When I walked up the steps and into that familiar building that now houses the middle school, memories echoed through my mind of my two years at this school. We walked through the auditorium that was a show piece back in the day because most schools had their stage as a part of their gym. The wooden seats still gleamed in the twilight, a reflection of the pride this school has always had in their facilities no matter how old the building was. As we emerged into the hallway to make our way to the "dinner line," I noticed the locker doors ajar so they could air out and how brightly lit the hallway was, complete with fresh white paint to help illuminate the halls. Oh wait... school just ended, so that "fresh white paint" must have been just very clean white paint fresh off a school year recently completed. Another sign of the pride this community feels for their school.
I scanned those waiting in line, many with graying or white hair, visited with my husband's classmates as they got reacquainted, and then caught a glimpse of one of "my kids" and we exchanged that smile of recognition. She too was having a milestone graduation anniversary (you know the ones that end in 5 or 0), and I knew the number because it mirrors the wedding anniversary we will be celebrating in another week. I would catch up with her very soon!
After receiving my food, I stepped into the gym, my old classroom, and the flood of memories began. It was here I learned what to do and not to do as a teacher and coach. I should be apologizing for some of my antics as a coach, frustrated by too few wins, and too little knowledge on how to fix the problems. It was here that I learned that the less you know, the more you yell, as we backslide into something more primal to survive. But it was also here that I realized I loved teaching and coaching, and made some lifetime connections with students that will always have a special place in my heart.
When dinner, the subsequent entertainment, and business meeting concluded, I made my way to catch up with my "old" student. We have seen each other from time to time over the years, but it had definitely been awhile, so I was pleased to be greeted so warmly with a hug and a big smile. We showed each other pictures and caught up a bit since the last time we'd talked, and then she said something like this to me, "Can you believe that when you came here, your life would end up like it is today, marrying a home town guy, having kids, and now grandkids?" Quite simply, No. While I was excited to have a job secured before I graduated, I certainly had no way of knowing that this one decision would impact me in so many ways both professionally and personally, and set the course for my life.
We talked about the memories that the gym produced for both of us. I attempted to apologize for acting like a jerk sometimes, but she was having none of that. Her memory, possibly clouded by the passage of time, caused her to exclaim, "You were no jerk, you were great." And that my friends, is why we teach. Even though our paths crossed a lifetime ago, we had a connection that stood the test of time and endured fading memories. I appreciated her belief in me, but it is this former student that was one of the first to inspire me. We could all learn a lesson from her about how to succeed.
She was an excellent student, a very good sprinter in track, and not really much of a "ball" athlete. She had reached a plateau in her best event and hadn't been able to improve her time as she ended of her junior season. I suggested she go out for basketball to improve her conditioning, so as a senior, she did just that. She was pretty funny (as she recalled and I did too!) learning a game that was definitely out of her comfort zone, but that experience served its purpose and she went on to have the best track season of her life! We often have to risk getting outside our comfort zone to find success or our true path.
As the evening concluded we helped take down tables and chairs, and fold up the canvas cloths that covered and protected the gym floor. When those cloths were removed it revealed a floor still gleaming despite a year of middle school student punishment... another lesson learned, that if you take care of something, it will last.
So my walk down memory lane that began earlier this month with Mother's Day and my son's graduation continues. I relish the connections I've made over the years, and enjoy reflecting on lessons learned. The decision to sign that first contract many years ago, certainly set the course for what has been a wonderful life - so far! And while I enjoy these looks back, even more importantly, I look forward to what lies ahead and the course my life will take because of future decisions I will make.