Remember the story of Miss Reed, my first-grade teacher? It started with this one little post I wrote about her several years ago. About a month ago, I followed it up with this one, about how I finally learned what became of that miracle worker of a woman. Although she died a few years ago, I was able to contact her son and tell him of the lovely things his mother did for me when I was a little girl. A few days later, he wrote back:
“I apologize for not writing sooner…but each time I sat down to read through your letter in preparation for my reply, I was overwhelmed with emotions. With each read, I could see my mother stooping over to put herself on a child’s level as she offered her carefully chosen words of encouragement and hope…She would be so pleased to hear that you pursued writing. It was mother’s dream to write children’s books when she retired. She believed that if you could nurture a child early enough, that child could later withstand the harsh realities of the world…Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences, because through your words and memories I was able to see my mother once again – A priceless gift…”
I assured him that her theory about nurturing children was dead on, and told him how upset I’d been to learn she was leaving our school at the end of first grade. “Your wonderful mother invited me to your house that summer, to make the transition easier,” I wrote. “I played with puppies in your yard.” He wrote back and said that the family had moved to California that year. Mrs. Reed never did realize her dream of writing children’s books. Alzheimer’s took over before she got the chance. But right before the end, she returned to her beloved Memphis, and was surrounded by her loved ones when she died.
Last week was kind of a rough one around here. For days, I’ve been miserably sick. One of Amadeus’ best friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The father of my daughter’s baby daddy died in his sleep the morning of The Boston Marathon. I think you get the picture. But a couple of gray and gloomy days ago, I checked my email, and there was another message from Mrs. Reed’s son. “I thought you might enjoy these,” he wrote. He’d made a little collage, six gorgeous photos of my former teacher, whose unreliable image I’d been carrying in my head for forty-six years. There were Polaroids of her as a young woman and an old one, as a single mother and a grandmother. A black and white showed her sitting on a sofa with her four small children, including the one writing me (who’s now a grandparent himself). As I studied them, my heart filled with gratitude and happiness. ”I hope one of these pictures shows the smile you remember,” he wrote.
Indeed, one of them did. Although the hair was a different color, there was no mistaking that expression. It was the one I looked forward to seeing throughout first grade. Wasn’t she beautiful?
I’ve never met the person who sent this to me, and I probably never will. But there’s some sort of love that permeates the online world. I like to think of it as the same kind of love, the same genuine kindness that flows between us during times of tragedy and grief. There may always be bombings and massacres–we share the Earth with people who do unspeakable things. But we also share it with the man who took the time to send a stranger photos of his mom.