Hard Times

All posts tagged Hard Times

On remembering and being thankful.

Published December 29, 2014 by mandileighbean

“Death ends life, not a relationship.”

– Robert Benchley

A beautiful and brilliant man once asked me if I knew what the poet Robert Frost said about life.  Embarrassed, I had to admit that no, I did not.  He told me that Robert Frost said that it goes on; life goes on.  I could only agree because it is a fact and who am I to argue with Robert Frost?  The conversation continued as both he and I commiserated about those minor tragedies and somewhat larger frustrations that so often plague humans as time passes and as life goes on.  I did not give his words much thought.

Until today.

A year ago today, I wrote a blog post which was viewed over 1,000 times, which seems impressive when one considers my average views rarely top 20.  However, that statistic becomes decidedly less impressive when one realizes the views came from mourners and I did nothing creative or noble or bold or entertaining.  I lamented the loss of a wonderful woman and inspiring colleague.  I am glad, and I supposed I could even say proud, that those words offered comfort and empathy to those who were suffering the pangs of such a shocking and brutal kind of grief.  But time steadily marched on, as it always has and always will, and the post, those words were forgotten as acceptance and healing and coping began.  I thought about the absence of my colleague nearly every day since then, rubbing the charm on the Alex & Ani bracelets we purchased in memory of her, but the post and what I had written never really crossed my mind.

And that realization particularly strikes me because since her passing, I have been able to understand her in ways I never thought I would, or even could.  I now teach in her classroom, two sections of the Honors program she built and perfected.  The task is daunting and I constantly worry that I’ll disappoint.  There’s always a special kind of pressure for an alumna who returns to her alma mater to teach, and that is excruciatingly increased when that same teacher is asked to fill the shoes of a beloved, intelligent teacher who passed suddenly.  On the bad days, when the lesson plan goes awry and I feel stupid and small and incompetent, I sometimes silently curse her because I childishly wish she were still here for the selfish, awful reason of relieving me of a burden.  Luckily, those selfish, bad days that I am greatly ashamed of are few and far between.

More often than not, I raise my eyes to the sky and send her a prayer of thanks.  This woman, who is no longer with us, is continuing to make her presence felt – is continuing to teach and inspire.  This year, I am taxed with teaching works I have not read nor studied, the first of which was Hard Times by Charles Dickens.  I should tell you that Charles Dickens was never a favorite of mine.  I considered him overrated, tediously verbose and a generally uninspired writer.  I shared in my students’ misery as we began to read and analyze the prose together, but then something wonderful happened.  We all grew to love the work; our seminars were intellectual and passionate.  The students became more cultured with such a staggering work under their belts, and I became a better teacher – I discovered that I could be an example for my students and that I could not groan nor complain when faced with an unfamiliar work, but had to persevere and connect with it to entice myself to analyze and interpret all it had to offer.  And I only learned this because my dearly departed colleague added the novel to the curriculum.  In true teacher fashion, she challenged a student to rise to the occasion.

Being in her room and sharing some of her experiences, I am seeing life in a new way and for the most part, doing so has made me extremely happy, has made me extremely appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to work in a field which I treasure, and to do so with people who are kind and generous and patient and enjoyable.  I am finally beginning to feel more like a woman instead of an insecure teenager who would much rather run into her bedroom and cry into her pillow while blasting melodramatic music when things get rough and the road gets rocky.  All of this I owe to Tara Gardner, and so this is not a weepy, “in memorial” piece.  This is a thank you letter to a woman who passed a year ago, but whose life was so full and vibrant and inspiring that her legacy is very much alive and those who care to will absolutely benefit from it.

I think back to the beautiful, brilliant man and what he told me.  And I suppose that yes, life does go on.  But I don’t think it does so thoughtlessly, marching like a cold solider across a barren burning field of battle.  Life goes on because it has to, because there are things to be learned, experiences to be valued, love to be lost and won and shared and forgotten, people to hold and scold and remember fondly.  And, I think, because those we have loved and lost wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you, Tara Gardner.  You are loved and missed, but please know that you are still teaching and that you are still doing so with amazing skill.

On farewell food fights.

Published April 4, 2012 by mandileighbean

I had an interview today for a long-term maternity leave at the high school. I think I looked nice, and more importantly, I think the interview went very well. I thought the same thing the last three time though, so who knows? One teacher gave me advice on dressing more professionally, and how to wear my hair and whatnot, and I appreciated the kind words, but it made me feel insecure and icky. I debated not going to the baby shower after school today, but I knew that I had to and in retrospect, I am very glad that I did.

