Last month at a church rummage sale, I discovered a book by one of my favorite authors. More than ten years ago, Sue Monk Kidd, who penned The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings, compiled a host of essays she had written for Guideposts magazine since the 1980’s. Reading Firstlight has lovingly reminded me of Christmases long ago. My grandmother always gave me a copy of Daily Guideposts from the time I was in eighth grade and I spent the better part of every holiday afternoon holed up in my room, eagerly searching through the book for Sue’s essays. Each one was captivating because of her incredible attention to detail and open-hearted way of looking at life, from the simplest moments to the most perplexing. Perhaps what struck me the most was the feeling of as she writes in Firstlight, “a soulful being together between the reader and the author".
Many of the essays I’ve been rereading remind me of some of the ones I have written for Open Road, so I now fully realize it was back then the initial seed of inspiration was planted. A little more than a decade later, I would begin writing essays of my own. One turned into a novel which turned into a sequel which turned into eight more books. And I’m not done writing yet.
In one of my favorite essays, Sue writes about how growth takes time. A seed must be buried in the darkness of the soil, releasing roots invisible to the eye, but necessary for the sprout to appear above the surface. Over time the sprout becomes a seedling, and the seedling a sapling, and so on until a strong, healthy tree grows from what was once hidden in the earth. A caterpillar begins its life cycle as an egg, then a larva, then a pupa where it completely transforms itself into an adult butterfly, never to return to its original state again. It takes a butterfly only twenty-eight days to go from egg to its magical metamorphosis. Sadly, it only lives for four to six weeks. Of course a tree takes much longer to grow to its full height, but its beauty can last much longer than one human lifetime.
A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I were heading up to Posey Lake, Michigan for a much-needed vacation. While I sat in the car waiting for him to fill the gas tank, I checked my phone for messages. To my surprise, one of my former first graders sent me a private message on my professional Facebook Page. Remember the trees you gave us and told us to plant them when we got home? Eric wrote. Look at her now!
He sent a picture of a gorgeous pine tree that dwarfed a two-story house.
Oh my gosh! I wrote back. That’s amazing! How old is that tree?
I planted it when I was six, he replied. You gave it to me when I was in first grade, so it’s been going now for twenty-six years.
I quickly did the math. How in the world are there kids I taught who are now thirty-two years old? I wondered. Then I realized that there are kids much older than that…and it made me laugh.
Steve got back in the car and I showed him the picture.
“Who is that from?” he asked.
“One of my first graders…I gave them saplings on Earth Day the year Eric was in my class. I think someone from a nursery donated a bunch of them.” Smiling at the picture, I sighed, “That made my whole day.”
When I asked if I could use his photo in this blog, Eric enthusiastically replied, Sure! I’ll get a better picture at my mom’s later today. Can my daughter Mariah be in it?
What a joy a few hours later to see their smiling faces standing at the base of the tree and to read Eric’s profound caption: I planted the tree with my dad. I’m really proud of it and talk about it often. I try not to be boastful about it, but I think that talking about it will hopefully plant a seed in someone to do the same.
Mariah is one blessed young woman to have such an incredible father. I remember Eric fondly and am not at all surprised to know that he has loved and nurtured that tree for decades, much in the same way I’m sure he has and will love and nurture his daughter.
We can never know how our presence will impact another person. I’ve not given birth, but I did spend my twenties and early thirties with hundreds of kids who I’m happy to still call my own. Now every time a man or woman who I had the privilege to teach contacts me, it always lifts my spirits and connects me to the distant past in incredible ways which remind me once again that I didn’t have to have a child of my own to be a mother. I’ve attended weddings of my former students, spent time with their families at graduation parties, and often run into people who ask, “Are you Miss Ingersoll?”
I laugh and nod. “Yes.”
“You were my first grade teacher!” they smile broadly. “You don’t look the same, but I could tell it was you from the sound of your voice.”
Then I laugh some more because that’s often how I recognize them as well…even the men.
They reminisce about stories from our classroom, and each one reminds me that even though teaching was incredibly demanding, it was time well spent…and then some, for many of the lessons I shared with them when they were little are now, decades later, being passed down to their children. What an incredible blessing to know that the seeds which were planted back then have magically metamorphosed into a soulful being together between what was once the teacher and the student, but has now transformed into something even more beautiful, yet indescribable.
|Eric with his daughter, Mariah, August 2017|