1st Wednesday in Advent
For you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:20, RSV
I’d like to think that I’m Mrs. Thelma Hill’s glory and joy. At the very least, I owe her a lot. Mrs. Hill, who taught English at East Denver High School, died years ago, but something of her spirit lives in me.
Like Mrs. Hill, I stand at the door of my classroom as students come in, barking “Spit!” if I see a student chewing gum. (I already have enough gooey globs ground into my floor, thank you very much.)
Like Mrs. Hill, I appreciate—and write— the enigmatic snippets of seventeen-syllable poetry known as haiku. (Unlike Mrs. Hill, however, I do not have a Siamese cat named after the Japanese poetic form.)
And like Mrs. Hill, I try to instill in my students a love for literature by reading only the best of books aloud to them, and encouraging them to check out books from the school library.
“I want to be a writer,” I confessed to Mrs. Hill one day as we sat on her living room floor, sipping iced tea and listening to Mozart. (I was one of a handful of students she invited into her home.)
“You can do it,” she said.
Those four words of hope have sustained me for many years. When I abandoned my dream for a while, thinking it was foolishness, I seemed to hear Mrs. Hill reminding me: “You can do it.” When I finally started writing again and rejection slips outnumbered letters of acceptance, I could hear her encouraging me: “You can do it.” And when an unexpected divorce shattered my heart and my self-confidence, leaving me wondering if I’d ever be able to write—or love—again, I felt Mrs. Hill cheering me on: “You can do it.”
Mrs. Hill slipped into the twilight zone of Alzheimer’s disease several years before cancer finally claimed her life. If she were alive today she’d be pleased, but not surprised, to know that I am living my dream. More than a dozen magazines have published my work and I’m currently writing an inspirational book for my colleagues in the teaching profession.
When I had an incipient vision for my future, Mrs. Thelma Hill’s simple words of encouragement inspired me to sharpen my focus and to persevere in spite of setbacks.
During the remaining days of Advent—and for the rest of the school year—will I inspire my students as Mrs. Hill inspired me? Whose life can I change with a simple word of encouragement? Which student will learn from me that a setback is not the end of the world, but an invitation to create an even better world?
Who will become my glory and my joy?