I went to dinner with an old friend tonight. We went to Hibachi, and I stuffed myself like a big, fat pig. My friend is going through a rough time, and I was glad I could talk to him about it.

I’m not crazy about today’s prompt, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.

THE PROMPT: “Retirement Party Food Fight”
After 40 years at the same job, you are finally ready to retire. Your coworkers throw you a party with cake and ice cream. Everything is going well until the end of the celebration when they ask you to speak. Instead of using this opportunity to thank everyone, you reveal a deep, dark secret about your boss that leads to a massive food fight.

THE PIECE:

I remember standing at the podium – an aged, cheap wooden contraption that had been at the school as long as I had been. Most of the faculty had gathered in the large cafeteria, with its harsh halogen lights burning overhead, and their asses were all going numb from the uncomfortable benches and chairs that students were only subjected to for thirty minutes. Inexpensive plastic plates holding remnants of ice cream cake that had my name plastered on it, with the words “Happy Retirement.” Forty years ago, I walked through the doors of the high school and my boobs were firmer and further above my waist, my smile displayed more of my real teeth and my hair was longer. It seemed like forever ago, and as I looked out at the faculty members in attendance, I realized that they were infants – children, toddlers, and babies. Not a single soul had been present for my first day on the job, save for one, and he was my boss.
Mr. Smith was only a few years older than me when I started as an English teacher for the 12th grade, but he was older enough for me to be impressed and intimidated. He was charismatic and charming, and he was married. But that didn’t seem to matter to me when he took me by the hand and kissed me near his car, or when we slept together after the teachers’ convention in Atlantic City. After the sex, and after the mystery and intrigue had vanished, we hadn’t seen each other socially. He stayed with his wife and had a family. We were young, optimistic, romantic and stupid – I convinced myself that was all it was, and was comfortable with our past. For forty years, I had let sleeping dogs lie but for some reason, in front of these strangers, I opened my mouth and said, “I’d like to thank Mr. Smith for the best sex I’ve ever had. And for giving me a job, I guess.” I offered an awkward smile stretching across my crooked mouth, and met only silence.
Then suddenly, from the back of the crowd that was facing me with open mouths, I heard a woman shout, “You pig!” I closed my eyes and braced for the impact, because I was sure she had thrown something. I hoped it was just a plastic cup, or maybe some plastic cutlery, but a small piece of me feared it might be the knife we had used to cut the cake. Nothing hit me though, and I remained unscathed, so I opened my eyes. The young woman in the back, the newest hire in the foreign language department, had thrown a full cup of diet soda at Mr. Smith. Her hands were trembling at her sides, so she clenched them into fists and breathed deeply through her nose like a raging bull. I wondered if I should clarify that I had slept with Mr. Smith a lifetime ago, but then Mrs. Radner, another English teacher, stepped between Mr. Smith and the young woman. She had a freshly cut slice of cake upon a plate in her palm. She faced Mr. Smith on steady feet, and demanded to know how many others he had conquered.  He looked down at his feet, mumbled something quietly and whatever it was, Radner did not find it satisfactory. Not caring for dignity, and mustering up all the anger and shame that she could, she shoved the cake into his face.
Several faculty members gasped and shuffled backward. It became eerily quiet and again I wondered if I should say something, explain myself perchance, but then an older math teacher entered the circle and faced Radner. The math teacher, Mrs. Northampton, had cake of her own and slammed it into Radner’s face, screeching that Mr. Smith deserved more respect as a supervisor and besides, Smith was in love with her, and would be leaving his wife. Radner’s best friend, Ms. Schue, dumped the bowl of pretzels over Northampton’s head and told her she was crazy. Soon, all sorts of female faculty members were throwing condiments, entrees, appetizers and desserts at one another, while the male members stood back to watch with goofy, juvenile smiles.
I felt responsible, but enjoyed my removed position, and so I very discreetly stepped off the podium and headed to the double doors to the right, which was far from the fray. I had my purse, coat and car keys, so I was good to go. It wasn’t exactly the note I had wanted to end on, but I felt satisfied that no one would ever forget the day I left those hallowed halls of education. I was smiling in spite of myself, but stopped when I saw the ever-popular Mr. Smith, sitting just inside the exit doors, wiping cake from his face. He looked to me, and he looked ridiculous – covered in cake and deflated; somehow smaller than he had been just moments ago. “Happy trails, Linda.”
“Good luck, Frank,” I said. Then I left the building.

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