graders, with no immediate plans to retire. She still loves working with her 'little people' as she fondly refers to her students.
Thirty-eight years ago Miss H quickly became my favorite teacher. I remember her being enthusiastic, smart, inspiring (yes, you CAN write in cursive and I don't want to hear 'I can't'!!) funny and clever. She was everything this little third grader needed to be inspired to do my best in school.
When I moved on to fourth grade and beyond, we stayed in touch. In grade school I would help in her class when my other teachers would let me; in junior high and high school we sent cards to each other on birthdays. At my high school graduation she took me to dinner at one of the best restaurants in town.
When Miss H was nearing 20 years in the classroom, she decided to pursue a second career: law. She continued teaching by day, and went to school at night, completing her degree and passing the Bar somewhere around age 40. To this day she practices law and teaches third graders.
What makes this story amazing though is that in the midst of law school, Miss H was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was hit pretty hard at times with acute disability, but she forged on in spite it of it all, and attained her goal, obviously herself practicing the 'I can do it' philosophy she preaches as a teacher.
And this leads me to the other thing that was to connect Miss H and me in life, besides our student/teacher-turned-friend relationship: about five years after Miss H was diagnosed with MS, I received the same diagnosis. An unfortunate connection, to be sure, but one that is comforting nonetheless as I watch Miss H, even from the long distance that now separates us, continue to do great things to help others, as both a teacher and a lawyer.
In both of our lives, MS has taken its toll, in different ways, but I can easily say that in this we are very similar: we have neither of us allowed the disease to hinder our spirit or our drive to attain that which we deem important in life, inasmuch as we can control these things.
Miss H is still an inspiration to me now as I endeavor to live a full life amidst the struggles a chronic condition brings. And now as I am teaching my own little third grader (and second grader), I find myself saying some of the same things to my sons, my 'little people', that she said to me, in hopes of encouraging the same love for learning that Miss H fostered in me so many years ago. I hope and pray I am as successful as she was... and still is.