Journeys are often the best teachers. There are moments of certainty and uncertainty, struggle and triumph, learning and growth but it’s the moments in between that teach so much. The magic in the middle, the lessons learned you never before realized and the friendships made along the way-these all matter. I’m not sure when my journey began, but I’m certain that I’m on one and have met many memorable people along the way. While teaching, there are those you know you’ve impacted but hundreds maybe even thousands more of whom you’ll never know your impact. I believe it’s the same thing in life. Social media has made it more possible to connect with those from the past and link to those you’ve just met, but it seems that somewhere on our journeys, if it’s meant to do so, paths will cross again for a reason. Who knows if we ever really know the reason, but the gifts we get from those crossing paths are often priceless. How lucky we are if we get to experience that.
“Forever is composed of nows” -Emily Dickinson
Today, I lost a colleague and a friend. The world lost a gifted, powerful, beautiful voice and students lost a teacher and mentor. Back in December on our cross-country adventure, we stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas to visit with Michelle. In her two-year battle with Multiple Myeloma, she never gave up. Strength, perseverance, determination, faith, hope and so many other character traits she taught to her students and gave to so many-she showed to the world. Today, I am sad.
“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” – Marcus Aurelius
In the few hours we spent together in her hospital room, we smiled. We reminisced about former students. We shared stories and dreams, talked travel, adventure, southern phrases and hospitality, and about life in general. We spoke of ‘our kids’ and how much they’ve meant to and continue to mean to us. We spoke of our journey throughout education and career and changes that have come about over time. Although one of us chose to leave the classroom while sadly, the choice was made for the other, few other places in the world held the same meaning for us both. Although we loved our ‘day jobs’, it was life after 2:20 that held our hearts. Informal education, rapport and relationship forming, mentoring, sharing life lessons, watching talents soar and dreams develop all the while building friendships-you could happily find us both here. While mine was a room covered in glitter, and filled with kids, posters and paint, hers was covered in playbills & sheet music and filled with voices, kids, music and paint. No matter the time our lights were on and doors open. She loved her job, her kids and life fiercely.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” – Eckhart Tolle
Travel brings together so very many people. Michelle and I reconnected once I formally left public education and was trying out a different path. She told me about some of her favourite adventures, places and people she held dear. She followed my cross-country trip often making suggestions for photo-stops or scenic sunset locales. We may not have been the closest of friends, but we were colleagues for years with a love of Broadway shows, travel adventures and the desire to see ‘our kids’ succeed. Lessons come in all forms. We both learned just as much if not more from our students as they learned from us and even today, she continues to teach. Today, I am remembering a friend.
“Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance.” – Oprah Winfrey
According to many, each year she sang her graduating seniors Lee Ann Womack’s ‘I Hope You Dance’. Facebook has been flooded with these lyrics today while hearts are heavy and tears flow freely. But what I remember most is her zest for life and desire to live. In our talks we chatted about travel, seizing the day and doing what you love. She was so proud of ‘her kids’. There are so may who have gone on to pursue music professionally and even countless others that count her among the treasured few who brought music into their lives. They are choosing, daily, to dance! She told me more than once that she was happy for me and was glad I found someone to share my travel dreams and made it clear that we should always try to grab that brass ring. So, I know I will be sad, but through my tears I choose to celebrate and try to do what Michelle wanted most for us all…to dance, and to live. I will try to do what she wished for her graduating seniors and do my best to live in the moment, follow my dreams, tell others how you feel, bring out my happy and ‘when I get the choice to sit it out of dance…DANCE’. Rest easy, my friend.
“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder, you get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger, May you never take one single breath for granted, G-d forbid love ever leave you empty handed, I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean, whenever one door closes I hope one more opens…Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance, and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance-I hope you dance…I hope you dance.
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, never settle for the path of least resistance, Living’ might mean taking chances but they’re worth takin’, Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’…Do’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter, when you come close to sellin’ out reconsider, Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance, And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance-I hope you dance…I hope you dance.’
-Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance